Nyachae’s love for tradition led to annual festival

The casket bearing the remains of former Cabinet Minister Simeon Nyachae at his Nyosia home in Kisii County, yesterday. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Former Cabinet Minister and Gusii kingpin Simeon Nyachae will be buried today after a funeral service at Gusii Stadium.

Nyachae’s body was flown to Kisii High School playground yesterday morning in a police helicopter. The procession later headed to his Nyosia rural home in Kisii Central.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto are expected to attend the funeral service and the private burial ceremony at the former Cabinet minister’s home.

Yesterday, in a brief church service at his home, leaders described Nyachae as a pillar in the Abagusii community and called for unity of the people.

Kisii Governor James Ongwae, Senator Sam Ongeri and Woman Representative Janet Ongera agreed to champion efforts to unite the community.

“We have lost a leader who was a cornerstone in the family setting and in our community. He has left behind a legacy that other leaders will work hard to achieve. As leaders, we are transitory, but we must always seek to work for our people,” the leaders stated.

Disciplined by community

Ms Ongera said the former Cabinet minister was a role model to civil servants and politicians. “We are trying to emulate the good things he did for the community. He is the reason why we will continue to fight and support our sons and daughters who want to ascend to high political offices in the country.”

The Woman Rep described Nyachae as a stickler for the Gusii tradition. Having been brought up in a polygamous family, he picked the traditional attributes and values of the Omogusii culture, which he upheld throughout his life.

Kisii town businessman and former civic leader Steve Arika, who was also a close associate of Nyachae, yesterday said he did not discard the old ways, although his father was among the first Africans to convert to Christianity in the early 1900s.

Mr Arika recounted that Nyachae would often, in his public address, reminisce how they were brought up in a traditional African setup, where children were disciplined by the community.

“He, at one time, intimated that all his step-mothers had a right to correct an errant child,” said Arika.

Perhaps that is the custom Nyachae’s wives adopted while bringing up their children.

During the requiem mass, his wife Bosibori recounted how she used to discipline and cater for all of Nyachae’s children indiscriminately.

The former Cabinet Minister could effortlessly switch to Ekegusii while addressing public functions.

At one time during a presser in Kisii town, Nyachae addressed the media in Ekegusii and an aide had to remind him to speak in Kiswahili for the benefit of non-Kisii journalists. He turned down the advice and posed: “Let them struggle to get the meaning. Why can’t they learn Ekegusii if they are able to understand English?”

Arika believes that Nyachae’s love for the Gusii culture might have informed the initiation of the annual Nyanturago Cultural Festival.

The former Cabinet Minister funded the three-day annual cultural event that ran from 1993 to 2004. The Nyanturago cultural event was an elaborate fete where exhibitors showcased Gusii cultural activities and materials.

The event attracted thousands of residents who relived the traditional African ways of life.

Lilian Obuya, a teacher, who was a student when the cultural show was at its peak in the early 2000s, remembers, with nostalgia, how she used to walk 5km from her home in Bobasi to attend the event at Nyanturago.

She says through the cultural event she learnt how a typical Gusii homestead looked like, the cultural practices, attributes and the African Gusii material culture.

“My grandmother was tasked to showcase how the African traditional plates, known as ‘ekee’, were weaved,” Ms Obuya said.

Ekee is a traditionally woven item that the Abagusii used to serve the traditional ugali.

The event showcased the Gusii traditional circumcision for boys and initiation rites at the traditional round huts compound within the Nyanturago stadium grounds.

Boys who had come of age were circumcised and taken through the rites of passage at Nyanturago.

It seemed Nyachae had a strong attachment to Nyanturago Stadium. Perhaps that is why the facility that is around 15km from his Nyosia home was initially proposed to be the venue for his funeral service.

Arika said through the Nyaribari cultural event great musicians, women's groups and dancers were born.

“Nyachae’s love for culture is unmatched. There were no monetary awards. Winners were given shopping, music instruments, and sponsorship to travel abroad. On the final day, more performing dancers and musicians could be invited from other tribes,” he said.

The jua kali dancers from Bungoma, Karanchunyo, Kuria and Nakuru choirs were invited to the event. At one point Nyachae sponsored a Nakuru choir to visit Austria as a result of their exemplary performance.

Schools were not left out.  In 1995, after emerging the winners in the music category, all students from Friends School Giachere received new school uniforms and their fees were paid for a whole year by Nyachae.

Obino Nyambane noted that the event showcased music (traditional and secular), culture, exhibitors including herbal medicine, mock cattle rustling, sports; relays and cycling. Nyachae participated in the 4 by 400 relay race.

Arika said the event saw shopping centres around the area grow and the road between Keumbu and Nyaturago tarmacked.

“We used to receive more than Sh20,000 daily for three days. The event could cost between Sh3.2 million and Sh4 million. He had the will; talent was nurtured.”

The event inspired the publication of a book; “The Making of Man and Woman Under Abagusii Customary Laws,” by King’oina Nyang’era.

The Gusii Council of Elders was established after the Luhya Council of Elders visited during one of the annual events.

Nyachae summoned the current chairman, Araka Matundura, and told him to establish the community’s council of elders.