Western Kenya is where I was conceived. But until I started being conscious of who I was, I never knew western. I was born in Rift Valley, grew up there until I was done my primary school. My mother says she ran away after she had discovered that she was expectant.
It was normal then for young girls to run away from home especially after getting into such a mess and nobody bothered to look for them. They would try but not hard enough. Whether it’s true or not I may never know. Did I tell you I fixed my life with imaginary birthdates and people’s to go on with school?
Kakamega is a Luhya backyard. Rift Valley is believed to be Kalenjin stronghold but where I grew up, has Luhya infested Kalenjin backyard, a County whose name cannot be associated with any Kenyan tribe because everyone is there. There were peace and harmony among neighbours except for occasional Pokot cattle rustlers who scared the hell out of us with their extra-loud AK’s.
This part of rift valley was/is usually called scheme. For example where I lived, across the was an old woman named Magdalena. She was a Kalenjin strong Christian with a rather comic lifestyle. She never entertained neighbours except when she was gaining from it.
She stayed with her son John and some of her grandchildren. Her house was a unique one in the whole village. Many think that the house was abandoned when colonialists went back.
Where her farm ended to the east was a Kisii fellow. We didn’t see much of him then, but the farm was useful and would provide an income for many villagers during planting and harvesting seasons. On the north end of where we lived was a Teso old man.
We knew him by one name: weaternDickson. We heard that he migrated in from Busia or Teso which is further western. The interesting thing about his family is that his children spoke both Teso and the popular Luhya dialect Bukusu. And Swahili.
If you crossed river Nzoia further east was munyaka scheme. Now, this was where most Kikuyu’s were found. They occupy the entire stretch of the slopes Cheranganyi hills towards Marakwet. It is said President Kenyatta, the father not the son, brought them in from central Kenya which was becoming smaller.
They are just like the ones you find in Mpeketoni Lamu. They are enterprising, rustler shared working, and usually very efficient with their farms. They planted every type of crop that you could think of. They never lacked. Their only problem was the rustlers of the Pokot community coming from the other side of the hill. They were generous and loving. I think they still are since its been 15 years since I left the village.
I knew a Luo from my childhood. One of my uncles had married a Kamba from Mombasa. I am/was a Luhya. Our immediate neighbour was a Kalenjin and on the other side was a Teso. Kisii’s were all over: three of my primary school teachers were Kisii’s. Mrs Motanya, Mr Omonso and Ms Kwamboka.
The headteacher was a Kikuyu, and his deputy was a Luhya. Life was fun. Things looked ancient but enjoyable. That’s where I learnt Swahili. Nobody would victimise anyone for getting a girlfriend from a neighbour who wasn’t speaking your language. What worries me is I don’t remember weddings where partners were from two different tribes!
I saw my uncles go back to western to get wives. I would see young girls leave the village and get married to young men from their tribe. It was never a big problem for anyone then. It was acceptable for everyone. We went to school together played together learned together, but in the end, no one gets married to a different tribe.
It was deeply entrenched into the culture, highly valued and celebrated across all communities. But it just now that I realise it was a recipe for disaster in this country.
Tumaini primary school did well from the classrooms to the field. We had Kalenjini’s who represented us in long races; we had Kisii’s as well and Kikuyu’s. Ruth Siangu was the fastest in the district in the short races. She was a Luhya.
There were a bunch of Kisii’s, Luhya’s and Kikuyu’s who played football. They never needed a coach. But they always made us proud. I tried football but was not good enough. But I worked in class. Kenna Wasike can attest. He is an educator and a Swahili novelist now. But the good thing, I saw raw talent from pupils who never cared about their dialects and represented us with pride.
I am honoured to have known them, and I am privileged to have lived among them. The village was sinyerere the location was sinyerere, and the division was Kaplamai. Kenya can be better than this small model village back in the 90’s.