The unmistakable sounds of nyatiti, orutu and thoroughly sun-dried drums could be heard from Kamasengre grounds of Rusinga Island as we got closer from our hotel;Mbita Tourist Hotel.
Different dance groups were rehearsing as they awaited for their turn to entertain. Attendees crowded their space to catch a glimpse of what to expect. It was a buzz. The main stage had not less than two masters of ceremony, a DJ who dropped hit after hit, and an enthusiastic,highly responsive crowd that followed the proceedings with precision.
Almost missing my Flight with Safarilink
Before we even got to Luore beach for the boat race, let me tell you how I almost missed my flight from Nairobi. Having taken pride in being punctual for all my flights in the recent past, there was no reason to imagine I would miss my last flight of the year. I mean, Wilson Airport was a stone throw away from my place, and the worst case scenario would be get a boda boda and voilà,three minutes later, I’d probably be sitting pretty sipping a strong cup of coffee, wondering why people don’t make it on time for their flights,as I wait for the boarding gate to open.
No available cars, no boda bodas, slow matatus and traffic jam on my route
The worst message you will ever get when desperately trying to hail a cab using any taxi app, is the lingering ‘No available cars’ text. This went on and on and on, till I decided to walk from my place to look for a matatu. The only one I got that early morning after waiting for a while was in no rush. Again since the festive season had started crawling in, things were a bit slower and it meant that we had to wait for people who were not in vicinity.
The time between then and missing my flight was exactly eight minutes. Luggage on one hand, camera bag on the other and a kiondo handbag I bought from Maasai market across my chest. It was show time!
The idea was to start running towards Wilson as I hope to get a boda boda along the way. I kept wondering where all the a million boda bodas I see on my route daily had gone to. Anyway, I kept at it, luckily as I ran,almost coughing my lungs out, I boda rode past me and stopped. We spoke in sign language. A few minutes later he stops at the airport’s gate at tells me, ‘Madam hapa ndio mwisho, siwezi ingia’. I swear my jaw almost dropped, not that I didn’t know he couldn’t go in, but that I thought he would have even pretended to try and give me hopes! I had no time to respond, I had to run, he went with my 300 bob.
A tinny tiny version of The Amazing Race that was! The sigh of relief when I noticed Fly Safari link’s office was not far from the gate as I had imagined. As I ran through the gate, the staff at the security check signaled me to hurry because they were closing the check in counter. When I got to the entrance, the team on the ground practically helped me check-in. The moment I was handed my boarding pass,they closed the counter.Imagine how close that was.
I was right on time for boarding, but too restless and sweating like a smelters pig. I guess someone was just sipping his coffee somewhere wondering why some people don’t make it on time for their flights.
I was impressed by how Safarilink kept time.The craft was spacious and they gave us free snacks. They truly did not need a second chance to give me a good first impression.
Getting to Rusinga
We touched down roughly an hour later and took a tuk tuk to Kisumu town which cost Kshs.100. (This option involved walking to the airport gate because taxis are too pricey and there is no Uber in Kisumu). We then boarded a matatu that was going to Luanda K’otieno pier immediately so as to catch the midday Ferry to Mbita.We touched down roughly an hour later and took a tuk tuk to Kisumu town which cost Kshs.100. (This option involved walking to the airport gate because taxis are too pricey and there is no Uber in Kisumu). We then boarded a matatu… Click To Tweet
The matatu was old and slow. The transit took longer than planned. For the second time in one day, I had to run like a madman, this time to catch the ferry. When we got there,the ferry had just started sliding away. Luckily the guys at the control office requested the captain to reverse for a few more people.Again,that was close.
Truly Rusinga Cultural Festival had to be attended by all means.
The one hour ferry ride was uneventful. The lake was calm, the air was cold and the sky was grey. The other passenger’s faces were as dull as the weather outside. We paid KSh.150.00 to Mbita via the ferry.
When you get to Mbita town, getting to Rusinga Island is straight forward. A taxi or boda boda ride along the new Mbita-Rusinga bridge gets you into Rusinga Island, the land of Abasuba , the land of beautiful sunset, the land where a deliberate attempt to preserve culture has been made in the most colourful of ways. I was ready for the Festival!When you get to Mbita town, getting to Rusinga Island is straight forward. A taxi or boda boda ride along the new Mbita-Rusinga bridge gets you into Rusinga Island, the land of Abasuba , the land of beautiful sunset, the land where… Click To Tweet
Now back to the boat race.
The boat race
The boat race attracted a mammoth crowd. It took place at Luore beach; a walking distance from Kamasengre grounds(the event’s venue). The procession from the grounds to the beach was filled with dances, songs and theatrics to get the villagers to come and witness the race. Muscular male dancers hopped from shop to shop to call out people as their lady counterparts sang and danced as they lead a charged crowd to the beach.
By the time everyone got to the beach, the crown is electric and the energy is right! Before and during the race, girls cheered on their boyfriends, men were cheered on by their wives,mothers showered their children with praise as they prepared to outdo each other.
The US Embassy Nairobi sponsored the boat race.
Sweat, strength, determination and hard work starts off the session as the participants are flagged off, then tension, nervous cheers and drum beats took over as the teams rhythmically paddled their way to victory.
This event, should not be missed at any cost.Sweat, strength, determination and hard work starts off the session as the participants are flagged off, then tension, nervous cheers and drum beats take over as the teams rhythmically paddled their way to victory. This event,… Click To Tweet
Every year, I look forward to watching the men’s race. The competition is always stiffer,faster, with a lot more stamina and speed. When they were flagged off, it was hard to tell which team was going to win. But as the distance became longer and the muscles sorer, and the cheers became just echoes from a distance, and slowly it got easier to identify the leading pack.
After the successful race, the crowd sang praise and victory songs to the winners while escorting them back to Kamasengre grounds for an afternoon of food, dance competitions, more performances, business exhibitions, songs, and the remaining two crowd pullers; Tug of War, and wrestling which start on day one and end on the second and last day of the event.
Storytelling and the beauty pageant took place later in the evening of day one and two.
The Suba-Luo Story,and the need for Rusinga Cultural Festival
The Abasubas are bantus originally from Uganda. It is estimated that there are just about a hundred thousand (100,000) Subanese left.The disappearance of the Suba culture is attributed to cultural blending from the larger Luo tribe through intermarriages, trade and other engagements. Through these interactions with the Luo, they took up most cultural practices of the Luo community. Over time, it became difficult to differentiate the Abasuba from the Luo and hence the rise of the Rusinga cultural Festival. A celebration and preservation of a dying culture. Seeing how fast their culture was disappearing , the Rusinga Cultural Festival was put together, to celebrate, refresh and remind the Abasuba where they came from who they are and how they can preserve their culture.
Read about Rusinga Fest from two years ago here.
The Rusinga Festival’s wrestling is popular sport where defending champions and newbies fight to stamp their authority in matters strength and tact. The first time I watched the Rusinga wrestling match I missed all the fun because I hadn’t understood the game and its rules. I was very intentional about understanding the sport this time round. The rules of the game were simple,whoever floors his opponent first wins the match . The wrestlers held each others back tightly, and unlike WWE’s wrestling that has kicks,blows and stunts,this was simpler and shorter but very intense.They would then try and sway each other until when one of them loses balance and falls down first.
Tug of War
The Tug of war was the juiciest of the field events. It attracted tens of participants,all genders and all ages.
The finals got everyone holding their breath in suspense because the rope could go either way in a split second. The stronger teams met eye to eye, the referee drew the battle line and at the blow of the whistle the chaff was separated from the grain. The charged crowd tensed cheers were in synch with the directions of the rope. The final whistle blew and the annual champions were crowned! From observation, the quiet teams won all the matches.
But what is Rusinga Cultural Festival without the dancers and their rhythms ? The steady growth of the festival has seen even more dance groups sign up for the event. Suba tunes on rusinga grounds with beautifully choreographed moves keeps the festival alive all through.But what is Rusinga Cultural Festival without the dancers and their rhythms ? The steady growth of the festival has seen even more dance groups sign up for the event. Suba tunes on rusinga grounds with beautifully choreographed… Click To Tweet
Dance at the island is considered as an art of expression, communication and entertainment. Every time a dance group stepped on the stage, it was almost impossible not to sing alone or shake a leg.
The festival basically took me way back into time when ugali was made from milled millet,cassava and sorghum, breakfast was porridge served in ‘agwata’ and sweet potatoes or any other root tuber,and ‘nyoyo'(maize and kunde seeds) was served with just salt and washed down with black tea. Sun dried nile perch (mbuta),tilapia and omena was also in plenty during the festival. It was so refreshing to see visitors from the city enjoying the finger licking goodness and having more than one serving. ‘Kunde’ mixed with ‘apoth’ tasted magical that afternoon at the island.
Clay pots for cooking and serving meals.
End of the Festival…
After all the food,entertainment, community education,good music,and a better understanding of the Abasuba, Chasing the magnificent Rusinga sunset has always something to look forward to. This was sunset as seen from Lake Victoria safari Village. The setting of the sun,put to rest the end of a fun filled two days of culture and marked the beginning of another 365 days of looking forward to another Rusinga Cultural Festival. Long live Rusinga Cultural Festival.
Because sharing is caring,
Please pin the poster below on Pinterest ;-), see you in the next edition of #RusingaFest2019