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Isikuti, the dance revered by Luhya’s as near sacred

Isikuti dance is a signature celebratory performance by the Isukha, Banyore and Idakho communities of the now defunct Western Province.

It is an energetic and fast-paced dance accompanied by drumming and singing. But beneath the passionate dance moves is a story of rituals that have to be fulfilled before taking to the stage.

Take Ainea Musungu for instance. The 57-year-old is a leader of a six-man Isikuti dance troupe that had been invited to perform at a function in Vihiga.  Before unveiling his team to the audience, however, he had to get the blessings of an elder in his Ebunagwe village, Emuhaya.

The Banyore elder, Isaack Munala, is among others who Ainea needed to see before leading his team to the launch of National Affirmative Action Government Fund for Vihiga county at Ekongolo Primary School.

Upon arrival, Ainea had to kneel down to beg the octogenarian for blessings before travelling to Kima for a performance.

It took 10 minutes to convince the elder to bless Ainea’s drum and his entire team.“It’s a must for our drum to be blessed by an elder because Isikuti drum is like a shrine to us Luhyas,” Ainea says.

After the blessings, the team then consumes traditional liquor known as “ingulu” or “pelele”.The traditional brew is laced with herbs that stimulate the body enabling them to perform with vigour.

“You may wonder why the Isikuti players always sing with energy. It’s a must that we consume ingulu so that when we are on stage we are even able to look at you directly without shying off,” he adds. However, the elder will not bless any member of the crew who has committed any sin the previous day.

Without sin

“If you are not clean then you are not allowed to perform or touch the drum. The elder is not allowed to bless you because that alone can bring bad omen to the team,” he says.

But the blessings do not end there. After the performance, the team has to go back to the elder for a final one before keeping the drum in a safe place awaiting another show.

“That drum set is very special and must be kept at a secret place,” Ainea says.

Isikuti dance has permeated most occasions and stages in life including childbirths, initiations, weddings, funerals, commemorations and religious activities.

The dance derives its name from the drums played in sets of three big, medium and small, normally accompanied by an antelope horn and assorted metal rattles.

Ainea, however, says isikuti players who ignore the traditional rituals do not last long in the field.

“Those who ignore the rituals end up not playing it for long because it’s like going against a scripted law,” he says.

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