A Kiswahili adage says that mwacha mila ni mtumwa which loosely translates to he who neglects his culture is a slave. A recent visit to Kakamega County during the just concluded Kakamega Forest Marathon proved that Kenyan culture is far from dead. Many times, we think that perhaps because the world has become a global village then our identity as Africa might be corrupted. Turns out that it is only reinforced and one of the activities that showed this was the bull fighting we witnessed and got to document in Shinyalu Township. It is perhaps one of the most popular practices in Western Kenya. It is a sport that is mostly carried out on Saturdays and on Public Holidays and we found out that it also occurs in Ikolomani constituency which is also in the breathtaking Kakamega County.
Perhaps the most interesting thing was the number of fans that it has since people had been anticipating it from the crack of dawn. You could sense the excitement from the murmurs and whispers all around as locals and even visitors from all walks of life waited for the events to begin. Mostly, it is the Isukha, Idakho and Batsotso sub-tribes of the Luyha community that have own the bulls which are used for the event. We are talking about muscular bulls which have not only been fed a balanced diet but also been trained on how to fight. They are normally segregated as they grow up while being grazed in isolation and also given busaa, one of the local brews.
Another amazing aspect of the sport is how the participants and fans take part in the famous Isukuti dance as they match towards the field where the bulls will fight. The Isukuti dance is not your ordinary dance not only accompanied by enthusiastic members of the community but also characterized by traditional instruments including ingoma which is a large drum, isikuti which is a big drum, obukhana which is a harp and eshiriri which is a flute among others. There were even jingles among the band which was playing the music as the crowd was marching towards the arena.
When the bulls locked horns and began fighting, you could feel the amount of testosterone in the air. They used their muscular bodies which we were told weigh up to a whooping six hundred kilograms to try and put each other down. Their horns were as sharp as arrows and the crowd around them systematically moved to give them space as they pushed at each other during the fight. The crowd cheered on at their favorite bulls to motivate them to win. Documenting this was the tricky part and we had to be strategic with our camera to avoid any injuries either by the wild fans or the even wilder bulls. It was a moving spectacle though for those who had not witnessed it before.
It was though the whole village was participating in the event since people were even on roofs and trees just to catch a glimpse of the sport. We even had the local administration police being part of the fans in the crowd and we found out that the government is a huge supporter of the event. The government not only pays Isukuti bands during National holidays to perform for the president but has also invested in building Malinya Stadium for the same. We also discovered that the owners of the bulls that fight are actually paid due to the several bets that fans usually have. It is normally a random event as the bulls also have names and positions in the competition much like the English Premier League. For sure, culture is not dead and we will do every effort that we can to preserve it.