Family guarding 100 years old traditional horn jealously

Horn blower Joel Lime at Emulundu village in Bukura, Lurambi sub-county on December 20, 2021. The Buffalo horn was blown long ago to pass a message to locals. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Joel Lime is busy cleaning a traditional wild animal horn that his grandfather used as a trumpet many decades ago.

His family living at Emulundu village in Lurambi sub-County has been preserving the horn as a souvenir since their grandfather Samuel Ambale died in 1995. He was 107 years old.

The family preserves the horn inside a small grass-thatched house where strangers cannot easily spot it.

“It is not your ordinary horn. My grandfather used to pass information to community members using the horn. He had mastered the art of blowing it. He was the only one allowed to blow it whenever an important person died in the community or when there was meat or traditional brew to share,” said Lime.

According to Lime, the family treats the trumpet made out of a buffalo horn as a special object.

“My grandfather was gifted the horn by his uncles because he was good at blowing it. He could blow it whenever the occasion dictated until he died. Unfortunately, no one from our lineage had been groomed to take over,” said Lime.

The horn appears to be peeling off may be due to the many years it has not been put into use.

Lime and his siblings said that not everyone is allowed to touch the horn.

“Ambale’s grandsons have a huge responsibility of persevering the horn, but outsiders cannot dare touch it. It is unacceptable,” says Lime.

The family told The Standard that Mzee Ambale was strong and active while alive.

“That is why he was the only one allowed to blow the horn because he could do it with ease and skillfully,” said the grandchildren.

Lime witnessed the grandfather blow the horn to alert kinsmen whenever there were attacks from other communities.

“While growing up, cattle theft cases were rampant. Attackers would invade our village or neighbouring villages, and during such attacks, my grandfather would hide somewhere and blow the horn to warn everybody,” says Lime.

He said that whenever a bull was slaughtered in the village, the horn could be blown, attracting people from far flank areas who belong to the community.

“Our grandfather would not allow anyone to move near the horn. He guarded it jealously when he was alive,” says Lime.

Patrick Okonji, an elder from Bukura, said the horn was an important communication tool during the colonial days.

“People easily understood the information being communicated depending on the tone and number of times the horn was blown. One could easily tell whether it was death, celebration, or attack from invaders,” he told The Standard.

According to Okonji, the horn was not blown without proper reason. “Children were not allowed to play with the horn.”

He said the horn had a special rope that could be fastened round someone’s shoulder because it was heavy and delicate.

Usually, Mzee Ambale could be paid for the services he offered.

“Community members could contribute some money or food items and give them to my grandfather in appreciation. It was not an easy job, blowing the horn called for both commitment and determination,” said Lime.

Mzee Okonji said, during colonial days, people could hunt freely in the forests.

“Sometimes, stray animals could be waylaid and killed because there were thickets everywhere. It was easy to get the horn then,” he said.

But he believes the Western culture and digital transformation has rendered the tradition of communicating with the horn irrelevant.

“Today, people can easily communicate using mobile phones, and within a short time, information will have reached many people,” he said.

Okonji says the family of Ambale did the right thing to preserve the horn that served generations as a reliable tool of communication then.

“Younger people can learn about how their great grandfathers used to communicate,” he said.

Lime urged the county government to invest more in culture.

“That way, the current generation can learn important lessons about how people lived in the past and how that can impact their lives positively," he said.

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