The rituals of Luyia funerals
By Alex Namuliro, January 6 2014
The mention of death is not music to the ears of any human being although the hard truth is that it is inevitable. Against the backdrop of the fear and undefined emotions death brings to human beings, there are several ways in which different communities celebrate or mourn the death of their loved ones. The Luhya community which comprises 16 sub-tribes has its own ways of celebrating the lives of the deceased with anumber unique rituals. Isaac Atenya from Marama sub tribe form Lukeke village Butere in Kakamega County shares his experience as an elder in the community. Mourning He says before the coming of mortuaries to preserve bodies among the Luhya community they used to preserve bodies of the deceased by putting the naked body on top of wet sand or charcoal and a 10 cents coin on the fore head which it is said used to work because the body would be good for even a week before it is buried. He adds that animal skins were used to wrap bodies which were later put in reeds known as “Mayambo” that acted as the casket. It takes three days for a child’s funeral and about a week for the funeral of an adult and during this whole period people will camp in the home of the deceased to sooth the bereaved. “Weeping and crying out loud is compulsory up to date. When the news of the death of a loved one is announced everyone is expected to wail and weep on top of their voices to show their love for the deceased,” Atenya says. People who are close to the deceased are supposed to weep more than anyone else and it can even go as far as crawling on the ground and tearing of clothes while weeping.
A typical Luyia funeral is ridden with all manner of rituals.
The neighbours are also expected to help the bereaved family weep uncontrollably and the true test of unity is shown when neighbours show how they are touched. Funerals are a big test of unity and closeness among the people of the Luhya community, as Lutta Lutunya, an elder from Kisa sub tribe from Khwisero constituency shared with County Life. “If you have bad blood with your neighbors they will not assist in weeping and they can even skip the funeral, and if you are a person who never interacts with people you will be alone in mourning your loved one,” Lutunya said. The test of faithfulness is also done. When a husband died, it was widely believed that a wife who was faithful to the husband would sit near the head of the deceased husband when the body is brought home while the unfaithful one will sit near the legs. The wife is expected to mourn for six months of which she will be weeping daily at exactly 6 am and 5 pm in the evening until the husband visits her in a dream to tell her that she can now stop weeping and look for someone to take care of her. “The inheritor will come after she has intercourse with a random person to relieve her of the burden of her deceased husband in a ritual known as “Ohuhalaka Makhola” which literary meant to break the ropes,” he says. When a woman dies before her husband pays dowry the family will be obliged to pay the dowry or the wife’s family takes their daughter back to bury her. A man cannot attend his father in laws funeral until he pays dowry. Sleeping in the house When a dead person is brought from the morgue they have to spend at least one or two nights in the living room of their houses waiting for burial. Bonventure Obuyu an elder from the Abanyala sub tribe in Budalangi Busia County shares with us why it is a must for a corpse to sleep in the house together with the bereaved. “This is to show the deceased that you loved him and you can welcome him/her even after death in the house,” Obuyu says. Obuyu tells The Counties that on the third day the corpse is removed from the house and put under a tent in the home this is to show the family to come to terms that their loved one is gone forever.
In the Wanga community, the elders who were in a high societal position are buried at night and sometime buried while seated for instance the Wanga king Nabongo Mumia. People who commit suicide or die at night in mischievous circumstances are buried at night in an unusual ceremony that is done by specific people. The people who carry out this will be from the mother side of the deceased and an animal will be offered to them as a gift for the work they have done. “They are buried at night because the way they ended their life is not acceptable to the society and to avoid bad luck or demons haunting the remaining members of the family,” Obuyu says. The night also gives them a chance to perform a ritual that condemns the deceased for committing suicide and makes sure they don’t haunt any person who is alive. In Idakho and Isukha sub tribes that practice bull fighting, when the bull turns on its owner and kills him/her, the bull will be killed without being skinned. People will attack and hack the bull from all angles and its meat will be condemned. Position Old men and senior members of the community are buried in front of the main house on the right hand side as their spouses are buried on the left hand side besides their husbands. Girls who die in their parents’ home before they get married despite being adults or those who have divorced are buried behind the house near the fence or in banana plantations because they are considered as foreigners. Memorial The remembrance of the dead is also paramount where after the dead have been buried a date is set for the Chinjiki and Chinganyiro. Both are memorial services.
During Chimijiki there is food and booze in plenty as they celebrate the life of the deceased and all the personal belongings of the deceased are shared among family members. Traditional drums known as Ribuyi grace the accession as the family reminisces of all the merry moments they had with the deceased. “The wife of the deceased is expected have sexual intercourse with a random person in a tradition referred to as to break the “Mahola” before the end of the Chinganyiro (memorial) or else she will be bound forever not to be inherited as it is considered “Musiro” (a taboo),” the elder says. The bereaved are expected to shave their heads (bald) and eyebrows. Food The quantity of food in a funeral determines the number of mourners that will be present, more food more mourners. Cows, goats, among other animals are slaughtered while ugali, rice vegetables and “Maenjera” (a mixture of maize and beans) which is considered cheap is served in plenty. “It is also believed that plenty of food should be cooked during a funeral service to allow the mourners eat the amount of food the deceased could have consumed if they were alive, so people should stop criticising our community that we make celebrations in funerals” Lutta continued. Alcohol which include; Chang’aa and Busaa are a must in any typical Luhya funeral. However according to the elders who spoke to The Counties some of these practices have started being shunned because of hard economic times. Religion and civilization have also played a big part in the changing of some practices.
Vihiga villagers rattled by tumbling 'talking stone'
The talking stone of Vihiga that came down tumbling causing panic among villagers in Kituru in Mahanga sublocation, South Maragoli.
By Francis Ontomwa, May 6 2013
Vihiga, Kenya: For the Maragoli community, ‘Imbinga’ (the shrine) is a sacred place so revered that only few and specific people would be allowed to set foot there. This was a small cave walled by huge boulders and it is here where prayers and sacrifices would be offered for the community. And so when the mystic stone of Imbinga began to crack in the night at the weekend, terror struck. This, to locals, is a mystery and only their ancestral spirits could tell what had gone wrong.
On Friday evening at around 11pm, a huge boulder cracked and rolled down causing great damage of property and minor injuries to those living near it. The stone came crashing down at a house owned by Mzee Peter Edambo Lugaria, 64, in an event that shocked everyone.
“I have lived here all my life and I have never seen events of this kind. We have watched these stones ever since we were young but that they would one day come down is something that we have never thought of,” says a shaken Mzee Lugaria of Kituru location. “Long ago, underneath the caves, our fathers used to offer prayers to ancestral spirits. We are wondering if the ancestral spirits have turned against us.”
The scary experience has got several people living under the mystic stones thinking and some have started fleeing their homes for safety. Lugaria’s wife Jane, broke her left arm as she scampered for safety and her chilling story indicated that authorities were aware that this would happen.
“I own the house that was smashed but on the fateful night I had sought housing at a relative nearby and when the stone started coming down I went out and saw everything,” said Jane. According to her narration, a strange sound started emanating from the rocks since the onset of April and as days went by, the sound became even louder.
“The area chief toured this place and warned us of the awaiting calamity and we heeded his pleas and that is why we left the house which is adjacent to the rock,” she continued.
Another witness Mzee Zaphan Luyara said, “The events happened in a span of minutes. It is very chilling to me whenever the thoughts replay in my mind.”
News of the cracking of the ‘sacred stone’ has spread in Sabatia and Vihiga County and beyond like bush fire. When The Standard team visited the site they encountered residents streaming there in large numbers to witness what they described as ‘wonders of the world’.
“I have been receiving telephone calls from people as far as Nairobi and Mombasa inquiring about the incident,” said area chief John Kidali. “But it is confusing because the callers have different versions of the same story.”“Some called and asked whether what they have heard — that a stone in my location is talking — is true, while others claimed the stone dropped from the skies and started making quire voices,” he added.
Calls for vigilance
He also said he has been hosting various visitors including media practitioners since the incident happened. However, the chief called for calm and asked villagers to remain vigilant and report any strange happening.
The affected family now appeals for Government assistance to help them relocate from the area. “This is where we were born. We have no other place to go and if the Government can relocate us, we shall be grateful,” said Mzee Lugaria.
Heavy boulders planted on high grounds is a characteristic phenomenon in most parts of the Western region and one particular stone famous with locals and visitors is the mystic ‘ Crying Stone of Ilesi’ in Kakamega County.
Traditional brew unites a community
By Timothy Makokha, May 5 2012
Elders could read the behavior of the shape of top foam of kwete to interpret matters affecting the clan and community, for example by looking at the top foam produced by kwete they would know matters to do with rain, drought, hunger, and availability of peace. That’s why traditionally; Bukusu elders would recommend the preparation of local liquor (kwete) in each cultural practice. There were various sizes of pots that were specifically meant for brewing kwete among Bukusu people. Enjikha was the largest brewing pot; esachi was a small pot while sipanga was slightly large. The sitting arrangement during local beer drinking parties was specific in the sense that the eldest member in the group sit near the entrance. Monogamous men were also expected to sit closer to the door as opposed to men with many wives who sit at the furthest corner of the house. This local liquor was siphoned using special straws made from particular climber shrubs that grow naturally in the bushes. These natural straws were called chisekhe nabiili (grows on hills). At the end of lusekhe (the straw) they were putting a special woven sieve called sikoto sichingamwe. Sikoto sichingamwe was made from a nabikoto tree. Unlike currently where people use artificial metallic sieves to put on beer drinking straws.
Kwete, the local brew that was a unifying factor among the Bukusu community.
Before embarking on the beer drinking exercise, warm water was brought to clear chisekhe just in case there was dust or insects hiding in the chisekhe. The pot for kwete drinking was usually set or strategically positioned in the drinking place by two men, most likely bakoki to one another ( Bakoki wesicho and bakoki we kumwiro). Bakoki we sicho is the one who was circumcised one year ahead of the bakoki we kumwiro but the two can share lubaka. Before putting the pot at the right place for the drinking exercise, a round ring (engara) made of grass (lukhafwa) is prepared and put down first to support the drinking pot. Engara was usually prepared by bakoki we sicho which is then set or put down by bakoki we kumwiro. Bakoki (we sicho) is the one to bring the local liquor which is then poured in the pot by bakoki we kumwiro (olekhela engubo). When pouring kwete or when adding water to the pot, the rule is that one is expected to pour water or beer a little at a time not just pouring in the whole of it continuously. This is meant to make people who are drinking from that pot to continue drinking more beer for more days and live longer. If it is a woman who is adding the water or beer to the pot, she should slightly bent and stamp her right leg on the ground as a sign of respect. The local liquor featured more during circumcision period.
The Bukusu national anthem sioyayo was sung five times during the initiation of a person. The first sioyayo was sung omwana ne achukhila, where the initiate pours water in the pot containing kwete, two days before the circumcision day. The second sioyayo is sung when the uncles put luliki around the neck of the initiate at his unless home, a day before the real circumcision day. The third sioyayo is sung in the evening of the day before circumcision when a close relative from the father’s side puts a piece of bull’s rumen (lisombo) around the neck of the initiate. The fourth sioyayo is sung by bakoki (people who were circumcised at the same time) to the father of the initiate at night before mid-night as the initiate prepares to go and rest and prepare for the cut the following morning. The final sioyayo is sung in the morning as the initiates are taken from the river to come for the cut at home. Luliki being put round the neck of the initiates to symbolize the union between the mother and father during conception. The reason for putting luliki around the neck of the initiates around the neck is to symbolize how his father was sleeping with the mother of the initiate in the process of making a child.
Luliki is normally a piece of meat from the belly of a bull right from the chest up to the hind legs, sometimes the reproductive organs of the bull can be part of luliki which hang in front as the initiate walks and escorted to his father’s home from the maternal uncle’s compound. The reason for putting lisombo (part of the rumen of a bull), around the neck of the initiate is to make the initiate gain wealth in his life. Lisombo lisomba kimiandu (bull’s rumen brings wealth) from all directions, from likwe (East), mumbo (West), mufubo (North), mundoli (Southwards), and ebunaswa (South). It was the responsibility of the uncles (brother to the mother of the child) and other relatives from the mother’s side to take the initiates to the river for washing and smearing them with mud. Members from the father’s clan could only escort and direct where necessary. On nearing the homestead, the initiates were handed over to the father and his clan members. Just before the initiate reaches at the front of the house (khuluyhia) for the cut, a sister to the father of the initiate smears the cheek of the initiate with a cooking stick (kumukango) that has been dipped into the local liquor (kwete nabukimbi).
The reason for this is that it symbolize end of childish behavior (omusinde alekhe embelekeu). The aunt welcoming the initiate with a cooking stick also means the boy should grow up and marry wife/wives who will use the cooking stick to prepare meals for relatives and friends. It is the role of the father and men who are in the same age set with him and/or clan elders to welcome the initiate and bring him to the initiation point (etiang’i). As the father moves forward to welcome the child for the cut, the mother usually sits down (balambisia bikele munju amukhe) in the house and other a few women to wait until the cutting procedure is over. After the sound of a whistle that means the cut is successful the mother to the child comes out of the house ululating as she moves to see the cut. The mother to the initiate was not allowed to witness the cutting process out of fear that a mother is likely to induce fear in the initiate. Traditionally the first born child was only circumcised at his grandfather’s home and not at any other place as it was believed the first son in a home belongs to his grandfather. The local beer was not just taken anywhere anyhow by anybody.
This is contrary to what is happening currently where children and the old drink from the same pot. On rare occasion would elders be seen taking kwete for leisure. In such cases a person would invite friends and serve them kwete for free (kesiyotelo). Some people would prepare kwete ke bukengele (drinking for celebration). Circumcision was the most honored practice among the traditional people, for this reason beer was sprinkled to welcome ancestral spirits in the ceremony. In fact it is believed that the courage that initiates poses during circumcision period is as a result of ancestral intervention. Two days before the actual circumcision day, the candidate for circumcision is supposed to bring water from a well and pour it in a pot (esachi) containing kwete in an exercise called khuchukhila. This is normally seen as covenant between the candidate and the ancestors meaning he must be circumcised under all circumstances.
One month before the circumcision season, the circumcisers normally hold a meeting and take kwete (ke khubita lukembe) to bless their knives with kwete before embarking on the cutting exercise. It is at the same time they receive blessings and lubito (informal education) from elders for them to circumcise children well. In such ceremonies where all circumcisers meet, a goat is usually slaughtered and celebrate under namwima (small sacred hut) with esesi ya nang’osi (a rough half gourd) for sprinkling goat’s blood munjeko (a pole at the centre of namwima). After circumcision villagers put their resources together and prepare kwete (kamalwa ke kamatasi) meant for giving away clothes that initiates were using before circumcision. It was the same time that villagers would use to throw away the cut foreskin in a secret place where ill intentioned people could not find access.
Before the pass out ceremony for initiates, the elders would prepare kwete (kamalwa ke lubito) to be drunk as the initiates receive informal education on serious matters of the society. At such a time, the graduated initiates would receive ‘lubito’ as elders spit the local liquor on the ground as a kind of covenant for the initiates with elders and ancestors in the transition process from childhood to adulthood. The kwete residue (kamasifwa) was very basic for any cultural activity. For instance, old people would spit a little kwete on the ground or floor of the house before continuing drinking the local liquor. In celebration of a life of a departed hero in community, kwete was prepared and drank and part of it is sprinkled round the grave as a sign of last respect. During planting season, elders would prepare kwete and bless the planting material before going to the field to plant. The same happens during harvesting where a cultural practice known as ‘khukhwesulusia’ was done involving the local liquor and some prepared charm to bless the harvested crop before they are free to continue feasting on the harvest.
THE CRYING STONE OF KAKAMEGA TRUST FORMED
The Crying Stone is located on Kakamega/Kisumu Road approximately 5 kilometres from the Centre of Kakamega town.
Every time I look at The Crying Stone of Kakamega, I recall a poem I read nearly 40 years ago: Oxymiandas
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things.
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear_
My name is ozymandias, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing besides remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The magic of ikhongo murwi never seems to go away.
Whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read and my name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair!
and by invoking of emotions thereof I amend the last two line to read
My name is Ikhongo Murwi, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Indeed Ikhongo Murwi, as it is generally referred to by the local community invokes different feeling from every viewer which can only be described by that viewer at that moment. One thing is clear though, Ikhongo Murwi attracts attention and curiosity. Attention because of its majestic pause and curiosity about how it came about and perhaps what is going to happen next. It is a famous feature of Kakamega and indeed Western Province and attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the World. In other words Ikhongo Murwi has an untold legend. In spite of this fame, Ikhongo Murwi appears neglected to such an extent that there is no proper access road, trees have been planted nearby almost obliterating its view and individuals are claiming it as a personal property. It is the intention Ikhongo Murwi Conservation Trust to take up this legend and tell the world in a more succinct way.
Ikhongo Murwi Conservation Trust is registered under the Trustees Act and its purpose is take possession of Ikhongo Murwi and its immediate environs, to protect it and conserve it for the public and to promote it as a recreation and tourist attraction. It is expected that the recreation and tourist activities will generate income which will be used to add value to the features around it and a surplus will go into community projects. The Trustees are Chief Mulavu Segero (Ilesi Location), George Magenzi Musindi and Gerishom L. Majanja
FIVE YEAR PLAN NED ACTIVITIES
1. Publicize the formation of the Trust and seek strong government recognition /support. It is important that the community understand what a trust is, the activities it intends to undertake and for whom. Strong Government support and good public relations with the community will be important for the success of this project (Estimated cost Shs 500,000.00)
2. Legally acquire the stone and the environs- 100 metres radius- survey (Govt Assistance), demarcate, compensate land owners, obtain title and fence The survey will establish the boundaries of the required land and title issued in the name of the trust. The land owners should be fairly compensated. Estimated cost is Shs 15,000,000.00.
3. Prepare financial and physical plans and carry out environment assessment. Estimated cost Shs 500,000.00.
4. Engage an ecologist and landscape experts to produce a plan of ground structure. Estimated costs Shs 500,000.00
5. Build structures necessary for recreation purpose. Structures will include a resource centre to store artifacts, historical pictures and reading material and important historical pictures and a small lecture room. Additionally there will be an acting stage for sukuti players. We plan to have a children playing ground to be used also for sukuti dancers. It is expected that there will also be a coffee shop.
6. It is expected that in five years time if this project is implemented as planned it will generate about 50 permanent jobs,100 temporary engagements, a market for local product, contribute significantly to tourism development in Kakamega County and overall generate approximately Shs 5million per year.
We appeal to all well wishers to make contributions to this noble plan that will turn the Ikhongo Murwi site more attractive and create job opportunities for our people in addition to contributing to the general development of the area.
GERISHOM L. MAJANJA
Maragoli death rites
By Nandemu Barasa, November 31 2011
In Maragoli, death was feared and whenever someone passed on, Maragoli people would mourn and gather around the fire place until after burial.Initially the dead were just thrown in the wild where they were eaten by wild animals but due to health problems where infectious diseases were spread as a result of throwing the corpses in the wild. Due to that pressure, Maragoli people adopted the modern way of burying their dead although they still embraced the cultural practices related to the dead.
The dead among Maragoli people are always buried three days after death. The body is buried facing north and burial takes place in the afternoon. The grave was dug in front of the house except for the people who had committed suicide, those who died of epilepsy and those who had not given birth.
On the side of those who had not given birth, their bodies were not also moved from the house in the front door but instead the behind door was used. It is important to note here that in situations where the house had no behind door, a temporary door was created where the corpse was taken out through. Note that other than the body being taken out of the house through behind door, a special thorn was pierced inside the deceased`s buttock and left there so that he or she is buried with it.
Old people were the ones who buried such people because Maragoli people feared that young people who had not given birth and even those ones who were still giving birth would be affected by the problem of not giving birth if they buried such people. The thorn was used to show that the community was not happy the way the deceased failed to give birth and they were therefore sending him or her off completely, cursing him believing that he or she will never come back in the community to haunt the living.
Those who had committed suicide and those who had died as a result of accidents were buried at night and a sheep was also slaughtered, family members sprinkled with dung (busee) which they believed would keep away the deceased. It is important to note that in some cases if that cleansing was not done, the spirit of the dead would come around and disturb people in the community.
After three days, relatives would gather around the grave for shaving to signify a new beginning. They would also have a sitting where they would discuss about the debts and credits of the late. They would also choose a person to be in charge of the late’s home but not necessarily taking over the wife(s) as his wife(s).
Widow's ritual sex
If the widow felt like remarrying, she would not do it before she conducted a cleansing ceremony. Among the Maragoli, a widow would go to the farthest place where she is not known and make friendship with a man she would meet. She will immediately propose to have a sexual act with the man and indeed she will convince his new catch until she makes love with him. She will after the sexual act give the man money which of course she will not tell him it is for cleansing but just to thank him for the service well done.
This rite is a bit different with the one conducted by Bukusu widows who intent to re marry in that in their case a widow will go to the farthest place where she is not known and also find a new catch whom she will convince into making love with but unlike Maragoli people where they perform the act up to the climax, among the Bukusu, the widow would scream just before the real act saying there was someone coming to find them and therefore as a result they will run away with all of them going their own way, never to meet again because meeting again will reverse the cleansing exercise.
The cleansing exercise that involves sex before one re marries be it among Maragoli or Bukusu apply to both men and women. However, you can also cleanse yourself if you realize that one has used you to cleanse herself or himself.
Among Maragoli, you just throw away the cash you were given which is a bit easier compared to the Bukusu one which you must take a sheep, go and slaughter it at the exact place you nearly made love with that man or woman. Now what will happen if you were in lodging? Can you take sheep and slaughter it in these expensive hotels that some people meet and indulge in such acts?
If you are a Maragoli or Bukusu, just ask yourself if you have ever been lured into the sexual act with a stranger who later paid you heavily or screamed threatening that someone was just about to find you thereby running away never to be found again. You better hasten to cleanse yourself because according to Mzee Kepha who says while laughing you will never succeed as you will be haunted by the deceased.
It was after conducting the cleansing rite that a woman or a man was allowed to re marry and continue with her conjugal life.
War, weapons, taboos, prominent people among Maragoli people.
Maragoli people did not take part in serious wars except that they mostly fought with the Nandi over land to graze their cattle. They also fought with Luos but it was long time ago when they were migrating into Kenya from Uganda. According to Mzee Francis from Majengo, many Luos were killed by the Maragoli in the war that was as a result of a land dispute.
Maragoli people fought using spears, arrows and bows, shields. Elders were putting on skins while children used to walk naked until they matured. At some stage they were given a small piece of cloth made from the bark of a tree which they would use to cover the front when a person was coming their way from front and immediately covered their behind after the person passed them.
Maragoli people kept mostly cattle grew millet, sorghum, cassava before also moving into growing maize, tea, groundnuts and sweet potatoes.
Among Maragoli people one was not allowed to make love in his or her parent’s house and it was treated as curse. One would not also be allowed to sit on the chair that his father in-law sits and as a result women were not mostly allowed to sit on chairs but instead they sat on skins.
A girl would not be allowed to sleep or even sit on her parent`s bed. This was argued in a very interesting way that maybe the girl would be impregnated with his real father or on the other hand the son in-law would impregnate his mother in law.
In Maragoli there was no problem on shaking hands with your mother or father in law so long as payment of dowry had been complied done.
There are people who were respected among Maragoli many of them being Chiefs such as chief Agoi, Chief Mulubi. Maragoli people also have respected elites such as Professor Endire, Adagala, Francis Imbuga, Mwenesi and many others.
On the political arena Maragoli people have had strong politicians from Moses Mudavadi who was a powerful minister in the past regime and the father to the current Member of Parliament for Sabatia and the Deputy Prime Minister Hon Musalia Mudavadi. Other notable politicians include Yusuf Chanzu, Andrew Ligale, Former Sabatia Member of Parliament Moses Akaranga, and Peter Kibisu among others.
Maragoli people are mostly found in Vihiga County.
Prophet Elijah Masinde: Myths and legend live on
By Amos Kareithi, October 16 2011
The incident occurred in 1986 and remains engraved in the mind of Simiyu, a former staunch follower of one of Kenyaâ??s most controversial sect, Dini Ya Msambwa. Although Simiyu has since converted to Christianity he, like thousands of other adherents in western Kenya and beyond still recall Elijah with awe. Such is the reverence and fear that the name evokes that many idolise him and throng his final resting place for special prayers every year. Household name The prophet, popularly known, as Elijah to distinguish him from Masinde Muliro the politician, is a household name and credited with a string of prophesies like the triumph of Kenyans against the colonialists. To the followers of Dini Ya Msambwa, Elijah was like his biblical namesake, who prophesied and could foretell the future. To the scholars, he is an enigma, an embodiment of myths entwined with facts and fantasy that it is almost impossible to tear them apart. It is estimated that Elijah was born between 1909 and 1911, although Vincent Simiyu, author of Elijah Masinde, explains the icon was born during the Khaoya (rinderpest epidemic) that marked the end of Kolongolo age set of 1900-1910. Elijahâ??s father, Mwasame belonged to the Bachuma age group that was circumcised between 1872-1886. His mother Wabomba Mwasame was the first of the three wives, and originated from Omukhana Mumeme clan known for producing prophets. Little also is known of his early education although Prof A Wiper in her book, Rural Rebels: A study of Two Protest Movements in Kenya claim Masinde went to Kima from 1925 to 1931.
Agemates recall Elijah was circumcised in 1928, at a time when the Uganda Railway was being constructed in Bungoma, automatically placing him to the Machengo age group. Four years into manhood, he married his first wife Sara Nanyama, at the Friends African Mission (Quakers), although he would later marry a Ugandan, Rebecca. He later expanded his matrimony, holy and African, to six wives who bore him 27 children. Elijahâ??s rise to fame was not through his matrimonial exploits but from his soccer playing mastery that earned him a permanent place in the first team of Kimilili. It is from soccer that a myth evolved about how Elijah had used magic to send a ball to heaven, after kicking it up, never to be seen. Though this myth is repeated as folklore all over western Kenya and beyond, Elijah fuelled it by declining to explain. Simiyu, in his book traces the genesis of the myth to a day the ball went missing after it was given to his (Simiyuâ??s) brother, Wanyama, then six years to play with it. When he was later asked by the soccer players where the ball was, he said he had kicked it so high that it had failed to return.
Despite the deflated ball being found hidden in a cooking pot, a story was weaved of how Elijah, then captain of Bukusu FC had performed the feat. Around this time Elijah started mobilising close friends such as Khasoya, Walukuke and Walumoli to secret meetings, culminating with the formation Dini Ya Msambwa. Elijah abandoned soccer in 1942. Elijah took it upon himself and the sect to enforce strict moral adherence, at times assaulting women perceived to be indecently dressed, or working in bars. This earned him the first brush with the law although he would later spend more than three quarters (30 years) of his life in jail for various offences, including assaulting women and provincial administrations. Elijahâ??s son, Wafula, recalls how his father was working in 1937 as a Native Tribunal Process Server, arresting people and attaching their property when he resigned. Wafula adds," He accosted the DC at Kabuchai African court shouting that he was not going to be government servant anymore, hurled his uniform at the local DO proclaiming he had seen a vision." There are contradicting explanations of who between Elijah and Walumoli actually owns the vision of reviving the Bukusu traditional way of worship, and rallying the people to chase out the white man.
Although some as the founder of the Dini Ya Msambwa regards Walumoli, Elijah was its undisputed leader and was persecuted by the colonial authorities for it. In 1955, DC C J Denton warned that Elijah posed a greater threat to law and order than Mau Mau, which had started a rebellion in central Kenya. In 1944, Masinde literally took on the colonialists by attacking a chief in Kimilili; he was jailed on February 14 after he refused to execute a bond of Sh500 to keep the peace after being found guilty of assault. The colonial authorities certified him insane and locked him up at Mathari Mental Hospital for two years. Wafula, one of his sons talks of years of hardship the family endured while his father was in custody to a point his siblings had to drop out of school due to lack of school fees Upon his release, Elijah intensified his attacks against the colonialists and was forced to go underground when the Government hunted him over a number of cases. He was, however, betrayed by Omari Kuchikhi, who was privy to the hiding place, in the hope that he would be appointed a village headman.
Elijah prophesied that Kuchikhi would never secure the job he thirsted, proclaiming that he was destined to live off skins. He later eked out a living from selling hides at Chesamisi. On February 16, 1948, Elijah was arrested alongside four of his colleagues and charged with sedition and being a member of Dini Ya Msambwa. He was deported to Lamu alongside Walumoli, and Wekuke, and their sect declared illegal while members were arrested and prosecuted. As Elijah languished in custody, Dini Ya Msambwa flourished, and linked with other organisations fighting for freedom, spread to West Pokot where 300 followers were jailed for 900 years.
Elijah was released on May 12 1960 after nationalists Jaramogi Oginga, Masinde Muliro, Tom Mboya and others pressured the colonial Government for the release of political detainees. Upon his release, he joined Kanu, a move which caused him problems with other area politicians among them Masinde Muliro, who belonged to Kenya African Democratitc Union (Kadu). Politicians sympathetic to Kadu disowned Elijah and his religion during a meeting held in Kimilili in 1962, demanding that the sect and its leaders be expelled from Elgon Nyanza. Although Kenyattaâ??s Kanu regime tolerated Elijah and Dini Ya Msambwa for a time during which it was registered as a society, on May 16, 1964. But the marriage did not last long after Elijah lambasted the Government for not chasing settlers from their land. Apparently he took Dini Ya Msambwaâ??s license to promote traditional ways of worship too far in 1968, when he stormed Sisi Kwa Sisi bar and assaulted a bar maid, accusing her of introducing prostitution in Kimilili. On October 24, 1968, barely four years after its registration, his sect was banned by the very Kanu Government, which Elijah and his followers had fought so hard for. In the meantime the followers spent most of their time fighting off criminal charges or fundraising for fines imposed on Elijah and hundreds of other followers who were always in and out of prison. It is while serving his last stint at Kodiaga Prison at around 1986 that Elijah developed health problems that persisted long after he had been released. The ailing Elijah predicted his own death, and showed his son Wafula the exact place he would be buried.
"As I was taking him to the hospital in Lugulu in 1987, he pointed at a big kumwirurusia tree situated a distance from his house and declared that was where his grave would be." When he finally died on June 8,1987, the elders and followers of Dini Ya Msambwa amended his dying wish, and dug his grave in his compound. "When the grave diggers started they unburied a human skeleton. This was strange, as no relative had been buried there. This was warning that my fatherâ??s wish had to be followed," Wafula adds. Twenty-four years after his death, the grave in which he was buried in a sitting position has become a shrine. Namanya, 93, keeps vigil from her mud-walled hut a few metres away. Every June thousands of pilgrims of the Dini Ya Msambwa faith pay homage to the shrine where they feast and pray facing Mt Elgon in remembrance of their ancestors and their ways of life.
Mother of six sets of twins condemned as a bad omen
By Muliro Telewa, BBC, January 27 2011
Her sorrow then turned to shock, when her own family ordered her to leave the babies at the district hospital for adoption. They told her that the Bukusu community, to which her family belongs, believe twins bring bad luck, and that unless one of them dies, it means certain death for one or both parents. Luckily, Ms Bulinya says when her boyfriend’s father learned the twins had been abandoned, he took them in and has cared for them ever since. (He is from a different ethnic group, the Kalenjin.) But her troubles did not stop there. Five years later, she fell in love with and married a primary school teacher. She was living with his family when she gave birth to her second set of twins, Duncan and Dennis. Fearing she had brought them a bad omen, and that someone would die, her in-laws chased her away. “I was put on a motorcycle taxi with my twins and sent to my father’s home,” she says.
Yet again, however, her family had no sympathy. Still considering her cursed, they did not allow her on to their property. Instead, they quickly organised another marriage for her, to a man 20 years her senior. He agreed to the alliance, she says, as he had not expected to marry at his age. But more twins followed. “Mercy and Faith were born in 2003 and Carren and Ivy in 2005, Purpose and Swin in 2007,” Ms Bulinya says.
It was the arrival of Baraka and Prince last year, that led to her husband walking out. “I now have to do lots of odd jobs to feed my 10 children because I do not know where he is, and he is also too old to work even if he were around,” she says. A few of the children attend a local school. Eleven-year-old Dennis has been given a scholarship to a private boarding school nearby, while his twin Duncan looks after the livestock for a retired teacher. “I have decided to sponsor one of them, that is all I can afford,” Margaret Khanyunya, director of St Iddah Academy, told the BBC. Duncan’s monthly ration of maize for his herding duties is enough to feed the rest of the family. So the family of twins, often ostracised by the community, just about scrapes a living.
But even Ms Khanyunya, a benefactor, is critical of Ms Bulinya’s situation. “The lady should have undergone sterilisation after discovering that men were using and dumping her,” she says. Ms Bulinya says she has no regrets and sees all her children as God’s blessings. But she admits that she has now reluctantly been sterilised, “against the wishes of my church”, as she could not cope with any more children. “I am a Catholic. When I made the decision, I asked for God’s forgiveness and I am sure God understands and will forgive me for doing that.”
Bakobolo circumcision graduation ceremony like no other
By Nandemu Barasa and Isura Christopher, Dec 21 2010
Speaking to West FM the Eli Khamala, an old man who was hosting the event said the rite does not involve witchcraft as many people have come to associate the ceremony with. He explained that Kulicha brings people together where neighbours and friends regardless of tribe or culture are invited to join but should adhere to strict rules and regulations of the ceremony. The rules and regulations are strict but according to the elder, they are relevant to instill discipline and responsible behavoir and character among the participants.
“The traditional brew- Busaa- that is brewed at the venue is not given to children and even the old are not supposed to get drunk and misbehave. No one should have sex on the day of the event and if that or any of the rules are broken one needs to pay a fine to cleanse themselves to avoid misfortunes," revealed Khamala. Khamala also revealed that the fine is only specified by a council of elders and should be delivered within the specified time frame.
The brew, on the other hand, is prepared by an initiated man who also passed through the ritual and to prepare it, the individual has to be naked. Besides, if one comes across the brewer, off course naked, grinding yeast using a special stone, then that person will be forced to pay a heavy fine. According to the elder, failure to pay such fine, the culprit would be faced with unbearable circumstances. For instance, a person who fails to honor the fine, could wake up and find that their body is covered in feathers or even find one of his hands missing. Similarly, one could be surprised when he finds he has two mouth or even have either their manhood or womanhood on their foreheads. Others will experience even bizarre happenings like white ants coming out of their heads.
These has lead to the community to be feared among the Luhya since it is claimed those who practice such could turn you into anything of their choice. The Bakobolo clan believe that their practice is special despite criticism from across many people as being archaic to be practiced in the 21st century. The clan claims that their practice is in line with the culture and tradition of their ancestors and that it will be practiced by all their descendants while warning that failure to do it, one could be faced with life time misfortunes like impotence.
They believe that Christianity is a culture on its own and so is their practice. Consequently, they claim that some of the self proclaimed men of God went through the practice before turning to Christianity thus giving the practice more weight. "Do not be fooled by this pastors who just turned to Jesus after they performed all the rites of their culture and traditions," said another elder who we cannot mention as he is not allowed to be mentioned in the media.
In the wake of the Kulicha the people going through the rights are first taken to the river traditionally called sitabicha for cleansing then later they run in unison with other members of the village all around before coming to the major place where the event is held while dancing naked to litungu -a traditional dance- in the daytime.
Women and men dance together half naked and the most astonishing thing is the fact that men in pretence put on ladies dress with some exaggerated hairs.According to the Bakobolo elders, the rite gives a freedom to a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law to dance and embrace a mother orfather in law but that freedom ends immediately the rite is over. The event comes to an end when the persons going through the rite put on clothes and the traditional drink Busaa is distributed to them Regardless of age.
Source: West FM
Bid to revive Kenya's extinct languages
By Jeff Otieno, November 18 2010
The legislator is not alone, as many Kenyans of Suba descent can neither speak the language nor practice the culture. According to the latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) atlas on the world’s languages in danger, Suba is one of those on the brink of extinction. Though widespread during the colonial and pre-colonial times, the language is now confined to a few pockets in Nyanza, namely the two Islands of Lake Victoria Mfangano and Rusinga and parts of Gwasi. By 1992 it had roughly 100,000 speakers in the whole of the country and Unesco fears the numbers might have declined even further with deaths, as it was only the old who spoke the language.
Prof Herman Batibo of African Linguistics University of Botswana, concurs with Unesco’s study, saying in his book Language Decline and Death in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Challenges: “African policy makers, and now that Africa can no longer blame it on any foreign influence or force, should be at the forefront of (saving endangered languages)...” The Unesco atlas ranks Kenya top in East Africa, in the list of countries with the highest number of extinct languages. Six languages are already classified as extinct and seven others under threat. Uganda has three extinct languages and three under threat. Though Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi are still categorised as safe, chances are they might soon join the list.
Over the centuries, obscure dialects and isolated communities have come and gone, partly due to conquest or environmental disaster. But linguists like Prof Batibo stress that something vital gets lost with the death of each oral language. According to Unesco, out of the approximately 6,000 existing languages in the world, more than 200 have become extinct during the last three generations, 538 are critically endangered, 502 severely endangered, 632 definitely endangered and 607 unsafe. Interestingly, over half of the 6,000 are spoken by only 0.2 per cent of all the earth’s inhabitants; in other words, approximately 80 per cent of the world’s population speaks just 83 languages. The proportion is expected to grow even further, as globalisation and urbanisation encourage migrants and rural areas to learn the dominant tongue instead of their own.
Unesco adds that about 199 languages have fewer than ten speakers and 178 others have 10 to 50. Ms Odhiambo says her family lineage from her grandfather upwards had Suba names like Ndidi, Magazine, Wamusa, but further down the lineage, Luo names dominate, a sign that Suba was giving way to the dominant Luo language. “I came to know about it after reading some of the documentation my grandfather made. He once helped organise a meeting to discuss concern among elders that their ancestors’ tribe was losing its identity,” says Ms Odhiambo. The MP learnt a bit of the language out of self-interest, having missed it during her childhood. “I took it upon myself to learn a few Suba words to like ‘good morning’, ‘I am beautiful’ among others,” she adds.
One of the languages listed as extinct in Kenya, is the Yaaku dialect, also known as Mukogodo. Though there are people in the western part of Mt Kenya’s Laikpia District still identifying themselves as the Yaaku, they do not speak the Cushitic language, which was long abandoned for the dominant Nilotic Maasai language. The other is the Lorkoti, a dialect of the Maa cluster (Nilotic) or part of the Nilo-Saharan. Despite the fact that there is still an ethnic group called Lorokoti in the Leroghi Plateau, all appear to speak a different Maa dialect, that is Samburu.
The report also cites Kinare, formerly spoken around the eastern slopes of Rift Valley, as another dialect that no longer exists. According to the Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages, the remnants currently speak Kikuyu. In fact, a study by German professor Franz Rottland in the late 1970s and early 80s found a few old men from Kinare in 1976, married with Kikuyu women and integrated in the Kikuyu culture, “whose parents had lived in the forests around Kinare as honey-gathering Ogiek.” Sogoo, also referred as Okiek, is also no longer in existence.
According to Unesco, there were around 60 Sogoo speakers in the 1970s, but with time, they adopted Maasai customs, leading to the extinction of the language. The other extinct language is the Elmolo, which was widely spoken in parts of Rift Valley, mainly along the shores of Lake Turkana and neighbouring semi-arid desert area. The Elmolo now speak Samburu, a nilotic language. And Kore, the dialect that was widespread in Lamu in pre-colonial times is also classified as extinct.
Strange burial customs of the Iteso and Bukusu
By Obed Simiyu, August 22 2010
The Swahili say, 'ukistaajabu ya Musa, utaona ya Firauni' (If you get surprised by Moses' miracles, then you will be more by Pharaoh's). Among the communities in Western Kenya, there lies even more surprising practices that one can imagine off. leave alone the fun filled Bukusu circumcision rite.
The Iteso, have a more horrifying way of handling their dead not seen or witnessed in the world. If one travels through the villages and homes of the Teso people, the impression created would be that maybe Sir. Richard Leakey had resurrected and was undertaking archeology in the area. About five years after burial, some Teso clans exhume the skulls and skeletons and leave them exposed to the world as some believe that the practice allows the dead to rest better than when they are six feet under.
Some believe that doing so, it keeps the dead from haunting the living as they believe that once human remains are exhumed and exposed, the dead will no longer be able to haunt the living through nightmares, sickness, or other afflictions. The remains are placed on raised ground covered by shrubbery within the compound or at the base of a tree, where there is little interference.
Ajono, local millet brew, is regularly sprinkled over the site to appease the dead. What remain is ceremonially consumed by elders. The custom is slightly different among their cousins across the border in Uganda. Among the Soroti, who are closely related to the Iteso, the bones of the dead, particularly the arms, are used to stir the brew, which is then consumed.
According to Iteso customs, the exhumed remains must be placed within the farm of the deceased, because the dead are bound to resist and cause difficulties if they are taken away. Children are warned not to touch or even go near the place where the bones have been put to rest. Children who play with these skulls risk falling very ill, and can only be healed if elders intervene and perform a specific ritual.
The ritual involves slaughtering a sheep for the dead and serving them a traditional brew to beg for forgiveness on behalf of the ailing child. According to archived reports by Okisai Okiring of Chakol Division in Teso District the exhumation rite, known as epunyas, is conducted to stop the dead from tormenting the living. Okiring says if the dead are not appeased by bringing them back to earth’s surface, they are capable of wiping out the entire community.
According to Okiring, exhuming makes the dead more friendly to the living, and in this way killer diseases and other misfortunes are averted. The elder observes that epunyas also gives the dead an opportunity to oversee the daily activities of the living. Laurence Ochodi of Amagoro village in Teso says epunyas is usually done five or 10 years after burial.
The ceremony is conducted across the board for the young and old, men and women. It is done in December after millet has been harvested. A lot of millet beer is brewed and animals slaughtered to celebrate this important Iteso cultural activity. Only elderly people are allowed at the graveside during the exhumation, which takes place at night. The Iteso are not the only community in Western Kenya with unusual customs regarding the dead.
Many mourners, among them President Mwai Kibaki watched in disbelief an utter surprise when Musikari Kombo’s brother was buried seated in a coffin designed like a cupboard and his casket lowered in an upright position into a specially designed grave. However, it was normal for the Balunda clan of the Bukusu as that is their way of burying the dead.
They believe death is not a sign of defeat or conquest, but is a form of relaxation. To them, the dead are simply taking a rest from physical activities but continue to oversee the activities of their families and the community at large. There is therefore need for them to remain vigilant in a sitting position. Members of the community are buried in this manner regardless of the sex, age or status to enable them continue directing the activities of the living.
The Balunda people believe that this is the only way to ensure that the elders continue occupying their revered positions from where they can direct and counsel the living. Respected elders are given the responsibility of supervising the burial rites and to ensure that all the required rites are observed. During burial, a number of carefully selected people enter the grave first to receive the body when it is lowered in. They then carefully place the body in a specially hallowed out niche in the grave. The rest of the grave is filled up.
Respected elders from the community chant incantations as they place the deceased in a sitting position in preparation for burial. For the elderly in the community who have grown up grandchildren, are wrapped in a cow’s hide before they are interred in a sitting position. This is also specifically for persons who have undergone the second rite of passage. The skin wrapped around the deceased is a sign of authority and also serves to give him a dignified resting place.
The community has been practising this custom for more than a century, anchored in the belief that it reduces the number of deaths in their community. Elders say that before that, the clan used to bury their dead like other people but the death rate was so high they were forced them to seek guidance from the spirits of their departed forefathers.
The Vamusomi, Valugulu, Varutu and Vawambwa clans place their dead the right hand side when burying them so as to enable them to continue monitoring the activities of the living but are however not buried with metallic objects such as rings, watches or belts as these might put them in bondage and make it impossible for them to oversee their communities’ day-to-day activities.
Nganyi rain magicians lend hand to meteorological department
By our correspondent, March 19 2010
A British-Canadian project is doing just that. Launched last year, it aims to combine indigenous knowledge with modern science to build up climate change intelligence and disseminate it more widely in a community whose existence depends almost exclusively on farming. Before the project, the credibility of the Nganyi, part of the Luhya community in far western Kenya, was being undermined both by the more extreme weather as well as by their lack of access to the satellites and computer systems used by official forecasters. “Predicting intense weather is hard because it happens so suddenly,” says Thomas Osare, another traditional forecaster. “We cannot usually know in time for people to really prepare.” Government meteorologists, meanwhile, were struggling to be heard or believed.
Now, each season they meet the traditional weathermen and together produce a consensus forecast. Once agreed, the Nganyi relay it back to the villagers – through ceremonies, public meetings and person to person, established methods of communication in communities where many cannot read or write. “It brings me great joy because I know I am doing something useful,” says Mr Onunga, a Nganyi community elder involved in the project. “I think the two sciences are equally valid. We are marrying our energies to help people better.” The meteorologists are also pleased with the collaboration. “The results have been surprisingly good – the community concurred that the forecast was accurate,” says Gilbert Ouma, a University of Nairobi lecturer. “Another major breakthrough is the dissemination aspect. We have been able to deliver the message in practical, usable terms – not so much meteorological terms.”
Dr Ouma is leader of a project supported through Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA), a research and capacity development programme, backed by the UK’s Department for International Development and Canada's International Development Research Centre. At the time of its launch in 2006, it was the single largest research and capacity building initiative focusing on adaptation in Africa. Currently supporting some 46 research projects across the continent, 11 of them in Kenya, it aims to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable individuals.
The Road to Copenhagen As the Copenhagen summit nears the end, it is hard to overstate the threat that global warming presents to countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Kenya. Increasingly harsh weather conditions are compounding the difficulties of communities that are often already struggling with extreme poverty. Africa is both the continent the least responsible for climate change as well as the one with the fewest resources to combat it. The African Union estimates that the carbon emissions of Africa’s 1 billion people are equivalent to those of Texas’s 30 million. A report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute in September concluded that, on present patterns, the number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa will jump from 33 million in 2000 to 52 million in 2050, with more than half of the increase caused by climate change. While much of the focus in the industrialised economies has been on limiting future global warming through emissions cuts and energy efficiency, for many developing countries helping communities already affected by climate change, such as those in western Kenya, is a more immediate priority. Professor Laban Ogallo, leader of the Nganyi project, says: “Poverty reduction is clearly related to managing the extreme weather of the region.” “Through this project, we hope to learn what it is that we can share together to live today and to adapt to tomorrow.”
Tachoni traditional burial: Elder buried in animal skin
By Denis Odunga, March 16 2010
Residents of Luvusi Village in Bungoma East District were treated to a rare ritual when a 90-year-old man was wrapped in a skin and buried without being placed in a coffin. The traditional burial - the norm in western Kenya up to the 1950s - caught most area residents by surprise and many surged forward to witness Mzee Mavachi Mandira accorded the unique burial befitting his status. As the body was brought from his hut wrapped in a blanket, girls and married women who had not reached menopause were warned to keep off the grave lest they attract curses.
Split into two A bull was slaughtered at 9am and its skin split into two pieces that were used to cover the body. The burial was done before 1pm in line with the traditions of Bang’achi clan of the Luhya’s Tachoni sub-tribe. “The blanket must be in between the two pieces of animal skin. We treasure our traditions and my father must be accorded such a decent burial in respect of his wishes. He cannot be buried in a coffin as that is an alien thing,” said Mr Peter Musambai, the dead man’s nephew. He said the rituals would last three days, each day with its own unique programme.
The ceremonies are conducted under the keen watch of elders, who understand and observe the traditions. “On the second day, we shall witness cows adorned in various attire mourn the dead. Villagers will arrive with their animals for the occasion before the final day that will see an elder lead the way in sharing out what the deceased left,” Mr Donald Walucho said. However, Mr Walucho said that upholding the culture was becoming a challenge as many people convert to Christianity. “In 20 years time, this tradition risks being extinct as Christianity penetrates many homes. But, it is not something that should be thrown to the dogs because traditions are part of us and we can’t wish them away,” said Mr Walucho.
Most of the mourners present, however, said they had never witnessed such a burial. There was no room for many speakers except for few old people who eulogised the deceased. “We have never seen someone being buried in an animal skin more so one from a cow that has just been slaughtered. Even church services are not acceptable here as only elderly men are taking care of the process,” said Mr Geoffrey Khamisi, 27.
Forgotten King fights to keep his kingdom
Wanga Kingdom is split into two: Wanga Mukulu and Wanga North with rival nabongoship
By John Shilitsa, July 4 2009
The ceremony was the exhumation of Nabongo Rapando of the Wanga Kingdom, who died 73 years ago for reburial, after which a new king would be crowned.
The hitch was that though the elders knew the general area where the king was laid to rest, the grave was otherwise unmarked.
The search was frantic. The new king had to be crowned by 4 a.m. on the appointed day, so said Mzee Hussein Orata, 92, the man bestowed with the sacrosanct duty of leading the ceremony.
The pall bearers had to deliver the remains of the old chief to the shrines before the kingdom subjects awaken.
Waiting at the site was Prince Japheth Wambani Rapando, 86, the king-in-waiting.
Dead of the night
The search climbed a notch higher. This obscure place - the local people call it Eshembekho in Emulambo village, East Wanga Division, Mumias District - was a beehive of activity in the dead hours of the night. Young men frantically searched the thickets trying their very best to beat time. Half an hour later, there were no signs of the grave yet.
Mzee Orata, then turned to divination and asked the long dead king to accept that his son be crowned Nabongo “to look after the people you left behind”.
“Please do not ashame us, it is a big day for you and the people you led,” said the old man.
He was entranced, talking as though the fallen king was right there, listening to him. No sooner had Mzee Orata finished than one of those combing the thicket discovered a pot with two holes that covered the head of the dead man when he was buried seven decades ago.
The exhumation then began, all the while, Mzee Orata speaking in indeterminate tongues or sipping from a bottle of yellow liquid stuff which he spat around the grave. He then said a traditional prayer to the gods as the ritual got under way.
On retrieval, the skull and bones were washed and anointed with milk cream fats. It was then wrapped in the hide of a freshly slaughtered bull and shipped off to the Shimuli shrine — eight kilometres away — where four other Nabongos were laid to rest eons ago.
Patrick Karani, 65, did the washing. He was picked as he comes from outside the royal lineage. He would be paid Sh50,000, a cow and a cock for washing and transporting the remains to the shrine. He was not supposed to look behind or even rest along the way until he arrived at the shrine lest the ancestors disapproved of the ceremony.
The journey to the shrine, in the chilly morning, is the longest and one that will be remembered for long. Karani carried the remains on his shoulders without resting for the more than eight kilometre journey to the 3.5-acre thicket opposite the Mumias Sugar Company.
The reburial is important because the deceased Nabongo, believed to be still watching upon his people, can no longer share power with the new one supposed to be in charge after installation, said Mzee Orata.
The new king says that in 1967, President Jomo Kenyatta intervened through Parliament to have the shrine preserved arguing that cultures must be respected and preserved. A sugar miller had wanted to plant sugarcane at the site.
The shrine has three entrances and one is not allowed to leave using the same gate used to gain entry. The remains of the dead king were ushered in through the east gate, watched by a curious crowd of subjects. A mock war was staged before entering the thicket to symbolise the preparedness of the king’s soldiers to fight enemies trespassing the shrine.
The crowd kept a distance as the elders moved into the shrine (Shembekho). Mzee Orata followed Karani closely leading the rest in a traditional song.
A bull whose ear was cut the previous night was slaughtered near the shrine and its blood sprinkled on the graves of the departed Nabongos just before a fresh grave was dug and the remains of Nabongo Rapando reburied.
The thicket is known for dangerous wild animals and reptiles, but Mzee Orata asked the animals not to interfere with the ceremonies. Wanga people strongly believe the dead would restrain wild animals from attacking during such ceremonies.
Meat is roasted in plenty and Busaa is taken indiscriminately by the young and the elderly. The new king’s wives Julia Nanzala and Maria Adipo danced to the traditional special dance drums, spraying milk into the charged crowd.
Meanwhile, the grave was refilled, and some more rituals observed at the site. Mzee Orata then led other elders to the home of Prince Wambani, where a bull and a sheep had been slaughtered.
The animals’ blood was used to cleanse the home, as people enjoyed plenty of liquor in the vast compound. Accompanying the merry-making was amabwi (a dance to traditional drumbeats) as the ceremony approached a crescendo. Prince Wambani was moved to a secluded house where he was clothed in traditional royal regalia, handed a spear and two golden bracelets, and one made of sheepskin.
For a quarter an hour, Mzee Orata appeased ancestors and performed rituals to install the new King of Wanga. The door was then opened and the new king stepped out to meet his people amid ululations from the crowd. His wives were carrying calabashes that contained roast meat, simsim and milk, which they sprayed onto the singing subjects of the new king.
Thus did Wambani Rapando take the mantle from his father and predecessor Nabongo Rapando 73 years after the latter’s death.
The Wanga Kingdom was one of the most organised political dynasties in East Africa. Some versions of oral and written history have it that the kingdom once extended from parts of Uganda to Naivasha in Kenya.
According to Simon Kenyanchui in the book Makers of Kenya’s History, the Nabongo was the executive head of the central government, the final counsellor and adviser, because he was regarded as wise, benign, benevolent and neutral.
He was also the source of peace and stability and the custodian of traditions and customs. Mumia, the 17th Nabongo, was perhaps the most famous among recent generations of Kenyans due to his role in the colonial history.
Valuable material and oral history of the Wanga Kingdom is preserved at the Nabongo Mumia Museum in Matungu in Mumias. Rapando was born around 1893 and started ruling at a tender age of 25 years when Nabongo Lutomia died. He ruled for 18 years between 1918 and 1936, the year he died after being bitten by a wild dog.
By then, Nabongo Wambani Rapando was 12 and Makari Lutomia would hold brief until 1948 when Nabongo Wambani had completed his studies at Government African School in Kakamega and Budo Kings College, Uganda.
Nabongo Osundwa was the first to be reburied at the shrine followed by Kweyu, Sakwa and Lutomia in that order. Sakwa is said to have been the most fierce and shrewd amongst them all.
The kingdom split in the 18th century when ailing Nabongo Osundwa summoned his two sons, Kweyu and Wamukoya and gave the former a spear that symbolised who was the chosen heir and the rope to the latter, to mean he was to play second fiddle to his brother, says King Wambani Rapando.
When Osundwa died, Wamukoya, with support from some elders, decided to oppose his brother and elders felt he had betrayed their fallen Nabongo.
He then secretly plotted to steal the remains of his father. However, Kweyu’s warriors were on high alert and waylaid Wamukoya and his faction as they were transporting the remains to the current Matungu shrine. A war ensued and Kweyu’s forces carried the day.
However, Wamukoya was allowed to attend reburial of his father’s remains at Shimuli Shrine and was sent away five days later. That is how the kingdom split: Wanga Mukulu under Nabongo Kweyu and North Wanga under Nabongo Wamukoya.
Wamukoya was succeeded by his son Shiundu who handed the mantle to Nabongo Mumia. Nabongo Mumia would later collaborate with the British colonisers and emerge as a famous king ruling a vast area.
Kweyu was succeeded by Sakwa known for his habit of sitting on the laps of his wife as another one held his straw while he sipped traditional brew, says Mzee Orata.
When Joseph Thompson and Carl Peters visited the kingdom for the first time in about 1884 and hoisted a flag on Nabongo Kweyu’s farm, King Sakwa who was in charge then lowered the flag, burnt it and chased the visitors away. However, the white men were welcomed by Nabongo Mumia, says Mzee Orata.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the home of the just installed Nabongo Wambani Rapando accompanied by then President Daniel arap Moi.
“Thatcher was so impressed and it’s after her visit I was shocked to learn the colonisers regarded me a king,” says Wambani Rapando.
A majority of the five MPs who have served Mumias hailed from Wanga Mukulu. They are; John Owashika (1970 – 1973), Francis Obongita (1973-1979), Ellon Wameyo, who was re-elected for four consecutive terms, Wycliffe Osundwa and Benjamin Washiali, the current MP.
“An MP is elected leader, and he must be acceptable to the majority,” said Mr Osundwa who attended coronation ceremony for King Wambani Rapando.
The biggest challenge facing the new king is the struggle to reunite the two kingdoms. The two kingdoms have challenged each other’s legitimacy with the North under Peter Mumia II.
“The true and legitimate kingdom belongs to us,” said Orata.
In a telephone interview, Mumia II told Lifestyle that he was the undisputed King of Wanga.
According to the elders, Prime Minister Raila Odinga falls in the line of Nabongo Sakwa, son to Nabongo Kweyu who was chosen by Nabongo Osundwa as his heir and not Wamukoya who rebelled and went to the North instead.
US envoy crowned Wanga elder
By Cosmas Butunyi and John Shilitsa, May 28 2009
At the Nabongo Mumia Cultural centre in Matungu constituency, Mr Ranneberger looked a little bewildered as instantly-composed praise songs were belted out in his honour, complete with baptism that came with a new name, Shiundu. The ambassador acknowledged the rich culture of the Wanga, which he described as “the only ancient kingdom in Kenya”.
“He is beyond being made a warrior, so we made him an elder,” explained the claimant to the throne, “His Highness” Prince Peter Mumia II. Mumia II presides with the help of a Council of Elders, but the Kingdom and its titles and organs are largely non-existent, having no official recognition and no authority except maybe over a few cultural issues.
The elders work through five committees that carry out different tasks. These include advisory, historical, cultural affairs, information and publicity, and investment. The “monarch” is free to name whoever he pleases to the council of elders.
The association with Mr Ranneberger provides a welcome fillip for an institution crying out for attention. And maybe a little more because at the function last week, there was a plea for financial assistance. The Kingdom required some Sh146 million for a multi-purpose hall and guest wing, amongst other improvements on the cultural centre.
In his brief State of the Kingdom speech, the Mumia II said that though the region had a huge untapped potential in natural resources and manpower, it was mired in poverty. “We only need a little push and the rest will be done,” he said, adding that the region was once the granary of Western Kenya.
“I will take the requests seriously and look into what we can do even though we have a difficult budget situation I will make an honest approach to do something instead of making false promises,” Mr Ranneberger responded. He was shown the regalia donned by the Kingdom’s leaders of yore.
The journey into the culture of the Wanga Kingdom would not be complete without a visit to the mausoleum where the remains of the past kings Nabongo Wanga, Nabongo Mumia I and Nabongo Netia, were buried. The current Wanga monarch has been relegated to performing traditional ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.
If he ever gets officially coronated, he would become the 28th ruler in the history of the kingdom. But he may have a long wait, for unlike in neighbouring Uganda, there are no plans to revive the traditional kingdoms. According to Prince Mumia, the Kingdom dates back to 1050AD with the birth of Nabongo Wanga to King Mwanga III.
He would be exiled from Uganda to settle in Lela, Nyanza Province, and eventually Imanga, in what came to be Mumias District, where he was taken in by area chief Mumia as a herdsman. His stay was short-lived, as he was kicked out when the chief’s wife saw him with a rare ring (omukasa), which meant he was royalty. He settled in a nearby village and ousted the chief. He later moved to Matungu around 1100AD and died in 1140AD.
Nabongo Mumia I went down in history as the most successful leader of the kingdom. Born in 1849, he succeeded his father Nabongo Shiundu in 1880. “He was a brave, shrewd and intelligent king and ruled with supreme authority,” says Mumia II. He was the King, Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief and final appeal authority at all civil and criminal cases in the vast kingdom “traversing Western region to Naivasha and all the way to Jinja, Uganda.”
The Nabongo also had chiefs representing him from among other communities, with Chief Chabasinga taking care of Busoga Jinja; Chief Lenana Talai the Maasai and Chief Odera Akang’o in charge of the Luo. ‘‘Mumia I became so popular that whites like Joseph Thompson and Bishop Hannington visited between 1883 and 1889 and sought his guidance through to Uganda,” says Mumia II.
Bishop Hannington, who was killed in Uganda days after meeting Nabongo Mumia I, was buried in Mumias, with his grave now at the periphery of a football pitch.
Wanga launch Nabongo cultural centre
By John Shilitsa and Walter Menya, Dec 30 2008
It could be the latest addition to the growing tourist sites in Kenya’s western tourism. It was an occasion few wished to miss, and some trekked long distances to the newly constructed centre on the outskirts of Mumias Town to witness its official opening. In attendance were Nabongo Peter Mumia II, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, and ministers James Orengo, Fred Gumo, Oburu Oginga and Alfred Khangati. Others were MPs Eugene Wamalwa, Ben Washiali, Alfred Odhiambo and National Heritage permanent secretary Jacob ole Miaron.
Traditional greeting When he took to the podium, Nabongo Mumia II hollered “Kualulukha! Kualulukha!” and the crowd, familiar with the traditional greeting responded in unison “kulama”, which means a tree will survive even when it shades off leaves. As he bellowed those words, Nabongo wanted to reassure the community entrusted under his guidance by the ancestors that the once vibrant Wanga Kingdom that dates back to 1,000 years would remain strong. Nabongo cultural centre was the brainchild of Nabongo Mumia II to help conserve traditional artefacts and history.
At the centre, visitors will see these great pieces of art and culture in a museum and a library. Within the compound is a prototype traditional Luhya homestead, complete with huts for the man of the house, the wives and sons. This is where the PM’s entourage sipped traditional brew using long straws. Besides, there is a mausoleum where the past Kings (Nabongo) were interred. The Wanga king gestured at the mausoleum opposite the traditional homestead, saying: “There is the place where Nabongo Wanga, Nabongo Mumia I and Nabongo Netia lie.” Next to the past Nabongos’ graves is a space where the current King could be laid to rest some day.
The entire work is envisaged to cost Sh46 million, with Mumias Sugar Company contributing Sh12 million towards the project through its corporate social responsibility. The Government has largely funded the remaining part. The work is not yet complete. “We want to have a multi-purpose hall, an eco-tourism cultural village, botanical garden, residential wing, and tourism van and sports field,” said Nabongo. Despite the elaborate celebrations to welcome the cultural centre, Nabongo Mumia II has reservations — fear that his ancestors’ kingdom is fading away at a worrying rate. With the collapse of many kingdoms, Mumia says the society has very little, if anything, to be proud of in the 21st century. Many future generations risk getting lost, culturally, he told the crowd. Source: Nation Media
Papa Kawele entertaining revellers in London
African ‘High Life’ is Back at North London!
Papa Kawele, like most singers and players, later left the competitive and bloated Kinshasa scene in the 1970s for Dar-Saalam and Nairobi, where becoming a big fish in a small pond was increasingly the norm for most Congolese musical troupes. Today in Britain, listening to him alongside his band playing live is the nearest one comes to slicing East Africa's rich musical heritage thousands of miles away from the motherland. Live African music, has thus come to embody tradition. In away, it has the capacity to clarify and articulate or sometimes even forge popular bond between cultural affairs and political existence, especially so in the diasporal shores, where many young people of African origin are increasingly perplexed.
For the benefit of my good friend Henry, and other westernised Africans like him, that often refer to live African music as either:“boring, or monotonously repetitive, and dulls the senses”, I wish to clarify to them that the sole objective of African music, unlike their western preference, has always been to translate everyday experiences into living sound, to depict life and nature therefore making it comparably richer. It has done this in two ways, first through the themes and concerns of the music we hear and secondly of the issues and events that constitute a peoples history.
In other words, our music documents our history through soundtracks that are woven of events, moments and experiences. Indeed certain songs, for me, such as Super Mazembe’s Kassongo, Franco’s Azda, Mbilia Bel’s Nairobi or even Elly Wamala’s Enkuba mudungu carry the capacity to make me recall a particular place or a specific event. Rama and Kawele’s Jambo Africa Band’s exhilarating live performances at the Duke Banquet are a therapeutical cultural experience in the diaspora where one finds himself surrounded by a cycle full of aesthetic poverty.
Ronald Elly Wanda, 11 August 2008
The way we live.
A soggy Saturday, my kitchen windows all fogged up with vapour, the Congolese genius Franco Luambo-Makiadi singing “Azda, azda, azda… Elly Wanda ni wetu…apewe, apewe, apewe…” while I chop and stir some roasted nyama (goat’s meat) that I’d bought earlier from expensive but expedient Kampala Foods ltd at West Green Road, in North London. Could an African cook’s life get any better? Well yes, the gory British weather could change from raining to a tropical sunshine and give me a deceptive conception (albeit temporal) of being in clement kakamega- west of Kenya or at congenial Mbale- east of Uganda where Franco and his TP OK jazz band are perhaps most celebrated. Nonetheless, I didn’t care much as I had a warm Tusker larger straight from Kenya (via Wood Green’s Morrisons) standing parallel to my chopping board.
My devotion to Franco’s compositions (seen here on the right) especially when cooking remains interminable. I think it is proficiently enriching to any Afro-cuisine experience. Incontestably, he remains one of Africa's supreme artistes, in spite of his poignant death almost 18 years ago in a sanatorium in Brussels; many of us continue to find his melodies philosophically ecstatic. Whilst in the 1950s my grandfather and his lot danced to Bolingo na Beatrice, Motema ya Loko (1957), Mado yo Sango and Malambo zela (1958) as well as Lobela Ngai Nyonso Oyokaki, Oye Oye and Malambo zela Ngai. Nowadays we are still grooving to Franco (due to familiarity and early exposure to high African culture) especially his later hit songs Mario, Azda, Tokoma ba camarade Pamba, Mado, Pesa Position as well as Kabasele in Memoriam which he collaborated with Tabu Ley in tribute to fellow musician Grand Kalle who died February of 1983.
My favourite Franco hit of all time has to be mammou which Franco alongside Madilu System compactly delivered. Mammou which also came out in 1983 contains lyrics exposing “a lively conversation among two women, a divorcee and a married one who accuses the former of trying to break up her nuptials". I was ecstatic last summer while on a visit to Thika, when a Nairobi University band played and dedicated the song to me…brilliant!
Like most folks either born or brought up in Britain with East African derivation, we also grew up eating Ugali (maize meal) with sukuma wiki and kunde (greens) mixed with nyama in our Harrow-on-the-hill and later Stanmore domicile. When you have been and tasted the real thing from nyumbani (East Africa) you can’t afford to think of it anywhere else and hastily prepared by a laissez-faire cook like the BBC’s booziest chef Keith Floyd. I mean music and food in our village continue being delivered concomitantly.
Taste I suppose is a matter of taste. However, it ought to be said that having good taste doesn’t necessarily mean being tasteful. That said I’m not sure I can attest (to some gruesome cooks like a relative that I once had the displeasure of living with) that listening to Franco’s music will make their food taste any more scrumptious. The individual grew up in an environment where gender power disparity was an alien theory- the kitchen was a female province and if you were male the kitchen door would automatically read “No entry”. He couldn’t cook and his cohabiter wasn’t any better. Today in the Diaspora, the East African male specie (bachelor or engaged) has deferred this ancestral gibberish because of its impracticality and subsequent non applicability.
Come 6 O ’clock and I’d had a liberal rest following my jolly feast, Wafula who’d called me earlier, hoots the horn downstairs. I am ready so I sneak into my Safari boots and out I go. We stop over at Charlie’s flat nearby to pick him up. I rang the doorbell for flat 65. No answer. I rang again. With a squeal of paint, the window above me opened. A middle-aged Jamaican man with a ragged beard akin to mine stuck his head out of the window, a spliff in one hand and a can of what looked like a strong larger in the other. “Yeah man, what you want?” he bellowed. “Hello sir, sorry to trouble you, I’m looking for Charlie, a friend of mine whom I thought lived here!” I guardedly responded. “I am Haile Selassie. I am the son of Jesus Christ. Come in man!” the man yelled, victoriously waving his spliff and almost spattering me with his beer. Phew!
Thankfully, Charlie who lived two doors away came. “Sorry about my neighbour. He’s jinx (schizophrenic), usually a good man but like many of our fellow brothers around here the system messed him up”, Charlie said inconspicuously, as he walked towards me like the Last King of Silver Street, holding half a cigarette and adjusting his slightly outsized and unbelted trousers. We made our way whilst listening to Samba Mapangala’s “Vunja Mifupa kama bado meno iko” later Nairobian Nonini’s nonsense followed by Kampalan Chameleon’s delicate Jamilia and fittingly Arushan T.I.D’s “Siamini kama tuko wote…” unambiguously engaging us with contemporary East African popular culture discourse.
Upon our modest arrival at Bill and David’s Pub-lies school of fun (The Three Crowns Pub) in Edmonton’s Fore Street, my friend Wafula seemed a little put out (“wouldn’t we be better off at The Gilpins?, bloody hell Wanda!”) however, he begun to melt down as soon as I’d asked the striking girl behind the bar for a Tusker. Poor old Wafula, I don’t know what he fancied more- the cordial woman or good old Tusker. The Three Crowns Pub is cheaply but cheerily done out, it has wooden floorboards, alien-style ceiling that looks deceitfully voguish and the walls simply painted black with some white. The only vague concession to East-africaness is of course its regular East African constituents and periodic dignitaries from Eastern Africa as well as the sporadic delivery of reminiscent (wazee wakumbuke) moments by Dennis the monotonous resident DJ- by no standard comparable to my old mate Edu whose mnemonic African musical deliverance is now enjoyed globally through the BBC’s airwaves.
A swift glance around confirmed six impressionably loaded right wing ‘war lords’ from Semi-autonomous Juba (southern Sudan)sitting on my left discussing what seemed like another plot- perhaps to overthrow Bill and David and turn this happy place into… As I turned to my right I bumped into my old pal Robert who’s just returned from Lake Victoria’s sunshine city of Kisumu. “Mzee Wanda, it’s been awhile! Pewa kitu before I brief you” said Bob, (wearing a clannish vest that read ‘Jaluo in the House’) disapprovingly shaking his head. Bob proceeded like Raila Odinga’s 2007 campaign manager in Nairobian ‘Sheng’ (a concoction of Swahili and English):“Kibaki amefanya watu wanamanga mchanga. Eti Rift Valley fever! Hi gava niya makausi, yani original Mount Kenya mafia… hawa watu, my friend, hawana huruma jo! Kazi yao ni kuaribia wanainchi kazi yao. Eti privatisation! Eti Kenya Anti Corruption Commission…hawa wasee ni majokers! Regime ya NARC-Kenya ni nothing, imefuta mabuyu wamob job na kusakanya ma pensions na pesa zao, kisha wanazimwaga kwa Barclays ya Nyeri! Afadhali ile gava ya Idi Amin! Ingawaje Huyo jama alikua vicious, yani alinyonga ma intellectuals na akafukuza kina ‘Mr Patels’ to Leicester- ju hawa wasee ndio walikua waki control economy na kuangaisha wanainchi sana. Kimpango, huyo msee alifanyia wateja wa UG maendeleo kiasi.”(Translation: “President Mwai Kibaki’s NARC-Kenya administration is very corrupt. Other than that, I had a marvellous vacation in Kenya”).
“Heeey yawa!!! Did you not see that?” Charlie said interrupting Bob’s annotations and my political brief whilst slyly pointing at a tall and agreeably gorgeous woman wearing an attractive Kitenge (traditional attire) navigating her way through Three Crown’s African crowd. It later became almost impossible to continue our conversation as our voices drowned amidst DJ Dennis’s deafening ragga gobbledygook, so we instead concentrated on our Tuskers whilst “Bird” watching - gender power disparity notwithstanding.
Three hours later, my warm bed was calling me, I’d downed a couple of Tuskers; ate some succulent nyama choma with cassava, had unproductive as well as meaningful conversations, met a Chinese woman selling bogus DVDs, a Ugandan mechanic, a Nigerian “law-yer,” Sudanese warlords, as well as a man who claimed to be a Brigadier-General in the Kenyan army.
Having said my goodbyes, Onyango, another big fan of Franco’s music and sober as a judge, volunteered to drop me home. “The thing is”, he tells me, as we drive home in his Bavarian-made crimson limousine, “we Africans have a problem of not qualitatively appreciating our own artistry,” he continues, “it is only when we come to these colonial cities that we magically reawaken our senses of our arts, cultures and music”, I felt for a moment there that the man I’ve known for many years as a wobbly acquaintance actually had a point.
Ronald Elly Wanda is a Political scientist based in London.
By John Oywa, April 30 2008
Many times fortunes searched for Peter Sidede Onyulo and often found him in a drinking den.So talented was he, that filmmakers would replace a cast member who had landed the role whenever he was given a script even in his drunken stupor.
In fact, when the directors of Nowhere in Africa came calling in Nairobi, they failed to get a good supporting male actor but word had it that Sidede could fit the role.
The director then sent a casting agent to go for him in Kisumu.
He was traced to a drinking spot and driven to Nairobi for auditions. As Sidede sobered up, he did the first reading of the script, and voila he had landed the role.
The man with vast film experience who lived like any other holloi polloi passed on in Kajulu, Kisumu last week.
The lakeside residents might have seen the ‘poor’ man riding his bicycle without awe.
But Peter Sidede Onyulo, 53, was not just an ordinary film star. He starred in the Oscar winning movie Nowhere in Africa as Owour and won the Best Supporting Actor award in the Dublin film festival, an honour he was unaware of until the producer Peter Herrman himself presented the award to him.
Peter Sidede Onyulo, actor par excellence.
In 1979, Onyulo quit his law practice to embrace theatre, a move that did not go down well with those close to him.
Onyulo summed up society’s attitude as thus; "They think this is a career that should not be taken seriously and look down upon actors. They think we are mad the way the people of Kafira thought Jasper Wendo was in Betrayal of the city."
Thankfully, his Nairobi High School drama teacher Kichamu Akivaga who recruited him into theatre while in high school did not share this view.
Akivaga enlisted Onyulo to participate as Jero in Wole Soyinka’s play Trials of Brother Jero a role that set him on the path to his destiny as a Kenyan thespian.
Upon graduating from the Kenya School of Law, Onyulo was employed Vigelegele theatre group with which he performed Sizwe Banzi is Dead.
Onyulo ventured into theatre in 1974 when he played a major role in Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City, before it was published.
Three years later, he took part in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Betrayal in the City, which were presented during the All Africa Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac) in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977.
He later acted in Shaka Zulu that was directed by Alakie Mboya. He was always designated the lead roles in Imbuga’s plays; The Successors, Man of Kafira, Betrayal in the City.
Onyulo made his film debut in 1987 when he got a role in Shadow on the Sun, which was shot, in Nyeri, Nanyuki and Nairobi.
The movie was based on the true story of the first woman to single-handedly pilot a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Although he played a houseboy, the talent and charm that he lent to the role may possibly have earned him the role of Owour in nowhere in Africa. He also acted in The Last Elephant, The Eye of a Witness, and Two Worlds.
He has been an extra in Mountains of The Moon. The award winning Nowhere in Africa was his seventh film.
Onyulo’s contribution to film in Kenya did not end there and he continued to be actively involved in the industry working with various performing arts groups as well as well as work with NGOs.
He also lent his talent to television series like Heart and Soul and the anti- FGM (female genital mutilation) documentary Price of a Daughter.
Onyulo had high hopes for the local film industry and had even alluded to penning his own play while still alive.
Despite his obvious wealth of talent Onyulo is said to have died without he opulence that surrounds venerated actors.
Onyulo moved to Kisumu from Nairobi in 1993 Onyulo moved to Nyanza in 1993 to establish a home there and also to use his Vigelegele theatre troupe for what he calls grassroots development.
Prior to the filming of Nowhere in Africa, local casting agent Lenny Juma had to physically track him down to his home near Lake Victoria.
The news about his death hit Kisumu town, with many of his peers and admirers expressing shock at the sudden demise.
Following the success of the movie, he was often a crowd puller whenever he visited his hometown of Kisumu.
He, however, remained modest stating in an interview that he was more recognisable in the streets of Munich at the time than in Kisumu.
His nephew, Mr Silas Otieno said Onyulo would be buried at his home in Kajulu.
Onyulo who was born and brought up in Kajulu, attended Muthaiga Primary School between 1965-1968, and studied his A-levels in Nairobi school between 1969-1978.
He studied law at the University of Nairobi between 1975-1978, his classmates included National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, Kisumu Town West MP, John Olago Aluoch and Kisumu lawyer Alloyce Aboge, among others.
The Kisumu theatre fraternity led by the director of Misango Arts Ensemble Aketch Obat Masira described Onyulo’s death as a big blow to Kenya’s film industry.
Onyulo fell sick while at his rural home at the foot of Kajulu hills and was rushed to a private hospital and died a week later. He takes to the grave a rich talent.
He has left a mark as one of Kenya’s best-known actors. The twice-married Onyulo leaves behind three children. He was son to former Winam MP, the late Nathaniel Onyulo Otene, and only child to his mother, Mrs Winfred Odongo Oyulo.
A towering figure with a rare sense of humour and love for the theatre, Onyulo is said to have had had many more international friends than peers at home.
Those who knew him say he was a reserved man. He was a powerful man on stage but a very private man off stage. A former schoolmate, Daniel Omuok mentioned that Onyulo also had a love for drink.
He will best be remembered for his dynamic role as the cook Owour, a character he played with as much finesse and mastery as he employed in his many other roles on screen and on stage.
Additional information from
By Shad Bulimo, London Sept 16 2007
Negotiating dowry is always a hard business in most African societies. In Luhya land, tempers often flare and the suitors are sometimes thrown out of the home of the bride. No food is served for the entire period of the negotiations until a bride price is agreed. The traditional way of doing things becomes double-dutch when a different culture is introduced into the equation.
Yesterday two teams travelled this untrodden path representing Dr Walter Lusigi (father of the bride) in the red corner and Mr Roger Martin Harvey (father of the groom) in the blue corner.
It was left to Juvenal Shiundu, the Chairman of Abeingo Community Network to explain to the English Team the traditions governing marriage in Luhya land. While the English team thought figures quoted were “very high, extremely high,” members of Dr Lusigi’s team moved quickly to reassure Mr Harvey that Bride Price is not about monetary value or even a comparison of like for like. It holds an extremely emotional and symbolic role in the psyche of the people and family from where the bride comes.
Mr Harvey explained the English tradition which involves the father funding the wedding and if able, setting aside some funds towards setting up home for the newly weds which he had done and wanted this factored into the bride price. That is all fine but this wedding is not purely English and the two cultures must be considered in tandem.
After six hours of strong negotiations, offers and counter-offers both parties emerged from the meeting room with a smile on their faces – bruised but happy that they had accomplished a big task and that Roswitha Mwendelani Lusigi (bride) and Christopher Meyrick Harvey (groom) will finally tie the knot on 30th August 2008 in Nairobi with the full blessings of their families and community.
"In the Luo tradition, when a person dies away from home and his body is not found, his clothing and other belongings are returned home to mark his return. A banana trunk is buried so that his spirits “do not haunt the living”. - Tobias Chan Ochuka, the uncle of the coup leader, Private Hezekia Ochuka, who was executed by the Moi regime in 1985 following a failed coup bid on August 1st 1981.
By Julius Bosire, Namasoli July 17 2007
A guesthouse stands in a dusty village in Butere District, which has the marks of royalty in it, having stood the test of ages. The centre has carved a special place in the locality.
Mama Esteri (Esther) Ashiembi, 87, is an active employee of Martha’s Guest House and serves as its institutional memory. Just like Ashiembi, the guesthouse has a rich history dating back to 1932, which has kept tourists flocking to the centre in the rural area of Butere District.
The centre was initially named Monkey’s House following the invasion of the apes owing to its location in a forest at that time. It was the home of James Shiraku Inyundo, a former worker of East African Railway and Harbours, who has since died. It was later renamed Martha’s Guest House after Mr Shiraku’s wife, Martha.
The three bed-roomed house stands on Shiraku’s land near Namasoli shopping centre, a six-kilometre drive from Yala Township off the Kisumu-Busia road. The small establishment, which attracts tourists from world over, has a 10-bed capacity.
Besides, it has what is called a Christian Tourism Centre, which could accommodate about 100 people. It is utilised mainly by pupils as a camp centre where they are taught various Christian subjects and activities. The house stands with its original shape, of course with some maintenance, including painting and refurbished furniture.
A British couple — Peter and Christine Wyne — who visited the centre recently, were excited by the services offered at the place. Besides Martha’s original house, several houses have been put up in the compound with the traditional model of an African hut.
The blue and maroon gate does not give any indication of a cultural centre as one approaches the compound until the citing of a cubicle with comical drawing on the walls. Deeper inside the compound is a small hut with carvings of animals and human and then Martha’s Guest House.
In the living room are memorable photos, which include the first independence Cabinet of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. It also has a photo of Mzee Kenyatta and three of his members of the Cabinet at the beach in Mombasa with bare chests. Another photo is that of Mzee Kenyatta and the first President of Ghana, Dr Kwameh Nkurumah.
The walls also have memorable pictures of Mr Shiraku and Princess Margaret, African native chiefs at the Mombasa Coast, where Mumia Nabongo refused to move closer to the waters for fear of losing his kingdom. Of great significance too is a traditional hut named Rosa Museum after the first African nurse, Rosa Ayuya Oloo. Apart from hosting portraits of Mumia Nabongo of the Wanga kingdom and Sudi Namajanja of Bukusu, the museum is home of various artefacts of the Luhya. In the village museum are tools used by traditional African societies. They date back to 100 years.
There is an up-coming digital village, a cubicle to help the community access information technology. The director of the centre, Ms Judith Ombonya, says “our children don’t need to go to Nairobi to learn computers; we want them to get the studies right at their doorstep”. Why was the residential house turned into a tourist centre? Ms Ombonya explains that Shiraku believed that a house is for visitors and the owner is only a facilitator.
The story goes that when monkeys invaded the construction site, it became very difficulty to chase them away and quite often damaged what had been put up by builders. The house was put up using money Shiraku had earned as a worker with the Kenya-Uganda Railway. The man had disappeared from his home at Ebuchero-Mundeku at the age of 15 on February 13, 1924. He jumped onto a goods train shortly after it had been inaugurated in Kisumu, only to emerge in 1931.
He married on March 28, 1931, at a colourful ceremony, being one of the elite in society. The marriage certificate is part of the items displayed in the guest bedrooms. The toothless expert cook of murenda at the centre, Mama Ashiembi says she was absorbed by Martha’s Guest House as a special chef in 2002. She serves visitors with traditional vegetables cooked “the right way”.
Visitors to the guest house have the opportunity to tour Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kakamega’s bird sanctuary, picnic at Equator in Maseno and the renowned crying stone also in Kakamega. Other areas that may draw the attention of visitors are bull fighting at Khayega in Kakamega and Isukuti entertainment at the centre itself. ===source: Nationmedia
By Godfrey Miheso, Nairobi July 17 2007
As the Matatu cruises along the trimly tarmacked road towards Nairobi’s Kawangware area 46, in contrast, a dilapidated five minutes drive stretch of land unfolds, linking to the next estate. Here, unexpected armies of people progressively surface, and continue to build up further the same road into the slum as numerous rundown wooden shacks complete with rusted corrugated iron sheets for roofs come to full view.
The infrastructure therein is way below average with narrow dusty paths as roads. The region is Kawangware area 56, inhabited predominantly by a people with a common ancestry. Incidentally, most of them hail from Western Kenya. Not surprising, at the entrance to village, conspicuously stands an information centre that acquaints you with the culture of the Luhya community. ‘Orie, mbwena’ (Luhya for hallo, how are you), a middle-aged man salutes a neighbour, mounting his bike in readiness for another day of hard labour.
It is a common greeting, we learn later, since it is presumed that every one here speaks the language. Indeed not even strangers are spared this. Interestingly, the activity between area 56 and area 46 is no different from what you will find along the Shinyalu-Khayega Road. In both cases, scores of idle men and youth laze by the roadside, awaiting any passers-by in need of their services. On a good day, they might just land some few coins to meet their basic needs for the day.
“Ukiwa na bahati, waeza kupata kazi kama ya useremala, kutengeza sakafu, ama kazi yoyote tu ya mkono.” (If you are lucky, you land an offer on handy work such as woodwork, floor repairing or any other manual work),” says another resident. Economic activities are limited to such ventures since majority of the pioneers of the pioneer inhabitants lack professional skills to be absorbed in worthwhile employment..
A considerable number sell bricks, scrap metals or wood for a living while others trade in window and door frames. The women engage in less laborious tasks. They gather together in tow, at the shopping centres selling a variety of indigenous foods including a mixture of boiled maize and beans (githeri) and mandazi to supplement the family income. Mzee Hezbon Shiamala, a small-scale carpenter has been in the wood trade since the late 1960s when he, like his peers left the village for the city.
“We heard of tales of the first-rate life in the city and did not want to be left behind,” he confesses. Since he had some relatives living in the area, he moved in with them. But life had its twists and turns and it was not long before he was forced to fend for himself, many times straining too hard to make ends meet.
“I have been at this spot for about 41 years,” he confesses, as he carves out a piece of wood for seat.“ I am comfortable living here and have every reason to feel like I am back in the village.” Even though he has lived here for several years, Mzee Hezbon makes occasional visits to the village when he can. “ Christmas holidays are the best because I am sure to meet many of my long time friends and family.”
Meanwhile, he keeps in touch with his relatives via radio. Perhaps over the alleged obsession for radio amongst the Luhya speaking tribe, this well manifested here with the favourite radio stations either Mulembe FM or Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation radio. “This way we are able to keep in touch through the salaams programme,” Hezbon admits.
Residents say that laying a meal on the table is a challenge that far outweighs rent charges. The highest cost for instance, is Sh 500 for a single iron sheet mud house and Sh 250 for a single room and scrape pieces of iron sheets. A 24 year old Stanley Khayumbi is married and with two Children and admits that his greatest challenge is laying a meal on the table for his family “At least I can afford house rent”
Like a typical Luhya homestead, virtually each home boasts of at least two chicken. But for the lack of adequate space they share them with their masters. “ Mine sleep under my bed” says mama boi, as she is famously referred to . Like Hezbon’s story above, Pilot Yakahama a celebrated medicine man has lived in the region for decades and is reputed for his accomplishment in the treatment of a variety of diseases among them Asthma, Tuberculosis and various Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
He is particularly known for the dramatic manner he conducts his sessions which involve tones of unfathomable rituals. Over the years, a rare bond has developed in which residents pledge their undivided loyalty to pilot and believe his treatment is far more effective compared to the sparsely distributed dispensaries, not too different from the Shinyalu setting.
One kilometre from Khayega market a small village Called Museno, and recently christened Tusker, stands out. Here, a carefree drinking lifestyle dominates in which villagers drench themselves in local illicit brews. They say they do it to escape the frustrations occasioned by the chronic unemployment levels. Unfortunately, the youth like their parents have not been fortunate enough in securing worthwhile employment despite the fact that some of them pride in impressive credential from reputable colleges.
Like in Tusker, an estimated 50 percent of the men in area 56 consume cheap brews uncontrollably, with the youth, born and bred in the region hard hit. And with the prospects of further education appearing only as a mirage, most of them (youth ) have resigned to early marriages, alcoholism/ drug addiction their economic abilities notwithstanding. Consequently, the region’s Zebra pub is continually a beehive of activity where patrons imbibe cheap liquor, famously referred to as busaa.
‘Mbe malua malulu’ (give me well brewed chang’aa ) is a common phrase as the freely flowing drink exchanges hands . Dan Shikoli a graduate of the Maseno University in Political Sciences and also a regular customer at the Zebra pub says even university graduates who lack employment seek solace at this pub. Once a gardener at the nearby Lavington Estate, he was able to carry home at least Sh 4,000. “With this, only cheap liquor is affordable as one struggles to cater for his family”
Today, he is lucky to be working at a friend’s Cyber Café in area 46, proceeds from which are channelled to family use. Even so, he is grateful for the education he has acquired for he believes it has given an edge over the other youth in the region. Unlike Shikoli, Augustine Lumalas did not pursue further education after completing his O level, and now strains too hard to raise his a three-year-old daughter.
On this, Shikoli says, “ It is unfortunate since with minimal education and the circumstances at hand, it is quite difficult to foster the way forward.” Cristabela Ayisi now in her mid fourties, has been a bar hostess for over a decade and works long hours, her age not withstanding. She is grateful for the recent government legalisation on the consumption of local brew. “It is my sole source of income and without busaa, where will I go, and where will my children go to?,” She poses.
However, Kevin Shikokoti a patron in the pub laments that the government should not have done so since many youth are likely to loose their lives in the liquor at the expense of the countrys development. But the picture of life as a youth is not grim in its entirety. Those who care to do so are free to participate in one of a variety of worthwhile ventures. Kakamega United, a local football team is a preserve of the strong, and skilled youth was established to represent the area 56 village in both major and minor football tournaments within the city.
“It has also fostered good relations with the neighbouring youth,” says Shikokoti. Besides the close knit unity these residents have endeavoured to foster, Unfortunately the area they have called home for the last couple of decades may be no more since they face a possible eviction. It is alleged that the over 550,000 people are to be evicted by the end of the year and their homes demolished. The residents are adamant about this. “They will have to take us in handcuffs,” says Augustine Lumala an elderly man. “This is our land and we have no where else to go" says he. The residents are unanimous that area 56 remains their home, as long as they need to be in the City. ==== source: Kenya Times