Khukhwiulana: How the Bamasaaba got rid of those who had lived for too long
Written by Nandemu Barasa `Omutolometi’
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Elders converging at a home of an elderly man.
Aged people among Bamasaaba community were send off before they passed on in a traditional ceremony known as khukhwiulana.
According to Mzee Manyasi and Wafula Sipengi who are among the Bamasaaba elders, when people were very old and were seen to be suffering so much that the clan doubted if they would survive, a goat or cow depending on the financial status of the family was set aside for a traditional rite which they equate to the last sacrament among the Catholics.
Relatives were informed in advance about the rite and always gathered at the homestead of the aged person who was to go through the tradition.
Above, the traditional sacred tree Kumukhendie. [Photos | Nandemu Barasa | West Fm]
As they arrive, they would first enter the house to greet the sick elder, but arrows used to get blood from cows and goats, Bilabina, a stick from a sacred tree called Kumukhendie, Liswakili which is a traditional spear were placed at the door and everyone had to cross them before entering the house to greet the sick elder and then cross them again to sit outside.
Bamasaaba people believe that if one crosses the spear and yet he had a hand in the suffering of the old man in question, then that person would die either immediately or at a later stage.
Liswakili and Ekhendie are feared among Bamasaaba people because they are said to cause death. And in those early days, Bamasaaba people used Liswakili to stop thieves from going far with their cattle for instance. In case one had lost his cows or goats, he would spear Liswakili at the cow shed and offer traditional prayers then later a cooking pot plus a traditional tray were placed upside down at the shed.
The traditional cooking pot (Eningilo) and tray (Lutelu)
That will block the thief from going far and if he intends to sell the animals, he will not get a buyer and therefore, be arrested later. The traditional tray, Lutelu and cooking pot, Eningilo were placed at the shed by a girl who had not started undergoing her menstruation periods because Bamasaaba people viewed her as clean and therefore she would make it easy for the thief to be arrested.
Liswakili was kept by straight forward people because it was seen to be so sacred and could not therefore be kept by those people who had a bad record in the community.
Back to the sick old man`s homestead, when relatives gather outside, a goat or cow is slaughtered and raw liver is given to him to eat. A traditional stick, Lulwilulusia was used to roast a piece of meat which at a later stage was passed around to all those gathered so that each one of them could pick a piece of the meat.
The liver of a cow that is shared among the people who gather at the old man's compund
Before eating that meat a warning was sounded to everyone at the venue that if one could eat the meat and was responsible for the suffering of the old man then he or she could die and indeed one could die either immediately or at a later stage if he tasted the meat and he was behind the old man`s sufferings.
On the other hand, the old man would die even before swallowing the un cooked piece of liver given to him by the relatives. He could die immediately or at a later stage although in certain circumstances, some old men survived. The tradition of giving old men who were seen to be so aged and sick that they could not live any longer is called Khukhwiulana among Bamasaaba people.
There was also another form of Khukhwiulana that was conducted by Bamasaaba community to send off the elders who had overstayed and there age group, Sisingilo had approached. Among Bamasaaba people one could not stay until a cycle of his age group found him. That was approximately 120 years.
They could therefore, find a way of getting rid of you. For instance there were two old men among Bamasaaba people namely Makutukutu Wa Malasile of Bakhurarwa clan and Lukhalabanda Enyama ya Ndosi of Bamuyonga clan who were among the Basawa group but they overstayed until they were killed by relatives.
Bachuuma group was supposed to run from 1872 to 1882 but by the time Bamasaaba people were warming up to introduce Basawa group in early 1884, they found out that Makutukutu Wa Malasile was still alive despite being among the Basawa group and therefore, they had to push Bachuuma again up to 1884 to give time for the old man to pass on. The old man passed on in the same traditional rite of Khukhwiulana explained above and on top of that a traditional song of taking boys home to be circumcised, Sioyayo was sang for him in 1885.
Bamasaaba then started preparing to launch Basawa group in 1886 but unfortunately when then they moved around, they again found out that there was still another old man, Lukhalabanda Enyama ya Ndosi among Basawa group who was alive. They postponed again and the old man later passed on before 1888 paving way for the launching of Basawa group in August 1888 which ran up to 1898 and then gave way to Bakolongolo from 1900 to 1910.
Note that Khwukhwiulana was normally conducted in the morning because even dying between 10am and 4pm was viewed as curse to the community and that many relatives would also die. Among Bamasaaba people it was viewed as a blessing for one to pass on at night or very early in the morning than passing on at noon. That explains why if a man died between 10am and 4pm, no one would be allowed to mourn and in fact news about his death would not be told to anyone until evening.
On top of that a large leaf from Libono tree among Bamasaaba people was used to cover his right ear until the right time to break news came. Note that it only applied to men and not women because women were equated to children and therefore if they pass on at any time, news of their death will be passed out and mourning allowed immediately.
Among Bamasaaba people if you were walking around and met a man with three women, when you reach home and they ask you who you have met you say one person and three women in Bamasaaba language, Omundu mulala ne bakhasi bataru. You could not say you have met four people because women were not equated to men.
Back to Libono leaf, it was picked on because it is taken to represent life and therefore, it being there used to cover the deceased simplified that he had not passed on despite the fact that he was no more.
Roots from Libono tree were also boiled and water from it given to women who had given birth so that the placenta comes out. You realize that in certain cases a woman can give birth and the placenta does not come out. That is when Bamasaaba people used water from boiled roots of Libono to save the situation. Remember also that traditional prayers accompanied the rite and no one was allowed to refer to the placenta using its name Engobi as Bamasaaba call it but instead the word Omwami, (King) was used. Bamasaaba people believe if you refer to the placenta in its original name then it will not come out. That is why they had to plead with it and indeed came out finally without operation.
But with new technology in the world currently, Bamasaaba people have embraced it and therefore, many of them do not subscribe into the traditional herb.