Friday, 31 May 2013


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.

The 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 (calling)

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.

In 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. 

The 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.
The 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.

 He 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 take place.

As they proceed to the river, songs are sang while the boy plays chinyimba.
In 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.

A 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 route. 
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.

He 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.

KHUKHWALUKHA (khurulla mwikombe)

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 symbolizes happiness.

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 themselves Bakoki.

If 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 process.

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!!


I 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 work. 


Mr. Gilbert Ondeko 
Mt. Elgon & North-West Kenya Ecotourism Promotion Ltd (Menowecto),
Address: P.O Box 1219 – 30200 Kitale. Kenya (E.A).
Cell phone: +254 721 635 166

Friday, 10 May 2013

Rabai Wedding......

Edward Karuku

Engagement and 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. 

Feed back:
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.

Visiting date (Kuweka mbara):
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.

Negotiation 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).
Before any 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 cash.

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 and Kuumeni”

CHA TAHU (Cha tahu)
Mkaja: Ubebeo ya mama
Kilemba/Shuka ya baba
Hunda: Mali 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 families.
Before giving 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 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 visit.

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 night.
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.

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.

Story By Edward Karuku

 Facilitated By Fatma Mansoor

Harusi ya Waswahili, Shela - Lamu.....

Arranged marriage:
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 couples. 

The activities in Swahili marriage include:
Kupeleka pete
Kufuga Ukuti
Hinna party
Limatul arus – Lunch
Kikaii/Nikkah – 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
Hidaya – zawadi ya bi harusi
Kombe la mume – vyakula upelekwa kwa  familia ya  mume (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
Mwamvuli – 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)

POSA “Propose”
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)
Maziwa ya mama
Kilemba ya baba
Bag (bagi)
Fixed marriage date
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 mother.
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 family wealth.

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: 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.

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 

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 saying  from Munira Yusuf to remind the couples on the wedding vows.

Manukato ya waswahili – vilua, muasumini, roses.

By Munira Yusuf.

Facilitated by Fatma Mansoor.