Tom Mboya (right) with an unidentified fan

Tom Mboya’s Suba Culture showcased in new Nairobi exhibition

Tom Mboya (right) with an unidentified fan
Tom Mboya (right) with an unidentified fan

The National Museum of Kenya was the setting for a new exhibition on Suba Culture opened on July 20, 2017. The launch was accompanied by the introduction of the Elimu Asili mobile App and website which are sponsored by the Goethe Institut in Kenya.

Tom Mboya was one of the most respected leaders in young Kenya during the independence period making the cover of Time Magazine on March 7, 1960. His most notable achievement at the time had to be the student airlift of the 1960s that saw many bright Kenyans go to US universities for higher education. There have been many people who benefited from this initiative including Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Many believed that he was a threat to the man sitting on the iron throne at the time so the powers that be dealt with him the way the world was dealing such people. Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Patrice Lumumba the inspirational legislator would be gunned down in cold blood in 1969 leading to a crisis many believe we have never recovered from as a nation. He was that important to the national psyche of the country.

Rare image of Tom Mboya's body arriving in Rusinga
Rare image of Tom Mboya’s body arriving in his birthplace of Rusinga Island

For this blogger, this inspirational man from the lakeside was a victim of the crazy tribal dynamic that the country went through at the time to this day which sees an election in a few days pitting a Kenyatta and an Odinga. Just like in the late 1960s over fifty years ago. What I did not know and learnt at a new exhibition that opened at the National Museum of Kenya last Thursday late afternoon/early evening was that Tom Mboya was actually not Luo. He was from the Suba Community which is not a clan of the Luo or part of the Luo as earlier thought.

The Suba people are a community of the Bantu variety who came to Kenya from the Uganda side and settled on the Mfangano and Rusinga Islands of Lake Victoria in the main. Some eventual made it into the mainland and settled among the Luo people and eventually integrated into that Nilotic community.

The exhibition showcases the Suba people in their full glory from the games, to their food, to their medicinal plants, their crockery, and the whole shebang. Then there is the touristy stuff and there is the Ruma National Park which is called the “Last Retreat of the Roan Antelope” which works quite well for the animal followers. Then there is the Rusinga Festival which was set up six years ago by Anne Oboso which has become one of the leading ones in the country from the region.

Suba pottery
Suba pottery

The thing that will always stand out with any community is its leaders. The Suba community has had many leaders in the last century or so since they moved to the land that became known as Kenya. One of these was Chief Ezekiel Kasuku Matunga who was, if you read from one description in the exhibition, quite a horrible man. He was an interpreter for the colonial administration and went on to become the chairman of the African Appeal Court. This dude was such a horrible person that he would confiscate people’s livestock that it took the intervention of the local white man to return some of the stuff he had appropriated. Yes. During the brutal colonial period, a white man was a better evil than the African collaborator in this instance. On the more positive side was the aforementioned Tom Mboya followed by leaders Peter Nyakiamo who never really made the same impact nationally as he did.

So what’s with the Suba Culture that we need to know about? Well they are an endangered community with their language and customs under threat with their assimilation to the Luo. There was something done to try and preserve their community with the former President Daniel Arap Moi recognising them (probably for political reasons). However this new exhibition will do a lot more than the former glorious leader did.

For those who missed the exhibition or can’t make it to there is good news. You really need to check out the exhibition if you are unable to but there is a website and Mobile App for those who wish get all this information that has been set up by the Elimu Asilia and sponsored by the Goethe Institut in Kenya. Elimu Asilia is a Kenyan digital repository where Kenya’s indigenous knowledge and local history and culture are collected and shared.  The project aims to support the integration of Kenya’s orally shaped communities into the global information society, by building a bridge between oral and written knowledge systems.  This involves the participation of people from orally based communities in the global information society, as well as the integration of oral information repositories into global information networks.

Below are video from the speakers at the exhibition launch.



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