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Kisii town's humble beginnings

By Rosemary Onchari | Published Wed, March 15th 2017 at 00:00, Updated March 14th 2017 at 22:36 GMT +3
Aerial view of Kisii town

In South Nyanza, Kenya, lies Kisii town that is home to more than 500,000 people who work and hold businesses in the town while it has more than 200,000 people who reside in it.

As with many other towns in Kenya, Kisii town has its origin. It is believed that in the early 1900’s where the town stands was a bushy forest where young men would go to graze their cattle.

“When we were young, we would graze animals in the place. Because of this, it soon became a meeting point where people conducted barter trade and it was seen as a trading center,” says 98-year-old Samson Obae.

One can, however, not make reference to Kisii town without talking about Sakawa — the great seer who was feared and revered in the community in equal measure.

Because of all the strange powers in him, people would give him gifts such as milk, grains and blood from animals for the sake of making him happy.

“When we were young, we heard about the man Sakawa, from Nyakoe area, who was feared in the community because of his ability to tell future events which always came to pass,” Obae says.

One of his greatest prophesies about Kisii town was about how money would come to the town and that only their sons and daughters would receive it.

Another prediction by Sakawa was when he spoke during the heavy rains and said: “Their will be plenty of mushrooms in Getembe town and he who has sons will harvest them.”

Soon after this, some white people moved to Getembe town, current Kisii town, and started building houses where they then employed young men who they paid using, beads, cloth and ivory.

Previously, Kisii town was full of emetembe, which were cut down to create a centre as the white people built houses thus the name getembe emerged.

The whites were accompanied by one gentleman by the name of Kasuku from Suba, his main work was to translate what the whites ‘Indians’ would speak in Kiswahili but it took time for people to understand him since they were unfamiliar with the language.

Obae also said the place was full of Emetembe tree which have thick leaves, red flowers and sharp tones thus deriving the first name of Kisii town to be Getembe.

When construction of the railway line started, many people came from the highlands to see the ‘white’ people working on the project. Some went back but others settled in the area causing the town to grow some more. Sakawa the seer eventually died but his body was never found. To date, some locals believe the great seer went to be with his ancestors and was never buried.

Even after his death, the prophesy he gave concerning the ‘white’ people continued to manifest as more and more of them moved into the town.

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