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Origins, Clans and Taboos
By Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo
All rights reserved.
The Luyia (Luhya) populate western Kenya and parts of Rift Valley, especially the adjoining Trans Nzoia District. According to 2009 National Population Census, the Luyia number 5,338,666 with an estimated one million living outside native territory. They are the second largest tribe in Kenya after the Kikuyu constituting 14 percent of Kenya's total population of 38,610,097. Administratively, Luyia territory is now divided into five counties—Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma, and Trans Nzoia, of which the first three were formerly in Western Province and the latter in Rift Valley. Out of the thirty-two districts in Western (including Trans Nzoia), two each are occupied by Nilotic tribes—Iteso (Wamia) and Sabaot (Sebei). In early colonial era, the Luyia and Luo were clustered into one administrative polity known as Kavirondo. In 1920, when Kenya became a British Protectorate and Colony, Kavirondo, until then part of eastern province of Uganda Protectorate was split into North and South Kavirondo. South Kavirondo became Luo territory while North Kavirondo was Luyia reserve and pockets of smaller Nilotic tribes primarily Iteso (Teso), Sabaot, and Terik. In 1948, North Kavirondo was renamed North Nyanza after the word kavirondo (see p.120) was deemed pejorative by indigenes. In 1953, Elgon Nyanza was carved out of North Nyanza, and at independence in 1963, North Nyanza African District was renamed Kakamega while Elgon Nyanza was split into Bungoma and Busia to form the three districts of Western Province.
Luyia territory borders Ugandan districts of Busia, Tororo, Manafwa, Sironko, and Mbale to the west and northwest. Busia is a typical example of the idiocy of the so-called Scramble for Africa under which European colonial powers sliced the continent into spheres of influence at the Berlin Conference of 1885. The border of Uganda and Kenya demarcates Busia almost into half-splitting families (see p.289) into two different nationalities. The people of Samia Bugwe in Uganda belong to the same ethno-linguistic lineage as the Samia of Kenya while Abanyala have large brethren in Uganda's Kayunga District and Sigulu Island in Lake Victoria. Bunyala district (hived off Busia in 2007) has the largest water mass in Buluyia by virtue of bordering Lake Victoria to the southwest and is also the river mouth of Nzoia in the lowlands of Budalang'i division. The Luyia border Ugandan tribes of Teso (Kenya and Uganda), Bagwere, and Nilotic Padhola while only Mount Elgon (Masaba) separates the brotherhood of Bukusu and Bagisu (collectively known as Bamasaaba). To the north of Trans Nzoia, Luyia border Kalenjin tribes of Pokot and Marakwet and to the east and southeast, Uasin Gishu and Nandi districts, respectively, and Luo of Nyanza to the south and southwest.
The total area of Western is 10,796.3 sq km (4,168.5 sq miles) which includes Trans Nzoia's 2,487 sq km. Together, Luyialand is only 2.2 percent of Kenya's total land mass (582,600 sq km). Out of the total area, 137.2 sq km is water, and 15 percent is occupied by non-Luyia tribes principally Iteso and Sabaot. From the lowlands of Busia (3,984 ft) in the West, the land rises to an altitude of 14,177 ft above sea level at its highest on the peak of Mt. Elgon in the north. The outlying areas on slopes of Mt. Elgon vary between 7,500 ft and 6,000 ft in the hills of Cherengany (Cherengani) and highlands of Trans Nzoia. Mt. Elgon (Masaba) is the most discernible physical feature in Buluyia famous not only for its height and snowcapped peaks but also for numerous caves and holds spiritual value for Bamasaaba people living on both sides of the Kenya-Uganda frontier. In 1960, rock art predating colonial era was discovered in the caves in the first recorded instance of ancient rock art in Kenya (Bulimo 2013: 607). Elgon, like Mt. Longonot6 near Nakuru, is a dormant volcano lying on the Great Rift Valley fault line. The dominant tree around Mt. Elgon forest is alpine of which albizia is the principal species.
The territorial headquarters of Western is Kakamega Town with an elevation of 4,999 ft above sea level and lies between Latitude (DMS) 0° 16' 60 North and Longitude (DMS) 34° 45' 0 East at a time zone of EAT (GMT3). The indigenous name for Kakamega is Eshieywe although the colonialists first called it Fort Maxted. However, the origins of the name Kakamega can be traced to the Nandi who called this area kikome kaa (dead homestead), probably because they had abandoned it after Bantu Luyia from Uganda pushed them farther south into the Nandi escarpments and Uasin Gishu plateau. The Nandi, like Luyia, use the spire that protrudes from the roof of a hut to symbolize a homestead with a man. If a homestead does not have this symbol of manhood, the Nandi call it a dead homestead (kikome kaa).
Luyialand is a land of astounding physiographical diversity. From high altitudes of Mt. Elgon in the north, a visitor is treated to a plethora of physical vistas ranging from the highlands of Kiminini, Saboti, and Kwanza in Trans Nzoia to windswept savannah grasslands of Bungoma broken only by undulating valleys and hills of Mwalie, Sang'alo, Musikoma, Kabuchai, and Chetambe. A visit to Mwibale Rock (Mwibale wa Mwanja) on the border of Bukusu and Bunyala is a must for tourists on a cultural tour or anthropological study. Mwanja, a Mulwonja clansman, was the owner of the land on which the mythical rock stands. The rock is believed to be the site where a Bukusu wrestler defeated a Nilotic wrestling champion, a symbolic psychocultural comeuppance which reestablished Bukusu superiority over Nilotes with whom they waged constant warfare. Not far from here is Sikele sia Mulya, a footprint in Sang'alo named after another Mulwonja clansman, Mulya. No one knows whether the footprint is real or mythical or how it got there in the first place, but in a society enveloped in sociocultural idiosyncrasies, Sikele sia Mulya continues to be a source of cultural and ritual fascination. Locals, however, believe that when Wele (God) made the stone, Mulya was the first man to walk across it with his wife and cattle, thus creating the "permanent" imprint. On a good day, you can see flashes of Mulya, his pregnant wife, and some cattle, or so it is believed. Similarly, a cave at Mwalie Rock (also known as Mango's cave) near Malakisi holds cultural significance for Babukusu. It is believed to be here that Mango, credited with introducing circumcision to the subnation, trapped and killed the dreaded yabebe serpent that had terrorized the land for a long time, according to Bukusu mythology (Bulimo 2013: 271). Ecotourists, who come to Kakamega Forest, will not be disappointed with a visit to Buteyo Miti Park in Sang'alo, a privately owned arboretum and reputedly one of its kind in Africa.
As you continue travelling south, the rolling savannah landscape of Bungoma is broken by a pristine tropical forest, the second most significant feature in Western physiography after Mt. Elgon. Beginning in Kabras and enveloping Isukha and Tiriki, Kakamega Forest is the easternmost remnant of the Congo-Guinean equatorial rainforest that once stretched from West Africa through Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, and Kenya with an altitude ranging from 4,593.2 ft-5,577.4 ft. Buyangu Hill is the highest point in the forest, and from here, visitors marvel at the panoramic canopy of the tropical dense forest, their peace disrupted only by the chirpings of rare snake-eating birds like the banded snake eagle. The forest is truly primordial with rare species of flora (380) and fauna, some of which are only found in West Africa including the "flying" poisonous snake. With over 350 species of rare birds and four hundred butterfly species recorded, Kakamega Forest is a favorite with ornithologists from all over the world. In addition, the forest is sanctuary to rare primates like the blue monkey, olive baboon, and red-tailed monkey. Although the forest has 125 tree species, croton is dominant comprising between 40 and 50 percent of forest timber.
A major attraction in the western Kenya tourist circuit, Kakamega Forest has had significant patches cleared over the last one thousand years for settlement and farming. When it was gazetted as a national forest in 1933, it consisted of the main block (23,785 ha) and two smaller ones—Kisere (400 ha) and Malava (780 ha). In 1966, it was gazetted as a national reserve to protect the rare animal and plant species found here. Further fragmentation continued between 1933 and 1985 reducing the main block of forest to fifteen thousand ha by the year 2001. Currently, the forest consists of 8,245 ha (main block) and six outlying fragments ranging in size from 65 ha to 1,370 ha. These include Malava, Kisere, Lugari, Kaimosi, Bunyala, and Maragoli forests. To the west of Kakamega Forest is a long patch of rainforest known as North Nandi Forest and concave-shaped South Nandi Forest to the south. Besides these two, there are also three small patches—Tarosia (north of Nandi North), Kaglerai (north of Nandi South), and Ururu (West of Nandi South). Together, the Nandi forests add a welcome break from the rugged terrain of Uasin Gishu plateau and the cascading heights of neighboring Nandi escarpments. All these vegetative covers are in close proximity to Kakamega forest and were part of the original Congo-Guinean equatorial rainforest alluded to above.
The rocky hills of Bunyore and Maragoli in the south provide the visitor with a postcard image of a beautiful landscape that contrasts sharply with the Uasin Gishu plateau. The lava sheets which characterize Uasin Gishu plateau and Nandi escarpments are replaced with porphyritic granites concentrated in the localities of Bunyore, Maragoli, and Tiriki and sparsely strewn across Idakho, Isukha, Marama, and Wanga. Some of the giant boulders in Bunyore and Maragoli are a natural wonder. Blasted from the earth's crust during the tectonic formation of Lake Victoria millions of years ago, the giant boulders balance so precariously they simply take your breath away. If you turn westward and travel through Luanda Township toward Busia, you cannot fail to notice the pyramid-shaped Esibila hills in Bunyore famed for rainmaking rituals by Nganyi rain magicians (Bulimo 2013: 41). The hills are of such ritual significance to Abanyole that they were gazetted for protection by the Ministry of National Heritage. Busia welcomes you with Samia hills, rich in iron ore deposits which made local Samia people the best iron smelters in Buluyia in the pre-European days (see p.286). Besides Samia hills, one also stumbles upon another magical feature, a series of hills and rocky outcroppings collectively known as Teso hills of which the tallest is Cheremuluk Rock, which has a historico-cultural significance for Babukusu. It was at a cave in the rock that circumcision rituals began before the Bukusu were driven out by invading Iteso from Uganda.
Besides tectonic activity, Western landscape is underlain by rocks of the basement and pre-Cambrian systems attributable to volcanic eruption of Mt. Elgon, especially the area between Nandi escarpment and south east of the mountain. The pedological composition of Western reveals three major soil types, according to FAO classification—nitisols (dark red with 30 percent clay), ferrralsols (strongly weathered soils with a chemically poor but physically stable subsoil), and acrisols found around the fringes of Kakamega Forest. The highlands of Trans Nzoia have two distinctive soil subtypes—the alpine meadow and shallow stony soils with touches of alluvium deposited by slow moving water and peaty swamps in the valleys. The most arable soil in the region is the dark red friable clays and sandy clay loams. The southern and eastern parts of Buluyia like Maragoli, Tiriki, and Bunyore consist primarily of granite soils. The rocky terrain of South Maragoli gives way to fertile red soils in North Maragoli suitable for tea plantations. The topography of upper Nzoia basin is characterized by alluvial soils deposited by slow moving water, but as the river turns south, it moves faster depositing fluvial soils (fluvisols) mainly around Bungoma, Mumias, and upper Busia. Fluvisols have high fertility due to large amounts of humic substances as well as loamy and sandy fractions.
The swampy areas of Busia in the lower Nzoia basin are dominated by wetland soils (gleysols) and organic soils (histosols) which are imperfectly drained. Around riparian ridges of Lake Victoria in Busia, one finds solonchaks (solonetz) which, when dry, cause structural problems due to an imperfect drainage, salinity, and sodicity. Here also one finds what is commonly known as black cotton soils (vertisols) with a high propensity for water retention suitable for cassava and cotton plantation. These soils can carry crops through a long drought but crack badly when dry. Moreover, the swelling nature of vertisols means they are poor candidates for engineering projects such as road building. The dry lands of Busia County are also characterized by sandy soils (arenosol) formed by colluvial substrates deposited from chipped basement rocks. The sugar belt region of Mumias is dominated by loamy soils which support a number of crops besides sugar while neighboring Khwisero has predominantly shallow soils pointing to highly eroded activity and hence poor crop development in the locality. Butere is fertile with a variety of rich soils most of which belong to the well-drained loamy type.
Most of Buluyia is savannah country consisting of rolling pastoral grasslands broken by rocky hills referred to above. The grassland regions of Western are dominated by the star grass, blady grass (imperata cylindrica), napier or Uganda grass (pennisetum purpureum), and muteete grass (cymbopogon afronadus) found in the granite areas of Maragoli and Bunyore.
Western lies just north of the equator and experiences two main seasons. The long rainy season falls between March and June with September to November having short rain spells. Agronomists advise farmers to plant maize, the chief subsistence crop, at the beginning of February in expectation of the rainy season which peaks during April and May and tapers off thereafter. Maize (amatuma) is planted twice a year with the second planting season occurring in September and harvesting in January. The dry season is normally around December to February with January experiencing dry easterly winds from Nandi escarpments. The average temperatures are highs of 30° C and lows of 18° C during dry season and 28° C and 16° C during the cold season typically July and August with an annual precipitation averaging 1800mm (70.9 inches). Humidity ranges from 75 to 90 percent in most parts of the province with ultraviolet radiation index (UV) averaging zero throughout the year. Proximity to the equator means that night and day have near-equal hours with sunset clocking at 6:40 p.m. and sunrise at 6:45.a.m. The county of Kakamega is mainly hot and wet most of the year thanks, in large measure, to the pristine tropical rainforest while Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, on the foothills of Mt. Elgon are colder but equally wet. Busia County in the lake basin is the hottest and hilly Vihiga the coldest. Due to proximity of Kakamega Forest, the localities of Kabras, Isukha, Navakholo, Idakho, Butsotso, and Tiriki receive plenty of rain, thus retaining lush green outlook throughout the year.
The average annual rainfall is thirty inches with the highest recorded (seventy-six inches) in the northeastern flanks of Lugari, southeastern Kakamega, and Kaimosi. The highlands of Trans Nzoia on the foothills of Mt. Elgon also receive heavy rainfall. Central areas like Sang'alo and Bukura and western parts of Luyialand, especially Busia, receive less rainfall. Where it rains heavily, it is often accompanied by thunderstorms and occasionally hailstorms and lightning. The heavy rains are drained in all-seasonal rivers principally the Nzoia, Yala (Lukose or Obaro in Bunyala), Jordan, Ezava (Echava), Lusumu (Isiukhu), Lwakhakha, Malakisi, Kamukuywa, Kuywa, and Sio. River Nzoia is the largest in Luyialand and divides the territory into two almost equal halves running in a south westerly direction before draining into Lake Victoria at Port Victoria in Bunyala. Rising from Mt. Elgon, it is the longest (334 km) with several tributaries joining it as it snakes its way toward the Budalang'i basin. It is eighty yards (73.2 m) wide at its mouth and is characterized by rapids, rocks, and falls (Nabuyole falls, formerly Broderick being the main one) which render it unsuitable for navigation.
Excerpted from Luyia Nation by Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo. Copyright © 2013 Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
List of Tables.................... xi
List of Maps.................... xiii
Chapter 1: Geography.................... 1
Chapter 2: Concept of Time.................... 32
Chapter 3: Luyia Origins.................... 67
Chapter 4: Family, Clan, and Kinship.................... 150
Chapter 5: Luyia Subnations and Clans.................... 193
Appendix 1: Kakamega County Administrative Units.................... 391
Appendix 2: Vihiga County Administrative Units.................... 395
Appendix 3: Bungoma County Administrative Units.................... 397
Appendix 4: Busia County Administrative Units.................... 401
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