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Abasiekwe elders, the Banyore men with powers to make, stop rain

 Nga'nyi rain makers mix medicinal hubs to attract rains. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

When one hears about the Abasiekwe clan in Vihiga county, what comes to mind are the rainmakers of Bunyore who are said to have powers to bring or stop rain.

With the changing weather patterns, they claim to have the powers to traditionally "call on rain" and even stop hailstones from destroying crops.

The Abasiekwe rainmakers operate from a shrine at Esibila, close to Nganyi hills, in Luanda sub county. The shrine is out of bounds for visitors, unless the gods of the rains grant one permission.

So powerful were the elders that late President Jomo Kenyatta is said to have sought the their help to end the 1973 drought that claimed several lives, and in return, the Government established a meteorological station at Nganyi hills, and later a radio station that broadcasts weather predictions.

When making the rain, elders are dressed in white kanzus, hats, and grey coats, with sticks made from the Mugumo tree. 

Chiefs and their assistants would collect foodstuffs such as maize, beans, millet, and sorghum and take them to the rainmakers every harvesting season to protect their crops from bad weather.

Those who did not give their produce were threatened that their crops would not be protected from hailstones and were even punished by the administrators.

Today, the practice is dying gradually.

 Traditional pot used by Nga'nyi rain makers to mix medicinal hubs. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

It is said that a strange woman visited the area, stayed a night and talked her host how to make rain.

Bunyore is in the Luanda constituency and borders Nandi constituency in Rift Valley, and Siaya and Kisumu in Nyanza region. It is the location between the two regions that opens it to visitors. The woman"stranger" with the rain making powers is thought to have been passing  through.

The god and great-grandfather of Bunyore rainmakers, Nganyi, had three houses under the Abasiekwe clan, Itumbu , Emukola and Esibila.

James Angana, a member of the clan, says the woman was coming from Siaya on her way back to Nandi, which was her home.

As she was walking,  heavy rain started, forcing her to seek shelter from Nganyi's houses.

Two of the houses turned her down but the Esibila took her in.

Angana, 61, says the rain was long and the woman had to spend a night at the house.

“Our area borders Rift Valley and Nyanza and this woman was coming from Siaya going back to her home in Nandi. Her journey was, however, cut short by the heavy rain, forcing her to look where to get shelter, said Angana.

“The woman had struggled to find where she could shelter in vain because all the villages and clans she passed through denied her access to their houses. It was only the Esibila house, now a village, where she was welcomed and spent the night.”

As a sign of appreciation and gratitude to the clan that hosted her, the woman is said to have taught the owner of the house, who was Nganyi, how to make and stop rain and send hailstones to an enemy.

Angana says the woman asked Nganyi what he had in his hand and he answered that he had a staff and a knife. Nganyi was then shown seven leaves of different trees and told to crush them to pulp and mix it with water in a small pot. It started raining immediately.

“The woman taught Nganyi how to make rain using some specific herbs and tree leaves that are mixed with special water to call rain. This has remained a secret only known to the Abasiekwe clan,” said Angana.

Angana says Nganyi, the god of the rainmakers, died in 1908 but passed the button to his son Oluchiri, then to his grandson Omulaka. The button is now with his great-grandson Bonface Omulaka.

The Abasiekwe clan is feared and other tribes do not marry girls from it.

“Men who used to mistreat girls from the clan were punished by the elders sending hailstones and rain to cause havoc and destroy crops. This made many people from Bunyore fear girls from the Abasiekwe clan and that still happens to date. Our sisters are being married by men from outside this county.”

David Amayu, a 62-year-old rainmaker says Nganyi was a powerful and most feared person, just like the Abasiekwe clan.

“Our god used to make rain when there was drought and he used to send hailstones to our enemies when we felt they had offended our people and the hailstones would destroy crops and injure people as a form of punishment and send the message that our ancestors were unhappy,” said Amayu.

The rainmakers of Bunyore operate from a forest known as Olutsiri shrine, which has indigenous trees only. There is a Mugumo tree that is over 200 years old and no one is allowed to cut it down.

“When it gets old and falls or is cut down, no one harvests its firewood. Elders converge and conduct rituals to appease the spirits of the ancestors so that a calamity does not befall the community,” said Amayu.

In the middle of the forest, there is a huge tree known as Olufuri. According to the traditional weatherman, the tree was planted on the grave of one of their great grandfathers, Olutsiri, who lived in the 18th century and was among the first rainmakers.

Three rainmakers then kneel facing the tree to pay homage to their departed ancestor, who was buried in a kneeling position in a round grave as per the Abasiekwe traditions.

At this point, they open a pot that has smelly water and herbs (esitsimbilo sie ifula) and, using a traditional straw (Litundu), they stir the water and bubbles start forming. All of a sudden, the place becomes very cold and birds in the forest start singing. In the sky, the clouds start forming and then the rainmakers leave the forest.

“When we want to make rain, the water you are seeing in this pot must be brought to the shrine by a virgin girl who is normally chosen by elderly women,” said Kutilo.

Kutilo says women are not supposed to go to the shrine to make rain since they are regarded as unclean and must be cleansed. No one can enter where the shrine is located unless permitted by the elders. The shrine is approached with respect.

Some of the trees in the forest are Esikhuma, Omukabakabo, Olusiola, Omuchesa, Lichuni, Omwinyala Amachai, Esitsilisia, Ebikhuli and Lisachi, among others. Lifobombwe is a tree whose leaves are mixed with other herbs to prevent thunder and lightning.

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