Growing up in a Kenyan village where there is the huge Komala hill to the east, an extensive Nyabondo plateau to the North and beyond the plateau, the famous Homa hills, I have always loved geographical features. I loved the beauty such features created on the landscape. When I was a little bit older, about ten years old, my dad took me to a famous tor in the western part of Kisumu. It is called Kit Mikayi. Kit Mikayi means “the stone of the first wife” in the Luo language. This was a journey of hundreds of discoveries, legends and beliefs about this rock. This tor is one of the most visited tourist sites in the western part of Kenya.
The famous tory behind it talks about a man, who had really fallen in love with this stone. Each morning, he would go into the cave below the rock. From where he would take his meals, meditate and talk to the gods all day long until sunset. So his wife said the stone was the man´s first wife. This tor has meaning beyond the pillar of rock that I saw at the first sight-breathtaking. The site is associated with sacrifices and many legends and a very popular local pilgrimage site for the followers of the Legio Maria sect who visit the rock to pray and fast.
While so many tourists-both local and foreign-come for sightseeing and having fun, they actually create a very big social impact to the community living around this legendary tor. Normally there is a small entrance fee paid before accessing the site. There is a council of elders who distribute this money so as to benefit all the members of the community in an equitable way. For instance, Ngóp Ngeso Primary School which is found within the vicinity was created thanks to the funding from the tourism. Ngóp Ngeso Primay is a mixed day school, now run by the central government. More than sixty percent of the school going children from this area benefit from the free education at the school.
There a social welfare group created as a result of the same touristic site. These are especially formed by women with an objective of presenting the Luo culture and entertainment to the tourists. This includes traditional music, choreographies, dances and sometimes food. The women earn a living from here. Most of these women live with vulnerable and orphaned children. The income is directed toward supporting such children with their daily basic needs.
So each time I returned there to enjoy the beautiful scenery, I have always had in mind that I am making an impact in someone´s life-be it the elderly woman showcasing the dances or the school-going child who needs my support. I realized, “Nothing is as satisfying as enjoy such scenery having in mind that you are helping someone somewhere.
¡Shadows! Shadows? Yes, let us speak a little about shadows. You have probably heard of this word although you might have not paid much attention to it as it deserves. There is a taboo of a famous ethnic group of Kenya inhabiting the western part of the country. In this region, both the living and the dead are held in very high regards. In a community where agriculture is the main economic activity, traditionally after each harvest, a sacrifice is offered to the ancestors. This ceremony is always done in the nights of the full moon, around a fire where the sacrifice is burnt. Stop a bit. Why just during nights of the full moon? Well, it is because the shadows are more visible and this allows the incorporation of the dead in the ritual. It is a belief that the souls of the dead are pleased by the smoke that comes out of the fire that is lit up. Each family, including children, always meets after the harvest of the crops to do this ritual. In these moments the dead supposedly rise from the tombs and unite with the families in forms of the shadows. Shadows? Yes, shadows. They cannot be seen but it is believed that they are present. Therefore, it is said that when the smoke starts rising from the fire is forbidden to look the shadows. The power of these souls of the dead can lead one to the rivers and even kill him. Although this taboo has changed over time, people still continue respecting it. For example, today the parents threaten to the children not to look at their shadows in the night during dinner. They say this so that the children can concentrate on their food and not get distracted from the stories told during the family dinners.
Now you can understand why I, a western Kenyan, eat without looking at my shadow during the night; it's a part of my culture. Yes, the shadows.