For 36 years, Amos Machengo has largely been feasting on bush meat courtesy of hunting skills he inherited from his father and grandfather while he was a teen.
Now 55, the subsistence hunter from Matende village in Butere constituency within Kakamega County has lived to see the quantity of game meat on his plate reduce in tandem with the diminishing forest cover in his home county.
“The urge to go out and hunt hits harder during the rainy seasons. I inherited it from my father who got it from my grandfather. We are a family of hunters and have never held a license to hunt partly because we don’t encroach into the forest and partly because we deal with animals that have escaped from their habitats,” he says.
He is among a group of men calling themselves 'the hunters of Western Kenya' who continue to practice the traditional activity.
That said, the hunters also believe in the power of invisibility which comes after they perform rituals before going into the forest for any hunting mission.
They apply charms on their dogs, spears and garments to help them not encounter any bad-luck (which includes wildlife officers) on their way and even not fail to get a catch after the usually daunting task of hunting.
“Most of the animals like the antelopes, rabbits, porcupine, squirrels, Chevrotain and the like are no longer in Kakamega. We have to cross the border to nearby Siaya County where plenty of bushes and woodlands exist to have a catch,” says Machengo whose only claim to hunting is the ‘spiritual hunting urge’ he inherited from his parents and not a valid hunting license.
The secretary of Abalibao subsistence hunters that has about 40 hunters from Kakamega says his charms have kept him away from an encounter with law enforcers but admits at times his hunting mission have failed desperately.
“You can end up having a squirrel after an entire day’s mission which goes between 6 am to 4 pm and return home crest fallen,” he says. “This often happens when the spirits of our hunting fathers have been irked.”
To appease the spirits, the hunters majorly from Eshitoyi, Enaya, Mukombe and Shiraha villages boil stew of every major animal they have captured in the forest and pour the broth in the forest.
This way the ancestors ‘visit in the night and lick it' then opens the doors for successful hunting missions.
The spirits can as well make them invisible to wild animals like leopardess and hippos in the bush, says Machengo.
The hunters move out with dogs that they have trained, even assigning them different tasks on the hunting fields depending on strength.
“There are those which are good at sniffing for bush animals, those that are good at chasing and the ones excellent at giving back up during the chase. The ones you see with bells tied around their hind legs are the best at sniffing,” says Richard Indakwa, 22, a hunting mate of Machengo as he points at three of the twelve dogs with the bells.
The chasers are tied with tags around the neck while the backers have no specific identity. The mongrels are rewarded depending on the quantity of meat they capture in the bush and failure to reward them also comes with consequences.
Most of the meat is to supplement the nutrient needs of the hunting families and help them deal with medical conditions.
None of the hunters has been affected with the meat that is never approved by health experts raeson why they are never willing to stop the trade.
But because of the unsustainable nature of the venture thanks to the diminishing forest cover and animals in the bushes, the hunters engage in other income generating activities away from the bush.
“I work at construction sites when not out on the hunting mission to help cater for my family because hunting alone has no profits; we just do it because of the calling and food,” says Jonistus Inzoveri another of the Abalibao subsistence hunters.
Machengo is a part-time bodaboba rider as Indakwa ploughs people’s gardens using the four oxen that he keeps at his Butere home.
They all say the butchery meat which they buy after selling skins from some of the inedible animals they catch like monitor lizards "tastes funny" compared to what they get in the bush.
The Abalibao hunters are appealing to the county to help them get hunting permits to avoid a brush with the law and protect their heritage which they fear is on the decline.
In 1977, through a legal notice in the Kenya Gazette, the State imposed a ban on all forms of hunting of wildlife.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) website, anyone wanting to guide others in their pursuit of the hunting game and feral animals must obtain a professional Hunters Permit from the Service.
A professional hunter must be licensed in order to engage in their calling, the license is issued for one year and is renewable without limitation.