Wednesday 27 December 2017

KENYA: Sex For Fish Trade Abundant At Rusinga Island

Rusinga Island, with an elongated shape approximately 10 miles (16 km) from end to end and 3 miles (5 km) at its widest point, lies in the eastern part of Lake Victoria at the mouth of the Winam Gulf. Part of Kenya, it is linked to Mbita Point on the mainland by a causeway.

The local language is Luo, although the ancestors of the current inhabitants were Suba people who came in boats several hundred years ago from Uganda as refugees from a dynastic war.

Many Rusinga place names betray Suba origins, including the island's name itself and its central peak, Lunene. There was an extinct language of Uganda called Singa, alternatives Lusinga and Lisinga, spoken only on Rusinga Island which, of course is in Kenya.

It belonged to the same group of Niger–Congo as Suba. As of 2006, estimates of Rusinga's population range between 20,000 and 30,000. The entire island is part of the Homa Bay County.

Most residents of Rusinga make their living from subsistence agriculture (maize and millet), as well as fishing. The native tilapia is still caught, though this species like all others native to the lake has been decimated by the voracious Nile perch that was introduced into the lake in 1954.

Constant onshore winds cool the lakeward side of the island and provide clean beaches with ideal swimming and boating conditions, but poor roads between Rusinga and the nearest town, Homa Bay, inhibit trade and tourism.

The brightly glittering black sands of the beaches are made of crystals of melanite garnet, barkevikite hornblende, and magnetite eroded from the uncompahgrite lava fragments in the agglomerates that overlie the fossil beds.

The island is also notable as the family home and burial site of Tom Mboya, who before his assassination in 1969 was widely pegged as Jomo Kenyatta's successor as President of the new nation of Kenya.

Rusinga is widely known for its extraordinarily rich and important fossil beds of extinct Miocene mammals, dated to 18 million years.

The island had been only cursorily explored until the Leakey expedition of 1947-1948 began systematic searches and excavations, which have continued sporadically since then.

The end of 1948 saw the collection of about 15,000 fossils from the Miocene, including 64 primates called by Louis Leakey Miocene apes.

All the species of Proconsul were among the 64 and all were given the name africanus, although many were reclassified into nyanzae, major and heseloni later. Mary Leakey discovered the first complete skull of Proconsul, then considered a stem hominoid, in 1948.

Excavation of the fossil was completed by Louis' native assistant, Heselon Mukiri whence Walker's 1993 name heseloni.

Many thousands of fossils are now known from five major sites, with abundant hominoids including an almost complete skeleton of a second species of Proconsul, as well as Nyanzapithecus, Limnopithecus, Dendropithecus and Micropithecus, all of which show arboreal rather than terrestrial adaptations.

The first true monkeys do not appear until around 15 million years ago, so it is widely supposed that the diverse Early Miocene African catarrhines like those found on Rusinga filled that adaptive niche. The phylogenetic position of these primates has been debated.

It has been theorized that Proconsul is a stem catarrhine and therefore ancestral to both Cercopithecids or Old World monkeys and hominids great apes and humans, rather than a stem hominoid.

Pleistocene mammal fossils, including an extinct antelope called Rusingoryx, notable for its nasal dome hypothesised to produce loud calls, known nowhere else, are also common in former shoreline deposits around the edges of the island, left behind as Lake Victoria has slowly subsided over the centuries due to erosion in its outlet.

The fossil beds are layers of volcanic ash produced by a succession of explosive eruptions during the earliest stages of a volcano that eventually covered an area 75 miles in diameter.

The volcano is now eroded down to the frozen magma in its vent that makes up the Kisingiri hills on the mainland opposite Rusinga, and the surrounding remnants of the cone: the semicircular Rangwa mountain range, and the islands of Rusinga and neighboring Mfangano Island.

This rift valley volcano on the southern flank of the now-inactive Winam Gulf tapped much deeper in the mantle than oceanic or subduction zone volcanos, and its lavas and explosive ash clouds thus contained much more carbonate and alkali than normal.

This meant that even though the Miocene environment was a tropical rainforest, the chemistry of the successive ash beds was that of a desert dry lake, preserving everything from caterpillars and berries to apes and elephants in an unusual situation found only in a few other East African ex-volcanos.

Notably Menengai and Homa Mountain in western Kenya, Napak and Mount Elgon in Uganda, and the much younger Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, which created the fossil beds of Olduvai Gorge.

Rusinga Cultural Festival is an annual two-day celebration of the culture of the Abasuba people of Kenya. It is held on the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas on Rusinga Island. The festival was founded by Anne Eboso and administered through Chula Cultural Foundation.

The cultural festival is the sole initiative preserving the culture of the Abasuba who are mainly found on the Rusinga Island and Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria on the Kenyan portion of the Lake.

Abasuba culture is under pressure from the neighboring Luo community due to assimilation and intermarriage.

Suba language has been listed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger as one of the thirteen endangered languages in Kenya where it is classified as vulnerable.

The festival addresses societal ills within the Abasuba community such as the sex-for-fish practice that impacts negatively on efforts to curb the spread of HIV.

The Rusinga Cultural Festival is a mixed-type of festival, it incorporates more than one item of celebration with music, cultural sporting activities, art and food from traditional Suba cuisine being the main features of the Rusinga Cultural Festival.

There is additionally a street procession that is used to invite residents of the Rusinga Island to the festival grounds.

The festival producer is a long-standing promoter of culture, education and literacy through book-reading. The Rusinga Festival utilizes a boat-library that also serves the purpose of providing a safe space for discussion of various sensitive issues affecting the Abasuba.

The Rusinga Cultural Festival has performances of both traditional and contemporary music. Traditional music is in form of performances by cultural troupes and Abasuba traditional music groups. The traditional music is performed in Subanese language.

The highlights of the cultural performances are at the festival’s sporting events. Just before the boat races, performers and festival attendees move from the grounds of the festival and move to the waters of Lake Victoria, accompanied by traditional music and dances.

Abasuba culture is the primary celebration of the Rusinga Cultural Festival Different facets of Abasuba culture are on display at the festival. Artifacts in clay-work, woodwork and daily Abasuba life showcasing the Abasuba culture are displayed at the festival.

The music, cuisine, sporting events and any other event happening at the festival are primarily aimed at promoting and preserving Abasuba culture.

Food at the Rusinga Cultural Festival includes traditional delicacies and modern foods. Some of the Traditional foods available at the festival takes long periods to prepare and is available only for a short period, usually the first day of the festival.

Delicacies available include traditionally prepared meats, vegetables and other dishes.

Popular sports at the Rusinga Cultural Festival are Wrestling or Eminyiika, Oluko/Oruko(Ajua) Tug-of-War and Boat Racing.

These sports are not unique to the Abasuba community alone, but they are the most powerful and valued sports for the Abasuba. Boats in the races at the Rusinga Cultural Festival are human powered boats.

They are manned by teams of seven people; six to paddle and one team leader who doubles as the helmsman. There is a separate category for women at the boat race.

Sports in Suba community and at the festival pull large crowds. There are other smaller competitive sports at the festival including board games.

Tours around the Suba islands of Lake Victoria – Rusinga Island, Takawiri Island and Mfangano Island are available to attendees of the Rusinga cultural Festival. The festival organizers often work with tours and travel companies to facilitate these tours.

The festival has opened up the Western Kenya tourism circuit and exposed it to both domestic and international tourists.

Abasuba community members are highly engaged in preparation, management and running of the Rusinga Cultural Festival. This results in very high attendance of the festival. There is no age restriction to attend the festival, and it is open entry.

Issues affecting the Abasuba are addressed at the festival. The festival provides a forum for discussing health & sanitation, HIV, banking, social security protection and other things affecting the Abasuba community.
The Rusinga Cultural Festival is financed by partners and sponsors.Relevant government departments, private sector and various embassies are the major partners of the Rusinga Cultural festival.

Partnerships and Sponsorships are both financial and in-kind. Administration of the festival is through the Chula Cultural Foundation.

The Rusinga Cultural Festival utilizes both mainstream and new media. Access to mainstream media in the form of broadcast media is provided through partnerships with media houses. Digital media is a major communication channel for the festival.

The 2016 festival utilized the services Mutahi Muriithi as its digital media and publicity consultant.

Rusinga Cultural Festival has used effective and timely communication to support its growth and ensure it meets its objectives of preserving Abasuba culture and promoting literacy in the Abasuba community.

The Suba or Abasuba are Bantu group of people in Kenya who speak the Suba language. Their population is estimated at about 300,000, with not that many fluent speakers left.

They migrated to Kenya from Uganda and settled on the two Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano, others also settled on the mainland areas including Gembe , Gwassi, Kaksingri of Suba South and Migori and are believed to be the last tribe to have settled in Kenya.

Linguistically, the Suba are highly influenced by the neighbouring Luo, to the point of a language shift having taken place among large portions of the mainland Suba.

As a result, their own language has been classified as endangered. Despite this language shift, the Suba have kept a distinct ethnic identity.

Suna Girango or Abagirango is another group that is usually erroneously grouped together with the Abasuba of Suba South and Suba North, since they also call themselves Abasuba.

But, this is because Girango had a son named Musuba (Suba) and this Musuba had many children than his other brothers for instance Tegi and Gire hence descendants of Musuba calling themselves Abasuba meaning Musuba's people.

Suba clans in Suna include Simbete, Sweta, and Wiga; and they have a clear and distinct ancestry that goes back to forefathers who crossed red Sea from Misri.

Their language is also distinct and very different from the Olusuba language spoken by the Abasuba of Homabay. The Kisuba language spoken by the Suna people is very similar to the Suba-Simbiti language that their brothers the Simbiti, Aga Sweta, Surwa and Hacha people of Tanzania speak.

But, currently those who claim to speak Kisuba actually speak igikuria a bunchari dialect which is 85% lexically and syntactically similar to Kisuba or Kisimbiti.

There are also people in Tanzania Tarime, Musoma and Rorya Districts, Mara Region who call themselves Suba, and its believed that they are part of the same ethnic group as the Abagirango since their language and cultural heritage is very similar.

The Suba people who settled on the islands include smaller clans called the Eluzinga or Chula, meaning the people of the islands.

This group includes the following clans, Waware, Awakiwanga(Kaswanga), Wanyama, Waregi, Awamasengere (Kamasengere), Wasaki and Awangoze(Ngodhe), while others were called the Awibuang'ano/Awaivuang'ano (Mfangano/Fang'ano).

This group includes Wakula, Wasamo, Wagimbe, Wiramba who are related to Awakiimba(Kakiimba), Awisokolwa and Waozi. Other groups also poured into Mfangano due to the pressure from advancing Luos in Central Nyanza especially in areas around Imbo Naya.

They settled in Mfangano and they include; Wayokia, Wakisasi/Awakisori, Wakiara/Wakiala. Others include Kamreri, Kayanja and Waondo who are found in Mirunda Gembe Suba North. Other clans began forming when the people did much more expansion onto the islands.

For example, there are other clans whose clan names were distinguished by their new geographic location.

The clan that predominantly lives the closest to Lake Victoria and is the bigger of the sub groups is the people that go by the name Awigassi or Gwasii.

They happen to reside upon the Gwasii Hills,Gwassi and Wakula are related since their forefathers Kiboye and Witewe were brother before escaping to the east after a revolt in the Buganda Kingdom in the year 1700.

Waware were also involved in this struggle. Other groups that resides on a hill are the Uregi who reside on the Uregi Hills of Meari which is a town in the Nyanza province as well as Awangoe residing in the Ungoe Hills.

The Awakune or Kaksingri clan live a long the lake from Gingo to a small fishing village called Sindo to Ragwe and Ngeri, and they are closely related with Uregi who live in the Uregi Hills since their forefathers came from the same home.

Today many people in the islands and the highlands subsequent to Lake Victoria still retain the Suba dialect that is closely related to the Ganda language, Lusoga and Kenyan Egikuria and Ekigusii of Kuria and Kisii communities respectively, although it is heavily influenced by the bigger Luo Language in some areas.

Further information upon the tribesmen's expansion remained unclear pretty unclear considering that the Niger-Congo family has the largest number of dialects within Africa.

Distinguishing the different dialects become rather difficult because they all predominantly use the noun class system.

With that being said it has become rather unclear as to how deep into Kenya the Suba people managed to travel being as distinguishing them from other dialects becomes harder and harder as the language is slowly being influenced by its neighboring language, Luo.

Suba scholars have taken the initiative to rewrite the History and more information is now available. Other suba speakers are found in the Southern shores of the Lake in Muhuru Bay.

They are generally called Muhuhuru People and they also speak the Suba Language. Some pockets of Uregi, Gwassi, and Kaksingri are also found in Muhuru Bay.

Even the greater Suna people usually identify themselves as Suba.

They are in a way related to the Abasuba from Suba district due to their migratory route, Subas of Kaksingri(Awakune), Kasgunga, Kienche, Awakione Simbithe, Wasweta and Kamagambo used the same route from Lusoga through Musoma, to North Mara in Tanzania before entering Kenya.

In Migori we have Suba clans such as Waware, Wiga, Kaswanga who are related to those in Suba District in Homabay. Suna people are actually the Abagirango or Girango people that is why they also call themselves Suna Girango or Suba Girango.

Girango had many sons who are named after the sub-tribes of suna for example Musuba,Tegi,Gire. Musuba or Suba son of Girango is the reason why Suna people like to call themselves Suba.

However, the correct name for this community is ABAGIRANGO, meaning Girango people In real sense, the term Suba was used by Luos to refer to smaller bantu groups that occupied areas around lake victoria.

Most of these bantus were splinters from their main tribes of Kisii,Kuria and Suba and the term later became the name of a group of people who migrated form Uganda escaping the expansion of the Buganda Kingdom.

They settled in Kenya as refugees and they had a well formed and a very organised language, political system and economic activities. The Suba in Suna, Kenya refers to a mix of Bantu and Nilotes especially the Luos, and Kuria who settled in Kenya.

A clear evidence of this is a town named Suba Kuria in Migori, Kenya. The Suna Abasuba include the Wasweta (Kadika, Katiga, Kakrao,), Wasimbete (Bahiri kiberi, Bahiri ng'ong'o, bahiri Nkena, Miaro, Nchogu)and Wiga (Wakwena, Nyasasi, Wanje, Nyathocho, Kamsuru).

Their original language is Kisuba which has several dialects such as sweta,simbiti,surwa,kine etc. Currently they speak a language that includes a combination of kisuba and egikuria language -especially the bunchari dialect.

Many of the communities interact freely with the Suba people in Tanzania (Surwa, Sweta, Simbiti,Hacha, Nguruimi, Kine etc.) and the Kuria (Rianchoka, Banchari, Batimbaru etc.) people.

The culture of the Suba People is very distinct from those of the Luo. The Suba people practice circumcision as an initiation process from boyhood to adulthood. Mostly boys are circumcised.

In some clans, even girls are circumcised. Suna Girango circumcision process is very similar to their neighbors the kuria even the saro names for instance Nginaro, Misungu,Gitang'osa, Kirina, etc.

Clans had roles assigned to them such as circumcision, animals sacrifices and dispute settlements.

Subas were also involved in rain Making sacrifices such as animal sacrifices to appease the gods and clan spirits called Emisambwa singular Omusambwa in Suba District.

These were carried out in special shrines which can still be found across Suba such as Utende, Kwitutu, Mungusa and Kiboye Shrines.

Subas also revered snakes such as the Python and they believed that Clan spirit dwelled amongst them. Example is given of the spirit of Gumba in Rusinga and Mungusa of Kaksingri.

Dowry included 30 heads of Cattle but this also depend upon the purity of the lady to be married. A lady with a child would attract lower number of heads of cattle.

Her age mates would accompany her with songs to her new home and celebrate. Alcohol made from Sorghum and Cassava was served as a form of celebration. Ladies also decorated their tummy with special drawings.

During funerals there were gifted elders who would carry Engawvo a type of shield and a long spear and Chant around the homestead while adorned with twigs.

Suba people also practiced rock art as witnessed in the caves of Kwitone in Gulwe Mfangano.

The Suba people are cattle farmers, a culture that they borrowed from the Luos. Even though the Luo no longer keep large herds of cattle, the Suba still keep cattle in large numbers.

This is especially common in Migori District in Suba west division where cattle rustling between Kurians and Girango people is common. Subas also loved sport fishing where there was a special species they went for.

The Abasuba also commonly practice polygamy, some of the members of the clan are named to have had even ten wives.

Politically, the Suba were subordinate to the Luo even though they are sceptical of the Luo culture. They have constantly voted with the Luos of Kenya much to their disadvantage.

One of the biggest issues relating to the Suba language declination is the sole fact that Kenya viewed the language as inferior. The education system is teaching English and Luo to the newer generations of Suba children thus impairing the possibilities of the language to come back.

Some even say that the fluent language speakers are middle-aged and have yet to establish a system to rebuild the language so that it may take proper footing as one of Africa's many languages, thus it has established a language status at risk.

Many blame the elders as they do not take proper measures to ensure the language's existence by teaching their young ones from an early onset.

The biggest concern deriving from the pressures of reviving the language is the fear that their children will begin to build an identity crisis while attending school, considering that it is taught in either English or Luo.

Tourism Observer

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