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Unesco lists Isikuti dance an endangered cultural heritage

isikuti Luyia dance
Isikuti drummers entertain crowds during Labour Day celebrations at Nyayo Stadium Nairobi. Photo: NATION Media

By Kevin J, Kelly, Washington, November 27, 2014
A traditional dance practised by the Isukha and Idakho communities in western Kenya was listed on Wednesday by a United Nations agency as an “intangible cultural heritage in urgent need of safeguarding.” The fast-paced Isikuti dance, performed at many public and private celebrations, is among three traditions that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) declared in danger of fading into extinction. A male child-cleansing ceremony of the Lango people of Uganda and the oral tradition of Venezuela's Mapoyo group were listed along with the Isikuti dance.

“Transmission of Isikuti dance is presently weakening and the frequency of performance is diminishing,” warns a Unesco committee that seeks to protect threatened aspects of humanity's cultural heritage. “Many bearers are elderly and lack successors to whom they can pass on their knowledge. Lack of funds and the necessary materials to make the instruments and costumes also present an obstacle.” Composers in the Isukha and Idakho communities “prefer to work in more commercial genres,” the Unesco committee notes, adding that local audiences “frequently substitute contemporary entertainment for traditional Isikuti dances.”

Unesco describes Isikuti dance as “an integral tool for cultural transmission and harmonious coexistence between families and communities.” It is passed down through generations of a family and is performed at most stages of life, including childbirths, initiations, weddings, funerals and commemorations, as well as at religious festivals and sporting events. The dance derives its name from the set of drums that accompany it. An antelope horn and metal rattles are also played as a soloist sings in tandem with the rhythms of the drumbeats and the steps of the dancers, arranged in separate rows for women and men. Pressures threatening perpetuation of the dance include indifference to it on the part of “young people who identify less and less with Isikuti,” Unesco observes.

Source: NATION

US-based doctor publishes book on the Maragoli

James OjagoOjago's father
The author, Dr. James M'Mbuka Ojago and his father (right) whose collection of Maragoli history and folklore inspired his son to write the book entitled "Letters From My Dad"

By Dr, James Ojago, August 17 2014
Letters from Dad contains information about the origins of the Maragoli and how they as a people came to settle permanently, in Vihiga County, then follows their modern migration in such of a better life from Vihiga county to places such as Nyaribari in Kisii, Kanyamkago, in South Nyanza (Near Migori and the Tanzanian border), Kigumba ( near Masindi Port), in Uganda, Tanganyika, and lastly to the Kenya Highlands ( Lugari, Mautuma, Kamukuywa, Kitale and Eldoret area).

I was lucky enough during my childhood to have spent time in Kanyamkago, in the late 1950's where my father was posted as a Teacher for the Friends Mission Schools, thereafter he was transferred to Nyakoe, in Nyaribari ( Kisii), and later my family my among the first migrants to the Kenya Highlands, at Kamukuywa, in the middle of the 1960's. So what I describe in the book is from a personal experience. Within Vihiga County, the book explores in details how each Maragoli clan came to settle where they are now, and why. For example the Avamavi clan are found Maragoli hills, in what used to be known as South Maragoli.

I had family who were migrants to Tanganyika (my uncle on my mother's side), and to Kigumba, in Uganda (my grandfathers brother's) and those would come back from time to time and describe to me their experiences in those locales.

Letters from my Dad

The rest of the information is what I could remember growing up with my grandparents in the early 1960's at Kegoye primary school. And of course the rest of the information was gathered from my remaining uncles who are still alive (both in their 80's) back home in Kenya.
The book also has information about Maragoli cultural beliefs such as male circumcision, and the meaning/importance of it, the role of manhood in society, snake keeping  (yes, Maragolis are snake keepers), the coming of the white man, the Indians and how all these foreigners conspired to exploit us.

There is a brief explanation relating to the Maragoli night runners! Makes for a good reading.
It is also available on Amazon.com, and electronically on Nooks and Kindle and directly from the publisher:
Sarah Book Publishing
 956-230-2934 office
 956-536-7839 cell

Magical tree falls after 300 years

By Grace Wekesa, July 29 2014
A popular tree in Kakamega Forest fondly known as Mama Mutere has fallen after 300 years. It fell weeks ago after its rotten roots could no longer support it. According to the forest’s research education officer, Wycliffe Okeke, the tree started showing signs of dying a few years ago when it began losing its leaves and bark but remained upright. “Even our fervent prayers could not save the old tree. We are very sad because some visitors had notified us that they were coming to see it,” said Okeke. Mama Mutere was revered because it acted as a shrine where the local community went to pray to get blessings for rain and good harvest. Treasured also for its medicinal value, the famous tree was among the most photographed in Kenya’s remaining equatorial rainfall forest, says Okeke. Kakamega Ecosystem Forest Officer Mwangi Muraguri says the tree has been a source of seeds and rain for the local community.

“The tree has left a legacy and even after it fell, some tourists still pay to come and view it,’’ noted Muraguri. He said just like Kenya Wildlife Service has the big five, Kenya Forest Service also has a few unique trees, which included Mama Mutere. “Some locals even worshiped it and claimed it was their grandmother,” he added. Muraguri refuted claims of bad omen when a tree of that significance falls, saying they were not expecting any negative happenings. Instead the forest management is looking to benefit from the attention the famous tree is creating. “We are expecting more tourists to come and pay homage to the fallen tree. A bull will be slaughtered to give it a warm send-off,” Muraguri said. KFS has made arrangements for locals who held Mama Mutere in high esteem to come to the forest anytime to pay their last respects on condition they don’t interfere with the eco-system.

“A tree like this coming down was critical to some of us because it demonstrates a number of issues about forests,” said Prof Kingiri Semelwa, a lecturer of renewable energy and climate change at Eldoret University. Semelwa reiterated that the tree could have fallen down due to the short range of its tap roots and termites destroying the roots system. It has not been fully decided what KFS and the local community will do with the tree. Some suggest that pieces of the tree be cut and preserved as souvenir with the rest remaining to form humus for growth of other trees. However, others are of the view that the tree be left in its present state so that tourists and other people visiting the forest can see it until it fully decomposes. Mama Mutere was part of the unique ecosystem of Kakamega Forest, a remnant of the unique Guineo-Congolian rainforest belt that once stretched along the equator across the entire expanse of Africa.

The forest resembles the rainforest of Central and West Africa much more than any other forest type in East Africa, and is home to more than 350 species of trees. The forest is the main source of traditional medicines for the locals who use various roots, leaves and barks to cure all kinds of illness. Due to constant and even distribution of rainfall in the western region, the forest also provides a constant supply of vegetables such as jute leaves (murere), spider plant (tsisaka) and black nightshade (tsimboka), among others. Locals also harvest termites during rainy seasons from the forest, which is also the main source of firewood and timber.


Just who are the Luyia?

Luyia Culture, Lynda Bulimo

By Tom Odhiambo, Sunday, March 23, 2014
Who are the Abaluyia? Is there such a community as the Luhya (also spelt Luyia)? The truth is that there isn’t a tribe in Kenya called the Luhya. The word Luhya is simply a convenient tag that refers to a group of communities that speak different languages but which have a significant affinity to each other. This group is the subject of two books, Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos (2013) and Luyia of Kenya: A Cultural Profile by Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo.

These books provide a compelling story of who the people that we call the Luhya are. To understand about the Luhya nation, one has to re-consider Bulimo’s words in the introduction to Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos when he writes, “The Luyia nation is relatively new by historical standards cobbled together as a political necessity a little less than three generations ago. The Luyia nation is still evolving in a slow process that seeks to harmonise the historico-cultural institutions that define the 18 subnations in Kenya alone. Available records indicate that geophysical spread of the Luyia-speaking people extends beyond the Kenyan frontier into Uganda and Tanzania with some Luyia clans having extant brethren in Rwanda, Congo, Zambia and Cameroon.”

18 sub nations

But reading the book one feels that Bulimo is trying too hard to put into one basket different groups of communities. What he calls the 18 subnations is a broad spectrum on which some “nations” are closer to each other than to others. A basic example is that when a Maragoli speaks, a Marachi may only understand 10 per cent of what is said. Whereas, when a Musamia speaks a Munyala may perfectly comprehend 90 per cent of the words. So, who are the Luhya? Bulimo tells us that the name is derived from oluyia (also oluhya) which in its generic sense means the fireplace or hearth. Okhuyia is a word that means “to burn” or “cook” and generally since families sat around a hearth or bonfire in the evening to talk about what happened during the day or to transmit cultural values between generations, the word oluhya would easily translate into family/village/community that shared a fireplace.

Luyia Nation, Sasha Bulimo

But Bulimo says that the “name Abaluyia/Abaluhya did not come into existence until 1930s” and that “Abaluyia or simply Luyia generally means the people who speak any of the various closely related 18 dialects. The territorial region is Buluyia, and the language they speak is Oluluyia (Oluluhya)”. It all sounds confusing, this Luhya business. Indeed it can be baffling considering that a Bukusu, for example, may not hold a conversation lasting more than a few minutes with a Tiriki, which puts the lie to the invention of the Luhya nation. Bulimo writes: “The word Luyia was first suggested by the local African Mutual Assistance Association around 1930 and adopted by the North Kavirondo Central Association in 1935.” The name was generally used thereafter to describe the communities that lived in what was then known as North Kavirondo – later Bantu Kavirondo – (in South Kavirondo were the Luo – later Nilotic Kavirondo). However, Bulimo says that in “1940, Abaluyia Welfare Association was formed which popularised the name, and later a Luyia language committee established to formulate an orthography.” So, in the beginning was just a name; in the end we have a fractious tribe lumped together by everyone from scholars, journalists, politicians to “Luhyas” themselves.

In the two books, Bulimo offers a lot of information on the various cultural values among the 18 sub-nations: Abakhayo, Abanyala, Abanyala ba Ndombi, Abanyole, Abakabras, Abashisa, Abamarachi, Avalogooli, Abamarama, Abasamia, Abatachoni, Abatiriki, Abisukha, Abidakho, Abatsotso, Babukusu, Abawanga and Abasonga. And all these “nations” have their little subnations; what we call clans. Members of one clan have a common ancestor. Often the men and women of these clans are found among the other sub-nations. The spread of the clans is due to intermarriage and dispersal of communities before the colonial administration imposed geographical boundaries in the greater Western Kenya region. This separation of families explains why the larger Awori family, from which former vice-president Moody Awori, comes, has a significant portion of its members in Uganda.

Demystify the community

There are several reasons why you should read the two books. The first is simply because they demystify the so-called Luhya people. Depending on what you want to believe, at the least you will appreciate that there is no tribe called the Luhya - rather, there are people who may wish, for one reason or another, at one time or the other, in one place or another, to be called Luhya. The second reason is that just as he attempts to clear the confusion about the Luyia, Bulimo ends up confirming the same claims that indeed the Luhya people exist. And all that this achieves is to show how difficult it is to live with the many colonial inventions, years after the mzungu left. The third is because it honours the contribution of women and men from the several Luhya nations in the development of Kenya. The author lists prominent people, thus opening a small window into the personal histories of some Kenyans that we may never even have known were Luhya. Fourth, they powerfully remind you of details of a people’s life, such as the importance of chicken (ingokho) among Luhyas; or why some sub-nations circumcise but the others don’t. These details are absolutely refreshing, as a way of knowing about “others” in a country where ethno-nationalism has erased basic understanding of the differences between people and the shared values among us.

The writer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi.

Source: Sunday Nation

Chavakali High School emerges top in Luyialand

...and 8th best school in Kenya

chavakali High School

By Shad Bulimo, March 3 2014
Chavakali High School in Vihiga County has emerged as the top academic dog in Luyialand in last year's KCSE results released early today. The school, which started as the first day secondary school in rural Kenya in 1960 and is now a national school, produced the 6th best candidate nationally and three others in the top 50. Overall, Chavakali had seven candidates in the top 100 nationally, a sterling performance that outclassed the traditional centres of academic excellence in Luyialand, namely Kakamega High and Friends School, Kamusinga. Among the top 100 best schools nationally, Chavakali High School came in at number eight in a field dominated by academic giants in Kiambu, Nairobi and Nyanza.

The top candidates in Luyialand are Benson Motanya Mokogi of Chavakali (6th nationally) followed by Raymond Imbayi of Kakamega High (18th nationally); Ian Nyboma of Chavakali (25th nationally); Rabin Okinyi and Nicholas Amwayi of Chavakali (42nd and 43rd nationally, respectively); Dancun Kigudwa of Chavakali (60th nationally); Dorothy Ogosi Wasike of St Brigids, Kitale (the top girl in Luyialand) came in at 62nd nationally while Isaac Ogola Osore and Nelson Letting both of Chavakali completed the top 100 coming in at 82nd and 83rd nationally, respectively.

Of the top 100 schools, Chavakali High led the pack in Luyialand coming in at 8th best school nationally followed by St Antony Boys in Kitale (13th nationally); St Brigids in Kitale (16th nationally); Friends School Kamusinga (34th nationally); Vihiga High (63rd nationally); St Peter's Mumias (69th nationally); Bunyore Girls (75th nationally) and St Peter's Seminary, Kakamega (83rd nationally).

Canadian scholar rolls out two Luyia books

Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo
Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo, author of Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos and Luyia of Kenya: A Cultural Profile

Chrispus Wekesa, February 24 2014
Kenyan born Canadian Scholar Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo recently launched two books on the origin, culture and taboos of the Luyia community. The two books titled Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos and Luyia of Kenya: A Cultural Profile are available in Kenya. They give a detailed historical background of all the Luyia sub tribes and their clans. The scholar was born in Ebusikale sub location in Bunyore in 1960 and after working in Kenya as a journalist , he moved to the United Kingdom . "Mr Bulimo realised cultural orientation is an important aspect of a child's growth process and picked up from where other scholars had left," said Bethuel Oduo who is wholesaling the books in Kenya. He said the book explains when the Luyia term was created and that it will go along way in helping proponents of the Luyia unity understand the Luyia better and why they are diverse people. University of Nairobi literature Professor Chris Wanjala praised Bulimo for the good work of giving todays Luyia generation a comprehensive history of their origin, clans and taboos. The history of the Luyia has in the past been documented by Professor Gideon Were and Dr John Osogo. However, only German scholar Dr Gunter Wagner wrote comprehensively about the cultural aspects of the Luyia sub-clans. - See more at: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-156498/canadian-scholar-rolls-out-two-luyia-books#sthash.OkiuN0M7.dpuf

Source: The STAR Newspaper

100 year old publishes Lunyore dictionary

By our correspondent, February 24 2014
A 100 year old Bunyore man has published a Lunyore dictionary. Mzee Aggrey Nduru from Itabali village, Vihiga county says he started the project in 1997 when he realized that if no one did anything, a time will come when Lunyore as a language will disappear. The dictionary cum hymn book also has translations of Christian songs as well as proverbs. Lunyore (Olunyole) is the native language of Abanyole (Banyore) one of the 18 subtribes of the Luyia Nation. Listen to his amazing story as captured by Baraka Karama of K24 TV.

Butere to mark 100 years since the gospel arrived

By our correspondent, Jan 6 2014
In 1912 Archdeacon Willis was consecrated Bishop of Uganda on the retirement of Bishop Tucker. Rev. Walter Chadwick succeeded him as Archdeacon of Kavirondo. He chose the site of work among the Bantu of Kavirondo at Butere where he was later joined by his sister Lizette Chadwick (from Uganda) and by Rev. AJ and Mrs. Leech.

Taken from CMS Archives, Birmingham UK - Acc. 83
Z2 Owen: Miscellaneous letters ‘Outline of the History of Kavirondo’

Program of activities

Monday 3rd Feb: Prayer for Revival and Reformation in all Churches
Wednesday 5th Feb: Cycling Competition
Thursday 6th Feb: Prayer Caravan across the Diocese
Friday 7th Feb: Lecture on Evangelism & Social Action
Saturday 8th Feb: Hope &Transformation Conference / Kick off Centenary Football League
Sunday 9th Feb: Service of Celebration/ Launch of Strategic Ministry Plan

The year-long celebration will climax with a mass in December 2014 at which the quest of honour will be The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu: Archbishop of York and The Most Revd Dr Eliud Wabukala: Archbishop of Kenya.

For details CLICK HERE to download poster.

Prof Chris Wanjala bereaved

Prof Chris Lukorito Wanjala
Prof Chris Wanjala, the chairman of Literature Department University of Nairobi. His first born child, Rose Wanjala, a librarian at Laikipia University Campus, died January 2, 2014 in Nakuru.

By our reporter, Jan 4 2014
Prof Chris Lukorito Wanjala has lost his first born child. Rose who was a librarian at Laikipia University Campus collapsed in Nakuru on her way back to Laikipia from a Christian rally on Thursday, January 2 2014. Here is how the news broke in Prof Wanjala's own words:

My daughter, Rose, was travelling from a Christian rally on the 2nd of January 2014 in a vehicle which stopped at Timborua, on the Eldoret-Nakuru Road at 11 AM. She and other passengers left the vehicle, as they always do, to have a break. On walking back into the vehicle, my daughter stumbled and fell on the road and lost her consciousness. Her friends noticed the danger she was in from oncoming vehicles, rushed and lifted her back into the vehicle. After some distance of travel in the vehicle,she came to, but she said: "I feel weak, I have lost all my energy." She relapsed into the chair as if to continue resting.

Her friends looked on, thinking that she was getting better, but on checking on her again,they noticed that she was gone for ever and that the words she had uttered were to be her last words. Lennox Munara Odiemo is my former student at Egerton University. He spoke to me from a noisy place saying that a member of my family was in real trouble: "Is that my daughter, Rose?," I asked instinctively." Has she been involved in a car accident? "I asked feeling panic seizing every part of my body.I was standing at the College House, overlooking Lilian Towers, at the T-junction of the famous Koinange Street in Nairobi. I was gong to Sheria House to see Mr Kusimba, the Executive Director there.

"It is something worse than a car accident!," Lennox Munara said in his creaking mobile phone.I perspired and cried out asking him to tell me more about my poor daughter. But his phone seemed to have died in the shriek. I asked my son, Martin, who was at my side during the entire debacle, to come on so that we could hurry to Sheria House. But another phone came trilling into my ears: "Are you walking?," asked the voice whose owner I could only guess. "If you are walking please stop and listen to this message which I have to deliver to you. If you are somewhere near the University Senior Common Room, rush there and find a seat to sit on and listen to me," he did not pause to allow me to do what he was bidding me to do.

"Your daughter who works as a Librarian at Laikipia University died this morning and the body is lying at the War Memorial Hospital. Mzee, Mzee, pole sana," he called when he noticed that I had broken into tears." Mzee, Mzee, pole sana. But do not try to walk. Is somebody at your side? Mzee, Pole sana. If you are driving stop the car and walk. Do not walk alone and please if you are driving please stop and let somebody else drive you home to sit down somewhere and allow yourself time to absorb the news of your daughter's death."
I cried uncontrollably in the streets of the city and passers-by who saw me crying could not understand what was ging. Still my son, Martin looked at me, motionless:"Why, why, my daughter, Rose?"

I talked to her only the other day on phone and asked her about her studies. She had just finished her studies for the undergraduate degree in Information Science. She was doing her first Semester for the Master's degree in the same subject. Rose had brought so much pride to my heart and made me feel i was ageing gracefully.

"Thank you for your encouragement, Dad, "I could hear her saying jofully. "I am hopeful that I can enrol for a doctoral degree after this Master's degree! "I buoyed with the thought of the prospects that another doctoral degree would bring to my family. I hanged the phone hoping to see her in the new year. But this news from Laikipia University came with an uncanny sense of finality; I have to travel to Nakuru in the morning to lay my hand on my daughter's lifeless body.

The thought of my 47-year-old daughter slipping out my fingers like that pains my heart in a way I have never experienced in my life . Rose was coming from a Christian rally. May the Lord God receive you up there in Heaven.May he shower you with love as He shows you the joyful corner in which your soul will rest before I set my eyes on you again. Sleep, my daughter. Sleep,the eternal sleep, to wake up in the joyful arms of Jesus,when time comes for every one to wake up and rejoice. Sleep...

Wako's mother to be buried today

Amos Wako and George Masafu
Busia County senator Amos Wako (left) being condoled by West Fm Director, Dr. George Masafu during the funeral of Mr Wako's mother, Mama Alice Amwomo at Nangoma, Matayos in Busia County. She will be buried Saturday, November 16 2013. Photo: West Fm

By Barasa Nandemu, Nov 16 2013
Plans for the burial of the mother to Busia County Senator Amos Wako are done. The late Mama Alice Amwomo Wako will be buried this Saturday at her husband`s home in Nangoma Sub Location, Matayos Division. According to family members, the funeral Service will be held at Lwanya Secondary School before proceeding to the burial site in the home of the late Dr Wako.

Family members remember the late Mama Alice as a peace keeper, a hardworking woman who liked education apart from being a devoted Christian. The late Alice was born on 24th December 1927 in Kisa, Butere Constituency to the late Sub Chief Joram Nyarima Olaka and Mama Selina Omurunga Olaka. Her father defied pressure from other people who were against girl child education and took her daughter to school. The late attended a teachers college and got a P4 certificate. She bought a bicycle for her father in 1944 thus making her father one of the first people to own a bicycle in Kisa village and by extension the whole region. By then, the late Alice was teaching at the Kima Church of God Mission. She also taught at Ingotsi Primary, Emusire and Busende in Busia County.

She got married to Dr. D.M. Wako in 1940 and they were blessed with eight children namely Hon, Senator Amos Wako EGH, Dr Lavera Levi, Charles Wako, Nora Mutua, Elizabeth Okeniyi, Adam Wako, Florence Bah and Lester Wako. Her burial is expected to be attended by among others political leaders and religious leaders. West FM Board of Directors Dr George Sirengo Masafu visited the home of the late this Friday to mourn with his long time friend, former Attorney General Amos Wako. Dr Masafu says he knew Senator Amos Wako in 1981 and they have been together as family friends and professionals. “Wako`s mother is like my mother,” said Dr Masafu. Dr. Masafu mourned with the bereaved family and promised to be together with them at this time of grief.

Prof Bwibo laid to rest

Nimrod Bwibo
The late Prof Nimrod Bwibo from Marachi, Busia County. The late professor of paediatrics was laid to rest at his Bukhalarire homestead on October 14, 2013.

By Frankline Bwire, October 14 2013
Hundreds of mourners including scholars and political leaders thronged Bukhalarire Sub-location in Butula constituency to pay their last respect to the departed Professor Nimrod Bwibo who was a pediatrician. Scholars present including the vice chancellor of Nairobi University (UoN) Prof George Magoha and his Maseno counterpart Prof Dominick Makawiti, praised the late Prof Bwibo as a scholar who was fully committed in his line of duties.

Magoha said for the years Bwibo served at the UoN, no complaint had been raised by any individual over his service delivery. “We are proud that during his (Bwibo) tenure as a doctor nobody came to complain about him over his services,” said Magoha. “The late was a hardworking individual whose services will be missed by many in the country,” Prof Makawiti said.

Others in attendance included Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, Senator Amos Wako, Women Representative Florence Mutua, Butula MP Michael Onyura, Dr Paul Otuoma (Funyula) and the County Assembly Speaker Bernard Wamalwa. Wako said there was need for the Busia County government to immortalize the late Prof. Bwibo by naming after him a medical training college, University or a hospital in the area. “The biggest hospital in Busia should also have a pediatric wing that should be named after the late Prof Bwibo,” added the Busia Senator.

Hilda Bwibo
The widow of Prof Nimrob Bwibo, Hilda (right) during the funeral service of her husband in Butula, Busia County. Photo: Westfm

Otuoma urged other leaders and local residents to emulate the footsteps of the late Professor Bwibo who remained committed to his duties despite the challenges he faced. “He was faced with challenges but looked for solutions besides working through other people,” said the Funyula MP. Until his death, Prof Bwibo served in various positions at the UoN including being the chairman of the department of Paedriatics and Child Health, dean of the faculty of Medicine, founding principal of the College of Health Sciences and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs, besides being the Chairman of the Maseno University Council. He has left a wife Hilda and four children.

Source: Westfm

Bishop Khamala advocates single presidential candidate from Luyialand

A former aspirant for Lurambi constituency who lost to Raphael Otaalo by about 1,000 votes is rooting for Musalia Mudavadi as a unity candidate to whom all Luyia people should coalesce if they ever hope to have the presidency come to Western. Bishop Titus Khamala argues that it is pointless to continue supporting Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and William Ruto and fail to groom your own leader with a reasonable chance of bagging the ultimate prize in high stakes political Russian Roulette.

Bishop Titus Mukhwana Khamala
Bishop Titus Khamala of the Cornerstone Ministries of Kenya and Chicago, USA. The bishop believes theLuyia need to groom their own leader and stop playing cheer leadership roles to outside politicians.

By Bishop Titus Khamala, Chicago, Oct 2 2013
I write with grief and yet filled with hope that someday the mulembe nation will rise up and claim her place in the history of Kenya. My question is why all these political parties in Luyialand? Why not come up with one political vehicle and put political aspirations of the Luyia nation in one basket? Wetangula why do you follow Raila? Mudavadi and Eugene why follow Uhuru? Jirongo why keep the place of an opportunist? We don’t need UDF in western; all we need is for our people to come together and make a formidable party and head straight into State House. Why should we follow a party that is there for convenience? And why follow a one man party? Can’t we all come under one umbrella as mulembe house?

I am for the unity of the Luyia nation. I am disturbed that our differences and history of separate origins is biting us to our graves. What is Luyia? Who are we? Where did we come from? Who is our father? Are we together by blood or adoption? Let’s say we are adopted sisters and brothers; what about fate? Has it not brought us together? When shall the son of mulembe sit in State House? Michael Wamalwa was a brave one but he was not used.

Many of our own people talk ill of Musalia so you mean Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru, Ruto are better than Musalia? NO way! A community grooms its own; have we done so to Musalia? Why demonize the guy? Let’s groom him for 2017. My Luyia kinsmen the truth is it’s only Musalia who can sit at the national table. I want to see a united Luyia nation. For MPs who are on the jubilee side for bread history will judge you harshly. Please stand by your people in the hour of their need.

ICC issues arrest warrant against a Kenyan journalist over witness bribery claims

Walter Osapiri  Barasa
Walter Osapiri Barasa, 41, the Eldoret based journalist against whom ICC has issued an arrest warrant over allegations that he is the linkman in a wide conspiracy of witness bribery.

By Felix Olick, Oct 2 2013
The Hague:
The ICC Wednesday moved to a showdown with the government, issuing an arrest warrant against a Kenyan journalist and accusing a “circle of officials” of devising a “criminal scheme” to compel witnesses to withdraw from The Hague cases.

The government will have to arrest and transfer the journalist, Walter Osapiri Barasa, 41, to the International Criminal Court to face criminal charges, or defy the court. This is the first warrant of arrest issued by the ICC against a Kenyan. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Besouda successfully petitioned the Pre-Trial Chamber II to order Barasa’s arrest on allegations of “corruptly influencing” three prosecution witnesses to withdraw from the case against Deputy President William Ruto and his co-accused Joshua Sang.

A sensational claim by the prosecution suggesting the culpability by a “circle of officials within the Kenyan Administration” in the crime piles pressure on Kenyan authorities. “Allegedly, he (Barasa) has been and is still acting in furtherance of a criminal scheme devised by a circle of officials within the Kenyan administration,” said an ICC statement announcing the decision by Judge Cuno Tarfusser, Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II. “We expect Kenyan authorities to arrest Walter Barasa and hand him over to the Court,” Bensouda said. If found guilty, Barasa faces up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Githu Muigai pointed to a long-drawn procedure to enforce the arrest warrant adding the judiciary would determine the matter. Prof Muigai said the procedure for enforcing any warrant issued by the ICC against any individual in Kenya is subject “to the very clear procedure set out under the International Crimes Act 2010.” Instructively, the Kenyan Parliament is due to consider a government-sponsored bill to repeal the Act to ultimately end Kenya’s membership of the ICC. “These procedures require the minister in charge of the interior upon receipt of the formal warrant of arrest to present the said warrant to the judiciary for enforcement,” added the Attorney General. Judicial consideration. More...

Shock as Wetang'ula loses Bungoma Senate seat

Moses Wetangula
Bungoma Senator, Moses Wetang'ula (2nd left) escorted by former prime minister, Raila Odinga (2nd right) momemts after Bungoma High Court nullified the senator`s election on account of fraudulent practices. Photo: Westfm

By Timothy Makokha and Protus Simiyu, Bungoma, Sept 30 2013
The Bungoma law court has nullified the election of Bungoma Senator and CORD's co-principal Moses Wetangula following a successful petition filed by Musikari Kombo. In his ruling Bungoma resident judge said there were massive and extensive irregularities in the senatorial elections as witnessed on forms 35. "Wetangula's win doesn't reflect the will of the people of Bungoma as announced by IEBC, thus his win is null and void, the integrity of the electoral process was in itself questionable as Wetangula himself and by use of his agents engaged in voter bribery and treating of voters to vote for him and other cord leaders," said Justice Gikonyo while making the ruling. The judge directed Wetangula and IEBC to pay the Petitioner Musikari Kombo Sh. 4 million as costs. The judge said the petitioner proved beyond reasonable doubt that there were double voter registration and double voting which amount to elections irregularities.

Musikari Kombo
Musikari Kombo and his wife at the High Court, Bungoma. The High Court granted Mr Kombo his prayers ad nullified the election of Moses Wetangùla as Bungoma Senator.

Immediately after the ruling Musikari Kombo said the court process was free and fair, saying that the people of Bungoma County have a chance to elect a leader of their choice in the senate. Kombo appreciated his lawyers led by Alfred Ndambiri and his supporters for standing with him for the last 7 months. Wetangula and other cord leaders while addressing Bungoma residents dismissed the court ruling insisting it had political interference. Wetangula showed confidence of emerging victorious in the by-elections to be announced by IEBC later, urging his supporters not to give up. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that as cord leaders they lacked confidence in the judiciary and IEBC, hence no need to appeal the ruling. "They begun with my petition, now they have nullified Wetangula's win, we will not appeal but the people of B ungoma will decide," said Raila. Raila said there is a plot by the jubilee government to destroy the opposition by ensuring that Moses Wetangula who was the minority leader in the senate is out. The same sentiments were echoed by Siaya senator James Orengo, Trans Nzoia senator Henry Ole Ndiema, nominated senators Catherine Mukite, Daisy Kanaiza, MPs Ferdinant Wanyonyi of Kwanza, Dr. Eseli Simiyu of Tongaren, James Mukwe of Kabuchai and Wafula Wamunyinyi of Kanduyi.

Swords drawn as Prof Wanjala blasts Prof Taban lo Liyong over intellectual dwarfism remarks

Taban lo LiyongChris Wanjala
Taban lo Liyong (left) and his former student, Prof Chris Wanjala. Prof Wanjala has blasted Prof lo Liyong over his remarks that there is literary barrenness in Kenya.

By Prof Chris Wanjala, September 17 2013
Why has do Kenyan newspapers allow this ingrate called Professor Taban Lo Liyong to shower his literary offals on the Kenyan literati year in and year out? Who appointed Taban lo Liyong, who agrees that he is a not professional scholar but a creative writer, to throw dirt and mud on Professors and Lecturers in Literature, Drama, Poetry and Cultural Studies in Kenyan universities whenever he lands here from Juba in South Sudan? Does he know about the pains Kenya has gone through to restore democracy and the pains they go through whenever new General Elections are called?

One African has been writing books about himself, his emotions, and his constant relocation from one country to another in the South Pacific. He has renounced his East African citizenship and lived in Japan and South Africa, and then emerged in South Sudan as a phoenix, and then comes to Kenya regularly after many years of separation, and wants Kenyans to stop whatever they are reading and read his works. That one man is Taban and he is imposing his will on Kenyans and will administer a lethal curse on any Kenyan intellectual who does not retain him in full glare.  

What literature is Taban Lo Liyong publishing that would be worth serious attention in a University and Secondary School curriculum apart from the rusty manuscripts that he composed whilst studying in Iowa in the mid-Sixties and that he is wont to pulling out one by one, like a witchdoctor pulling out magic wands from a mysteriously dark bag, to unsuspecting publishers and media practitioners? We are not wishing Taban away from the East African literary discourse. For some people, the essay in the East African Journal on literary barrenness may have become a classic. As Lennox Odiemo Munara has argued, Taban can be off the mark, infuriatingly so, but he awakens us. To Lennox Munara Taban is what Socrates was to Ancient Greeks, a gadfly.

Socrates lived with his people and reasoned with them. He never left the place where he was carrying out the discourse. But for Taban, he made me beside myself with rage. I was so annoyed that I waited for an opportunity to fight him. Taban was looking for attention and as Professor Hannington of the US said, the best way to achieve this attention to himself was to attack Ngugi. Ngugi will ignore Taban for all I know, but Taban will have achieved his aim of being noticed by our controversy-laden media. Taban looks for fights and he will sit there and celebrate when he hits the headlines again. It is my view that Taban can be internationally acclaimed without having to vilify others. The galaxy of critics who have written on his works reads like who is who in contemporary literary criticism. Here in East Africa, Peter Nazareth, Chris L Wanjala, have written about his works; Dr Benjamin Odhoji of Kenyatta University has written a PhD on Taban’s works when he was a student of Graduate Studies at Emory University in the US. Professor Bernth Lindfors of the University of Texas has undertaken numerous interviews with Taban Lo Liyong. As I write this piece, a publisher in the US has asked me to vet essays which are going to form an encyclopaedic book on World Critical Perspectives of Taban Lo Liyong.

What then is the basis of his that people have not researched on him since 1965? I want to tell Joe Khamisi who recently did a book on the politics of Kenya that indeed Taban lo Liyong and I are buddies, but why is Taban hitting the Kenyan University teaching fraternity below the belt? Taban and I are friends of 50 years and as everyone will recall, I was his pupil at the University College, Nairobi, before I joined him to become a teacher. Surely, what does he have against Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o not to want him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature? And to judge him only against two novels, The River Between and Weep Not Child which Ngugi wrote when he was an undergraduate student in Makerere?

Joe Khamisi said, “Some people just age badly, but you have to put him on the carpet.”  How many novels, volumes of essays, plays, and interviews has Ngugi wa Thiongo produced over the last 50 years? Why was he detained? Why does he live in exile? Taban   walks like S T Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” and spellbinds professional writers and publishing editors into churning out his incoherent pieces every time he is in Nairobi from Juba. Then he has the temerity to help himself on the plate on which his dinner has been served after he has eaten and begin to shower vitriol on his hosts. What moral right does Taban lo Liyong have in saying that there are no writers and scholars of metal in Kenya to compare with him? Why do we literary people in this country allow this man to throw spit on us in this manner?

Taban wrote a poem with the encouragement of Rajat Neogy. Later Onginge  Odera of the East Africa Journal published it  in December 1965 helping Taban Lo Liyong to ask the question: “ Can We Correct Literary Barrenness in East Africa? “This was written when Taban Lo Liyong was a second year in an undergraduate Fine Arts Class. Looking at it now, it cannot pass as an “A” essay in an undergraduate class. It would be totally incomprehensible in a Master’s Coursework class. A genuine mark for that essay would be 15 over 40, because apart from dropping names of authors like Leopold Sedar Senghor, Ferdinand Oyono, and Eskia Mphahlele, it does not tell us the books these people have written nor try to analyse them. This essay is now 58 years old and what set me wondering was why Kenyan journalists run after Taban every time he sets foot in this city to allude to this essay which tells a lie over and over that there is a literary barrenness here in spite of the volume of published books and creative works in East Africa.

Professor Wafula Okumu of the African Union has shown how Taban was to Idi Amin what Martin Heidegger was to Adolf Hitler. In the 1970s, whenever Taban was challenged about supporting Amin through his writings, he launched tirades against his critics and thrashed other authors from the East African region. People are not surprised that he is offering his parochial reactions against Ngugi’s ascent to literary fame. He says he was the first African to receive an M F A in Creative Writing. But the question is: “So what?”Can Taban claim to be a literary critic when all the books he reads are his own manuscripts? Let us look at his own C V and identify the number of scholarly essays he has written. Taban admits that he is a creative writer and not a scholar. University of Nairobi lecturers and professors have been holding teacher training sessions in Aramwear, Maridi, Malakal, and Juba with him, and they commend him for fruitful conferencing. They commend him for his wit and humour when he comments on art and craft objects. One of the Professors at the University of Iowa who recommended him for the post of a lecturer at the University of Nairobi in the 1960s commended him for his ability to communicate verbally, but cast doubt on Taban’s ability to write scholarly essays.

Taban Lo Liyong has made it a habit to arrive from Juba, book himself at the U K C and then make phone calls to publishers, lecturers, and journalists. He will appear on television, radio, or be interviewed by members of the 4th Estate over tea or tots of whisky. I have myself hosted him on G B S and invited him to address the youth at the Y M C A and Njoro Campus at Egerton University. But oftentimes, after he has had one too many, he begins hurling insults at fellow writers and former colleagues like Dr James Stewart, Andrew John Gurr, Adrian Roscoe, Angus Calder,  Okot p’Bitek, Henry Owuor Anyumba,  Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Bahadur Tejani  at the university of Nairobi.

The writers and scholars I have talked to have different explanations for this behavior. Taban seems to be in need of sympathy rather than criticism. In the interview with the Saturday Nation he said, “Nobody has studied my books to interrogate me since 1965. Nobody has followed the arguments; I am always explaining myself. I feel that I have not been taken seriously. I am frustrated. I feel let down.” But this assessment of his place in scholarship is misguided. There are numerous essays and interviews with him and essays and articles on him.

Shock as Kombo's lawyer is brutally killed in Bungoma

Wanyama Wanyonyi
Wanyama Wanyonyi, a Bungoma-based advocate who represented Musikari Kombo in an election petition against Senator Moses Wetang'ula, was shot dead by unknown assailants in Kanduyi last night.

By Protus Simiyu, Sept 17 2013
Leaders in Bungoma County have condemned the brutal killing of a Bungoma based advocate Wanyama Wanyonyi by unknown gunmen last night at his Kanduyi home.Kanduyi Member of Parliament Wamunyinyi now wants the government through its security machineries to conduct thorough investigations to arrest those behind the killing of advocate Wanyama Wanyonyi (right). “This is unacceptable; we want the police in Bungoma County to conduct investigations to ensure the killers are brought to justice,” Wamunyinyi said. Speaking to West FM on phone from Nairobi, the legislator has appealed to the government to rise to the occasion and take charge of the security of the residents of Bungoma County. “For how long are we going to lose our people through such attacks, we have a government in place and it has a constitutional responsibility to take charge of the security of its citizens,” he charged.

As such, Wamunyinyi has urged residents in the region to be alert and protect themselves asserting that the security situation in the county is wanting. Further, he said the security agents should be allowed to conduct proper investigations, arrest the perpetrators for appropriate action within the law. “We should not jump to conclusions, allow the police to do their work and as leaders we are determined to ensure justice prevail,” he said.Mr. Wamunyinyi has condoled the family, friends, relatives and advocates in Bungoma County for the sudden death of advocate Wanyama Wanyonyi. He was one of the advocates of former Cabinet Minister Musikari Kombo in a Petition challenging the election of Moses Masika Wetangula as Bungoma County Senator in the 4th March elections. The ruling of the Petition is scheduled for 30th of this month.

Maragoli man burns his family to death

By Eric Lungai, Vihiga, Sept 15 2013
A family of five perished in a Sunday morning fire tragedy at Vindizi village, Central Maragoli location in Vihiga County after a man, 35, went berserk killing the wife and setting the kids on fire.The 4am incident left the village in shock, as the father of the family was suspected to have set the house on fire using petrol after a little scuffle with his wife.

Neighbours who helped put off the raging fire said that they heard some commotion at around 2am on the night in the house, only to hear sounds of groaning children emanating from the direction, a few hours later. “We heard a child cry and saw something like fire emanating from the house. We came out quickly with my husband and raised alarm, but then the whole house was already burning badly and there were no signs of anyone coming out from it alive,” said Sheila Kadesa, an immediate neighbour. Kadesa told The Standard that when they finished putting off the fire, with other neighbours, they found the bodies of the deceased in the house.

Confirming the incident, Vihiga police boss Alfred Angengo said that the initial investigations indicated that the man had killed his wife before setting the kids and himself on fire. “We suspect that after the commotion in the house, the man went on and killed his wife and then set the children on fire before attempting to escape, but then was trapped next to the door and died due to suffocation,” said Mr Angengo. The man identified as Gerishom Aluda was working in Kakamega and only came home on the Saturday evening, where he asked if the family had any paraffin. “When he found out that there was no paraffin, he went on and purchased 5 litres of it which he hid in the house and that is what he used,” the police boss said.

The three children who perished were two girls aged 7 and 1 and a boy aged 6. Only one child who was sleeping in the sitting room was able to escape and is helping the police with investigations. “After the man had killed the wife, he came to the sitting room and took two of the children to the bedroom, where he supposedly set them on fire. They were burned beyond recognition,” said Angengo. The bodies of the five were taken to Vihiga District Hospital mortuary.

Son of prophet Elijah Masinde appeals for help with school fees

elijah masinde
Omung'osi Elijah Masinde, the founder of Dini Ya Musambwa died in 1987.

By Prof Chris Wanjala, September 14 2013
For me it was a challenging moment of reflection and celebration that the son of Omukuka Elijah Masinde wa Nameme,Moses Masinde, should ring me early on the Friday morning (13th September 2013) saying: "Where do I get the money to pay for my college education, starting on Monday 16th September 2013?" No sooner had I finished talking to Moses Masinde, than his mother, Nakhumicha Masinde, rang saying: "Papa, nemusima nga enywe musomile mwabona abweni, mukhalekha owasienywe ape sibi khunyola chisendi achile mumasoma tawe! Bolela babasio muambane munjete omwana yuno asome wakana nyanga kecha khuyeta babasie. Nakhusayile papa."

I was lost on what to do. I have sent off my son to China to a private university with all the little money the family had. My coffers are absolutely empty at the moment. I rang Mr Abiud Simiyu Wasike (I always do when I have a public issue to discuss) and he told me to approach our eminent public figures in our major political parties. He added that I should ask the boy to give me the fee structure so that as I ask people to contribute, I should have a budget. He said that the first person to contact should be Hon. Raila Odinga because he (Raila) had shown a lot of interest in the life and times of the late Elijah Masinde.He also advised that I should let Hon. Eugene Wamalwa know about the lot of this young man, Moses. Whoever opts to help, Mr Wasike advised, should take up the funding of the education of the boy throughout his stint at Kibabii College. I did not have Raila's contact; I could only reach Eugene through Mr Geoffrey Matumbai and/or Hon. Joash wa Mang'oli, the former MP of Webuye.

Geoffrey Matumbai promised to sound Hon. Eugene Wamalwa. I have not been able to meet my old friend, Hon. Patrick Wangamati, since he entered Bunge. I do talk to Hon Dr Chris Wamalwa and his Kwanza counterpart. I reach Hon. Suleiman Murunga through my former student, David Burara. I Have not struck a proper connection with Murunga and Dr Eseli, but we are not in bad terms.

But the Governor, Honorable Ken Lusaka came to mind, and I rang him. He was locked up in a meeting in Nairobi and would revert to me. I also left a message on Senator Moses Wetang'ula's cellphone line, with the hope that he would call. I succeeded in talking to Hon Silverse Lisamula Anami, the MP of Shinyalu, at length and he promised he would talk to his colleagues.

All I am saying ladies and gentlemen is that this boy, Moses Masinde needs assistance to go to College. If Rajab Waliaula was alive; he would have spearheaded this project. I am appealing that instead of letting the boy fall into the company of those who sing and dance as the only way of promoting our culture, we assist this boy to go further in the educational ladder than his father did. All of you as have some contributions to make contact the Governor Hon. Ken Lusaka, Mr John Wafukho of Kamasielo, or Prof Chris L Wanjala of the University of Nairobi. The matter is urgent and Moses Masinde has to be in College on 16th September 2013.

African wedding doubles population of Canadian village

Phanice Mukwambo and Moses Kaale
Moses Kaale and his wife Phanice Mukwambo after the nuptials at Dewberry Community Church, Alberta.

By Shad Bulimo, Dewberry September 2 2013
The wedding of the century took place in a remote part of Canadian prairies Saturday, August 31 2013.  The usually sleepy hamlet of Dewberry, Alberta has not witnessed such spectacle in decades. It is located 250 km East of Edmonton and about 60 km from Lloydminster, the nearest metropolis. The only public institutions in the village are a community church, an intermediate school, a horserace ground and a village hall which also doubles up as a fire station. The village high street is dotted with one shop – the Co-op which opens at 10 O’clock and is shut by 6 pm. A motel cum pub, Servus Credit Union, a post office, a village museum and an auto repair shop complete the scenic view of Dewberry; population 201 according to Alberta Census 2011.

It was against this backdrop, that a young couple from Africa decided to invite the world to witness them tie nuptials and make marriage vows against each other. Phanice Mukwambo from the Luyia ethnicity in Kenya and Moses Kaale from the Chagga community in Tanzania brought the entire farming community of Dewberry to a halt with a wedding that was in many ways of royal pedigree.  Where villagers simply walked, majority of invitees came by air, rail and by road.  They crisscrossed seas, rivers, valleys, and ridges of North America to bear witness to a wedding jamboree that would have made Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge proud.

In attendance were guests from Singapore, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, Nigeria, Ghana, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Kenya and, of course, Tanzania. The pews of Dewberry Community Church were bursting at the seams with humanity and the Church vicar, Pastor Brian Stiles, was to later remark that the wedding had not only brought a sparkle to the dreary village but had also more than doubled the population of Dewberry.

And what a spectacle it was. The bride emerged from her “parents’ home” at 11.59 am to be greeted by a sunny, if cloudy, summer morning spiced by ululations from the assembled bridal party. Flanked by her “parents” – Dawn and Stanley, she looked graciously radiant and regal in white flowing chiffon designer dress that one onlooker recognized as Versace-inspired. The army of bridesmaids and flower girls quickly laagered around her to ensure she was not kidnapped by a hungry pack of hunter groomsmen who looked on anxiously from a safe distance. The groom himself was not allowed to leave his car and only God knows what was transpiring in his mind as he nervously pondered at the thought of finally bagging such a prized possession.

After a few photo ops, the bridal party was off; wading its way to the Church in a horse-driven carriage. It was a chariot to behold! Motorists along the 5-km stretch looked on in amazement. Even cows stopped grazing and, like bewitched beasts, all turned to witness the jamboree as birds chirped and hovered above the sky.  After the church formalities symbolized by the “I will” intonations and exchange of rings sealed by the kiss of eternity; the bridal party headed to the historic Lea Park for more photo ops.  Lea Park is set in a sprawling veldt with Hollywood-like sign posting on two horizons.  It was here, in 1909 that the first institute of women was inaugurated by Mrs Hugh Graham and Mrs John Johnson in the Tring, Kitscoty, Marywayne, Dewberry and Riverton counties.  As I absorbed the sense of history on the Lea Park monument, here too, I witnessed bewilderment.

Whether the gods had willed it or some dark forces had sent witchcraft I will never tell but onlookers marvelled at the presence of a lone snake in the grass. By the time I arrived, the bridal party was already in this part of the sprawling Lea Park and the snake dead but the ritual significance still flabbergasted me. Although biblically speaking it was the serpent that tempted man to commit the original sin, under Luyia cosmology to which the bride belongs, a snake, especially the cobra represents both dark and benign forces. It is a symbol of rebirth and renewal and like the single rod affixed at the apex of traditional huts, it also symbolizes the phallus.  That is the benign significance of the serpent under Luyia ethnocultural purview.  In contrast, the snake (inzokha) is also the favoured aide de camp of those in the practice of witchcraft.   Nonetheless, the bridal party proceeded almost unconcerned; the enormity of the occasion too important to pay attention to some small reptile.

The Lea Park activities over, the bridal chariot took a lap of honour through the village streets bringing a cheer to all those who flocked to witness. In the evening, the bridal party and the whole village assembled in the well decorated village arena for a reception whose highlight was a delectable four-course dinner. The bridal party was ushered into the reception by a traditional Luyia rendition of mwana mbeli amid ululations from women.  After dinner, speeches and gifting, the couple took to the floor for the first dance thus opening floodgates to weary revellers who couldn't wait to gyrate, chant, laugh, and dance the night away with unbridled abandon.

As the evening wore thin, I looked at the high table and noticed a relaxed groom serenading his bride with kisses like a smitten lover from fairy tales. For this moment, at least, Moses Kaale must have felt the luckiest man alive.

Moses Kaale
The groom and groomsmen from left: Tumaini Mhehe, Immanuel Kaduma, Fred Matte, Moses Kaale (groom), Eric Amulaku, William.Kamugisi, Charles Mwamwingila, and George Marenga.

Phanice Mukwambo
The bride and bridesmaids: Pauline Akoth, Esther Kimotho, Maureen Opiyo, Phanice Mukwambo (bride), Janet Omollo, Dannelle Garnier, Earna Lacopy, and Irene Kinabo.

Nigeria: Bursting at the seams with creativity

By Prof Chris Wanjala, September 1 2013
It is many years since the Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77) in Lagos which many   Kenyan writers, scholars and performance artists attended, and Nigeria still roars on as Africa's greatest centre of excellence in the arts of the written and spoken word. These were the impressions I got when I attended the Second International Conference of the Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA) in Ibadan in the first week of August. Professor Taban Lo Liyong was meant to travel with me, but the organizers were unable to contact him formally. I travelled to the conference because we as  Kenyan and Nigerian writers and  scholar s want  to  establish a  visiting scholar network between Nigeria  on the one hand  and Kenya  and South Sudan, on the other,  as part of African Redemption Through Culture and  Literature Programme. To this end, we have set up a team of 23 scholars under the umbrella of NOLA with Professor G G Darah as our Chairman, and Evelyn Osagie of the Nation Newspapers, Lagos, as our connection to the mass media.    Professor Taban Lo Liyong of the University of Juba is our link man in South Sudan. Professor Nduka Otiono of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada is our connection with the African Diaspora. I represent Kenya at the organization.

Ibadan, Nigeria
A round-about in the Nigerian city of Ibadan, a melting pot of Yoruba culture.

The significance of Nigeria as the centre of art and literature in Africa became clear to me as participants at the conference examined the diverse dimensions of the theme: “Documentation and Safeguarding Nigerian Oral Literature and Traditions”. The conference was to take place at the precincts of University of Ibadan, but since the lecturers, country-wide were on strike over conditions of service, no activity was allowed at the campus. The event had to be moved to the Catholic Pastoral Institute Hostel in Bodija area of Ibadan. In spite of these hitches, there was good attendance and the presentations and interactions were robust and inspired. Over 50 papers were presented by scholars and researchers from Africa and North America in the fields of literature, folklore, history, popular culture, music, film, and social media. It was a fulfilling experience, especially with the enthusiasm of young scholars who were eager to make a difference in cultural studies and what the organizers called “redemptive literature”.

Dr Okey Okwechime, one of the organizers who had been to conferences in Kenya twice, met me at the Murtala Mohammed Airport on arrival in Lagos. He was soon joined by Professor G G Darah, NOLA President, and we connected with Emeritus Professor E. J. Alagoa who had flown in from Port Harcourt at about the same time.  Alagoa was invited as the academic guest of honour at the opening of the conference. We had ample time to spare in the vehicle – clustered City of Lagos for a stop-over at the home-studio of Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, Africa’s foremost visual artist and printmaker. The place was near the airport. Onobrakpeya (80) had spent all his life creating art works from virtually every media - pencil, paint, wood, textile, canvas, clay, metal, discarded parts of bicycles, automobiles, and computers. Exotic art images and murals escorted us into his sitting room. His son, Mudiare, made the customary presentation of kola nuts to visitors and he did it with much poetic eloquence. This is a ceremony that is well known in West Africa.

With the ancestor spirits now invoked, the artist invited us to view his studio on the top floor; several apprentices and researchers were busy converting intricate, Afrocentric ideas into aesthetic products, some of which were destined for exhibitions in far-flung parts of the world. Olu Amoda, one of the leading Nigerian curators had described Onobrakpeya as “one of the finest minds our country, and indeed Africa, has ever produced”. The artist was trained in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, northern Nigeria in the 1960s where he and his companions rebelled against Western aesthetics. That intellectual revolution has produced the most vibrant artistic movement in post-colonial Africa, and the world of virtual art changed in fundamental ways. Asked once about his artistic beliefs, Onobrakpeya said “young men (who) wanted to apply their studies in art to the development of their culture which was being marginalized by colonial efforts at the time. They also observed that a lot of people were already imbibing Western ideas, thus causing total destruction of our much cherished indigenous artistic tradition and philosophy”.

Ibadan, Yoruba
An ordinary street in Ibadan, Nigeria the heartland of Yoruba community teaming with vast seas of humanity and culture.

On my way to Nigeria I carried along Professor Ogot’s autobiography entitled, My Footprints on the Sands of History and learnt about how his acquaintance with Jan Vansina helped him to evolve a methodology that involves using oral traditions as evidence in the analysis of historical events. I realized that no indigenous scholar here in East Africa had towered on the East African scholarly scene than Professor Bethwell Allan Ogot. Kenyans, these days, unlike their Nigerian counterparts, rate scholarly sophistication with exile and protest. They look more to their brothers and sisters in the African Diaspora and others who operate from the wilderness of exile, thus giving very little attention to scholars like B A Ogot who remained at home despite the stormy weather of tribal politics and did so much for our country.

But the retention rate of scholars who operated from home in Nigeria was great.  As I have noted, the first scholar that my hosts introduced me to was Emeritus Professor of history at the University of Port Harcourt, twice President of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria, and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa who was Vansina’s student in North America and has remained friends with Vansina throughout his career as a researcher.

From Professor Onobrakpeya’s house our Safari convoy headed for Ibadan, with J P Clark’s poem, Ibadan running in our minds:
Running splash
Of rust and gold
Flung and scattered among seven hills
Like broken china in the sun

The spirit of the Oral Literature conference was articulated by Professor G G Darah who said:"You come from Nairobi and you understand the concept of Big Brother best. You want to do something for African oral literature but there are people who breathe around your neck saying that oral literature is not purely literary affair; the concept is confused with folklore which is a broader field of cultural studies. There are people in English studies who have their prejudice against rating and studying oral literature as a literary subject."  In his comments at the opening ceremony, Darah concluded that oral literature needs more recognition in African universities. In one of his academic papers, “Review of Oral Poetry Research in Nigeria”, Darah stresses the need for fieldwork on surviving forms of oral verbal arts for preservation and promotion. The urgency comes from the factors of the death of artists and curators and the changes in the economic, demographic and technological aspects of our society.

In Africa, many students encounter oral literature as a literary subject at the University, but it needs more literary criticism than any other subjects in Africa's cultural studies. But what the students so easily forget is that they come from societies in which people enjoy revelry and celebrations and that oral literature is around them all the time. It comes to them as songs, narratives, invocations, drama, which manifest themselves in the  many cultural events around them,  including  religious worship, thanksgiving, rites of passage, circumcision ceremonies, naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, festivals, remembrances,  celebration of achievements,  promotion at work, recovery from illness, Friday Muslim Jumat Service and Sunday Christian worship. But from the discussion at conference it became clear to me that teaching oral literature in schools has been hampered by relentless attacks on indigenous African religions and cultural practices by followers of foreign faiths.

This came out clearly in Professor Segun Adekoya’s paper. He hailed from the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. The scholar reminded me of the early collections of oral literature by colonial administrators and missionaries. There were cultural anthropologists and British colonial officers of the Imperial British Imperial Company (IBEA) who pioneered in the work of collecting oral materials from our people. They looked for creativity and imagination in African oral literature with a view to finding out whether we were human beings with imagination like them. It was not until our own African scholars came to collect our oral literature materials that they brought dignity to the task. These scholars used the oral data to protest against the British. You just have to look at the songs they sang in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.They followed these with the translation of hymns and classical music into African languages.   

I travelled on rough roads, full of potholes, between Lagos and Ibadan. Petrol tanks and haulers stood beside through the road making visibility for drivers almost impossible. But as we got closer to Ibadan we encountered thousands and thousands of people attending church, probably singing and dancing and borrowing from African oral songs. In one camp, there were massed congregants; they were early arrivals at the yearly pilgrimage to one of Africa’s fastest-growing churches. Every state in Nigeria was having something cooking, demonstrating the versatility of Nigeria’s cultures expressed in Nigerian universities which were launched in the 1940s, thus marking a new climate for the arts. The new universities introduced courses in African literature with an interest in African literature and folklore. Creative writers integrated the resources of oral traditions and African aesthetics in their works. We had to come to Nigeria to see how Nigerians today cherish Chinua Achebe, Daniel Fagunwa, J P Clark, Christopher Okigbo and Mabel Aig–Imoukhuede (later Segun)

I read in The Nation (Nigerian)of Friday August 9, 2013, “Ekiti State Governor Dr Kayode has supported the call for the use of Yoruba as a medium of instruction in Southwest schools. The governor spoke yesterday in Akure at the first international conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of a foremost indigenous novelist and fairy tale raconteur, Daniel Fagunwa.  At the event were Ondo State Governor, Dr Olesegun Mimiko, Prof Wole Soyinka, who gave a keynote address, foremost linguist Prof Ayo Bamgbose, Prof Niyi  Osundare, the vice-chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Prof Femi Mimiko, Prof Olu Obafemi; and others.”

At the conference centre of the University of Ibadan on the day I arrived, Heinemann hosted theAchebe fete, several months since his death in March; and as for Fagunwa 50 years since he went to be with the Lord, Nigeriia was celebrating him. It has been completely lost to Kenyans that we should celebrate Okot p’Bitek, who spent the best of his literary days in Kenya. The doyens of Oral literature, Henry Owuor Anyumba and Dr. Jane Awinja Nandwa died a few years ago. We do not remember them in our prayers as a nation. We were in Ibadan University and the Nigerian Oral Literature Association was having its second International Oral literature conference with professors of literature coming from all corners of the land which enjoys verbal arts in more than 500 languages and this for me was an experience to learn from.

Nigeria is a land of contrasts bursting at the seams with creativity in writing, music, theatre and film studies. A whole paper on “Black Berry Babes” was presented by Professor Nduka Otiono with illustrations from Nollywood movies, showing us that oral literature was not a thing of the past. It was not lost on all of us that all the best actors in Africa's movie industry come from that country. The lecturers were on strike; but dozens came to the conference. In the evening I could meet them at the Senior Staff Club - an equivalent of the University of Nairobi Senior Common Room. Many were dying to take their Sabbatical Leave in Kenya. I met one young scholar who was working with Egerton University. A Nigerian man of collar I met after the conference and travelled with back to Kenya said: " I never spend my time in Nairobi. I have a big job to do in Turkana County. "That showed me how well-travelled Nigerians are and indeed how adventurous they are in their search for knowledge and new experience. 

“Welcome from the land of Dedan Kimathi, Jomo Kenyatta and Ngugi wa Thiong'o," this was how a Professor Darah invited me to the podium to present my paper on, "Documenting and Safeguarding the Oral Literature and Traditions of Kenya".  We were in Ibadan, the land of the Yoruba, but this conference was full of people from the Niger Delta, the country of Isidore Okpewho, Abiola Irele, and J P Clark". As we drove through the university campus one evening he said, “J P Clark used to work in this building!" pointing at a short building hardly the height of the Hyslop Building at the Main Campus of the University of Nairobi". J. P. he added made a lot of noise while translating the recordings of his The Ozidi Saga oral epic. A young female lecturer in the Theatre Arts department lived in a flat on the top floor and she sometimes complained about the music from the tapes. But she became interested in the nature of the work that engrossed J.P. almost night and day. Eventually, that is how Professor Ebun Clark came to marry her future husband."

I was dying to see where “the Quartet of Contemporary African literature,” as Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, and John Pepper Clark were called in the 1960s. I was lodging in the Conference Centre overlooking the Senior Staff Club which had a restaurant up the Eastern wing of the place. As already noted, the lecturers were on strike. I met two of them in the Senior Common Room; one was the Professor of Biochemistry who wanted to come to Kenya for Sabbatical Leave. But the most interesting of them all was my second host, twice conference delegate in Kenya, Dr Okey Okwechime, who is popularly known around Nigeria as “the Oracle”. He is not a tall man, very humorous and lectures in drama at the University of Benin. He reminded me so much of Wahome Mutahi of Whispers fame. He humorously described his exploits and foreign visits in pure Nigerian accent and kept me company throughout my stay. In this day and age when the world is so unsafe, “the Oracle” looked after me and for all the time I was at the conference he did not remove his eyes from me, until the day I boarded the aircraft to return to Kenya. He is more than a colleague now; he’s a friend indeed.

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