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October 21, 2018

Travel: A dying culture recreated at Rusinga Festival

Rusinga Festival boat race
Rusinga Festival boat race

Our road trip from Nairobi to Homa Bay county, upon which Rusinga Island lies, took about seven hours, with a quick stop in Narok for lunch. We spent the night at Choices Hotel in Mbita Island, which is adjacent to Rusinga, and the next morning, made our way to the shores of Lake Victoria to enjoy the day’s activities.

Numerous inhabitants of the island were crowded along the lake, trying to find the perfect spot to take in the men and women boat races, which were just about to begin. First, a group of dancers in traditional Abasuba attire came singing and dancing right into the lake as they blew their horns and beat their drums, while the crowd jigged along. This was the perfect way to set off what might possibly the highlight of the Rusinga Festival. The first set of competitors started rowing as fast as possible along the set radius of the boat races, while we followed along on a speedboat, and when the winning boat finally made its way towards the finish line after an arduous test in strength and teamwork, I found myself being drawn into the energy of the onlookers, and we all cheered loudly in unison. It was beautiful!

The annual Rusinga Island Festival often takes place in December. It is the brainchild of Anne Eboso with help from various sponsors, such as the Kenya Tourism Board. The event seeks to celebrate the dying culture of the Abasuba community, who immigrated into Kenya from Uganda but have now been assimilated by the Luo. The festival attracts curious guests from all over the country and the world. Visitors also get to tour Rusinga Island, which has a lot to offer, ranging from neighbouring islands to Ruma National Park. At Tom Mboya’s Mausoleum, for instance, which is shaped like a bullet, you will get to learn more about this man who was tipped to become President after Jomo Kenyatta, as well as gain further insight into our history as a country. 

There were a lot of fun recreational activities, like tug-of-war, wrestling and even a beauty pageant. Immersing ourselves in the Abasuba culture, we sampled their food, such as indigenous vegetables, maize, meat and ugali, which were all traditionally prepared without oil or salt, but were surprisingly packed with flavour. There was even busaa for the adventurous. 

Usually taking place right before Christmas, this is a great event to bookmark in your 2018 calendar for anyone keen on getting to see more of Western Kenya and the prevailing cultures there.

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