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Traditional system of government

All Babukusu were ruled by an overall leader knwon as omwami who ruled through a system of clan elders (bakasa; singular: omukasa) who were his surbodinates. Omukasa was the adjudicator of more routine cases and disputes. He referred the more difficult cases to the ruler (omwami) who then settled them assisted by a team of trusted bakasa. The custodian of the laws of Babukusu was “omwirwatsi”.

The people appointed all these officials, based on their personal character. The “omwami” could be dismissed for bad behaviour. The war leader was called “naitirian” (a Nandi word meaning headman). The dying ruler usually named any of his sons with good character to succeed him. The elders then installed him. The ruler wore a skin cloak (“ekutusi”), an armband called “lichabe” and the cowry-shell crown. He had the traditional four-legged stool. When the old ruler died, the new one inherited these insignia. The “omwami” was buried in a fresh cowhide with his head facing East, according to Bukusu migratory belief notions. More...

The rite of passage

khulicha, bukusu circumcision
Bukusu circumcision initiates accompanied by villagers going to the village common (oluyia) for the final dance during the pass out ritual known as khulicha after four months of seclusion in a circumcision hut (likombe; erumbi in other Luhya tongues). Photo: Westfm

The Babukusu hold fast on cultural practice.  Top of the billing in this category is the circumcision ceremony for boys which acts as their ‘Rite of Passage’.  The elaborate ceremonies, take place every two years marking out a pattern that covers only even years.  There are occasions when the ceremony has been held during the odd year, in which case it is referred to as ‘Sikumenya’.  Such cases were rare and usually were associated with either wars or forced movement.  The most recent such year was 1941 – at the height of the 2nd World War.


Bukusu death legend

According to Bukusu death legend, one day the chameleon visited Maina's son (Maina is often cited as a descendant of Mubukusu) who was sitting in the yard having his meal. The hungry chameleon begged him for some food but he refused and after persistent prodding, he got angry and chased the reptile. Feeling humiliated and seething with anger, the chameleon pronounced a curse (esilamo) to the Bukusu: “I am living you now, but from now on, you shall die.” The chameleon then visited the snake (injokha) and begged for food. Injokha obliged and shared its meal with the fellow reptile. For his generosity, the chameleon decided to reward the snake with eternal life. The Bukusu believe that snakes do not die but keep rejuvenating themselves every time they get old by sloughing their skin. The only time they die is when they are killed.


Cattle Drive (Siremba), Lufu & Khuswala Kumuse

esiremba, bukusu death rituals
Cattle being driven past the grave of a Bukusu elder. Photo: Westfm

If the deceased is a respected elder, a cattle drive (other Luhya call it esiremba) is staged around the grave, immediately after burial. The purpose of esiremba is to afford the cattle a chance to mourn their shepherd (owner) and to celebrate his memory as a cattle owner. Esiremba is often followed by a mock fight in memory of the deceased as a warrior and cutting down banana grove or other plants in the homestead to mark the end as well as a new beginning.

Three days after burial a hair shaving ritual known as lufu (olovego in Maragoli) is conducted during which the deceased’s family members are shaved clean, especially those who were in close contact at the deceased’s death bed. This is to rid them of the ritual contamination caused by the blood and breathe of the deceased as life ebbed away from him.

If the deceased was an elder, lufu is followed by another rite known as khuswala kumuse (literally: walk a public meeting) is staged among (also for Tachoni), the purpose of which is to honour the memory of the deceased as a progenitor and ensure social cohesion, survival and continuity of the community. Kumuse is only staged for people who have participated in the process of procreation who have left behind children to continue the life of the clan community in various capacities as warriors, leaders, wives, etc. Excluded from this ritual are abasumba (bachelors), children and childless women. Also excluded are wayward individuals such as those dabbling in witchcraft and sorcery, thieves, murderers or those murdered, struck by lightning or commit suicide.

CLICK HERE for further death rituals among Bamasaba clansmen Part I

CLICK HERE for further death rituals among Bamasaba clansmen Part II

Widow inheritance among Bamasaba

Memorial (Sisinini) after 40 days of mourning

Marriage among Bamasaba

Dowry among the Bukusu

Remembering the Bukusu dead - khukhala kimikoye ritual

Importance of Chicken in Luhya society

Origin of burying dead in a sitting position among Balunda clansmen

Khukhwiulana custom of killing the elderly among Bamasaaba

Starting a new household (Sitekho ceremony)

Graduation from circumcision hut

Investiture of a Babambo clan elder

Myths about the dead