Elders dread likelihood of Suba cultural identity extinction

The Suba people, also known as Abasuba, whose remnants are found on the shores of Lake Victoria have slowly been assimilated by the Luo and their cultural identity is arguably under threat.

The Suba nation encompasses hills and islands scattered on the shores of Lake Victoria offering the inhabitants rich agricultural soils and fertile fishing grounds in the lake.

Among the greatest sons of the Abasuba was the late Tom Joseph Mboya, a renowned trade unionist and post-colonial era maverick Cabinet Minister.

Ochieng Omollo, a respected elder in the community narrates how their ancestors migrated from Central Africa between 1500-1800 AD to Buganda kingdom in Uganda and eventually to Kenya.

According to Omollo, they trace their roots to an ancestor known as Musumba, a Bantu who lived in Uganda and whose descendants formed the Abasuba community.

The Mbita Causeway bridge which connects the mainland to Rusinga island inhabited by the Suba. PHOTO / COURTESY

Omollo says that Musumba first made a stop in the Buganda kingdom during the reign of Kabaka Kiabuka of the Kintu Clan and it was at a time when the Kabaka kingdom was aggressive on expanding its territories and growing numbers.

The elder disclosed that following the death of the Kiabuka, there arose a power struggle between his two sons Njunju and Samakokiro over succession of their father. During the power struggle, war broke out pitting clans supportive of the competing rivals.

In the heat of the war, the Wakunta clan fled from the Buganda kingdom to Kenya and were the first group of the Suba people. They were the descendants of Abahinda. They included Orengi, Kaksigri and Kasgunga.

“The people of Oregi stayed in Gwasi hills, Kaksigri stayed in Suba central while Kasgunga went and settled in Gembe hills,” Omollo narrated.

He says later, another exodus of the second group of the Suba people from Buganda kingdom were the descendants of Omusumba including the waondo, kaswanga, aware and abiganda.

On his part, Mzee Joseph Okweta who lives on Rusinga island also agrees that they come from Buganga kingdom and that they are not Nilotes but Bantus. They have their own language whichis Abasuba.

Okweta said that among the first group to arrive were the Kenge family of Rusinga island, while Witewe and Mwembe ancestors were the second group to flee from the fights in Buganda kingdom and currently inhabit Mfangano island.

He says a brother to Witewe called Kiboe started a family in Gwasi. He further said that they formed the five colonial locations of Mfangano, Rusinga, Gembe, Kaksigri and Gwasi.

Okweta believes that the colonial government played apart in their assimilation by the Luo community.

He also blames the European colonialists for introducing tsetsefly to Lambwe Valley on an experiment which went awry. The flies spread fast and eventually went out of control causing misery to the locals.

“This forced the Europeans to bring in Luos from Karachuonyo to clear the bushes in a bid to control the tsetse fly menace. The Luos settled in the area and eclipsed the Abasuba culture and language,” he notes

He further observes that the coming of the churches led to formal education and the colonial government forced the Suba people to read the Dholuo Bible.

“Our people were being forced by colonial government to learn the predominant luo language which became the language of instruction in lower primary schools,” he said.

Okwete said that except for inhabitants of Mfangano island who still speak their language the rest in Rusinga, Gwasi, Kaksigri and Gembe have been fully assimilated and speak pure dholuo.

“You find that children who were born around 1980s can’t speak Suba and only speak dholuo. This is threatening our identity,” he added.

Okwete further expressed his fears that in the coming generations, Abasuba will be totally forgotten given that even their leaders these days are introducing themselves as Luos forgetting their roots.

“We also have some Suba people in Migori County found in Mihiuru Bay but you can never hear them talking as Subas,” he added.

At the same time he urged elders in the region to come up with ways of conserving the identity and culture of community to save it from extinction.

“We want to go back to the way we used to be. We are not Nilotes, we are Bantus,” he added.

He also said that as much as the elders have been trying to organise Rusinga Cultural Festival every year in a bid to conserve their culture, it has never really had an impact.

“We participate in the festive every year and go back to speak dhuluo and embrace their culture which has taken root. That is why most Suba youth and children cannot speak Abasuba,” he added.

  

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