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The migratory history of Babukusu is intertwined with that of other Luhya sub nations. The Bukusu believe they came from Egypt and their Adam-Eve equivalent was Mwambu and Sera. The main references on their history is through teh works of Prof Gideon Were, the historian from Wanga in Kakamega County and FE Makila, an academic from Bukusu who has evaluated the works of Prof Were and other sto arrive at new conslusions through his title: An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya.

By Topi Lyambila

The Babukusu predominantly occupy Bungoma County in western Kenya.  Part of the larger Luhya commune enlisting 18 sub nations and priding in the fact that they are the largest, Babukusu have a stubborn nature that has been manifested in their political and religious affiliations. They resisted colonial rule ruthlessly; they are strong believers in the spiritual self hence the emergency of the ‘Dini ya Musambwa’ led by the legendary Elijah Masinde. The ‘Dini ya Musambwa’ movement was described in 1955 by the then area District Commissioner C.J Denton as “A greater potential threat to law and order than the Mau Mau Movement was.” (V.G. Simiyu, 1997). The Babukusu are believers in cultural tradition.  They religiously followed the advice of their elders strongly influenced by the ‘Diviner Priests’ who formed an integral part of the mentoring system.

Among the most recognised Babukusu personalities are warriors and diviners.  Political icons came late in the day for the Babukusu.  Most recognised rulers were either medicine men or commandos who had won many battles – No wonder they are renowned for their ruthless war tactics that earned them the unsavoury name of “Kitosh” from their perennial adversaries the Kalenjin.  Debate still quietly rages among the Bukusu academics over who is the bigger icon between the two Masindes.  Elijah Masinde the founder of ‘Dini ya Musambwa’ and Masinde Muliro the political nationalist.

Elijah MasindeElijah Masinde
Elijah Masinde resisted British colonial penetration into Bukusu land; founding Dini ya Musambwa sect to protect erosion of indigenous religious belief systems by Christian missionaries. For his spirited defence of Luhya traditions, he paid dearly for it - Dini ya Musambwa was proscribed and even in 'independent Kenya', he was detained in Manyani.

Masinde Muliro
Masinde Muliro, the foremost Luhya politician of modern times, eschewed personal comforts to fight for what he believed was fair and just. He could not be corrupted and was often a thorn in the Kenyatta government; something for which he was punished with detention without trial. He died not a wealthy man, but with his reputation unblemished.

 

While many today know of Masinde Muliro because of his political heroics, few remember Elijah Masinde!  This however quickly changes when one does a quick check in the annals of history to discover a bit about the man from Kimilili.  In the series – ‘Makers of Kenya’s History - the initial 8 books include those written about:  Jomo Kenyatta – Kenya’s first President, Ronald Ngala-a pre-independence political activist who became a Senior Minister in the Kenyatta Government, both serialised by Eric Masinde Aseka.  Then we have Nabongo Mumia – the Luhya paramount Chief from Wanga written by Simon Kenyanchui, Dedan Kimathi the Mau Mau freedom fighter killed during the emergency days, written by Tabitha Kanogo, Tom Mboya another of the senior-most Government ministers during the first Government of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta - written by Edwin Gimode, Masinde Muliro another of the most prominent ministers in the 1st and 2nd Governments – written by Professor Simiyu Wandibba, Elijah Masinde, serialised by Vincent G Simiyu and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga serialised by E.S. Atieno Odhiambo.

All the above with exception of Elijah Masinde and fighter Dedan Kimathi, held Public Office either in Central Government or in local Government as in the case of Nabongo Mumia – a tribal Chief.

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.

The Babukusu believe that their descendants came from Egypt and indeed have several words and practices in their cultural traditions that lend credence to this belief.  For instance they acknowledge that their first ancestors were Mwambu and Seera.  Theses two names are found in Southern Egypt where towns along the Nile River have a similar name.  Another more prominent one is the ritual of slaughtering a lamb to appease the angry ancestral spirits creating havoc in the home.  In the ritual, blood from the lamb is spilled at the door post to wade off evil spirits, a resounding replica of the ‘Passover’ – when Moses was ordered by God to tell all the Israelites in Egypt to kill a lamb and spill some blood on the door posts to wad off the ‘Angel of Death’.  From the biblical recount, any homestead without the blood on the door-posts – lost the first born child.

 

CLICK HERE to read Prof Gideon Were's version of the History of Babukusu.

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: For an alternative view on Bukusu History, read FE Makila's 'An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya.