Quiet village where 'it was a pot of romance and games of seduction'

According to some of the elders, the area served as a community stadium, where many events were held, including wrestling matches and Isukuti dances. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

One kilometre from Shinyalu market, off the Kakamega-Shinyalu road, lies a village known as Shilolavakhali. 

In the Isukha dialect of the larger Luhya tribe, ‘Shilolavakhali’ means “Seeing, or finding women”.

Decades ago, the village became the place where men met women, seduced and married them.

According to some of the elders, the area served as a community stadium, where many events were held, including wrestling matches and Isukuti dances. 

Gabriel Savala, an 88-year-old man, says he went to the same school with the late Vice-president Kijana Wamalwa at Kiminini, and narrates how ‘Shilolavakhali’ village got its name. “The Isukha settled in this area after years of wandering in Uganda and Ethiopia during the days of migration. This place was initially a forest, part of the greater Kakamega tropical rain forest and there was no human habitation,” Savala says.

The pioneer Isukha settlers at Shilolavakhali cleared parts of the forest to set up farms to grow crops for subsistence. Being forest land, the soil was rich and the harvest became bountiful.

This, Savala says, led some of the settlers into inviting relatives from far-off villages to come and help with the harvesting.

Over time, this became a regular occurrence. “The relatives who used to come for the harvest were mostly young, beautiful women. Local men started developing an interest in the girls and in the process often became besotted with the ladies. They flirted with the girls and many such meetings ended in marriage,” Savala says.

Men, thus, made a routine to visit the place to see the women, hence the name ‘Shilolavakhali’.

Alfred Vihembo, a 67-year-old man, recalls his days as a young man when he partook in the events that usually took place in the village that served as a community stadium inside a forested area. 

“In my youth, I used to see women and young girls meet here in the evenings after gathering firewood to chat. The space occupied by the polytechnic served as a meeting place for cultural events. Men who wished to get wives often came here to try their luck. Men who frequented this place in search of love were mostly from other areas because that allowed them to marry our girls. We were mostly spectators because we are related to the girls and couldn’t marry them,” Vihembo says.

“When I got married to my husband here more than 50 years ago, I found the name in place. However, the trend of men coming here to look for women had died,” says Josephine Shivoko, 73 years old.

Savala, now ailing and frail, says he is the oldest surviving man from his generation in the Shilolavakhali village.

But unlike some of his agemates, he did not get his wife through the amorous encounters at the special village square.

“My elder sister found a wife for me at Khayega and I married her. As a young boy, I grew up and went to school in Kiminini, in the present Trans Nzoia County,” he says.

“Christopher Wamalwa, who Kenyans know as Kijana Wamalwa, was my classmate at Kiminini primary school when I joined in 1951. That was before the school changed its name to St Joseph and later to St Brigid girls”. “I only went up to class eight. I could not afford secondary school fees because my father was dead by the time I finished primary school”.

Savala says that unlike him, Christopher Wamalwa was a very bright student, who continued with his education and even went abroad for further studies. As a school and playmate, Savala recalls that Kijana was then known as Christopher Wamalwa.

“He was not named Kijana Wamalwa by his parents. The name came much later after he returned from his Law studies abroad and decided to seek a political seat in Kimilili constituency. His father, William Wamalwa, served as a Member of Parliament for Kimilili.”

Savala might not have acquired a coveted degree like Wamalwa, but Savala prides himself on having joined the Nyanza Technical School, currently Sigalagala Technical Institute, where he acquired a certificate in metalwork engineering. 

He says he has worked as a technician in many local companies until an accident on an oil rig in Lodwar got him bedridden for a long time.