Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Celebrating the Birth of a Baby in Old Luo Culture...

In the Luo Culture the birth of a baby in the family was and still a big celebration among the members of that family and friends. In the olden days, the celebrations included some rituals which were done. Among the rituals were, naming the child, shaving, taking the child out side for the first time and visiting the mother and her new born baby.

Taking the baby out was done according to the sex of the child. Boys were taken out after 4 days and girls after 3 days. This was usually done in the morning hours between 9:00 am – 10:00 am to avoid the heat.

In olden days shaving of a new born was a ritual of its kind. The shaving was done by a grandmother or an aged lady from the some clan, if the grandmother was not around or was dead. The person shaving was required to have a calabash (Agwata) full of water, a traditional razor and traditional Herb. A calabash full of water was used to prevent the baby from being obese, the traditional Herb was used as soup.

NAMING OF THE CHILD (Miyo Nyathi Nying) 
This was done a few days after birth, by the parents of the child. Luos were naming their children after their dead relatives, the time and the season the child was born, and if a mother conceived without seeing her periods. Children born at a certain time were named after that time, i.e. Otieno/Atieno, these are children born at night, Okoth/Akoth born during rainy season, Okumu/Akumu born without the mother seeing her periods. Naming children after the dead relatives has now stopped, but they still name them after the seasons, time of birth and the living relatives.

VISITATION (Neno Nyathi)
According to Luo culture when a baby is born in a family, the relatives and friends must pay a special visit. In the olden days, many rituals were also performed during this visitation. The first visitation was done by the lady’s young sisters to represent their mother. The sisters were sent with cooked food and food which was not cooked. The cooked food included Meat (Sun dried) ,Ugali made from Millet flour, Indigenous Vegetables i.e. African Nightshades (Osuga), Spiderplant (Dek), Crotalaria (Mitoo). The cooked food was eaten cold and served in a small basket called (Adita). After this, one sister was usually left behind to help the sister until she was strong.

The visitation by friends and other ladies from the village was always arranged in advance before the day of visiting. The day of visitation, each lady was suppose to carry Millet flour, sorghum flour, dry Meat, dry Fish,  indigenous vegetables, fire wood and Beads for both mother and child. The Beads (Tigo) were tied around the mother’s neck for blessings and also tied around the child’s wrist for protection from the witches. The visiting was playing a big roll in bringing different families together, also bringing ladies together, what the modern people call CHAMA. TUNAJIVUNIA ELIMU   

Story Contributed by Monica Ondiek
Herbarium Library
National Museums of Kenya

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Burial Rites in the Taita Community...

Traditional Taita Hut
The Dawidha people are a Bantu tribe living in the Tiara hills and the lower plains of the Taita hills; on the Southwest of Kenya near the border with Tanzania and the surrounding plains.

The Taita tribe consists of following three related tribes
·         Wadawida ( Taita)
·         Wasaghalla(sagalla)
·         Wataveta ( Taveta)
One of the unique aspects of the Taita is the respect accorded to the dead. The Taita believed in the power inherent in objects, the power of the dead (wafu) and in the existence of a high God Mlungu.

It is believed that when death (kifwa), to die occurred, there would be customs connected with death. Certain customs were performed accordingly. Such rites were procedures approaching death and ceremonial afterwards.

In the process of death, people breathing their last breath were supported in a sting position till their bodies relaxed. The corpse (garia) would then be laid down; eyelids properly closed for fear of evil eye and then put on a bed. The womenfolk would then begin to wail, men were expected to exercise self-restraint till later.

The body was washed and hair shaved by old women past child bearing age in the village. Formerly, the corpse was always placed in the grave (kina) in an upright position. The head was covered about one foot to the earth, stones marked its position so as to enable the descendants  to exhume the skulls after about a year and take it to the local shrine.

This style of burial is hardly practiced and skulls are seldom exhumed. When medicine men died, wailing was not allowed, until after a sheep had been sacrificed. If death was caused by a certain epidemic, the mourners were first cleansed by medicine men before mourning.

Members of the community regarded as important and famous were accorded special burial ceremonies. The body would be buried in a hut or in a special burial place (Vinenyi) usually in the grooves near the settlement. After the burial, close relatives of the deceased were ceremonially washed at the doorway of the hut. The men then harvested a lot of sugarcane to make a brew known as Lambo for the following day. On the first day after burial, a goat was slaughtered and the contents of the stomach put aside for sacrificial purposes. Later, it was roasted in the doorway using grass from above the door and beams from the left side of the house to make fire. The meat was eaten with porridge. The first seven mouthfuls were spewed on the ground. Chief mourners were shaved and wailing continued for four days, after which friend would return to their homes. Close relatives would continue for a further three days. On the seventh day, women would go to fetch firewood, and men went to the plains to hunt and shoot game meat as a break and then come back to mourn until a complete lunar month had passed.

Closing the period of mourning was known as kuchumbua maridia. This event was marked by scattering the contents of the sacrificial goat over crops. On the very last day, friends returned to take part in the last night of wailing, shaving themselves again. The women oiling themselves on the doorway of the hut. Those who had helped dig the grave were paid by slaughtering a cow for the occasion. If the deceased had been widowed (lost a husband or wife) to death before, the hut would be sold for a goat or sheep and then dismantled and the poles and the thatching used elsewhere by the purchaser. Otherwise, the husband or wife would continue to occupy it.

Story Contributed by Brian Nyamu
Presented by Malindi Museum Librarians.
Rose Mwandotto & Doris Kamuye

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Mijikenda Circumsicion, Child naming and Marriage....


Interview on circumcision:

Mzee Rajabu Muhala a Mkilindini Ziwani , the parents migrated to North Coast in 19th century to settle at a place called Junju where his father Ahmad wa Mwalago “ Muhala”  was appointed the first chief during the colonial period. Muhala is the name given to the chief by the community and it mean “a big place” however the name sticks and becomes the family name.

Interviewer:   how was the circumcision conducted during the old days, “your days?”

Mzee Rajab: Circumcision was a big celebration just like weddings or Edd celebrations in or communities. Children boys from seven or more families within the family or the neighbourhood are identified, the family then puts the heads together to organize for the celebration and the date. Each family will then contribute animals to be slaughtered or grains e.g. rice for the big day.

Interviewer:   How old were the boys when they were circumcised?

Mzee Rajab:  the boys were circumcised between the ages of 4 – 10 years

Interviewer:   who circumcised the boys and where exactly does it take place inside the house?

Mzee Rajab;  The circumcision took place in a forest like place very early in the morning, 4am and it is done by a traditional professional doctor well known to the community. The traditional doctor is always identified by his way of dressing, and would be carrying a small bag containing his charms and traditional medicine.  Once he has
Circumcised, he would then apply the medicine to the wound to stop blood from oozing out and for the wound to heal soon.

Interviewer:   Where wound the boys stay after the circumcision takes place?

Mzee Rajab:  during planning and organizing the family agreed upon themselves on where the boys will stay during the healing period, preferably a big house distance from the daily activities and crowded places.  The boys are taken care by the big boys in the family, they are also allowed to play but inside the house with their age mates.

During the healing period the families would contribute and share all the expenses ranging from basic needs, food etc. the boys would be taught many things; one of the teaching  is to  respect and obey  their  elders, to hunt for birds, small animal ,  preparing the tools e.g. Bladder.  Their duties and responsibility at home is to take care of the security.

Interviewer: how long did the boys take to heal?

Mzee Rajab:  the boys would take 2 -3 weeks before they heal properly however most of the time it depends with the wound, and individual.

Interviewer:   How often would the traditional doctor visit the circumcise boys?

Mzee Rajab:  The traditional doctor would come after every four days to clean
The wound, not unless there is a special case and urgent then he would be called up on to attend.

Interviewer:   Mzee Rajab when the boys come out do you has any special ceremony? Do you celebrate their coming out? And if yes how is it celebrated?

Mzee Rajab:  to be precise yes the celebration is even much bigger this time, the boys are bought new out fits , kanzus, on the big day, in the morning a maalim/sheikh would be called up on to (zunguwa) pray for the boys well being by reciting the sura’s in the Holy Quraan eg Alfatiha, Falak, Nas, Ahad and Yassin dua’s will also be recited. All these is to prevent the boys from any harm, bad eyes, evil eye , hassad, etc. It would then followed by Matwari and qaswida  praising Allah S.W.  (PBUH) and his Prophet S.A.W (PBUH). DRING THE OCCATION THE FAMILY WOLD ALSO READ HITIMA (PRAY AND REMEMBER THOSE WHO HAVE DIED IN THE FAMILY BY PRAYING TO THEM AND GIVING SADAKA”

During this occasion animals would be slaughtered and food will be in plenty because all the family members are invited the neighbours and friends to the celebration.
The two hours interview ended p with the old man giving a story based on his own experience during the circumcision. Mzee Rajab is approaching approximately 75 years but despite the fact that many, many years have past since the event took place the memory in him is still fresh like it just happened yesterday, the pain he felt was so severe that it is hard to explain, the pain that even with the age he is now, its still difficult to explain.

“Mzee Rajab said; I was circumcised together with my two cousins, we were all Muhala’s family, and age mates of 8 – 9 years. Being a well known family and my father being the area chief, the occasion was celebrated by the entire village. They sang, danced and ate the whole night as per the custom.

In the morning 4am it was still cold and chilly outside, I was the first one to be led out to the bush a distance from home and the celebration.  We reached a point where we no longer hear the noise, very quiet.   in a dramatic move and within a blink of an eye I found myself hold up in fixed position that I cold not even help myself or even move my entire body. The remaining place was my mouth but even with all the noise I made no one heard me due to the distance, it was well calculated by the operators. The man who holds me up to be circumcised was so experienced that within 10 – 15 minutes the operation was over.  I was then left loose and a piece of kanga raped around my neck (kishingo shingo) I was then asked to walked back home.  “a man” Interestingly after the operation you are not thought or guided on how to walk, in fact it just happened automatic “Mzee Rajab demonstrate the walking style and sitting position” (laughter) WIHOUT GUIDANCE AND HELP YOU WILL WALK LEGS APART AND YOU WILL ALSO SIT IN A POSITION NOT TO WOUND YORSELF”  (nakila kijitonesha ni bora zaidi” you  experience the pain of being a man “ true to the saying that experience is the best teacher”


Mzee Rajabu is one of the Mijikeda’s nine tribes at the Coast Province. As said in the circumcision article, the family moved from the South Coast or to be precise Kilindini to settle in the North Coast a place called Junju. Mzee Rajabu is mziwani by tribe and he got married to a mjibana, she too is among the mijikenda tribe from the North Coast.

Child Naming is not a big ceremony however a small ceremony witnessed by a few relatives and children from the neighbourhood.  The naming of the baby is done during the third day the new born baby sweets/ bisi/biscuits is distributed to the children as “Sadaka” The Baby “ana zunguliwa” to wish him/her well being and to be protected from the evil eye and Hasaadi.

Mzee Rajabu continues to say naming of the child in Mijikenda is done in two, three ways;

  1. A child is given a name while still in the womb by a relative; for example the auntie would want the baby to be named her if it would be a female, and if it turns out to be a male he should be called after his husband. (Kutunikiwa) if no objection from other members of the family then the naming would be through.
  2. If it turns out that some of the family members objected and proposed other names; then pieces of papers would be written all the names proposed by the relatives present during the naming ceremony, and then children would be called up on to pick each a piece of paper, the exercise is repeated three times, and the name that would be picked three times would be the name given to the new born child.
  3. The exercise is practiced to avoid gossip, favours’, etc. That can harm the baby.
  4. Another way of naming is if a relative happens to pop up in the house before the 3rd day and name the new born baby it’s accepted.


Marriage in Mijikenda according to Mzee Rajabu Muhala was not an expensive affair as
It is now days.  Those days marriage was arrange by parents, relatives and elders.

  1.   1st Step:     Parents identify the girl from a family with good history and reputation
  2. 2nd Step:    The family would then send an investigator, to gather all the information related to the family identified, e.g. their tribe, relatives, clan, etc
  3.   3rd Step:     The son parents would then send a word to the girl’s parents that they would pay them a visit on the arranged date.
  4.   4th Step:     The son parents would then pay a visit to the girl’s parents accompanied by relatives and respected elders in the society to propose to the girl (kutafuta jiko) Kuposa


At the bridegroom house the in laws to be would be very busy preparing for the day, proposal day is usually the important part in marriage life. The bridegroom parents would also inform their families and elders in the community to attend the occasion.

Usual the occasion is marked with songs, food prepared for the grooms family and other visitors. The elders would then sit down to talk on the proposal and the things that are mostly talked about are:

Kilemba ya baba         (money given to old man to appreciate his upbringing of bride groom  a way to say thanks. However  before,  it used to be very little money compare to now days ,  Kilemba ya baba is very expensive and goes up to ksh 20,000/=
 Maziwa ya mama        (this is also money given to the girl’s mother to appreciate her and a small thank you, but this has also gone up maziwa ya mama now days is around ksh. 15,000 – 20,000 Thousand or even more.
 Mahari:            Mahari is the bride grooms  dowry and according to Mzee Rajabu Mahari those days used to be 3 – 4 goats and it’s taken to the bride groom parents. Compare to now days mahari is very expensive affair

Ramadhan Fasting...

The 5 pillars of Islamic faith

Every fear in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from dawn until at sun down. Abstinence from food, drinks and sexual relations with their spouse. The elder or on journey and menstruating, pregnant or nursing women are permitted to break the fast and make an equal number of days later in the year when healthy. Children begin to fast and observe prayers from puberty, although they may start earlier. Although fasting is beneficial to health; it is mainly a method of self purification. By cutting one from woundly comforts, even for a short time fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God. God states in the quran:”O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was presented to those before you that you may learn from self-restraint. “Quran 2:183



Maankuli ya siku kuu huandaliwa siku ya mwisho ya ramadhan. Vyakula hivi haswa ni vyakula visivyo vunda na huweza kutoharibika kwa muda wa wiki. Upishi huu huwa ni wa ustadi na taaluma ya uswahilini na kiarabu.vyakula zaidi ya aina tatu huandawa na akina mama. Ni jukumu la kiongozi wa nyumba ambaye haswa ni baba kuhakikisha maakuli ya siku ya iddi yako tayari.

Mkate wa sinia
Mkate wa tambi.
Mkate wa mayai

Kahawa chungu
Chai ya maziwa
Milk shake
Vinywaji vya matunda
Vyakula hivi ni vya kushilikiza tumbo, kwa kingereza huitwa”bites”, kwa maana haipaswi mtu ale mpaka ashibe. Kwa hivyo ale kwa uchache tu. Mapishi ya vyakula hivi ya kiwa tayari, huandawa mezani. Vyakula huandaliwa mezani pindi wanaume wakiwa msikitini katika swala ya iddi. Baada ya swala ya iddi, vyakula huwa tayari vimetapaka mezani. Wanaume na watoto huingia majumbani katika matembezi ya aila zao. Katika matembezi haya ndipo hukaribishwa mgeni kwa vyakula hivi.

Maankuli katika siku za  ramadhan huwa vimegawanyika katika sehemu tatu. Sehemu hizi ni:
  1. Chakula cha kufungulia mwadhini
  2. Chakula cha futari
  3. Chakula cha daku
Upishi wa vyakula hivi huwa ni wa kwanza kabla ya vyakula vingine kupikwa.Vyakula hivi huwa havipikwi kwa wingi lakini hupikwa kwa uchache wa idadi ya watu pale nyumbani.Vyakula hivi ni kama:
v  Viazi vya kukaanga
v  Bajia
v  Kaimati
v  Katlesi na kababu.
v  Vinywaji pia ni muhimu kupatikana haswa  vinywaji vya matunda

Katika majumba mengine vyakula hivi hupikwa kwa wingi na hupelekwa msikitini kwa wale walio msikitini kufungua mwadhini hapo.

Upishi huu ni wa pili. Chakula hiki hupikwa kwa wingi kwa kutosheleza watu wote mle nyumbani na mgeni yeyote atakae kuja. Vyakula hivi huenda vikagawanyika katika mafungu mawili.Nayo ni:

Katika futari chakula hiki huliwa mwanzo .Vyakula hivi huwa vinapikwa kutumia sukari nyingi hadi kuleta ule utamu wa chakula chenyewe.mifano ya vyakula hivi ni:
*      Viazi vitamu.
*      Tambi za mapapai.
*      Matangu.
*      Matobosha.
*      Vibibi.
*      Mabatali
*      Ndizi za kiume
*      Makoranya ya sukari.
*      Pojo.

Katika futari, chakula hiki huliwa mwisho.vyakula hivi hupikwa kwa kutumia chumvi katika upishi wake.Mifano ya vya kula hivi ni:
  • Mihogo ya nazi.
  • Chapati
  • Viazi vya nazi
  • Mkate wa fushi
  • Mkate wa mofa kwa nyama.
  • Viazi vya rojo.

Kabla ya kula vyakula hivi waswahili hunywa kinywaji maaruf kinachoitwa”shurba”. Kinywaji hiki ni cha uji wa ngano, mtele, nyama na bizari ya pilau. Mwisho wa kula vyakula hivi,waswahili hula/hunywa podini,kastadi au fahida.

Chakula hiki ni cha mwisho kuandaliwa baada ya vyakula vyote kuandawa. Vyakula hivi haswa ni vya carbohydrates na protini. Waswahili hula wali na mchuzi wa viazi kama daku lao. Daku huliwa saa tisa hadi saa kumi za usiku. Baada ya saa kumi ndipo saumu inapo anza na si ruhusa kwa mwislamu yeyote kula chakula chochote.

Chakula hiki huliwa katika saa tano au sita kabla ya watu kulala.Vyakula hivi haswa ni vya nyama.kwa mfano:supu ya nyama ama nyama ya kuchomwa na chipsi