Hon Barasa Briston is a Luhya gentleman. The following is the analysis of Luhya culture:
Luhya Tribe – Culture and Lifestyle
Traditionally, the extended family and the clan were at the center of the Luhya culture. Luhyas practiced polygamy, and a man got more respect depending on the number of wives he had. This is because only a very wealthy man could afford to pay dowry (bride price) for several wives. Dowry was paid in form of cattle, sheep, or goats. Today, polygamy is no longer widely practiced, but dowry payment is still revered in some Luhya communities. Instead of giving cattle, sheep, or goats as bride price, one may pay dowry in form of money. However, marrying from one’s clan is considered a taboo.
Traditional male circumcision is an important ritual in most Luhya sub-tribes. It marks the initiation from boyhood to manhood. The modern and educated Luhyas today choose to circumcise their sons in hospitals upon birth. However, among some sections of the Bukusu and Tachoni, traditional circumcision ceremonies still take place every August and December.
Luhya Traditions – Faith and Religion
Many Luhyas today are Christians. However, it is common to find some Luhyas mixing Christianity with aspects of African traditional religion. Dini ya Msambwa for example, a religion whose adherents are mostly Luhyas, uses portions of the bible for its doctrine while at the same time practicing traditional witchcraft. God in Luyia language is Nyasaye, a name borrowed from the Nilotic Luo neighbors.
How Luhya marriage was arranged
This was done in one of two ways. In one case the father of a boy arranged with the father of a girl with or without the knowledge of the boy. In the other case, the boy himself looked for a hard-working girl from a reputed family. He was usually accompanied by his boyfriends. The meeting place was usually in or near the girl’s home. She too came to the meeting place accompanied by her girlfriends. The question was then put to the girl, and if she agreed, both parties went to tell their parents.
Before the boy or his father approached to make the suggestion, careful, private inquiries were made about the girl’s character and her ability to work. A go-between (wangira) was often used. Before accepting – sometimes even after accepting – the girl too caused inquiries to be made about the boy’s character. She also scrutinized his deformities, if any.
After everything was checked, male relatives of the boy visited the girl’s parents to talk things over, and if necessary, start paying the dowry. In some parts of Luhyaland, the boy gave the girl a token (e.g. eshitiri, a bangle) to indicate that they were now engaged
Luhya Bride or pride price?
The final amount or total paid again depended on local custom. In some places three to six head of cattle or their equivalent were sufficient while in others it was more (sometimes much more), say betwen13 and 20 head of cattle.
In other places, an initial number of cattle had to be paid; the number depended on the bargaining power of both parties. The second lot of cattle was ‘customary’ and had to be paid over the lifetime of the marriage. In western Luhyaland, four head of cattle had to be paid: a cow for the mother, a cow for the father (paternal uncle) a bull or cow for the maternal uncle, and a bull for the brother (usually paternal cousin).
When these were paid, there remained many small but important items which were paid to the girl or her relatives during or shortly after the marriage feast.
(Note: Certain relatives of the boy helped to subscribe the items of the dowry while certain relatives of the girl got a share of the dowry)
Luhya Culture – Wife Inheritance
In western Luhyaland, a man married his older brother’s wife when the brother died. Where there was no younger brother to inherit the wife according to custom, a male cousin took her instead. This type of marriage was called okhukerama; it was not practised among some eastern Luhya
Luhya Culture – Circumcision
The Luhya people are still strong traditionalists as far as the rites of passage from boyhood to adulthood are concerned. In Bukusu where the tradition is still strong, preparations for circumcision begins as early as early as two months before where a candidate is required to take a chicken to a local blacksmith in exchange for two bells that he will use to invite relatives to the ceremony.
Luhya Culture – Bells
All candidates whose bells are ready gather at a central point each night and trek for several kilometres rehearsing circumcision songs up to as late as 2.am. As the D-Day nears, each candidate visits all his relatives’ homes ringing the bells as way of inviting them to the ceremony. A day to facing the knife, a candidate visits his maternal uncles where he chooses one to stand by him throughout the process, he is also given a bull as a gift. In Bukusu the cost of circumcision can be anything up to Shs 20,000 – way beyond annual earnings of most families.
Luhya Culture – Communication with ancestors:
At dawn of the special day, the chosen uncle accompanies the candidate to the river where he smears him with mud, and plants a grass on his head to signify that he (the candidate) is in communication with the ancestors. A group of villagers escort the candidate back home while singing circumcision songs, at this point the candidate is completely naked.
Luhya Culture – Bullying the boy into manhood
All those who have passed through the process are entitled to bully the candidate as a way of hardening them. The candidate finally gets circumcised at his father’s compound as relatives, friends and neighbours of both sexes watch keenly and he graduates from an omusinde (uncircumcised) to an omusiani (circumcised). After successfully going through the knife, the candidate gets showered with lots of gifts from relatives.
Luhya Culture – Living in Murumbi
The candidates are then isolated from their homes and live in a single dwelling known as murumbi. Relatives must bring them food which they must deposit with the janitor as they must not exchange any form of contact until they are properly healed and a graduation ceremony performed.
Luhya Culture – Healing period
Usually the logic is to keep the men away from girls and women to avoid getting sexually aroused and since it might cause the wound to tear and take longer to heal. Healing normally takes two weeks if there are no complications. If there are still candidates who haven’t healed after two weeks, this period may be extended but in all cases never exceeds one calendar month.