December is traditionally a month of happiness and fulfilment; the air is pregnant with festive vibes and people look for every opportunity to make merry and socialize.
As for me, it was a time to once again touch base with the natural beauty of the countryside, courtesy of the annual Rusinga Festival. It has always been one of my favourite end year haunts since I first attended the event four years ago.
Just before Christmas holidays begun proper last year, I closed shop at work and headed to the South of Nyanza for the two-day event facilitated by the Chula Cultural Foundation.
The event is held in Homabay county around Lake Victoria to celebrate culture of the Abasuba people of Kenya, who are according to myth, originally from Uganda
My tour was every bit exciting from day of travel to arrival. The eight-hour road journey through Narok was quite enjoyable with exciting scenery along the way.
From Lake Naivasha to the greenery of Kisii; it was all picturesque landscapes for the media team who had a chance to appreciate God’s handiwork from the comfort of their travel van.
The nyama choma stops were particularly exciting as the gang engaged in lively banter while sipping cold drinks and enjoying the pleasant weather that attracts tourists from all over the world to Kenya. It had all the hallmarks of early Christmas and the mood was not only relaxed, but buzzing nicely.
We might have been tired from the road run when we got to Mbita, but nevertheless we were in good spirits.
Taking place on Rusinga Island – one of Kenya’s hidden gems on Lake Victoria – the festival offers two days of family fun within the picturesque environs of the island.
Two days of nothing but music, fashion, film, food, artistry, literature, sports and conversations that take you back in time into the deep wealth of the Suba culture.
All the information on the festival had been sent to our phones by the organisers who had pulled all stops to make this event memorable. Indeed after freshening up at our hotel, just overlooking the pristine lake, we headed down for a sumptuous meal of ugali and grilled fish, accompanied by vegetable sauce, which we hungrily gobbled up before settling into bed, eagerly awaiting the festivities to commence the following day.
We woke up to the warm humid morning that demanded a long cold shower to keep temperatures under control before heading out for breakfast.
The buffet at the outdoor restaurant was a generous affair, starting off with a fruit salad while my two-egg omelette was being prepared. That done, I turned my attention to buttered bread, sausages, and two cups of tea.
Bellies full, we headed to Kamasengre Primary School in Suba North Constituency, where most of the programmes were scheduled to take place. From wrestling, music, fashion pageantry, tug of war and food displays, everything attracted hundreds of locals and visitors alike.
For those who travelled far and wide, including journalists to cover the event; none was disappointed. The whole feeling, particularly for a wanderer such as yours truly, was so surreal and magnificent that I could not help but document every little detail of the whole episode.
At the Festival, we got to sample the local delicacies such as rech, apoth and rabuon, which were well prepared by the mothers on call. On the other end, fans gathered to witness a men’s traditional wrestling event between muscular men.
However, the biggest spectacle was the piem mag yie… which loosely translates to boat racing competition, held just off Luore Beach. It drew men and women teams tasked with following a certain route in the waters using their canoes.
A team consisted six persons and occasionally they wowed the audience on the beach with their deft control of the boats. It helped a lot that the waters were calm, which gave onlookers an unobstructed opportunity to enjoy the challenge.
Music from instruments such as bul, nyatiti and orutu rent the air with dancers leading the way with the shaking of legs as onlookers took in achwaka (local brew).
The festival also organised tours around the island and other neighbouring touristic sites such as the Tom Mboya Mausoleum, Birds Island, Takawiri Island (white sandy) and the Abasuba Peace Museum on Mfangano Island. We also witnessed football contests between local teams.
The theme of the 2018 Rusinga Festival was ‘Celebrating Diversity’ and collectively, brought together visitors from a total 13 countries including Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Argentina, Germany, USA, Netherlands, Philippines, Australia amongst others.
For the last six years, the festival has provided the Abasuba with a platform to celebrate their culture, which was once endangered, while contributing to their socio-economic development.
My two-day sojourn was thoroughly fun-filled as I met new friends and learnt a lot about our beautiful country. After it was done and we had said our byes, it was time to retreat for the rest of the holidays.
For me, the hallmark as I boarded the ferry in Mbita that connected me to Kisumu, was the fact that culture is sacred and it must be selfishly protected.