Counties turn to traditional fetes to rejuvenate, preserve culture

A woman showcases how to grind flour during the Kwale Cultural Extravaganza on December 28, 2023. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Counties have used the December festivities to revive certain festivals as part of their efforts to bring back their lost rich cultures.

There were celebrations in several counties as residents reconnected with the past through song, dance, drama, and traditional foods.

In Kwale, curtains came down on the two-day Kwale Cultural Extravaganza yesterday with calls for the youth to value their traditions and principles that have been passed down to them.

Over 200 groups from Matuga, Lunga Lunga, Kinango, and Msambweni showcased the cultures of the Digo, Duruma, Kamba, and Makonde tribes during the festival.

The event is organized to create awareness about the local cultures and promote tourism in the county.

Members of the communities turned up in large numbers to participate in the event used to showcase different cultures from music, food, and dress to traditional cuisines.

It features examples of the Digo houses, including a main house, a small structure for medicinal activities, and another structure that serves as a latrine and bathroom.

The Digo women demonstrated how they made their own flour using a hand mill locally referred to as kinu. The Pemba also showcased their fishing gear and delicacies.

Send messages

“As the Shirazi tribe, we got the chance to educate the people about our culture, including how we used this big drum to send messages to our people,” said Omar Paragho.

But the highlight of the event that featured groups from the 20 wards was Sengenya dance, a ceremonial poetic song and dance of the Digo people.

Sengenya dance is an arguably sophisticated dance performance at the end of ceremonies, such weddings, national holidays, or fundraising.

In this year’s festival, the song accompanied the sounds of Uzumari (Oboe), Patsu or ukaya (metal tray), Chivoti (flute) and drums from the best players in the Digo tribe.

At intervals, a Chivoti flutist could play the melodic interludes for Uzumari when the latter stops and vice versa, while drums were played in pairs. The dance stole the show on the opening day even though other items such as the Makonde dance, Zandale, Mazera Gozi, Taarab, and folklore pieces were equally entertaining.

On display during the inauguration were traditional dances, folklore, choirs, solo verses, band music, and Taarab hits, a tribute to the diverse communities that co-exist.

Governor Fatuma Achani opened the festival in a ceremony at the county cultural center in Kwale town.

Ms Achani said the cultural extravaganza is meant to resuscitate and preserve the cultural heritage of all the communities in Kwale.

Foster peace

“We are alive to the fact that culture can be used to foster peace, unity, and integration,” she said adding the devolved unit will support such ventures to boost tourism.

She added: “My administration is committed to supporting and promoting our culture and natural talent. Kwale has a rich cultural tapestry.”

Many people are concerned that local youth treat local cultures with scorn due to Western culture.

In 2021, Kwale was crowned the champion of the 94th edition of the National Music and Cultural Competitions held at the scenic Mama Ngina Waterfront Park in Mombasa.

The county presented over 130 cultural groups of traditional dancers, artists, craftsmen, and women under the banner ‘Utamaduni Team’.

In Nyanza, it was pomp and colour as members of the Abasuba community convened at Ngodhe Island to celebrate the community’s culture.

The ceremony christened Rusinga Island Cultural, Religious, and Arts Festival (RICRAF) is being held in Suba North Constituency. The festival, held under the patronage of businessman Sammy Wakiaga, encompasses activities related to the culture of the Abasuba community.

The community believes the festival is one of the ways to protect their culture that is on the verge of extinction due to Western culture.

Some of the activities staged during the festival include swimming, wrestling, boat racing, ball games, tug–of–war, and ajua hook fishing. There was also cooking of traditional foods such as beef and fish that had been dried in the sun, locally known as obambla and aliya respectively. The food is cooked and served using traditional utensils. The food is also cooked using cheese and ghee.

Also showcased was diving in Lake Victoria in which the winner is judged based on the number of minutes one remains under water.

RICRAF chairman Peter Oburu said the festival, which started on Tuesday and is set to end on Sunday, is meant to promote their culture of the people of Rusinga.

RICRAF is done through the mandate of the Rusinga Island Council of Elders (RICE) which is a branch of the Abasuba Council of Elders. The festival also gives locals a platform for interaction.

“RICRAF also creates a platform for uniting us to do things together and learn from each other as a community,” Oburu said. “We were assimilated by the Luo community but we are not Luos. Our culture must continue, hence RICRAF is a very good festival for perpetuating it.”

The festival is held rotationally in the community’s regional clusters - Kamasengre West, Kamasengre East, Kaswanga, Wanyama, Waware North, Waware South, Waware Central, and Ngodhe.

“Ngodhe Island had never had a road. But our patron Sammy Wakiaga recently constructed the first road on the island in readiness for the festival,” Oburu said.

In Western, thousands of Maragoli adult initiates congregated in Mbale town in Vihiga county for their circumcision rite of passage yesterday.

Dressed in dazzling white shirts and matching black trousers, the men boisterously held onto their traditional sticks (mdondo) to signify their newfound status in society.

The sticks symbolise their becoming men and shepherds of society.

Seven years

The circumcision rites took place after seven years of waiting since 2016. In 2021, the rite was put on hold due to Covid-19 and in 2022, elders decided not to conduct it as it clashed with the General Election.

The new Maragoli age set name was finally announced after elders carried out their traditional recitals.

Reading the name, Thomas Mage aged 105, christened the age set “Ulumuri” meaning light.
The elders said the name signifies the needed unity among the Maragoli people spread around the world.

“We have a new name, which is “Ulumuri”. We pray that this name beings good tidings that will accompany these new men,” said Mage.