Mumias: Melting pot of culture and religion
HISTORY OF KHAYEGA MARKET
Khayega Market, the epicentre of Isukha people was named after a Mwironje clansman, Khayega son of Khadayi.
By Gerishom Majanja, May 20 2012
From Kisumu and after winding through several verdant valleys and treed hillocks of the Maragoli dissected plateau approximately 45 kilometres from Kisumu you touch down in the land of the Bisukha, the land of my ancestors. In fact the real Isukha starts at Khayega Market- the centre of Bisukha universe.
Khayega, the man who bequeathed his name to this market was M'mironje, my clan - a fact that adds to my pride, that he, my clan mate gave the centre of Isukha universe a name! Khayega was the son of Khalayi and apart from Khayega, Khalayi had another son called Khadwasi. Khadwasi had a son called Shamala the father of Mukabwa, Liseche and Karoli Lusega.Mukabwa died early without progeny. Khayega’s cousin was Luyai the father of Ambros Itebete,the father of Peter Itebete .Khayega’s other sons were Munyanya and Malenya the father of Captain Henry Malenya
The market originally started at Ikuywa wa Malaya. There was a wide grazing ground at Ikuywa which was also used for wrestling and bull fighting. On such occasions traders would also bring their merchandise to sell to the people. Such merchandise included Marimu, viholo, tsikhoni, vuraa, tsinyungi, bananas, potatoes, millet and other locally produced goods. By the beginning of 20th Century it had developed into a small barter market. Malaya was the famous resident at Ikuywa. The market was later moved to the present site of Mukumu Cathedral. It is believed that it was from this vintage point that the Catholic Missionaries who had settled at Mugavagava 1906 appreciated its position and selected this site as their settlement. The Missionaries then occupied the place and built their first church and school. The place was later referred to as St Machungwa. They transferred the market to a site of the present gate to Mukumu hospital.
Meantime Milimu had been appointed Chief of Isukha by Chief Mumia after the First World War and the Provincial Commissioner of Kavirondo (currently Nyanza and Western Provinces) identified the site where the current chief’s office is located for eucalyptus trees to be planted thereby setting up a works camp. Chief Milimu appointed one Khayega son of Khalayi to supervise the planting as well as hunting and killing the many moles that were destroying the young eucalyptus trees. In addition, he protected the young trees from vandals. Khayega did this work for over 10 years – that is until the eucalyptus trees were grown. This is how the place earned the name Khayega’s camp (Bisukha corrupted it to Ikambi Wa Khayega) As a result of the activities that this camp generated, the market slowly shifted from Mukumu area to its present site of Khayega Market closer to the eucalyptus trees camp. This is also how the eucalyptus trees earned the name Ikambi in Lwisukha language.
This is how Khayega Market got its name.
Khayega rapidly developed into a major commercial, social and political centre after the Second World War, attaining significance between end of the war until independence in 1963. Kakamega never had any significance to Africans before independence because it was a white man’s fort, a place of humiliation and abuse for Africans. Khayega market offered Bisukha an opportunity for self cultural expression tinged with a bit of whatever few European habits one had learned from the white man. You know even though Europeans taught our people a few habits like dressing well (clothes and shoes) they could not tolerate an African showing off in these wears. On the other hand one became a figure of admiration among Africans on showing off these wears hence the love for Sunday parades in Khayega Market among fellow Africans.
There were significant names in Khayega in its ascendance to fame in 1950s such that its story would not be complete without mentioning them. They were Khasudi the madwoman, Khatembukhani the enterprising woman, William Ligabo Inyama, the General Merchant and posho miller, William Anyonyi the cigarette and beer merchant, Mbote and Shangalla the butchers respectively. Mention should also be made of Enosh Shihembeza, the Quaker owner of shop number one where as children we bought sweets and clothes and Jumba the hotelier where we bought a cup of tea and a sconce for ten cents.
Omukombero: local root is precursor to viagra
By Kabaka John, Jan 21 2011
Once, while you traversed the streets of Kakamega town in Western Kenya, you might have seen one or two individuals chewing sticks and you wondered what they are up to. Some would wish to think that those are ‘traditional toothbrushes’ or breath fresheners or just thought it as a habit of these people. Well, the sticks are called Mgombero- the African Viagra.
The roots are well known among the people of Western Kenya especially men who believe it adds value to someone’s sexual life. It is recommended for men whose virility is seen to be low. However, the results are not instant; an individual has to use mgombero for a given period. Consequently, it is also believed that mgombero has a vital substance that treats teeth diseases as well as keeping one’s breath fresh.
A customer buying omukombero dubbed "African Viagra" that Luhya men have used for centuries to boost their sexual libido.
Mgombero has offered Western Kenya residents especially the youth from Kakamega town and its environs a business opportunity offering them an income generating platform. Young men are seen within Kakamega town and other Western Kenya and North Rift towns with the mgombero roots stashed in a bucket, tray, or basin, selling a piece from as little as Sh5 to a bundle of over Sh1000.
Apart from being used as a vitality booster, mgombero is also used as an appetizer. And just like miraa, mgombero is chewed with groundnuts as well as chewing gum or even with miraa. In some instances, the roots are dried and crushed into powder and added to tea, porridge or even water when being used as an appetizer.
For this reason, some people have planted it in their homesteads where they only have to dig up the roots, just like cassava, wash and chew them while still fresh or dry them for future and longer use. Mgombero is mostly grown in Butsotso and Ekekho areas of Isukha while some are imported by hawkers from Uganda.
Besides, the roots are found in plenty in the Kakamega equatorial forest where locals spent a lot of time, and energy in searching for the plant to dig for the roots while others look for seeds to plant at their homes.
Busia the sleeping giant that is about to wake up
Busia Town, is a major border point and headquarters of Busia County but some politicians want headquarters shifted to Nambale.
By John Shilitsa and Ouma Wanzala, Dec 6 2010
Busia County has two border crossing points into Uganda – Busia Town and Malaba – which are important sources for revenue but the cash streams have not been optimised.
Although Uganda is among the key importers of Kenyan products, not a single manufacturer has set shop in Busia Town.
In the recent past, banking institutions have set base in the town to tap the local potential, especially among the unbanked in the informal sector. By and large, trade still originates from Nairobi and Mombasa, making Busia County as a transit point only.
Insecurity and poor infrastructure are among the problems that still dog the region.
Although the flooding in Budalang’i has not been experienced this year, it is one of the major disasters that destabilises the economy of the area.
The county boasts of five constituencies namely Nambale, Amagoro, Budalang’i, Funyula and Butula. Courtesy of the Interim Independent Boundaries Commission, Busia got two more electoral zones – Teso and Matayos.
The county has a rich potential of crop farming including sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, finger-millet, rice among others.
Other economic activities such fishing in Lake Victoria near the flood-prone Budalang’i constituency, tourism at the famous Funyula hills and revenue from cross-border business add to already many opportunities at the disposal of close to 500,000 people living there.
And for that potential to be met, the area leaders would better resolve fast the row over county headquarters that is still an explosive issue.
Some leaders are rooting for Nambale while others insist that Busia Town is the most appropriate.
Teso County Council chairman Moses Otee says that Teso leaders and residents are comfortable with Busia Town as the headquarters.
He warns that wrangles over the headquarters should not be tolerated saying that Nambale will inconvenience the county residents who come from areas as far as Budalang’i.
Similar sentiments are echoed by Kenya National Union of Teachers Busia branch executive secretary Godfrey Odongo who says that Busia Town is a central location.
However, Bukhayo North civic leader Jack Wambulwa disagrees with those who want to have the headquarters in Busia Town saying that it should be at Nambale.
Amagoro MP Sospeter Ojamong says unity among area residents and leaders will lead to faster development in Busia County.
“Since the creation of several districts, each community has been on its own and there has been some suspicions but now that should be history,” Mr Ojamong, who is also assistant minister for Labour, observes.
Mr Ojamong discloses that he will be going for the governorship position.
Expectations are high among the locals who believe it would be possible for the county to rise up from ashes if several defunct cotton processing plants are revived and farmers empowered to start from where they left over two decades ago.
According to 2009 population and housing census results, Busia County which covers Budalangi, Nambale, Amagoro, Funyula and Butula constituencies has a population of 488,075 people.
Busia County has no factory except the stalled Busia Sugar Factory that was initiated in 1990s but never operated and has been used by politicians in the past for political expediency during electioneering.
The politicians who seek to win the electorate’s loyalty always promise to ensure the factory is operational once they ascend to power.
Promises from the government either, that investors would revive the factory, has not borne fruits. A fish cooling plant at Marenga in Budalangi, which was established by European Union and the local community, stalled after Bunyala Fishermen Co-operative Society purchased a sub-standard cooler.
The county has also been in the past associated with illegal trade in early 1980s to 1990s but now the county will be trying to shade off the image. The county will be cashing on cross-border trade being in an area where major exports find its way into the Great Lakes regional countries such Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and DR Congo.
A new entry point set to be constructed at Mulwanda in Samia district will be a bonus to the county.
Area MPs Paul Otuoma (Funyula), Ababu Namwamba (Budalangi), Chris Okemo (Nambale) and Alfred Odhiambo (Butula) have not indicated whether they will be going for governorship or senator’s positions. Those being mentioned as potential contenders of the governorship position are Turkana Central District Commissioner Humphrey Nakitare, governance consultant Kizito Wangalwa and Amagoro MP Sospeter Ojaamong. Former VP Moody Awori has been mentioned for the senator’s position but it is widely understood that he no longer has interest in politics.
Dr Otuoma, who is the Sports and Youth Affairs minister, says politics focused on development will lay the foundation for sustainable development in the county. The minister observes that it is through proper political leadership that the county will be able to attract investors who will be vital in the development of the county.
“Mere politicking won’t add any value to the development of our county but progressive politics is what we should encourage,” adds Dr Otuoma.
He rules out any possibilities of different communities in the county sharing political positions, saying that residents of the county should be allowed to elect their leaders in future, without politicians imposing a leader on them.
“It should be an election to determine who becomes what in the positions created by the new Constitution and not few people sitting round the table to agree on how to share out positions amongst communities,” said Dr Otuoma.
Leaders mourn over Bungoma's lost fortunes
The main street in Bungoma Town. There was a time, Bungoma was so rich it lent money to the Queen of England, according to local folklore. But with the collapse of Panpaper Mills, the county's fortunes have taken a heavy beating.
By Robert Wanyonyi, Dec 6 2010
Bungoma County, the third largest, faces myriad challenges, including collapse of factories.
The fortunes of the county, which was among the richest districts at independence, have dwindled, with residents blaming bad politics for the regression.
Leaders still boast of a time in 1964 when Bungoma County lent money to the Queen of England.
Coffee and tobacco trade thrived in the early 1970s at Chepkube, Lwakhakha and Malakisi markets, but has since collapsed following economic hardships that saw major firms fold up.
Collapsed Pan-Paper Mills was a major source of income for residents of Webuye.
President Kibaki led a team of Government officials in the reopening of the paper firm a few days to the August 4 referendum.
But the factory went back to sleep only a few days after the Head of State left.
Workers at Webuye’s Pan Paper Mills have since petitioned the Government to come out clear on the fate of the factory.
They accused senior Government officials of misleading them to vote ‘Yes’ at the referendum on the promise the factory would resume operations.
"Are we like chiefs and assistant chiefs who were used to campaign for the new Constitution only to be told later their positions would be scrapped," said a worker, who sought anonymity.
Kenya Union of Printing, Publishing, Paper Manufacturers and Allied Workers, Webuye branch, has been asking the Government to come out clean on the matter.
Alfred Baraza, a member of the union branch advisory committee, says the Government must address the matter.
Pan Paper Mills was closed on February 18, last year, after Kenya Power and Lighting Company disconnected electricity over Sh100 million debt.
Over 4,000 workers lost their jobs after the paper mill collapsed.
More than 30,000 tree farmers in Lugari District could run at a loss if the Government fails to revive the company.
The World Bank’s private investment arm International Finance Corporation (IFC) also stands to lose if Pan Paper Mills collapses.
IFC stands to lose more than Sh2.1 billion in equity if the factory shuts down.
Sugarcane, another major local cash crop, has also taken a beating.
The Government faces criticism from cane farmers contracted to the giant Nzoia Sugar Company (NSC) over the appointment of the current board of directors, most of who the farmers accuse of doing business with the same firm.
"Sugarcane is the main cash crop for the people of Bungoma County and now that we will govern ourselves, the elected leaders have a daunting task of making farmers to believe in cane farming again by addressing problems in the sector," says Joash wa Mang’oli, the chairman of Nzoia Outgrowers Company. Nzoia Sugar Company is the only surviving firm in the county.
The leaders will also have to contend with reviving collapsed factories like the Kitinda Dairy, and Malakisi Cotton Ginnery.
They will also fight to ensure Mt Elgon District, which has no industry or a factory, is also provided with an income generating activity that can employ the youth.
But that is not the only challenge, Leaders from Mt Elgon fear being put in one county with the Bukusu, who dominate Bungoma.
"Most people here have reservations over how the new positions will be shared because they fear the Bukusu may use their vast numbers to share positions among themselves," says former Mt Elgon MP Wilberforce Kisiero.
However, some of the aspirants for the Senate, including former Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi and Ford-Kenya Chairman Musikari Kombo, have dispelled the fears.
Like a sphinx, Vihiga prepares to rise from backwaters of underdevelopment
Luanda Market (left), the commercial hub in Bunyore and the upcoming Gambogi market in Tiriki (right). The county of Vihiga is set for major changes following the promulgation of the new constitution that has done away with provinces and after 2012, will bestow financial management to elected county governors.
By Benson Amadala, Nov 13 2010
Vihiga is a moderately densely populated county of 600,000 people whose economy relies heavily on agriculture.
It is made up of four constituencies: Sabatia, Hamisi, Emuhaya and Vihiga.
The county has a fairly smooth network of tarmac roads, but residents have raised concern over the poor condition of the Majengo-Luanda road and the busy Kisumu-Kakamega highway that is battered and full of potholes.
The poor condition of the roads has dampened the enthusiasm of residents, who are calling on the government to repair the two key roads and other infrastructure to boost the new county’s economic prospects.
The battle for the posts of governor and senator has already begun to shape up, and Hamisi MP George Khaniri has declared an interest in the senate seat in 2012.
The MP has served for three consecutive terms and would like to try his luck in the senate race.
“I have done my best to serve the residents of Hamisi as their MP, but in 2012 I will be going for the senator’s position,” Mr Khaniri said after throwing his hat in the ring.
The scenario is similar for the position of county governor, and several candidates have already lined up for the contest.
Those in the gubernatorial race include Alice Kirambi, the chief executive officer of the Christian Partners Development Agency, a non-governmental organisation involved in rural community development projects.
Others being mentioned in the governor’s race are Gaylord Avedi and former Sabatia MP Moses Akaranga.
Deputy Prime Minister MusaliaMudavadi, the Sabatia MP, has not publicly declared whether he will run for county office.
Unit of development
In a series of public meetings, the Local Government minister has maintained that the county should be viewed as a unit of development and warned that politics should not be allowed to overshadow county functions.
Vihiga MP Yusuf Chanzu and his Emuhaya counterpart Wilbur Otichillo have not indicated whether they would seek any county posts.
Vihiga County boasts the leading tea factory in Western Province located at Mudete in Sabatia constituency which serves 13,514 farmers from Sabatia, Shinyalu, Ikolomani, Hamisi and Vihiga.
The factory, located on the Chavakali-Kapsabet road, produces more than 10.6 million kilogrammes of tea a year.
Vihiga County is a unique region with captivating and contrasting geographical features.
The Kaimosi forest straddles Hamisi constituency and parts of Sabatia.
The breathtaking beauty of the undulating rocky hills to the west in Emuhaya and Vihiga constituency could become a major tourist attraction.
Prospecting for gold and other minerals is under way at Kichutu mines in Vihiga and Kaimosi forest.
Families in some parts of the county eke out their livelihoods from tiny patches of land etched on rocky hills while others have turned to selling of food and other income-generating activities.
But despite the small size of the land owned by individual families, residents are excited about prospects of better times to come as leaders try to identify the unexploited potential in the region.
The mayor of Vihiga municipal council Eliud Kihusa said there was no doubt the county had a huge potential in terms of agricultural production that could turn around the high poverty levels among communities.
“Our biggest strength as a county is the enormous potential we enjoy in terms of human labour and the challenge for the leaders is to identify opportunities to convert the potential into productivity,” said Mr Kihusa.
Ms Kirambi says poor political leadership is to blame for high poverty levels.
“For a long time we had leaders who were out of tune with the needs of those they represent, and that has contributed to the poor show in terms of development and infrastructure in the county,” Ms Kirambi said.
Rural electrification is considered a major boost to small-scale industries, while the good climate could support horticultural production as well as dairy farming.
Health facilities in the county include the Sabatia “eye” hospital, the Kaimosi mission hospital and Kima hospital in Emuhaya.
The main government facility is located at Mbale.
Masinde Muliro University has opened a campus at Ebunangwe in Emuhaya while a private university, the Kaimosi Friends University, has opened its doors to students.
Cassava farming set to revolutionise farming in East Africa
Cassava tubers set to be cultivated on a commercial scale in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
By IRIN, June 7 2010
Perishable, poisonous if mishandled and reputedly fit only for the plates of the poor, the cassava plant is set for an east African makeover by agronomists who hope to unlock its potential as a cash crop with a host of industrial uses. The key, they say, is to add value locally.
A programme led by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Farm Concern International (FCI), and various partners aims to improve the food security of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The hope is also to capitalise on cassava’s utility as a source of products such as animal feed, glue, bio-fuel, and glucose syrup. New varieties with higher yields, less cyanide and better resistance to drought and disease are part of the project.
“We are planning to set up 120 village processing units [which chip, dry and grate] within the next three years and to reach about 30,000 farmers who will learn how to increase commercial cassava production and to process it,” Kennedy Okech, programme manager of FCI, told IRIN.
Farmers will be encouraged to switch from growing maize to cassava, with up to half the tuber crop going to industrial use.
While cassava copes with drought and poor soil better than other crops, in east Africa “it has been marginalised because of its perishability if improperly treated. It also requires extensive processing to eliminate poisonous potassium cyanide,” Stefano Sebastaini Kuoko, of Tanzania’s Horticulture Research Institute (HRI), told IRIN. Cassava cannot be stored safely without drying and processing.
The project will benefit from the work of Joseph Kamau, who has developed more than a dozen improved varieties of cassava at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. His team is developing varieties that mature quicker and contain more proteins.
Kamau explained that the concentration of cyanide in cassava increases as temperatures fall and decreases as the tuber dries. As a result, cassava is particularly poisonous during rainy seasons.
“We are working on crops with less cyanide to support the safety of consumers. Through our improved seeds, farmers have seen the advantages of generating income from selling cassava produce,” Kamau told IRIN.
At the Nairobi launch of the project, Karen Nasubo, a Ugandan farmer, told IRIN she was already a convert.
“I’d always thought that when there is maize in the markets, cassava doesn’t sell. [But] for the past two years I have been using the improved crop variety, MH97/2961, resistant to drought, pests and with a maturation period of eight months. In one year I produce 7MT to 8MT of cassava per acre [0.4ha] from which I earn about 1,500,000 Tanzanian shillings [US$1,034]. With the money I make from the commercialization of cassava, I could send my kids back to school.”
Kenyan farmer Everlyne Oswat said cassava had suffered from the lack of a sustainable market. “Farmers used to sell individually and at their own prices. In some [times] of the year there is a surplus while in others there is nothing. This programme will help farmers learn the times to plant and harvest for more sustainable production.”
While the village-owned processing units are designed to deliver advantageous economies of scale to buyers, savings schemes partnered with commercial banks will also be established to offer the credit required to purchase inputs.
Drought a blessing to Lugari farmers as they shift to high-yielding crops
By Pius Sawa , March 23 2010
LUGARI DISTRICT, Kenya (AlertNet) - Western Kenya's Lugari district has long been a maize-growing area. But worsening drought, believed linked to climate change, has made the region's once-reliable staple an increasing risk. "When I planted maize, the rains disappeared when the maize had reached knee height. The whole farm dried up and I had nothing for food. My children could not go to school because I relied on maize as a cash crop also," said Dan Asembo Shaban, a farmer and a father of five. But farmers like Shaban have found an answer to their problems: Shifting to new crops that are both drought resistant and income-boosting.
Shaban now has divided his one-and-a-half-acre farm into plots for sweet potatoes, grain amaranth, cassava and sunflowers. He also grows a variety of maize called Pioneer that matures in a quick seventy five days. A quarter-acre of sweet potatoes, he says, produces ten times as much income as the same plot of maize would have brought. Now he sells some of his crop at the nearest market, buys what maize he needs and uses the rest of his profits to pay school fees for his children. "I have been growing maize since 1964. But maize has taken me nowhere," he said. Worsening drought has shortened western Kenya's maize-growing season. Five years ago, farmers in Lugari spent February preparing their land for the early rains. But now the rains come late. The land is dry, rivers run dry and life is hard for livestock and plants as well as people.
Roselida Atieno, a farmer in western Kenya's Lugari district, weeds her young amaranth crop. The quick-growing, high-protein grain is replacing traditional maize crops in the drought-hit district and boosting income for farmers.
STAPLE MAIZE BECOMING A LUXURY
Maize, once a staple, has become a luxury, its production so unreliable it cannot be a source of food and income, as it once was. But with help from researchers and funding from Kenya's government and international partners like the World Bank, other quicker maturing crops are now being adopted. Sweet potatoes, sunflower, grain amaranth, millet and soybeans are some of the new crop varieties that mature within three months and now give farmers three harvests a year, up from two with maize. Sammy Tiego one area farmer, has become one of the country's top small-scale producers and recently won an award as Kenya's best grain amaranth farmer. He is able to harvest 150 tons of the grain in a year from his three-acre piece of land.
Much of Kenya's amaranth crop is sold to processors, who mix it with other grains to make flour for bread and porridge. Amaranth is considered an immune-boosting food for people with HIV/AIDS because of its high protein content. Tiego now describes the changes in the rain pattern as a blessing, because grain amaranth is drought resistant and growing it has boosted his fortunes. "As you can see in my farm, the maize is struggling to survive, but the amaranths are celebrating," he said. Tiego says he was won over to growing amaranth, which is native to the Americas, after experimenting with a small plot in 2007, and reaping an overwhelming harvest, enough to pay his children's school fees for the year. Amaranth is harvested three times in a year and farmers can grow it using only farm manure from livestock and poultry as fertilizer. The grain is also productive in many ways, Tiego said. When young, the plant's leaves are eaten as a green vegetable. When mature, the grains are milled. After threshing, the remains are fed to animals.
Marita Shikuku, another small-scale farmer and mother of three, says she now understands climate change as a measure of how much food she can produce from her small plot of land. She now grows cassava, sweet potatoes and millet, producing enough to feed her children and bring in income for the family's other needs. The new crops have brightened a once-dim outlook for the future in the area, turning a burden into a blessing, farmers said, particularly when combined with other climate change adaptation projects in the area, including tree planting, water harvesting and flood mitigation.
Pius Sawa is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi.
Ancient city discovered in Ghana
By our correspondent, Feb 18 2010
Eighty ancient clay figures have been discovered by archaeologists at The Universities of Manchester and Ghana, showing that a sophisticated society - now forgotten - once existed in West Africa.
They are the latest - and most impressive - batch of the beautifully sculpted human and animal figures, between 1400 and 800 years old, unearthed from a series of mysterious mounds in a remote region of Northern Ghana.
The mounds, which also contain human skulls, are thought by Ghana's Dr Benjamin Kankpeyeng and Manchester's Professor Tim Insoll to be the sites of ancient shrines.
Ghanaian archeologists preparing to dig up the fields where an ancient city once existed. Together with a team of researchers from Manchester University, England, they have dug up several figurines like the two above which provides powerful evidence that a thriving city once lived here several generations ago.
Using state of the art analysis of the number, context and arrangement of the figurines, Dr Kankpeyeng and Professor Insoll hope to gain insight into the past ritual practices and beliefs of this sophisticated society - filling in a gap in our knowledge of that period in Africa.
Hundreds of mounds are densely packed in an area only 30km square: it took just two weeks to excavate the 80 figures in January.
But illegal excavation of the treasures means the archaeologists are in a race against time to ensure they are safely removed."These finds will help to fill a significant gap in our scant knowledge of this period before the Islamic empires developed in West Africa ," said Prof Insoll."They were a sophisticated and technically advanced society: for example some of the figurines were built in sections and slotted together.”
Dr Kankpeyeng said: "The relative position of the figurines surrounded by human skulls means the mounds were the location of an ancient shrine."The skulls had their jaw bones removed with teeth placed nearby - an act of religious significance."
Prof Insoll is to carry out analysis funded by the Wellcome Trust of the residues of material which were packed into holes within the figurines to provide more clues about the society.
He said: "We are certain these people filled the holes with something - but the question is was it medicinal substances, or blood or other material from a sacrifice?"It's the first time such analysis is being done, with the help of colleagues from the University's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences."
The first excavation of the burial sites took place in 1985 with others in 2007, 2008 and 2009 carried out by The University of Ghana.
Some of the figures have been taken out of Ghana - with permission of the authorities - for analysis in Manchester by Prof Insoll who joined the project this year.
He said: "There are still many questions remaining: some of the figurines were deliberately broken and placed besides body parts. Why?"
Dr Kankpeyeng said: "What is interesting is that the people now living in this area seem to have no connection with the makers of the figurines".
"That would suggest that that they have more in common with peoples living in other parts of West Africa - but we need to do more work before we can be certain".
Lugari chief says Gods must have been crazy not to bring computers earlier
By Dedan Okanga, February 6 2010
Senior Chief Paul Makete types a letter on his computer, prints it and hands it over to a woman waiting outside his office.
He then leans back in his chair, a smile crossing his face.
Makete, who initially relied on an old typewriter, has every reason to be happy. He says since he acquired the computer, services have improved.
He is able to perform multiple functions, a feat he could only dream of a few months ago.
"Previously, we did not have even a photocopier, and when we wanted to summon say 50 people, we had to type 50 letters one by one," he says.
His small office, which serves Kongoni location of Lugari District, is perhaps one of the busiest in the district.
The three sub-locations he presides over have a population of 50,000 people who look up to him for solutions to their problems.Registering births or deaths took ages and that probably explains why many children in rural areas do not have birth certificates. But all this changed when locals, led by a Nairobi businessman Kent Libiso, donated a computer to the chief.
The initiative borrows from community policing concept where locals supplement Government programmes aimed at improving public service delivery.
The programme, which aims to reduce long queues, will hopefully change the perception of locals who curse every visit to the chief.
It now takes less than half a day to register 100 newborns and draft more than 200 acknowledgement letters for teenagers seeking identity cards.
The computer savvy chief does not have to worry about losing data to arsonists.
"I walk home every day with my flash disk and whenever I travel I can work in a cyber cafe," he says.
Kongoni Senior Chief Paul Makete (right) receives a computer from Kent Libiso in Lugari. Photo: Peter Ochieng
He plans to acquire a laptop to enable him work from the comfort of his home, even during holidays.
Libiso says due to lack of equipment, administrative officers are often forced to refer their subjects to higher offices for cases they could deal with.
"If we empower the chiefs to deal with issues at the grassroots, we increase the efficiency of the entire system," says he.
The Government has in recent times recruited computer literate chiefs but lack of equipment has meant they cannot employ their skills.
In Lugari, chiefs who are not computer literate have gone back to school to enable them use the new equipment.
"Chiefs are influential and when they embrace technology, they become pacesetters for the entire community," says Libiso.
The programme, which also involves introduction of computer classes for public schools in rural areas, has been on course for the last six months.
According to the sponsor, the intention is to supplement on-going Government efforts to bridge the digital divide.
"Our focus now is Lugari, and we began with chiefs but in the long run the target will include vulnerable groups like orphans and women," he adds.
The initiative, however, faces challenges in remote parts of Lugari due to lack of power.
The prospects of computer literacy in such regions are largely dependent on the success of the ongoing rural electrification.
Residents now want the Ministry of Energy to hasten the process. Many computer enthusiasts travel to Eldoret and Kitale towns for services.
"Volunteers can help improve computer literacy but only after the Government plays its role of providing electricity," says Ms Esther Bukachi, a primary school teacher.
For Bukachi and other villagers who have previously lost data in the hands of chiefs, the development is welcome.
Her two sons did not vote during the last General Election because they could not get identity cards in time.
Makete and the other chiefs who received computers hope they will use the new data storage for census, an idea they hope the Government will buy.
"Chiefs will have updates on the demographic trend and the Government will not need enumerators for physical counts and related information," he says.
Webuye's shocking decline into a crime ridden ghost town
By Daniel Wesangula, August 3 2009
In just five months, life for residents of Webuye Town in Western Kenya has turned into a nightmare following the closure of the Pan African Paper Mills in February. The locked shops and clusters of idle youth underscore the decline of a once vibrant trading centre on its way to becoming a ghost town. When Pan Paper opened its doors in 1970, residents of this western town saw it as a harbinger of good things to come. And, for several decades, business did boom especially in bars and restaurants. Webuye was well on its way to becoming a major town in the region.
Vivienne Keya, a 25-year-old environmentalist who was born in the area, concedes that things were good for awhile, but that the good life came at a price.
“There was some money going around the town. People had a bit to spend,” she said. “But Pan Paper came with employment in one hand and serious environmental degradation in the other.”
Ms Keya, an officer with the Green Belt Movement, said the harm the company did to the environment outweighed the few positive things it did.
As far as she and other environmentalists are concerned, the giant paper mill caused irreversible damage to the surrounding community and the micro-climate of the area has been changing as the years go by.
“Look around,” she said, pointing at the roofs of rusting corrugated iron. “Some of these houses are less than a year old, and their roofs are already rusted.”
The culprit, she said, was the acid rain caused by the sulphuric gases the factory emitted in the process of making paper. “Imagine, then, what the rain does to the crops and the surrounding vegetation,” she said.
In spite of these negative aspects, life in Webuye centred around the factory, and when it was shut down, life more or less came to a standstill.
“There is nothing left for us here,” said 35-year-old Joseph Wafula. “I am thinking of following one of my friends to either Nairobi or Mombasa. Maybe they might have something for me to do.”
Mr Wafula, an electrical engineer, was one of the 30,000 people who depended on the factory for his livelihood. He said that although he wasn’t paid a lot, it was enough to ensure that he could cover most of his family’s needs.
Webuye's Pan African Paper Mills. The factory has been the heart of the town for more than 30 years. Its closure five months ago has driven the town's economy to total collapse.
“I was able to pay school fees for my children, buy food, give my wife some pocket money and even spare some change for a good time in town,” he said. “Now I have nothing.”Many of his friends have left town. “As a man, you cannot sit at home and do nothing,” he said. “The walls will not give you food at night or pay your bills, and if you stay behind, what will you be doing?”
Some of those unable to leave have chosen a life of crime. Gideon Nyongesa, another former Pan Paper employee, sees no harm in it. Sunday Nation found him seated in Flyover, an area many residents call one of the most dangerous places in town.
“We are the ones who do ‘things’ around here,” he said. “We are not proud of what we do, but right now there are only two options on the table: steal or die of hunger. And no normal person would knowingly choose death.”
Area District Commissioner John Litunda admitted that since the closure of the factory, the crime rate in Webuye has been rising, something he attributes to the increased number of idle youths in town.
But some former workers have managed to make a new beginning in other lines of work. Zakaria Weloti, 26, was a casual labourer in the factory. At the end of each day, the father of one daughter took home Sh110 with which he bought food and other basic commodities.
Now he is a boda boda driver, a much better job for him. “I can make up to Sh300 on a good day.
If I had known about this earlier, I would have quit ages ago,” he said. He plans to buy his own motor bike.
“When the company reopens, I will withdraw all the money I had put in the savings and credit society, purchase a motorbike of my own and move on,” he said.
But he is not quite sure how much money he has saved in the sacco as there has been no official communication from officials since the sacco shut down.
When the paper factory went under, so did a school, a dispensary and the Pan Paper staff savings and credit society. Sacco members who spoke to Sunday Nation say the society had more than 1,000 members.
And while many Webuye residents know the mill came with its faults, they would rather live with its harmful effects than in their current situation.
“We know the smoke from the factory is not good for us. Our children get chest infections, the little that we plant fails at times. But better this than a life that has stood still,” said Mr Wafula. Like many others, he is eager to see the factory open its gates once more to the community. “We have had so many promises from the government and the receiver manager coming our way that we stopped anticipating when the factory will be reopened,” said Mr Watiti, who doubles as a representative of workers to the company’s management.
“There’s too much politics involved in deciding the future of the company.” Life could have been somewhat easier for former employees had the company stuck to an agreement it made with them earlier in the year.
According to Mr Watiti, before the employees were sent on a compulsory three-month leave, it had been agreed that they would be paid 30 per cent of their base pay plus a full housing allowance; those living in the company estate were to be housed for free.
“None of this has happened,” said Mr Wafula. Instead, their power and water were disconnected, and the clinic, where they and their families used to be treated free of charge, was closed down.
“There is nothing we can be proud of any more,” Mr Waititi said. “The town is a shadow of what it used to be. And the people walking the empty streets are mere shells of what they used to be.”
But the environmentalists see it differently. For them, this is the kind of break the town needed. “The break might not be a big one,” Ms Keya said. “But it is nice for a change to wake up to fresh air and a clear sky.”
Masinde Muliro University wakes up sleeping giant
Masinde Muliro University now has more than 5,000 students
By Allan Kisia, May 14 2009
Kakamega was once infamous for being a dull and dormant town, but it is now vibrant thanks to the youngest public university. Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, which started in 2003 with less than 100 students has grown remarkably in the past six years. With 5, 000 students and an additional 1, 000 expected to join the institution in August, Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Asenath Sigot recalls the journey the university took to get here.
She says residents did not welcome the university warmly as they thought it would negatively affect them. "Everywhere we went to look for land and other facilities people complained the university was taking over everywhere," she says. The university can only accommodate 2, 000 students with the rest being forced to live in private hostels. Many staff commute from Kisumu and Mumias.
Kakamega, Western’s provincial headquarters, has since been experiencing rapid growth of investments and inhabitants. Consequently the town is experiencing an acute shortage of housing. Sigot says the university has rented several buildings in town and turned them into hostels. However ,this has caused a shortage of office space.
"One investor keeps asking me if he should put up more buildings to accommodate our ever increasing students," she says. But some residents are not happily as they struggle to find affordable housing. Landlords have increased rent by up to 50 per cent. "There is no building in this town that is idle these days," says Sigot. A two-bed room house goes for between Sh8, 000 and Sh10, 000 and a three-bed-room for between Sh12, 000 and Sh15, 000. The increase in population has resulted in water shortages.
The Vice-Chancellor Wangila Barasa says the institution is putting up two major building, a laboratory and a library at a cost of Sh150 million. "We sometimes go all the way to Kisumu or Nairobi to buy building materials," he says. But hardwares have since begun to stock building materials to keep up with demand. The supply of steel, says Baraza, has been steady this year. "When we close for holidays, traders at the market and boda boda operators suffer," says Sigot.
Owing to a demand for furniture there has been a boom in carpentry. "I guess Nakumatt Supermarket is being put up because of the university," she says. The town only had three guest houses three years ago.
Source: Standard, May 14 2009
By Stephen Makabila and Joel Okwayo, May 6 2009
Mumias town is Kenya’s leading sugarcane producer. Evidence of sugar is all over the town and its environs in giant billboards and logos on street light poles. But there is more to sugar in this western Kenya town of 30,000 people than meets the eye. The town is also western Kenya’s melting pot of culture and religion. Mumias town, which became an urban council in 1988, has the richest history among the towns in the province.
Formerly called Lureko, Mumias is the ceremonial seat of the once powerful Luhya Kingdom of Wanga. King Nabongo Mumia, who assumed power in 1880 and was the last sovereign of the Wanga, reigned from Mumias. The town has a rich history related to the Wanga kingdom, Islam and the Anglican Church. It is also home to Mumias Sugar Company.
People speak with pride and nostalgia about ‘our kingdom’ although its influence is now only ceremonial. After the death of Mumia in 1949, his son Shitawa succeeded him. He lorded over the kingdom till the late 1970s. Mumia II succeeded Shitawa, but he does not enjoy the trappings of power like his predecessors.
The king’s role today is cultural, but the royal family still draws some stipends from trade in the town council.
Members of the Wanga royal family, including the king, are still closely linked to political leaders as well as their royal ties of the Abashitsetse clan.
Mumias Town’s main street. Formerly known as Elureko, Mumias has 30,000 people.
In line with its history, the mayor of the town, Mr Patrick Sakwa, is referred to as "Meya wa Bawanga" (Wanga’s mayor). Muslims have a presence in the town because of past trade links between the Wanga Kingdom and Coast before independence.
The town is the headquarters of Mumias District, hived off Butere-Mumias. Mumias Sugar Company is the economic powerhouse of the town. It is also a major employer. The mayor says plans are afoot to expand the town to fit the status of a city. The council has installed streetlights on major streets, courtesy of the sugar miller.
Other development plans lined up for Mumias include Sh1.1 billion projects -building water, sewerage and sanitation infrastructure financed by the World Bank.
Local MP Ben Washiali says the project will supply the town with clean piped water and build a modern sewerage system. Mr Washiali says there are plans to establish a Sugar Technology campus affiliated to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in the town. He says the college would conduct research and improve sugar production in the region. Sakwa says five acres have been set aside for the campus, and hopes it will turn the town into an academic centre. Mumias boasts schools such as the St Peter Mumias Boys’ Secondary School, St Mary’s Girls and Booker Academy.
The mayor says another five acres has been set aside for building houses by the National Housing Corporation. "We are prepared for major developments as soon we expand the bus park to cater for motorcycle and boda boda (bicycle) operators," Sakwa explains. He says the plans have to be implemented now that a Sh20 daily levy on motorcycles has been introduced.
The Aids scourge has not spared the town. To help fight the disease, a local NGO, Poverty Eradication and Health, has trained more than 250 peer educators and sponsors more than 20,000 residents affected by HIV and Aids. Executive Director Justine Mutobera says more than 300 grandmothers take care of Aids orphans in the district. "The town has contributed to the spread of the scourge, courtesy of the sugar factory," says Mutobera.
The town which was part of the larger Kakamega District still lags behind in terms of growth. Apart from the plan to establish a campus, the town lacks middle level tertiary institutions. But residents say with its elevation to a district they expect Mumias to grow due to the influx of civil servants. This, they say, would attract more investors to the town thus spurring economic and social growth.
Mugabe is a Luhya and so is George Bush!
A community in Kenya has come up with a unique way of fighting tribalism and racism -- by localising people's names.
By Denis Lumiti, March 3 2009
According to Luhyas, Kenya's second-largest community, everybody in the world hails from their tribe. George W Bush, Graça Machel and Jacob Zuma are just some of the tribe's many sons and daughters scattered over the world.
They all have Luhya names by which they are known locally: for Luhyas, their names were coined around where they happened to have been born. No wonder then that it is only in this community that you will find people giving the names of famous people from across the world to their own sons and daughters.
Luhya elder Karoli Alukuma explains that the localising of people's names has helped them to view the world as one home and that members of the community take pride in the achievements of people around the world whom they consider "their own".
"We are the most non-tribal, nationalistic and global community in Kenya and perhaps in Africa because we treat everybody around the world as a member of the Luhya family. We feel proud of their achievements no matter their country of birth," says Alukuma.
In Luhyaland, Bush is referred to as Shisakha, which is a Luhya name for a cover of trees or thickets. If you hear Luhyas talking of George (which they pronounce as Chiochi) wi Shisakha, they mean George son of Bush. To them, the outgoing United States president's father is their son who just happened to have been born in the US and decided to call himself "Bush" as it is English.
US president elect Barack Obama is simply referred to as Upaama, a Luhya name meaning somebody who concentrates on whatever he does. When Obama was contesting the election, many believed his success derived from his strong concentration on the campaign. But for many Luhyas John McCain is also their son, just like Obama, and they would have been comfortable if he had won. Here, they refer to him as Chiooni Makani. Makani is a typical Luhya name and Chiooni has been slanted from John to sound Luhya.
Condoleezza Rice has no first name here. She is only referred to as Muchele, the Luhya word for rice. It is common to find many Luhya women being referred to by only one name.
"This has happened to me," says Grace, a mother who hails from the Luhya community. "I named my daughter Condy Peace Rice, but these names have vanished from people's lips and they simply call her Muchele."
One of the Luhyas' 18 sub-tribes is called Idakho. Luhyas thus believe an Idakho son or daughter founded the state of Idaho. And Luhyas who visit the US believe their trip is in vain if they fail to get to the state.
Graça Machel elicited a lot of excitement when she was recently in Kenya as part of a Kofi Annan-led team to broker peace after the disputed presidential election.
For many years, they have referred to her as Keresa wa Mashalia (Graça of Machel). Mashalia is a traditional Luhya name, whereas Keresa is a coinage from Graça to suit the Luhya dialect.
Luhyas have long known Annan as Mukofu wa Anami: Mukofu in Luhya means a wise old man and Anami is also a typical Luhya name, but sounds similar to Annan.
So Luhyas believe their son Mukofu and daughter Keresa were godsends for their motherland to bring peace and that it is because of their local blood that they succeeded in ending the presidential impasse very fast.
They also regard Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe as one of their own, and you will hear some of them complaining that "Roboti" Mugabe has let them down, though others strongly stand by him. Many Luhyas are called Mugabe or Mukabi (a person charged with the responsibility of sharing with other people).
A Luhya MP, Dr Bonny Khalwale, remarks that Mugabe is "our blood. Even his Shona tribe, just like the Ndebele, is a member of the Bantu group just like us. We are where we are and they are where they are because of the search for land and other opportunities."
Luhyas gave these names to all these well-known figures even before they attained their current status. And the community believes they have always done things right.
So Jacob Zuma is fondly referred to as Tsuma, a Luhya name meaning "a man of strong character and ability". He is also a Luhya son, and if he visits the community one day, he might be shocked by the kind of support he enjoys here.
Source: Mail & Guardian
Crying stone of Ilesi revered
By Stephen Makabila, Sunday February 22 2009
At the top of a hill three kilometres south of Kakamega town stands the mysterious Crying Stone of Ilesi, a clearly visible landmark on the left of the highway as one drives towards Kisumu.The rock formation resembles a solemn head falling on weary shoulders. From its top, ‘tears’ flow down the length of the column, about 40 metres long. Legend has it that the ‘tears’ never stop flowing, but the mystic stone was dry when the Sunday Magazine team went calling, although it was stained a dark green colour from the many years of ‘weeping’.
For anyone at the foot of this phenomenon, the most striking feature is that it resembles a gowned figure, perpetually in tears flowing from ‘head to toe’ - an image spiced-up by myth and folkfore.
For the Government, it is simply another tourist attraction within the Western Kenya tourism circuit. And to scientists, it is a formation consisting of a large boulder balanced on a column of rock with water flowing from a groove in the middle. Indeed, geologists describe it as an acid plutonic rock consisting mainly of quartz, alkali, feldspar and mica.
Queen Jedina and John Shikhomoli walk near the Shimichiro cave. In the background is the Crying Stone of Ilesi.
However, the stone is held dear and is of great cultural and spiritual importance to the Luhya community and the Isukha sub-tribe in particular. The Isukha live around the rock’s formation.
"To visitors, it is just another attraction but to us locals, it affects our lives in many ways just as it affected the lives of our forefathers," says 78-year-old John Shikhomoli. The community has resisted the take-over of the crying stone by the Government or private developers who would like to build a resort in the area. Villagers say when the stone cries, it is a good omen, signalling a bumper harvest, for instance. When there is drought, the community carries out rituals here to persuade the gods to bring rain. Other rituals are performed to allay disasters.
There is a symbolic meaning when the stone ‘cries’ when it has not rained, villagers say. Shikhomoli says the site is also used for cleansing victims of incest in families.
"There is a cave under the crying stone called Shimichiro, where those involved in acts of incest are cleansed before they can be re-accepted into the community," explains Shikhomoli. The cleansing process involves those affected going to the cave to be administered traditional herbs, normally prepared by respected elders.
According to testimonies, so effective is the cleansing, that no misfortune comes the way of those cleansed thereafter. During sacrifices to appease the gods for rain or to avoid looming calamities like famine, several animals are slaughtered in nightlong festivities held at the foot of the crying stone. Women and children don’t participate in these festivities which are exclusively a men only affair. The women’s role is to prepare food for the rituals. "We prepare the food for our men who take part in such rituals but we are not allowed to participate otherwise," Queen Jedina, 65, explains.
After performing the rituals, the men usually slaughter a bull, a sheep, a goat and some chickens to go with traditional foodstuffs such as ugali made from millet flour for the feast, explains Shikhomoli. On the night of the ritual, Isukuti dance troupes brought in from various parts of the region entertain those in attendance.
Shikhomoli points to the entrance of Shimichiro cave where those involved in acts of incest are cleansed. Photos: Benjamin Sakwa/Standard
The crying stone is so revered that folk has it that it even fought wars for the Luyha. One of such stories dates back to pre-colonial times. Local elders say there was war between Luhyas and the Nandis over the boundary of the two communities. During one instance, the Nandis tried to pull down the stone, which they believed gave the Luyha immense supernatural powers. At the end of the day, more than 100 Nandis died.
"The Nandis thought the stone was helping Luhyas to miraculously out-stage them and all of those who attempted to floor it perished," explains. Shikhomoli.
This, he says, shows that the stone has magic powers and can protect the local people against any evil designs by enemies.Overnight pilgrimage. The crying stone is also of religious importance as churches such as Legio Maria and Rosary Church make pilgrimages to it, camp there overnight as they fast and kesha (hold night-long prayers).
"We receive Legio Maria members from far away areas like South Nyanza who come to worship here in seclusion. They believe they can communicate better with God that way," says Kelvin Juma, a villager. He says some of the religious groups decide to camp at the site while crossing into a new year or celebrating Easter festivities, among other significant holidays.
Musicians also make good use of the crying stone to promote their music in terms of a scenic site to record videos. Jacob Luseno and Sukuma Bin Ongaro have at one time or the other used the stone as background for recording their music."We believe they do so because it makes their music even more acceptable among our people when familiar landmarks like the crying stone features," says Pius Wekalao, a Kakamega resident. Wekalao adds that some people even visit for egotistical reasons. "They come to be photographed at the foot of the stone, so that it can be recorded in history that they were photographed there."
Despite the bad state of the Webuye-Kakamega road and the Kisumu-Kakamega road, several foreign tourists visit the crying stone annually."On average, we receive between 300 and 500 foreign tourists every year," notes one of the youths who guard it and usher in visitors.Local tourism Local tourism also thrives at Ilesi. For example while driving along the Kakamega–Kisumu road, it is common to see Kenyans stopping their vehicles beside the road to have a glimpse of the stone.
Schools and colleges from the Western Kenya region and other parts of the country also tour the crying stone as part of their academic or educational tours. Whenever a vehicle branches towards the stone at Ilesi, villagers flock out of their homesteads immediately to welcome visitors, with some demanding some cash. Foreign visitors are charged higher rates by the villagers than local Kenyans or other Africans.
"We may charge a foreign tourist Sh500, but locals pay around Sh200 to witness this great landmark that is nature’s wonder within the region," adds another villager. The Sunday Magazine was no exception, as it had to part with Sh200 to reach the site and carry out interviews with the villagers. Villagers believe with improved roads linking Kakamega with other towns within the Western Kenya region, more visitors can flock Ilesi and improve its revenue.
"We always hear funds have been allocated to improve the Kisumu-Kakamega road and the Webuye-Kakamega road but their deplorable state has remained the same for years," they lamented. The villagers also question why the government has been highlighting the crying stone as a leading tourism attraction within the region, yet it cannot even improve the diversion from the Kisumu-Kakamega road to the site. And true to their word, accessing the site is not easy for the urbanised lot, for you have to meander through rough patches before getting to the mystic rock. That is what you have to do to satisfy your curiosity. Source - Standard on Sunday, 22 February 2009
Traditional ceremony splits Bukusu community
By Robert Wanyonyi and Stephen Makabila
A carnival mood has descended on the greater Bungoma District as the month-long circumcision festivities gain momentum.
A candidate inviting relatives to his big day, in Bungoma. PHOTO: ISAAC WALE
The practice is part of the cultural activities of the community and its done in August every even year.
It is estimated that between 25,000 and 35,000 boys are to face the knife, known as ‘lukembe’, in a transition to adulthood.
Schoolboys abandoned classes weeks back and have been going around villages with jingles, ‘chinyimba’, and traditional head gears ‘ekutwa’ to announce to relatives and family friends their day of reckoning.
School children in uniform have been common features along major roads and highways. They have been escorting the candidates and singing circumcision songs, some obscene and others abusive. Although most schools in Bungoma have not closed the number of children reporting to school had reduced.
"Traditional circumcision among the Bukusu is deep-rooted and it is very difficult to change the practice because it is part of our culture that has to be preserved at all costs," said Mr John Simiyu, a 60-year-old elder in Kanduyi.
Conservative Bukusus, among them elders, political leaders and even leading professionals support the rite, although Christianity poses a challenge to its survival.
Assistant Lands Minister Silvester Wakoli and his Kimilili counterpart Dr Eseli Simiyu urge the community to preserve its culture.
The Inter-Christian Fellowship’s Evangelical Mission, (Icfem) based in Kimilili, has since 2002 circumcised 16,000 boys, in hospitals, and its crusade is currently paying considerable dividends.
A Bukusu circumciser from Maliki village, in Webuye sharpens his knives in readiness for the rite.
"This year, we have 16 circumcision centres in Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia and Lugari to circumcise boys who do not prefer the traditional way," says Mr Solomon Nabie, Icfem’s director.
The organisation is targeting at least 12,000 boys this season. Christians are opposed to traditional circumcision rites.
"In this era of HIV/Aids, one of the identified avenues for the transmission of the virus is traditional circumcision. Boys undergo a ritual that involves cutting of their foreskin by medically unqualified circumcisers who repeatedly use unsterilised knives," said Nabie.
He says the ceremonies are accompanied by immoral activities, which lead to schoolgirls being impregnated, youths being infected with venereal diseases, and an increase in insecurity.
Nabie says performance by primary schools in national examinations during even years is not impressive in the district since a lot of time is wasted over the festivities.
Dr Nyukuri Mulati, a lecturer at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology says cultures that are retrogressive should be abandoned. He, however, says circumcision decisions are made at the family level.
"Traditional circumcision breeds poverty. A home can have as many as 1,000 guests or even more during the ritual and they all have to be fed," says Ms Evelyne Namalwa.
In 2002 workshop convened by the provincial administration it was established that the minimum cost of traditional circumcision is Sh25,000.
Nabie says the cost is much higher given the inflation in the country.
"Today the traditional ceremony may not cost less than Sh60,000," adds Nabie who says hospital circumcision costs less than Sh1,000.
The chairman of the Bukusu Association of Traditional Circumcisers Dr Isaac Misiko, however strongly dismisses this line of thought, saying most community members are preserving their culture. Circumcisers are drawn from all fields.
A case in point is this year’s rites, where six primary teachers, two secondary teachers, two medical doctors, one university lecturer and three elected councillors form part of the traditional circumcisers.
There are several clans of the Bukusu from which the circumcisers are drawn from. They include Bayaya, Bamasike, Basime, Baleyi, Basonge, Baengele and Bakhoma.
"Many community members never allow their children to be circumcised in hospitals. About 70 per cent do it traditionally," says Misiko.
He says traditional circumcision gives blessings to the initiate.
"The knife is sterilised because it is sharpened and kept hot throughout the night ahead of the ceremony. We also use one knife for each initiate," adds Misiko. He says circumcisers are trusted and honest and are carefully chosen. "We usually ensure circumcisers have no wounds on their hands, must be mentally sound and must know traditional practices that enhance hygiene," says Misiko.
He also claims the cost of traditional circumcision is usually exaggerated. He says a family requires around Sh35,000 to carry out the ceremony.
He however says traditional circumcision has some challenges, which include failure to dress the wounds immediately after circumcision. The mud that is used to cover the initiate may not be safe from germs.
Wakoli, says traditional circumcision should be maintained as part of preserving culture. He says there is need for the Government to train traditional circumcisers on the proper hygiene.