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The Samia: A tribe straddling two countries but keeping their bond intact

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Samia: Straddling two countries but keeping their bond intact

Kenyan politicians engage in a tug of war with Ugandan politicians. Photo by John K. Abimanyi. 

By John K. Abimanyi

Posted  Thursday, March 21  2013 at  00:00

In Summary

Every beginning of the year, the Samia of Uganda and of Kenya come together to celebrate their oneness. Even though they are separated by a border, they have found a way to keep their ties.


The date is January 1. Residents of a town called Sio Port, on Lake Victoria’s north eastern shores, across the Uganda borders, await the day’s events eagerly. It is here that the 2013 leg of the Samia Bananda Cultural celebration is taking place.

On this day, travel restrictions, which require one to have a visa into the other country, are waived for a team of elders and young people travelling across the border for the event. By midday, traditional chiefs, clad in their traditional cream shirt and trousers, plus a maroon cap (an outfit that makes them, look like law enforcers), are already circulating around the sunnily lit town and at Bujwang’a Primary School, the venue for the day’s event.

The visiting team of Uganda’s Samia community arrives towards, heading straight to Hon Paul Otuoma’s home for a luncheon. Hon Otuoma is Kenya’s Minister for Local Government. Samia Bugwe South MP, Julius Maganda, leads the Uganda delegation, consisting of no less than four over-capacity mini-bus taxis, among other vehicles.

Here, the visitors and Samia elders are treated to a heavy meal, in which matooke and ugali, plus beer are not in short supply. They then return to Sio Port town for the actual celebration.

When the special guests arrive at Bujwang’a Primary School, just in the centre of the town, they are ushered into a procession of dance, song and drama that sees elderly women leading the way, waving tree branches as they chant traditional folk songs. They swamp and cloud the guests, forcing the dignitaries to step out of their high-end SUVs and proceed to chant and dance and sing along with the women, in the midst of biting heat and choking dust, as they head to the primary school’s sports field.

It is probably the norm that young people, especially today, are not exactly excited about cultural events. But not in Sio Port; not in Samia-land. Here they came out in full force, crowding the dignitaries and singing and dancing along with the older women. They flood the small sports field, some climbing and staying up in the trees to behold below. Carnival does not quite do the atmosphere justice.

Soon it is time for sport. The sports in which teams take part are netball, ajua (a mweso-like game) for elders, football and tug-of-war, where the arrangement is simply that a team from the Busia community of Uganda competes against a team from the Kenyan Busia community.

The highlight is the youth’s football game, where one of the event’s Master of Ceremony decides to commentate the game in Luganda, Samia and Kiswahili, in such comical fashion – he names some players after Lionel Messi.

The Kenyan team beats Uganda’s team 1-0. And in the tug-of-war, which pits Kenyan politicians against Ugandan politicians, the Kenyan team also carry the day.

The events, last only a day. But they are a form of symbolism for the connection that the two communities have maintained regardless of the division brought about by the borders.

Each year, the Samia communities from Uganda and Kenya join hands to hold this day of cultural celebration at the beginning of the year. The festival takes the form of cultural expression in art, music, sport and dance. It brings out the young and old charging in an atmosphere of utmost gaiety.

The two countries take turns at hosting the event, and next year’s will be held in Busia, Uganda.

The desired end for all this activity is to maintain the cultural ties between two communities with a shared ancestry.

Jacklyne Vihenda Makokha, treasurer of the organising committee, wbeen part of the Samia tradition for many years. Therefore, by doing it today, it is a continuation of a tradition that their fore fathers had started.

In another world, there would be no Uganda. There would be no Kenya either. Maybe then, the Samia people would not stand on one side of the fence, unable to cross over and say hello to a brother, sister or in-law on the other side, without a government hand rising to grant permission.

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