Bulosi: Why black, dotted chickens are no longer welcome in Western
Buying a black chicken in western Kenya has now become a secret operation: one has to visit a black market, preferably in the dark of night, and make a hurried transaction without saying much to the vendor.
Much like a black market operation, the buyer and seller have unspoken rules: don’t ask questions, and don’t judge.
Historically, this was the case among the Luhya community as black animals in general - chickens, goats, cows, name it - were always shunned.
But what is surprising is that in this day and age of mobile phones, modernity, and learned fellows, black animals are even more shunned and disregarded by the same ‘woke’ communities.
In Luhya land, chicken is highly regarded, and a homestead is not complete without ‘Ingokho’; one cannot miss spotting the popular bird roaming in every compound.
The chicken is not only a delicacy but has also a special use given out as a gift or being used for ritualistic purposes to prevent bad omens. However, the strong bond and special ties between the community and chickens are slowly fading away, especially for black and dotted chickens.
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Not because they are no longer delicious, but over superstitious beliefs that still exist among the Luhya people. More and more people are abandoning the blackbird as a delicacy, and the chicken is becoming rare in people’s homesteads and in markets because of myths associated with deep-seated beliefs that are seen as a gateway of problems and bad luck to people’s homes.
The black chicken is now primarily associated with people using it to perform ritualistic activities like chasing away bad omens, used by witches and sorcerers, in burials, and to protect someone from being haunted by bad and evil spirits.
Some people, and especially customers, see a black chicken as one which was abandoned after it was used to perform superstitious activities and has been brought to the market for sale.
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Buying such a chicken will only invite misfortunes to the family
A spot check by The Nairobian in various markets in Kakamega town established that the black chicken is rarely seen in cages for sale, despite the availability of improved kienjenji chickens that is fast maturing and high yielding.
Sold to restaurants
As a result, chicken dealers and vendors have been forced not to sell chicken in markets as people do not want to associate with them. For the few who buy the rare bird for ‘special occasions’, the transactions are done in secrecy.
Most of the unwanted black chickens are mostly sold to restaurants and hotels where superstitious beliefs do not reign, but instead, the focus is on business and making a profit.
Edwin Lukhoye, 69, one of the oldest chicken dealers in Kakamega town, told The Nairobian that nowadays, selling black chicken is becoming an uphill task because of superstitious beliefs.
“As you can see I have different chickens with different colors but few are black. I have sold chicken for 45 years now but things are changing. Black chicken is becoming a bone of contention, for me, a chicken is a chicken in terms of business but for customers, it is not the case,” says Lukhoye.
“When a client comes to buy chicken, the first thing he tells you is not to give him a black chicken because people will take it like they have been sent to buy it to perform a certain cleansing ritual and therefore I should give out a different colour for consumption,” he adds.
Lukhoye says the superstitious belief comes from how the black chicken was being used in the olden days and even today for ritualistic purposes like witchcraft.
The 69-year-old vendor says that when someone is released from prison, a black chicken is slaughtered and blood sprinkled on the ex-convict to chase away bad spirits and omens.
He adds that when a driver transports a dead person, he is also given a black chicken which he is supposed to throw away in a bush or thicket while going back to avoid the spirit of the dead from haunting him.
“The many beliefs surrounding the black chicken have made people shy away from buying the bird. The chicken was and is even nowadays slaughtered and eaten by people who have been involved in a tragedy like an accident or death. In such circumstances, you will find such people buying the black chicken in top secret and that is why even those with the good intentions of having chicken for a meal shy away for not be misjudged,” says Lukhoye.
However, Lukhoye says unlike in homesteads or domestic use by people, black chicken is largely sold to hotels and restaurants where people see money and not beliefs because they serve different people from different parts of the country who do not hold on to some of Luhya culture or beliefs towards black chicken.
“Most of these chickens are indigenous and therefore restaurants and hotel owners are our large customers because for them, they want chicken for meat and for their customers and they are not swayed by our outdated beliefs. Some abandoned chickens are sold to some of the mushrooming hotels in the backstreets of our various towns,” says Lukhoye.
Roseline Shituka, a chicken seller in Kakamega town, says that the chicken is highly regarded for good luck by diviners and sorcerers in performing their superstitious and mysterious work.
Most of the people who seek their help to solve some family problems are directed to buy black or dotted birds.
Additionally, with the emerging beliefs, Shituka says when people come to buy the chicken for consumption, they request not to be given a black chicken because people will see and conclude that they are going to perform a certain ritual.
“Selling the black hen is now becoming a problem, those who buy it are viewed as being sent by witches or elders to perform certain rituals, so this has made even those with good intentions of just eating the hen as food shy away from buying the bird in an open place,” says Shikuta.
“I remember there was a day one of my clients came and I told her that black chicken is healthy and strong and therefore good for consumption, but I almost lost her as my regular customer. She told me that she did not want to be associated with witchcraft and bad rituals and branded as a person who believes in superstitious work,” she adds.
She says some of the black chicken they sell in the market they order from Rift Valley because black chickens are rarely reared in the Luhya community and those who rarely have it have a direct market with restaurants.
“You will rarely find most of the black-dotted chickens being reared in homesteads, even those farmers who keep them have a direct market link with the hotel industry,” says Shituka.
Auston Mukokha, another chicken vendor, says people who refuse to buy the black chicken have in one way or another used the bird for various superstitious works and that is why people do not want the bird.
“When you refuse to use something you must have known at least its work and those who do not want black chicken have been the victims of circumstances where the bird was required,” he says.
Mukokha says as chicken vendors, their work is just to sell any chicken without the thought of branding certain birds for various roles but as a delicacy and for rearing.
“We are just selling chicken with the intention of doing business but customers are the ones who come with different versions and beliefs.
“To be honest, the black chicken is not doing well in the market and the belief around it has even taken a religious route where a certain sect prohibits followers from giving out black chicken as a gift or slaughtering it for guests or people to eat because it will attract bad luck and not blessings,” says Mukokha.
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