The Abaluhya is one of the 40 tribes in Kenya, also known as Luhya. Being one of them, I am enthusiastic to share the culture of my people. The urge to share my culture is not just driven by the need to share, but also to expose people to different perspectives from different parts of the world.
When I first came to The United States of America, I had my own fears, I only knew the US as people who freely live and go about their business regardless of what’s going on around them. Part of it is true, and part of it is not. The true part is reflected by lack of knowledge on basic history and geography. I was shocked to learn that some of my acquaintances and friends that i met, have never left, not only their states, but their residing cities. Worse still is that they did not know which states border theirs. On the other hand, the true part of it is reflected on the constitution. The values of liberty, equality and self-government, not forgetting individualism and ownership of property, among others propel the American people to status above all the rest. I tend to agree that ignorance is a universal weakness.
I seek, not only to share my culture, but all the cultures in Kenya, and beyond, and how they relate to each other, to the best of my knowledge. The luhya people are found mainly in the Western part of Kenya, in East Africa, and they neighbor other tribes, mainly, the Nilotic group comprised of; Lou, the Kalengin, Teso and the Masaai people. They form part of the Bantu people – a group that shares common origin and dialects. The luhya, form the second largest ethnic tribe following the Kikuyu, and account for roughly 15 % of the Kenyan population. Like many other tribes, the luhya people are further divided into18 sub-tribes. The largest sub-tribes are the Maragoli and the Bukusu people. Others include, the Banyore, Banyala, Batsotso, Gisuu, Idakho, Isukha, Kabras, Khayo, Kisa, Marama, Marachi, Masaaba, Wanga, Tiriki, Tachoni and Samia.
Traditionally, the luhya people lived in extended family settings and were mainly polygamists, for a man was respected based on the number of wives he gets. The more wives a man has reflects his ability to pay dowry (Bride price). Dowry was not paid in terms of money, but in terms of cows, sheep or goats. Today, polygamy is no longer in practice and bride price is paid in terms of money.
Another important feature of the luhya people is the circumcision ceremonies. This important ritual was viewed as an initiation passage from boyhood to manhood. Young boys, ready for the ritual were prepared by older men through rigorous training – both physical and mental, as they were expected to provide leadership to the community. Celebrations follow thereafter. Days following the circumcision, they would be kept in seclusion until completely healed. Modern luhyas take their children to hospitals for circumcision; however, some factions still practice traditional circumcision ceremonies, especially the Bukusu and Tachoni.
The Luhya people enjoy gathering around meals. Meal times were a very important part of the family. It is during meal times that members of the family gather together to share and catch up on their day to day duties. It is during meal times that the man of the house gives directive and counsel to his family. Obusuma, made from maize (corn) forms their staple food. It is usually served with chicken and other green vegetables. A meal is never complete without some obusuma.
Like other Kenyans, luhyas are involved in almost every sector of the Kenyan economy; they work as professionals in urban setting as skilled and semi-skilled laborers. In the rural settings, they are known for growing sugarcane and corn for commercial purposes. They also participate in sporting activities mainly soccer and rugby. Many luhyas rally behind the AFC Leopards soccer club, which comprises mainly of the luhya players. They also form the bulk of the national soccer team, The Harambee Stars. There is more to learn about the luhya communities, as we dig into its culture at a later stage. For now i hope you have some insight about the luhya people, especially if you plan to visit Western Kenya.