A SAMOYA VILLAGE CHRISTMAS
You would know that it was a big deal when you started seeing women with nylon sacks trooping mother’s hut in the absence of father that a new season was approaching. They would conveniently make sure they arrived late in the afternoons because they knew the men of the homesteads were not around. Were they to be around, they wouldn’t approve of the women’s mission. Nevertheless, such men, as indeed the husbands to these women on a special mission, never complained of the new appearance of their mud walled grass thatched houses that would be the product of their wives enterprise.
My home was located close to a meadow and it actually hugged River Sio .on the banks of the river extending about five hundred metres away, grew a cluster of hibiscus flowers, lantana camara, elephant grass, blue gum trees and a labyrinth of various other thorny shrubs and trees, chief among them the kimikokwe, acacia trees. The soils shifted from black rock closest to the river, sandy and loamy in some patches and black cotton soil on some three to four molehills covered by shrubs. The land was heavily forested save for a few open grassland areas where as young boys we would drive and graze cattle and play lifundo (Football made from polythene/nylon papers) and build tractors and make bulls fight, and all these was especially fun during that dry period stretching from the last two weeks of November to early January of the following year. Schools would have closed and we children were left to our own devices, after we had taken care of the cattle of course! Visiting cousins and aunts was part of this period. The Bukusu call this season Simiyu. The point is with forested canopy over the land, we young children would wonder how women had discovered something beautiful deep in the woods. But they had dared during their ventures looking for wood fuel and discovered the black cotton soil.
So mother would accompany the women to the black cotton stretch in the woods and they will take their portion of the earth and cover it so no one who came after would know there had been any digging. Not that my father and uncles would not know, they must have known since my own male grandmother had been using the very soil to make her house (and therefore theirs too till they got their own) beautiful. They might just have been looking aside or carefully making themselves scarce when they knew women would be looking for this gold. This I say because I remember on occasions when my father or any of my uncles would come across these women carrying the liloba limali (black soil) away, they would admonish them and ask mother not to give away soil again. But these occasions were rare. I guess they had started being aware of soil erosion and environmental conservation.
So for three to four weeks, the houses would acquire new layers of soil, shiny and attractive. The thatches would have been fixed before the rainy season sometime in March or April, and this had been done by men of course. This December would all women and children, men disappearing somewhere for their entertainment. With some formal education acquired during the year, young boys and girls would add gloss to the painting of the huts with English words ‘‘happy Christmas’’, ‘‘happy new year’’, ‘‘welcome visitors’’, this from those that were so keen. But even huts belonging to those without anyone with formal schooling would not be left behind, they too will have the very words on their neighbours’ walls. So Christmas time must been very rich with these words. Flowers were also drawn. The mixing of soil colours was aesthetic. The women mixed the black cotton soil with white soil from the meadow in various ways: they would apply black on the bottom as skirting up to the height of the lower window and then finish off with white, or they would have white below, black in between and black on top, they even had the option to use the usual brown loams, or the maroon from crushed bricks (this would give off several shades from brick red to maroon).
You would know of course it was a special season because in the late evenings you would not be asked very many questions provided they knew you had had gone mingling with age mates at the local church. Older youth from high schools would others in preparing for the Christmas play, a mixture of acting, narrating miming and singing. We would about the cruel Herod and the submissive and obedient Maria who would accept to conceive by the Holy Spirit, a messiah this way.
We would lean about the military too as we would see actors imitating Herod’s soldiers, and some giving false directions when they heard ‘’for us a king is born.’’ Kids who obliged would act the role of the sheep the shepherds were looking after when they heard of the news of his birth. Others would join in the chorusing of ‘’Yesu kebulwe musitwoli sie ching’ombe’’ (Christ has been born in a manger), and others will simply be spectators. Thus the season will progress.
On December 12th in the night it would shining so brightly Clement Malola could have exhorting the moon on with his ‘’let the moon shine we can sing and then dance/let the moon shine we can sing and then dance.’’ But these were not times we had learn about him yet, the chants ranting the airwaves would be those of ‘’Siku kuu! Siku kuu! Siku kuu!’’ which meant big day! Big day! This indeed was one of the highlights of the Christmas season. On 12th of every December Kenyans celebrate Jamhuri day, on which the nation became independent and later a republic. Thus Kenyans of every hue would their best to commemorate such a heroic occasion. For us children, feasting and playing was more meaningful, we would come to appreciate the full significance of this day later. In even years in Bungoma County, Bukusu initiates who would have been circumcised in August would also graduate into adults on this very day, thus they would be the most expensively dressed boys on 12th.
On Christmas Eve we would go for Kesha in the parish church in town. The highlight would the very well-polished performance of the Christmas play by the youth of the church. Mothers would not normally attend this evening mass, they would be busy preparing chapatis and mandazis. Some of the girls might be ironing the clothes that would be put on for the very time in tomorrow’s Christmas mass, 25th of December.
Early morning, at seven o’clock to be precise and the church arena would be full. Those who stayed at home all the Sundays in the year would not miss a Christmas mass. Men who worked in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and other towns would be home in Samoya, as the village for Christmas. Even those men who found excuses to be away from church would not miss. There would be shuffling of ladies clothes, and men would be putting on suits or new shirts and trousers. Children would be outdoing in each other in showing off their dresses. And women would be looking at fellow women and looking back at themselves! Women’s hair would have received the best treatment ever, plaiting or simply weaves, even wigs.
The choir sang with genuine joy, songs would have been purposely composed for the occasion. The preacher, the priest would remind everyone of the significance of the day. That Jesus was born in a humble place for the salvation of mankind. That though we expect any visitor by cleaning our houses and clearing our compounds, it was more meaningful for Jesus Christ to be born in our hearts, even as he is welcomed in our huts through the aesthetic words and paintings.
We would then enjoy the Christmas play, and then off for the chapatis, mandazis and chicken.
Christmas was not Christmas without the new clothes, the new paintings on the walls, the chapatis, mandazis and chicken. There was a lot of harmony and community when everyone came home for Christmas.
Denis Waswa Barasa is currently a parishioner of The St Barnabas Bukembe Parish in the catholic Diocese of Bungoma .He grew up at Samoya village then a sub parish of the Christ the King Cathedral Parish, now the St Bernadette Samoya parish. A high school teacher, he enjoys reading and writing poetry, drama and general life stories.