The Rusinga Cultural Festival is one of Kenya’s must-attend cultural events where the Abasuba culture is showcased over a two-day experience. Often, it takes place the last Thursday and Friday before the Christmas break. This year 2018, the event took place on the 20th and 21st of December.
My inaugural trip to The Rusinga Cultural Festival was marked by lots of uncertainties, to say the least. Being the high season, getting flights out of Nairobi was quite a doubting task, and even when I got one, as fate would have it, I missed my early morning Safari Link flight to Kisumu. The flight departed Nairobi at exactly 7:10 am, while I was somewhere in between T-Mall and Wilson airport along Langata Road. Talk of poor planning on my part. Well, travelling teaches one a thing or two and no safari is ever alike. Disappointed, and determined, I choose to scout for another flight, with no much luck. Ohh, you should have seen me!! Finally, after several stops on the various airlines, I got one for the following day. Marking the beginning of my tour to the land of the Abasuba people.
We touch down Kisumu city popularly known as Dala by the locals and immediately embarked on a two-hour journey to Rusinga by Road via Ahero the land of rice plantations, Kendu Bay, Homabay and finally to Mbita town where we cross the mega bridge to Rusinga Island. The drive to Rusinga is one of a good and smooth road network, picturesque landscapes of several hills on the left and Lake Victoria on the right.
I arrive Rusinga at noon, just in time for the boat races, songs and dances along the road leading to the Lake where the competition is scheduled to take place. One can feel the excitement in the air. Quite an interesting way to be ushered into this spectacular island. The boat races are open to both men and women and the community are at hand to cheer their favourite team. Everyone is strategically positioned to cheer and experience this year’s races. Each team is determined to win and when the race is over the Suba warriors entertain us with more song and dance.
There are various activities during the two-day event, that include not only boat races and cultural dances but also fashion, art display, local delicacies too are showcased as well as corporate organizations both public and private that sponsor the event. There is also a children’s reading tent. Once the boat races are over, we dance our way back to the events grounds for an afternoon of entertainment.
At the grounds, several cultural groups are preparing to entertain and showcase the Suba culture in this year’s festival. There are all kinds of cultural songs and dances. One cannot miss out the meticulously detailed costumes that each group wears. It’s a way to showcase art and creativity among the dance groups. This took me back to my high school days where cultural dances were showcased during the music festival. It’s nostalgic to watch each outdo each other is their performances.
Reading for Leisure: Children too had their space in this event. There is a reading tent sponsored by the Goethe Institut (German Cultural Centre) where children are encouraged to read during their free time. Wangari The Storyteller was at hand to read several stories to the children. Rather a lovely way to occupy the kids as the rest of the folks were engrossed in the Suba community and culture.
Wrestling competition: This activity is only for entertainment. Strong men from the community display their prowess on who’s the toughest of them all.
Tug of War: The competition of the strongest is showcased on this event that attracts both men and women.
Traditional Dishes: No cultural event would be complete without showcasing a people’s way of life with regards to their delicacies. Fish is one of Suba’s main foods, there are displays of cultural foods ranging from Ugali made from ground millet flour, porridge, various kinds of vegetables, arrow roots, and sweet potatoes all prepared using the indigenous cooking methods in making Abasuba food.
Sunsets and Sunrises that are incredible: At dawn, the dawn chorus is what usher you into a new day, making Rusinga Island, a place of never-ending beauty. The incredible rays of the orange sun as it sets and rises are one of the many reasons I shall be returning to this island for the festival. You too should bookmark this event as a must-attend.
A fisherman’s paradise: Away from the festival as the night falls, fishermen from the villages are gearing up for a night of fishing. They set up deep into the lake all night. The view of the lights from the pressure lamps all mounted on the boats is one that makes the lake seem like a city of lights. I am in awe as I watch one boat after another preparing for a night of fishing.
Getting there: There are several alternatives to arrive at Rusinga Island. Several buses ply this route from Nairobi and Kisumu through Homabay. There is an overnight Easy Coach bus that gets to Mbita town in the morning which is about 16 kilometres to Rusinga from the bus stop. From Mbita one can take a motorbike commonly known as the boda boda to the Island.
Alternatively, one can opt for a budget flight to Kisumu, and then enjoy a road trip as I did to Rusinga, or take the ferry at Luanda Ko-tieno which is about an hour’s drive from Kisumu International airport. The Ferry’s fare will cost you about Kshs. 60/- per person. There is also the alternative of the water bus should you miss the ferry.
Accommodation: There are plenty of accommodations within the Island as well as at the mainland in Mbita. I stayed at the White Stone Beach Lodge which is right at the front of Lake Victoria. A budget yet cosy and homely lodge. With well-manicured lawns at the front of the property, making my stay memorable. It cost me Kshs. 5,500/- per night for bed and breakfast. Quite affordable. There is also the Rusinga Lodge not far off from my stay.
Kenyatalii’s verdict: This is a must-attend festival. The event is just before Christmas hence early planning is encouraged. Rusinga is a bird’s haven, hence for the bird watching lovers, this is your ideal location while in Nyanza. It’s also quite an ideal location for family holidays as well as holidaymakers looking for some calm beautiful attraction. Once at the Island, forget the pool for a moment and soak into the Lake’s clean waters for that well-deserved swim. Similarly get to experience the neighbouring islands of Mfangano and Takawiri as well as visit the Tom Mboya Mausoleum.
Taking everything into account the Rusinga Cultural Festival should be on your bucket list as we usher in 2019.