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Bukusu is one of the seventeen sub-tribes of the Luhya Bantu language and cultural group of East Africa. The Bukusu are the largest single ethnic unit of the Luhya nation , making up about 17% of the whole Luhya population. The others in Kenya are Batiriki , Maragoli , Banyore , Bakhayo , Bamateki , Banyala , Basamia , Babesukha , Babatakho , Bakisa , Barecha , Bachocho , Bakabalasi , Batachoni , Bawage and Bamarama . The Bukusu inhabit Bungoma district of Western province, which is bordered by Kakamega district in the east and Uganda in the west. Two Ugandan tribes, the Bamasaaba and the Bagisu , are very closely related to the Bukusu, with a shared language and very similar traditions.
At one time Bukusu was referred to as 'Kitosh' a name they disputed as a misnomer, because of their ruthless methods of fighting the neighboring Kalenjin community . Following vigorous campaigns by the Bukusu elders, the name Kitosh was eventually substituted with Bukusu in the mid 1950s.
The Bukusu have ethnic traditions and linguistic features that are not found among the other Luhya groups. It can be noted that Luhya speak four dialects; one of which is LuBukusu, which varies from the other three commonly used dialects namely Luwanga , Lulogoli and Lunyala . The diversity of pronunciations and intonations, and even the lexical varieties among Luyia dialects is accounted for by the fact that following their emergence, each dialect tended to acquire its own unique individual characteristics in different places and in different times in history.
The Bukusu traditionally fortified their villages. This is a long-established practise. During their residence in Silikwa, en route to their present-day abode in Bungoma, they used to construct stone walls mainly for military purposes. Behind those walls the population felt secure from surprise attacks. Life within the fortified villages is said to have afforded them a high degree of social and political cohesion.
Bukusu oral tradition accounts reveal that whilst living in Silikwa the Bukusu used to enjoy periods of harmony with their 'Nilo-Hemitic' neighbors. Due to their immense cattle wealth and prosperous agriculture, they were sometimes not only admired but also envied by neighboring communities. Occasionally intermarriages used to take place between them and the other communities. It was common practice for Kalenjin neighbors to give Bukusu their sons to look after their teeming herds of cattle. In times of famine, which are said to have been frequent amongst Kalenjin neighbors, the latter used to even sell their children to Bukusu. Bukusu also used to send their own young boys to grow up with Kalenjin or Maasai families, in some cases for espionage purposes.
For being sedentary pastoralists, they had time to care for their sick and bury their dead. A sick person was looked after till he recuperated or died. When a person died, he was buried in a grave with a warrior’s weapons if he was an elder. Several functions were performed during and after the funeral ceremony. Ordinarily, burial pits ranged from 3-4 feet in depth, much shallower than today’s. Sometimes wild animals like hyenas exhumed corpses from graves and ate them. Should such an incident occur, people looked for the presumed skull of the desecrated body, and when they found it, they hung it in a leafy tree. When the family of the deceased migrated, they brewed beer (kamalwa ka khuuyu iranga) for the ceremony of transferring the skull with them to the new home or settlement. An old woman was entrusted with the responsibility of conveying the skull to the new site. Burial of the dead was thus, to say the least, ingrained in the Bukusu traditions. The Bukusu highly approve of intermarriages between Bukusu and Bamasaaba. This is because they had quite a number of similarities in their codes of conduct, marriage customs, circumcision traditions and even folklore.
Bukusu accounts indicate that both agricultural and pastoral economies have been practiced by the tribe for as long can be remembered. This is authenticated by the vast amount of knowledge they have about farming practices, rich pastoral vocabulary and the broad variety of legends connected with pastoral life. Today, the Bukusu form one of the main support bases of the governing coalition in Kenya, through the Ford-Kenya political party .
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