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Rusinga festival: saving the Abasuba culture

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By MAGUNGA WILLIAMS
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A people can die off without losing their lives. So to save the culture of the Abasuba people, Anne Eboso has been hosting the annual Rusinga Festival for the past six years.

The Abasuba are Bantu and are believed to have migrated from Uganda to Kenya more than 500 years ago.

The Abasuba settled in the southern reaches of Lake Victoria on the Kenyan side, most predominantly on the Rusinga and Mfangano islands.

The word Rusinga comes from the Suba word Eluzinga, which means island. So Rusinga Island just means Island Island.

The islands were already occupied by the dominant Nilotic Luo tribe who intermarried with the Abasuba.

It is no wonder that many people think that the Suba (or Subanese, as they sometimes call themselves) are a subset of the Luo community.

It also does not help that the political elite coined the phrase Luo-Abasuba, in effect propagating a lie.

Currently, there are about 300,000 Suba people and just about 50,000 who speak the language. Meaning, the Suba culture, if not preserved, will soon be lost.

The Rusinga Festival tries to separate the two cultures. Each year, during the week just before Christmas, the festival is held for two days on Kamasengre Grounds on Rusinga Island.

Although the primary aim of the festival is to raise awareness about the dying Suba culture, it also showcases the region as a tourist destination.

rusinga festival

Cultural activities at the Rusinga Festival held on December 20 and 21, 2018. PHOTO | ANTHONY MUWASI

Started in 2013, the festival has gained popularity, both with Kenyans and international visitors.

This year, there were about 8,000 visitors to the festival from 13 countries — Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Argentina, Germany, Kosovo, the US, the Netherlands, India, the UK, the Czech Republic, the Phillipines and Australia.

The local hotels including new ones were fully booked during the festival period, and some guests had to be housed in dormitories at local schools.

On the first day, visitors went on a tour of Rusinga and the neighbouring islands of Mfangano, Mbasa and Soklo.

Ramogi dancers at the Rusinga Festival. PHOTO |

Ramogi dancers at the Rusinga Festival. PHOTO | ANTHONY MUWASI

Rusinga is the birthplace of African statesman Thomas Joseph Mboya, who was assassinated in 1969 when he was stepping out of a pharmacy on Government Road in Nairobi. This is where he was laid to rest and a mausoleum was built in the shape of the bullet that killed him.

Next to Mboya’s grave is that of trade unionist William X. Scheinman who was a friend of Mboya; in his will he requested to be buried next to him.

At the mausoleum is the leather suitcase that Mboya was carrying on the day he was killed. Some blood is still visible on the case.

The Kenyan flag that draped his casket during his funeral, and the name plaque that used to sit on his desk when he was Kenya’s minister for finance, are also there.

At Rusinga, people talk of a ghost city. It is a sight to behold. While standing on top of one of the hills – Got Kiahera — you can watch a spectacular sunset, and as night falls, the fishermen row their boats into the blue of dusk.

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The fishermen carry lanterns to attract fish, but when you see them from afar in their hundreds, it looks like a skyline in the distance, hence “ghost city.”

There are a pair of footsteps imprinted on the ground on the island. Nobody knows where they came from and whom they belong to, but tradition has it that these are from the feet of Jesus himself.

A boat ride to the sandy beaches of neighbouring Takawiri island is a must. And so is one to Mfangano Island.

Most Suba live on Mfangano, but it is not connected to the mainland. Rusinga island was recently connected to the mainland at Mbita via a bridge.

On Mfangano Island is the Abasuba Cultural Museum, which tells the full history of the Suba as well as visit the Mawanga Caves that were used by the warring clans of the Suba community.

Mbasa Island is a birders’ paradise, with more than a hundred unique species of migratory birds. And atop a hill on Soklo Island is a crater lake.

There are anchor cultural activities such as cultural performances, sports (board games, tug of war, wrestling and boat races), food and cultural displays and pageants.

A mock fight at the Rusinga Festival. PHOTO |

A mock fight at the Rusinga Festival. PHOTO | ANTHONY MUWASI

For the past two years, there have been additional activities. Last year the Abasuba pictorial exhibition in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya was introduced and this year, they started the “Island Reading Series” in partnership with the Goethe Institut.

The reading space had storytelling for children. Additional partners came on board like the US embassy, which sponsored the library and boat races.

This year there were troupes from Uganda and South Africa performing at the festival.

The second day of the festivities had lots of action. There was a tug of war for both men and women, older men playing ajua — a traditional board game, and cultural performances from both the Luo and Suba communities in song, dance, food, pageantry and storytelling.

A musician performs at the Rusinga Festival.

A musician performs at the Rusinga Festival. PHOTO | ANTHONY MUWASI

The highlights of the festival were two highly anticipated events: The boat race where men and women from different villages on the island compete for annual bragging rights. Then there was amen — traditional wrestling.

The women’s boat race at the Rusinga Festival

The women’s boat race at the Rusinga Festival held on December 20 and 21. PHOTO | ANTHONY MUWASI

The winners received cash prizes from the sponsors.

The festival gets little government support (county or national), so Eboso meets most of the expenses with the help of well-wishers.

Much of the work of putting the festival together is done by volunteers from the community. Partners give in kind, like covering travel costs and providing prizes.

Beyond the festival, Rusinga is a great island to visit and relax. To get there, you can go by road from Kisumu to Homa Bay then on to Mbita and across the new bridge into Rusinga.

Or, you can go to Luanda Kotieno and catch a ferry, waterbus or speed boat across the lake. It’s about 40 minutes to Mbita, then across into Rusinga via the bridge.

You could also take a flight to Rusinga Airstrip. Rusinga Island Lodge has a helipad.

Once on the island, you can stay at the Lake Victoria Safari Village, Mbita Tourist Hotel, Wayando Eco-Lodge or Rusinga Island Lodge.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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