'Elimu Asilia' is the Swahili equivalent for indigenous knowledge (IK). It acts as a common platform where National Museums of Kenya (NMK) libraries working with NMK researchers and volunteers interact with local communities and children in the collection, preparation, preservation, sharing, exchange and dissemination of IK on culture, environment, health and history for the memory of our nation for sustainability and eco-social development. For more, please visit http://www.elimuasilia.org.
The Bukusu are from the
Bantu speaking group and is one of the sub-tribes which constitutes the Luhyia
community, the third largest tribe in Kenya after the Agikuyu and the Luo. They
are mostly found in Western part of our country Kenya.
They are still holding
to some of their traditions which, among them, the traditional rite of passage
from childhood to adulthood-traditional circumcision ceremony called
khukhwingila (which when translated means to enter). When a male boy feels
that he is ready for the ceremony, he approaches his father who prepares the
required materials that are necessary for the ceremony. These are a male bull
or a he goat, traditional beer called kamalwa, the circumciser and a small
house called Likombe for the boy.
boy then gets the jingles (chinyimba) ready. They are played by the boy as
people sing and dance for him during the entire process called Khulanga
He plays them calling
on relatives from near and a far. During the process, those who are approached
by the boy must give something in appreciation and they must attend or be
present during the circumcision day. If for instance the boy avoids a relative,
then the relative feels bad and launches a complain.
The last person to be
called is the paternal uncle. It should be noted that in this ethnic group, the
Uncle and the Aunt are very important persons in this occasion. Before he calls
the Uncle, a small pot is put outside the father’s house. In this pot, the
fermented maize flour (kamakhalange) that is fried is put in.
The boy is then ordered
to go to the river to fetch water in the company of two other boys. After
drawing the water from the river, he puts it on his head and he is not supposed
to look back whatsoever. The main reason why he is not supposed to look behind
is a mythical belief showing a sign of bravery. By looking behind, it sends
some message of cowardice and the boy might cry during the circumcision day,
which is considered a big shame to the family and entire clan.
The father pours the kamakhalange in to the put then the boy
pours in water he brought from the river. This process is called khuchukhila, which means pouring. That
beer is especially for the circumciser, which they will drink while counseling
the boy after circumcision.
The boy is then ordered
to take and play jingles and a song called Sioyayo
is sung for a few minutes. The boys just going around within the neighborhood.
The next day he pays a
courtesy call to his Uncle who is usually the last person to be called. The
Uncle slaughters the bull in honor of his nephew. The father would have
prepared Lusombo (This is sexual
organ of the bull that is cut and made in to a necklace form which replaces the
one the Uncle gives the boy).
The necklace is called Luliki. While putting
Luliki on the boy’s neck he utters some warnings. From the Uncle’s, he comes
back home where he cannot leave until the ceremony is over.
the evening arrangements are made where the dancing process called Khuminya
will take place. Another large beer pot called Emange is prepared. The pot is
put in the centre of the father’s house whereby the brew is filled. The meaning
of this emange is that, the age mates of the boy’s father in this case known as
bakoki will open the beer with either money or something valuable.
The circumcision age
mate of the father in this case called bamaina takes a drinking straw called
lusekhe, sips the beer after which he permits others to go ahead with the
drinking. At around 9:00 to 10:00 O’clock PM, the boy is fed to his satisfaction.
He is taken to a small shrine called Namwima.
Namwima shrine is for pouring libations to the ancestors. A piece of meat,
blood called Kamalasile and beer is put in the shrine. The meat is stuck on a
special twig from a special tree and put in the centre of the shrine. All these
are meant for the ancestors to feed on.
Another animal would have been
slaughtered in advance of which the stomach is torn apart.
stomach waste called busee is smeared on the boy from the head to the chest
while uttering some words (whoever does
this is either the paternal or dad or cousin to the boy).
Another necklace is
made from the very stomach and put on his neck. This one is different from that
of the uncle’s.
is then ordered to play the jingles or chinyimba and the song sioyoya is sung
again. This is done while every body in the home watches, after this the boy is
left to play the jingles until when he will be ordered to take a short break
for a meal
While the singing is
going on outside, the drinking of the brew from emange port in the house
continues. This port is not allowed to run empty and therefore refilling is
constantly done to keep the men awake.
The women are not allowed to partake the
emange using the drinking straw. During
khuminya, some funny songs are sung.
At midnight, the boy is
allowed to have three hours sleep. At 3 O”clock, he is woken up to be taken to
the river where khulonga (a process of putting mad on the boy’s head and
between the eyes with some smeared on the chest, hands and thighs) and lwanautu
As they proceed to the
river, songs are sang while the boy plays chinyimba.
the river, a cousin of the boy does the khulonga and lwanautu to the boy.
Khulonga is the mud smearing on the boy’s body
while he is totally naked. Then some mud is put on his head and between the
eyes along the nose.
particular type of grass called lusinyande is plucked and stuck on the head. The
process is called lwanautu.
His sister carries his clothes and the jingles. She
also undergoes some ritual of mud smearing but on the face, hands and legs. She
is the one who will be preparing food for his brother.
A few meters from the
river, the sioyoya is sang which continues until they arrive home stopping the
singing only a few meters from the house, but this time using a different
There is a mythical believe that it is not safe to use the same route as
a witch might have planted some charms which might harm the boy.
Before the boy arrives
home, his aunt comes running with a cooking stick in an attempt to slap him. At
this particular point, the boy is expected to discourage such moves by blocking
it. This is believed to portray courage. She then returns home to inform others
that the boy is actually ready for circumcision.
The father receives the
boy and he can be actually be identified from the rest of the people as he is visibly
seen wrapped in the blanket.
then leads his to the point where he is left to stand at hands akimbo. The circumciser
cuts the boy.
No eye blinking or shaking the boy should exhibit.
After the circumcision is over, the man can’t sit down until the father gives him a present in appreciation of his manhood. Other people also give whatever presents they might have brought
After some time, the man is taken to his house likombe where he will stay until he heals. While being taken to the house, he is taken round it in a backward style until he goes in. This backward entry means that after healing, he will never go back to that likombe again marking the complete rite of from childhood to adulthood.
Mwikombe is the small
thatched hut,which the initiate used to live in since the time of circumcision
to the time of khukhwalukha. Therefore khurula mwikombe when translated means coming
out of the hut.
To celebrate this
occasion, all the initiates from around the village who were circumcised the
same month assemble together. In their hands are twigs of nanjaka plant ant
dried banana leaves called kamasanja together with the beddings they were using
which in most cases are always the banana leaves.
They then set them on fire
running down the river while calling the name of the person who circumcised
them. This part of khukhwalukha is called khukhuosia lusanja meaning lighting
the twigs or setting the twigs on fire.
The fire should not go off
before they reach the river. It is believed that if the fire went off before
its destination, the initiate might either turn to be a night-runner or be
unable to marry or just have bad luck in life. These occasions are always
accompanied with the traditional beer (kamalwa) called busaa. When the
initiates have gone to the river, the rest of the people remain at home and the
drinking of the beer commences.
At the river some of
the kamasanja are taken with them for beddings overnight. While at the river,
they are not allowed to leave that place no matter what happens. It is indeed a
taboo. In the morning the kamasanja are burnt.
After burning the kamasanja
at around 5AM, they take a cold bath in the river. They then put on their new
clothes and the old ones are given to the uncircumcised (Omusinde).
Between 11am and
12noon, they leave the river for home while singing a song which says, “We are
going to feed using new utensils.”
On arrival, they are
not allowed to enter in any house. Food comprising of boiled banana is given to
them outside. As they pick pieces of them, each initiate becomes pre-cautious
guarding himself against being hit by the same food from his comrades. This in
Bukusu ethnic group is called khukhupanila kamatore meaning fighting using the cooked
banana. This is a symbol of having plenty of food in your home. It also
After that, ugali with
chicken stew or beef stew is served. After eating, every father of the initiate
gives his son some pieces of advice concerning the adulthood. From that moment
they shall be called Omutembete (singular), Batembete (plural). The name
symbolizes a new thing. Whenever and wherever the initiate visits
his people during this month (December), he is given a present which in most
cases is the chicken. The Khukhwalukha is always done in the month of December.
The Likombe hut is not
demolished instead it is passed on to the uncircumcised boys or to the sisters.
*Those who are circumcised the same year call
someone has never seen or experienced cultural tourism at its best, then this
is really a test of it. As a Tourist Information Officer, I did take an English
Tourist by the name Gill Pirt to witness one of the most dreaded rites of passage
from childhood to adulthood (circumcision ceremony) of the Bukusu ethnic group
– a sub-tribe of the Luhyia community.
The ceremony which takes place every
even year is a sign of bravery that every boy has to undergo. I came to learn
that most foreign visitors would like to meet and stay with the local people
and learn more about them and experience much more of their lifestyles.
In organizing for this
occasion, the host family has to be contacted in advance to give consent for
the interview and the entire process which I already explained above with
possibilities of taking photographs. After consent from the father and other
family members, we were able to attend and participate in the entire Khuminya
There was so much
singing and dancing to the chinyimba (jingles) lyrics and watching with keen
interest how the initiate (omusinde - uncircumcised) plays the jingles as he
prepares to enter in to adulthood. Songs are sung in Kibukusu language using
obscene words directed at both the mother of the initiate and the boy himself.
If you don’t understand the language, you might take it for granted that they
are songs good to sing but the wordings used are quite obscene although all
songs. But it is quite interesting and enjoyable to dance to these lyrics. As a
matter of fact, you will find yourself shaking to the tunes as the soloist
leads while others respond in a vigorous uniform manner.
It worth to note that
all who are concerned are unaware of the dust created by the dancers which
could lead to respiratory infections. It is my advise to anyone wishing to
attend and participate in it, to take a packet of milk afterwards. While the
dance is going on outside, the brew continues to feel the emange pot in the
father’s house. The stylish plays of the chinyimba and the whistling the boy
makes, enriches the mood and the entire home and the surrounding village is in
the mood of celebration. All are happy.
What also goes on in
the background leaves a lot to be desired, since young boys and girls leaves a
lot to be desired. Even the old men and women are at times lost in these
unbecoming behaviors I was keen to note an incident and through curiosity, I
inquired and was told that at times such incidences do happen as it is in the
night during the celebration!!
would like to thank Mr. Maurice Wabomba famously known as madudu (insects) as
he is the breeder of butterflies and beetles and his entire family for their
warm welcome and cooperation in providing the information that made my work
much easier and successfully and the management of Menowecto under the
chairmanship of Mr. Anthony C. Mills for their cooperation during my field
STORY BY: Mr. Gilbert Ondeko
Elgon & North-West Kenya Ecotourism Promotion Ltd (Menowecto),
P.O Box 1219 – 30200 Kitale. Kenya (E.A).
weddings in Rabai are the responsibility of the aunties and uncles.Once the boy attain the age of getting
married, the auntie is sent to look for and identify a suitable girl around the
village. The auntie of the boy will then go round the village to look for a
girl with specific qualities according to Rabai’s customs and traditions.
Feedback on the
girl, the girl’s family and clan will be brought back by the auntie, and if the
information is satisfactory, the boy’s auntie will be send back for the
negotiation with the girls family.
The boy sends his
uncle to fix a date for negotiation (Kuweka mbara). The uncle will fix a date
with the girl’s family then feedback on the same will be passed to his family.
The negotiation and
discussion is usually done between the aunties and the girl’s family. The aunties
visit the girl home on this first day but no negotiation takes place. On this
first visit the aunties will give a date for the commencement of negotiations
to the girl’s family.
and Discussion during Engagement:
Once the date is
fixed for negotiation and discussion, the boy’s family sends two men and women
(aunties and uncles) to negotiate with the girl’s family.
At the home of the
bride to be, the visitors are warmly welcomed.The bridegroom family will announce their intention for visiting. Once
the negotiation is approved and agreed upon by the two families the bride will
be called and asked to give her consent on the proposal (that’s if she is okay
with the proposal or objects).
negotiation take place, the groom family will pay (KAJAMA) to allow the
negotiation to take place. The “Kajama”
is usually in a form of container made of mvule full of coconut brew or in
Kima/Mali is the bride’s dowry. Twelve kajama is given as dowry
to the bride to be. However the twelve Kajama will be divided by two families
(6 Kajama will be given to bride family and 6 to grooms family) known as “Kuukeni
CHA TAHU (Cha
ya Msichana (The girls dowry depends with the family.
During the proposal
ceremony the groom’s family (KUUMENI) is gifted with jogoo by the kuukeni
family. The kuumeni family accepts
the gift but instead give it back to be prepared and shared by the two
another date for visit to take the dowry to the bride’s home “ kuweka mbara”
the groom will visit the bride in secret to get to know each other. The date to
take the dowry to the bride’s home will then be fixed for Mali (ulozi).
Mali (Ulozi) “mweka mbari” will be sent to the bride
family to fix the date for taking the Mali, the date will be fixed and
preparation for the day will begin, all the 12 kajama should be ready by the
day. Ceremony during this day the groom’s family will visit the bride family
with all the requirements discussed and negotiated during the proposal ceremony
to formalize. On this day 12 men and 12 women will carry the twelve kajama
to the bride home. Together with the rest of requirements, they will head to
the bride home.
The bride’s family
(KUUKENI) will receive the visitors with Shangwe, Vigelegele and nderemo songs
and dance. The kuumeni family will be receive by twelve women and men from the kuukeni
to receive the “kajama”
A WEEK AFTER
THE (DOWRY) MALI CEREMONY:
A week after the
mali ceremony the groom’s and his family will visit the bride family (KUSERERA
NYAYO) just to get to know each other and familiarization. During the visit to
“Kuukeni “family the Kuumeni family will meet all the expenses occurred during
The groom’s family
will send “Mweka mbara” to the bride
family to fix the date for the wedding day.The Rabai’s community celebrates their weddings for two to three days.
KUHASO: before going for Kesha celebration at the groom’s
family, the groom will send his name sake and a friend to seek blessings (KUHASO) Blessings is done by the uncles
of the bride in front of both the name seek and friend of the groom, the bride
will then leave with both for the Kesha ceremony at the grooms family over
KUKESHA: The bride will be invited for the Kesha ceremony at
the groom’s family. The kesha ceremony will go on overnight with song, dance and
food will be served.
A VISIT BY
THE BRIDE FAMILY: The bride family
will visit their daughter the following day after Kesha ceremony to know how
their daughter is doing; the visit is just meant for greetings. The bride
family will the leave to go back home.
FAREWELL: The groom family will take the newly wed wife to her
parents to bide them farewell, during this special visit to “kuukeni” the bride will be given gifts
by the groom family to take to the family. The presents include; meat, flour,
and cash money.
The bride will then be escorted to her matrimonial
home by her grandmother, who will stay with her for one week to help her,
assist and advice when necessary.
AFTER THE WEDDING:
One week after the wedding the bride’s
family will visit the groom family (KUMTOA MSICHANA WAO INJE) on this
day the bride family will visit with all the kitchen facilities. The bride will
cook and serve her husband’s father and mother in-law.This will mark the last ceremony and the
bride is handed over officially to her husband.
There are so many
activities taking place during a Swahili’s marriage ceremony. Swahili marriages
are very expensive time consuming but very beautiful and entertaining.
In reality, the
Swahili marriage can be simple brief and less expenses if only (NIKAH) is
performed according to Islamic religion but Swahili Culture and Custom is
practically in force.
However culture and customs are educative to the newly wedded
The activities in Swahili marriage include:
– Kupamba kikaii marriage vows performed by kadhi at the Mosque. the groom
family serves Kahawa Thungu, and Halua or tende
Kutia sufi –
Kutia sufi na kudondoa mchele
Kutoa njee bi
harusi – is a request by the grooms family to Pamba the bride on the stage
after the wedding day Nikkah
Kipepeo - Zawadi ya mama bi harusi ; Kipepeo hupambwa na manoti na mayasmini
apelekewa mama biharusi kwa jasho la harusi ajipepe apumzike
zawadi ya bi harusi
Kombe la mume
– vyakula upelekwa kwafamilia yamume (sambusa/kaimati/mkate wa
sinia/mahamri/rojo ya kuku ama nyama (enough for the groom family). Mkate mayai
watoka kwa mke wa pelekwa design with notes and muasimini
notes design as a mwamvuli taken to bride family as a token.
In arranged marriage
the groom family will send word to close relatives and friends to search a
bride for their sons. The search includes religion background tribe, where they
live, and brief history of the family. Once all the information is gathered the
groom family will then send a word to the chosen family (KUCHUMBIA)
The groom family will
visit the bride family in a surprise in their first visit usually it is between
2pm – 4pm to propose.On arrival the
groom family will pronounce their intention of visit “TUMEKUJA NA JAMBO LA
KHEIR KUTAKA JIKO” (jiko here mean a woman). In arranged marriage the groom families
knows and have information on the bride to be. Here it depends if the bride to
be families have more than one girl in the house or the family lives with
extended family the bride to be family will want a description of the girl in
detail.The detail description includes;
complexion, height, weight, etc.Usually
the description is done in detailed manner.
The bride mother will then based on the description given
will call the girl and ask her to serve the visitors tea and snacks the move is
aimed at identify the bride to be (a mother guess is always right) and approval
from the groom family. The groom family leaves the bride family house promising
to come back soon but not without leaving a groom photograph behind for the
bride to be.
Despite the fact that in arranged marriage the bride parents
decision is considered to be final but the bride to be mother will explain in
details to her daughter about visit and intention of the visitors, she will
also give her the photograph of the groom to be.
Maulidi ceremony is
performed immediately by both parents. The slaughter of cow as a “SADAKA” to
the villagers and a thank giving to ALLAW (SW). Dua and Fatiha is performed.
Kupeleka pete will be
a second visit to the bride to be family. The bride family will be informed
early in advance in order to inform their close relatives about the
occasion.On this particular day the
purpose of visit is to discuss on the:
Girl dowry (MAHARI)
The groom family will bring the engagement ring together with
other gift for the bride e.g. Kanga, cloths, hijab, buibui etc.
MAHARI OR DOWRY: this belongs to the bride to be and she is the one to decide
on what she wants her Mahari to be. Mahari can be given in a form of:
Furniture:this includes double bed, dressing table,
wardrobe, sofa sets, and wall unit worth Ksh. 150,000/= to Ksh. 200,000/=
Cash money ranging
from Ksh. 100,000/= to Ksh. 150,000/=
Set of gold worth Ksh. 100,000/= to Ksh. 150,000/=
The Holy Qur’aan and Mswala:
Mahari is bargainable
and also depends on financial ability and stature in society.
Maziwa ya mama it is between Ksh. 30,000/= and Ksh 50,000/= an appreciation to bride
Kilemba ya baba: it is between Ksh. 30,000/= and Ksh. 50,000/=an appreciation to bride father.
Bag (Bagi) as
they call it in Swahili the bagi can cost Ksh. 100,000/= to 150,000/= but the
same Bagi can cost as little as only Ksh. 10,000/= this also depends on the
Maziwa ya mama is usually shared among the mama family
(uncles and unties) same with kilemba ya baba the cash is divide among the baba
families (Shangazi and Ami)
Marriage date: the wedding date is fixed between 3 – 4 months to give both families
time for wedding preparations
Kufunga ukuti: during this period the bride will remain indoors this is what is
referred as “Kufunga Ukuti” during this time the bride is not allowed to go
out not unless it is very necessary and in any case she has to go out then she
will be accompanied by an elderly person in the family and covered completely
from head to toes, she should not be recognized by anybody.
Somo and kungwi: will be chosen among the family or alternatively
profession on the field to guide the bride and give lessons on Elimu Asilia of
the Swahili people to the bride to be during the kufunga ukuti period.
During the four months
indoors somo will help the bride to be with body beautification so that by the
time she gets marriage she will be in a fair complexion and smooth this is made
possible applying the following to the body; Liwa, Manjano, Binti Dhahabu
waxing and shaving is done also. Five days to the wedding the bride hair will
be relaxed using the cream relaxer died to her color of choice, dried and
styled by the beautician (somo) the day of the wedding.
KUNGWI: An old woman chosen to give guidance to the bride on the
cleanness of the body, bedroom matters, and how to handle a husband during the
wedding day and after the wedding day duties and responsibilities.
HINNA PARTY: The Hinna
ceremony takes place 3 days before the wedding, the ceremony is attended by the
bride friends and age mates as a farewell party to the bride the bride is
applied hinna the occasion is marked by songs, and dance. Snacks and soft
drinks are served to the visitors.
Shinda is the coming together of the close bride relatives to make the final
preparation of the wedding day especially to make arrangement on food
drinks,to divide duties and
responsibility for the big day. During Shinda lunch is made for the family
gathering and soft drinks served. The occasion is meant to bring togetherness
in the family and close relation. On the
same day at night the family will celebrate KESHA with friends
and neighbors. Snack (mahamris viazi vya rojo, kitoweo (meat or chicken) and
juice will be served. The Kesha ceremony is marked by dance, songs, Ngoma “mama
lele, Kirumbizi or buzi by the elderly women.
LIMATULARUS – LUNCH: the lunch ceremony takes place at the bride’s home
relatives, friends, neighbors and family gather for lunch. Taarab dance and
modern songs mark the occasion.
KUPAMBA: is mostly done in the evening from 7pm – 12pm at the hall this is
strictly meant for married women to enter the hall one must have invitation
card for the occasion.The hall beautification
and design is made by professionals. A parked box of snacks and soft drinks is
serves to the guest as they enter. Taarab music played and dance for about
3hours to be precise and at 10.30 pm to 11.00pm the bride will arrive marched
to the stage for photographs, immediately the bride groom enters the hall the invited guest leave and the
bridegroom is left with her relatives and very close relatives to explore the
stage and take family photographs. The exercise takes between an hour and two
hours. The groom takes her bride home escorted by close relatives.
MKE NI LESO:
Ni la zima mke kuvaa
leso mbili wakati wakulala na mumewe
Mume ni avae leso kiunoni
Kikaii na upambaji wa mila za kishella siku ya nikkah tuna
songa nyele mviringo ama mkili na hukuzime tatiliwa na muyasmini na usoni tuna
weka mapambo za yasmini na mapambo ya mkufu usoni.
Muyasmini, vilua, udi, manukato, mafuta mazuri na usafi zaidi
ya mke kimwili, kinyumba na hata inje ya nyumba ni muhimu.
Mwanamke wa Kiswahili ni pambo na lazima tuendeleze mila na
desturi yetu katika elimu asilia tuliofundishwa na wazee wetu. Na vitu hivi
kuvitumia kwa mwanamke wa Kiswahili nikama lazima kumfurahisha mume wako
GROOMS FAMILY HOME:
The groom and bride
will go to bed while both relatives wait for the answer from the groom.It the bride turns out to be a virgin the bed
sheet is send to the bride family and a celebration for both the family.
“KUOLEWA NA KUOA SI RAHA NI KARAHA YATAKA USTAMILIVU” a
sayingfrom Munira Yusuf to remind the
couples on the wedding vows.