The Suba (Abasuba) are a heterogeneous Bantu group of people in Kenya with an amalgamation of clans drawn from their main tribes Ganda people, Luhya people, and Soga who speak the Suba language that is closely similar to the Ganda language spare some lexical items borrowed from Dholuo and Kuria.
Their population is estimated at about 157,787, with substantial fluent speakers. They migrated to Kenya from Uganda and settled on the two Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano, others also settled on the mainland areas including Gembe, Gwassi, Kaksingri of Suba South and Migori and are believed to be the last tribe to have settled in Kenya.
The Suba people live on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya and Tanzania. Beginning in the mid-1700s, Suba people began coming from the region just west of Lake Victoria to settle the islands and shores of the northeastern side of the lake.
Fishing and boatbuilding have been their traditional occupations. The Suba were also renowned hippo hunters before it was against the law to kill wild animals. Today farming is growing as an occupation and cattle are kept mainly to provide for the payment of bride price.
The people now known as the Suba are descendants of one wave of the Bantu migration from Central Africa over the last 1500 to 1800 years. In the 16th century, it appears, small family groups related to the Ganda people on the western side of the lake migrated across Lake Victoria on boats to settle on Rusinga Island and other islands near what is now Kenya and Tanzania. Some gradually moved onto the mainland.
They found settlers from earlier Bantu migrations just inland on the cooler highlands, known now as the Kisii (Gusii). About the same time, the Nilotic Luo were also moving along the shores of the lake from the north.
The Luo were fishers and herders, who spread farther out from the lake for grazing land, setting up home settlements around the prominent hills in Western and Nyanza Provinces of modern Kenya. Moving gradually south, the Luo effectively established a settlement barrier separating the Suba from the earlier Bantu settlers and gradually absorbing some and fostering a cultural assimilation among many.
The Suba people developed from the general gradual eastward migration of the Bantu people from central Africa. They came from the Ganda people across Lake Victoria. The Suba maintain their system of animal totems like some other Bantu peoples around the lake.
As the Luo people became numerous and dominant in the eastern shores of Lake Victoria, the Suba were heavily influenced and many became associated or assimilated to the Luo culture. The part of the Suba people who now speak Luo as a mother tongue are also called Luo Abasuba. ("Abasuba" is the Suba language word for "the Suba people.")
Even those who now speak Luo, however, maintain their previous Bantu clan identities, where each clan identifies with a certain animal. The taboos associated with the clan totem animals are an ancient form of nature conservation.
The Suba live on the coat of the Lake Victoria and the nearby islands. Thus much of their culture focuses on fishing. However, farming has become more important.
Ever since coming to this area the Suba have been overshadowed by other ethnic groups, particularly the Luo to the east and north. The result has been a reliance on others for trade and survival. Intermarriage with the Luo is commonplace, but Luo customs are generally maintained when this happens.
European influence, which penetrated Africa from the east, viewed the Suba as a sub-group of the Luo. This further caused the Suba minority to lose recognition of their distinct culture.
In ethnolinguistic terms today, it appears we should consider them as two separate ethnic groups. The Suba who maintain Luo as a mother tongue tend to identify thmeselves in the Luo cultural group, while Suba with the Suba mother tongue see themselves as a separate group, identifying with the broader Bantu community.
Suba is a Bantu language related to Kuria in Kenya and Tanzania and Gusii in Kenya, and more distantly to Kikuyu. The younger generation have learned English and Swahili in schools, but English would be used more than Swahili.
It is not clear whether the Suba-speaking and Luo-speaking Suba live in separate defined areas or are dispersed throughout the area. The Suba language is written in Latin characters, as are all the neighboring languages.
Neighboring peoples have viewed the Suba language as inferior. Education was introduced in English and Luo, and about two-thirds of the Suba speak Luo instead of Suba as a mother tongue. Culturally also, they have become mostly Luo.
In recent years the Suba people have developed a strong interest in preserving their culture and language. A vital step in this direction is to make Suba a written language. Suba Scriptures will greatly strengthen the existing church by making the Bible available to the Suba who do not speak Luo, in the language they understand best.
The Bantu Suba have related closely to the much larger and more culturally aggressive Nilotic Luo. They have gained access to education and economic opportunity to some extent due to their Luo identity. These benefits had to be gained through the Luo language, further subsuming them under a Luo identity. They have had no separate identity as a Suba ethnic group.
One factor in this has been the fact that fewer and fewer Suba still speak their original language over the years, weakening their sense of ethnic identity to the outside world. In recent decades, a new pride of identity has led to an attempt to lobby for a separate Suba identity.
The Suba have been overlooked in both colonial and independent Kenya. The British government assumed them to be part of the Luo people, partly because of their partial assimilation in language and culture. In 1995 the Suba people were awarded a singular recognition when Kenya President Daniel arap Moi established Suba district, allowing an ethnic Suba representation in the national parliament. The fewer Suba in Tanzania have been more eclipsed and lack a political identity.
The Suba people engage in fishing, farming, boatbuilding and minor commerce of fish and farm products. The Suba supply boats and fish to their neighbors. The Suba people get along well with neighbors. There is considerable intermarriage with Luos.
Extended families are led by the elders. Elders have total authority. A primary elder who is highly respected is informally appointed. His authority may be passed on if his son is also highly respected. The extended family forms the primary social group. The living area of the family is made up of many houses depending on how many wives and children are in the family.
Grandmothers play an important role in child rearing by providing most of the socialization experiences and training for the children. Girls do the cooking, collect and carry firewood and fetch water, while boys do the fishing, herding and working in the fields. The clan elders make decisions regarding violations of cultural norms. Payment to the offended party may be required. Banishment from the group or corporal punishment may also be employed.
Harvest time is celebrated with dancing and beer drinking. Social occasions are held periodically where beer drinking and dancing is enjoyed. Wrestling and a board game called Oluko are popular. Funerals are occasions for much social interactions. Suba art forms include, pottery, baskets, mats and carved designs on furniture. Wall and floor designs are popular.
One of the problems that faces the Suba people is lack of money to attend school as employment opportunities are limited. This brings about education, employment and capital to start fishing industries as one of their greatest needs. There are 3 clinics but people have to go 50 km to the hospital.
There are also people in Tanzania (Tarime, Musoma and Rorya Districts, Mara Region) who call themselves Suba, and are part of the Abagirango since their language and cultural heritage is the same.
The Suba people who settled on the islands include smaller clans called the Eluzinga or'Chula', meaning the people of the islands. This group includes the following clans: Waware, Awakiwanga(Kaswanga), Wanyama, Waregi, Awamasengere (Kamasengere), Wasaki and Awangoze(Ngodhe), while others were called the Awibuang'ano/Awaivuang'ano (Mfangano/Fang'ano). This group includes Wakula, Wasamo, Wagimbe, Wiramba who are related to Awakiimba(Kakiimba), Awisokolwa and Waozi. Other groups also poured into Mfangano due to the pressure from advancing Luos in Central Nyanza especially in areas around Imbo Naya. They settled in Mfangano and they include; Wayokia, Wakisasi/Awakisori, Wakiara/Wakiala. Others include Kamreri, Kayanja and Waondo who are found in Mirunda Gembe Suba North. Other clans began forming when the people did much more expansion onto the islands. For example, there are other clans whose clan names were distinguished by their new geographic location.
The clan that predominantly lives the closest to Lake Victoria and is the bigger of the sub groups is the people that go by the name Awigassi or Gwasii and they happen to reside upon the Gwasii Hills,Gwassi and Wakula are related since their forefathers Kiboye and Witewe were brothers before escaping to the east after a revolt in the Bagandan Kingdom in the year 1700. Waware were also involved in this struggle. Other groups that reside on a hill are the Uregi who reside on the Uregi Hills of Meari which is a town in the Nyanza province as well as Awangoe residing in the Ungoe Hills. The Awakune or Kaksingri clan live along the lake from Gingo to a small fishing village called Sindo to Ragwe and Ngeri, and they are closely related with Uregi who live in the Uregi Hills since their forefathers came from the same home. Today many people in the islands and the highlands subsequent to Lake Victoria still retain the original Suba dialect that is the Olusuba that is closely related to the Ganda language, and Lusoga although it is heavily influenced by the bigger Dholuo and Kuria in some areas through interaction. As a result of that interaction, the Olusuba has borrowed a significant amount of lexical items from Dholuo and Kuria that were absent in the original Luganda-like Olusuba dialect.
Further information upon the tribesmen's expansion remained unclear pretty unclear considering that the Niger-Congo family has the largest number of dialects within Africa. Distinguishing the different dialects become rather difficult because they all predominantly use the noun class system. With that being said it has become rather unclear as to how deep into Kenya the Suba people managed to travel being as distinguishing them from other dialects becomes harder and harder as the language is slowly being influenced by its neighboring language, Luo. Suba scholars have taken the initiative to rewrite the History and more information is now available.
Other Suba speakers are found in the Southern shores of the Lake in Muhuru Bay. They are generally called Muhuhuru People and they also speak the Suba language. Some pockets of Uregi, Gwassi, and Kaksingri are also found in Muhuru Bay in Migori county.
Even the greater Suna people who based in Migori county usually identify themselves as Suba and are linguistically and culturally distinct and are unconnected to the Abasuba from Suba district. The Suna people are a heterogeneous group that comprises Luo and splinter tribes from the Kuria. The Suna have however integrated clans originally part of the Olusuba speaking Suba such as Waware, Wiga and Kaswanga into their various sub-groups. The Suna people are the Abagirango or Girango people who call themselves Abasuba because Girango had a son named Musuba(suba) and not because they are related to the Olusuba speaking Suba of Homa Bay County who are descended of migrants from Buganda and Busoga that entered Kenya through Rusinga and Mfangano Islands by boats.
However, the correct name for the Suna people is ABAGIRANGO although they are referenced as Suna/Suba-Girango to distinguish them from the Olusuba speaking Suba of Homa Bay County who are distinct in terms of heritage from the Abagirango. The term Suba was originally used by Luos to refer to splinter tribes from their main tribes of Kisii, Kuria and Luhya and the term later became the name of the Olusuba speaking people of Homa Bay County who migrated from Uganda escaping the expansion of the Buganda Kingdom. They settled in Kenya as refugees and they had a well formed and a very organised language, political system and economic activities. The Suba in Suna Migori County, Kenya refers to a heterogeneous people of Luo, and Kuria. A clear evidence of this is a town named Suba Kuria in Migori County, Kenya. The Suna Abasuba include the Wasweta (Kadika, Katiga, Kakrao,), Wasimbete (Bahiri kiberi, Bahiri ng'ong'o, bahiri Nkena, Miaro, Nchogu) and Wiga (Wakwena, Nyasasi, Wanje, Nyathocho, Kamsuru).
Their original language is Ekisuba/Egesuba which has several dialects such as sweta, simbiti, surwa, kine, etc. Currently, they speak a language that includes a combination of Kisuba and Egikuria language – that is the bunchari dialect, and many of the communities interact freely with the Suba people in Tanzania (Surwa, Sweta, Simbiti, Hacha, Nguruimi, Kine etc.) and the Kuria (Rianchoka, Banchari, Batimbaru etc.) people. Clans of Suna people; Wasweta, Kadika, Wiga, Wanje, Katiga, Kakaeta, Kanyameda, Wasimbete, Wakwera, Wanyara, Kamn'go'ngo 2010.
The culture of the Suba People is very distinct from those of the Luo. The Suba people practice circumcision as an initiation process from boyhood to adulthood. Mostly boys are circumcised. In some clans, even girls are circumcised. Suna Girango circumcision process is very similar to their neighbors the kuria even the saro names, for instance, Nginaro, Misungu,Gitang'osa, Kirina, etc.
Clans had roles assigned to them such as circumcision, animals sacrifices and dispute settlements.
Subas were also involved in rain Making sacrifices such as animal sacrifices to appease the gods and clan spirits called Emisambwa singular Omusambwa in Suba District. These were carried out in special shrines which can still be found across Suba such as Utende, Kwitutu, Mungusa and Kiboye Shrines. Subas also revered snakes such as the Python and they believed that Clan spirit dwelled amongst them. An example is given of the spirit of Gumba in Rusinga and Mungusa of Kaksingri.
Dowry included 30heads of Cattle but this also depends upon the purity of the lady to be married. A lady with a child would attract lower number of heads of cattle. Her age mates would accompany her with songs to her new home and celebrate. Alcohol made from Sorghum and Cassava was served as a form of celebration. Ladies also decorated their tummy with special drawings.
During funerals there were gifted elders who would carry Engawvo a type of shield and a long spear and Chant around the homestead while adorned with twigs.
Suba people also practiced rock art as witnessed in the caves of Kwitone in Gulwe Mfangano.
The Suba people are cattle farmers- a culture that they borrowed from the Luos. Even though the Luo no longer keep large herds of cattle, the Suba still keep cattle in large numbers. This is especially common in Migori District in Suba west division where cattle rustling between Kurians and Girango people is common. Subas also loved sport fishing where there was a special species they went for. The Abasuba also commonly practice polygamy, some of the members of the clan are named to have had even ten wives.
Politically, the Suba were subordinate to the Luo even though they are sceptical of the Luo culture. They have constantly voted with the Luos of Kenya much to their disadvantage.
One of the biggest issues relating to the Suba language declination is the sole fact that Kenya viewed the language as inferior. The education system is teaching English and Luo to the newer generations of Suba children thus impairing the possibilities of the language to come back. Some even say that the fluent language speakers are middle-aged and have yet to establish a system to rebuild the language so that it may take proper footing as one of Africa's many languages, thus it has established a language status of at risk. Many blame the elders as they do not take proper measures to ensure the language's existence by teaching their young ones from an early onset. The biggest concern deriving from the pressures of reviving the language is the fear that their children will begin to build an identity crisis while attending school, considering that it is taught in either English or Luo.
Other than the Rusinga Festival, one of the most recent efforts to preserve the dying language has been the production of a Bible in Suba. Efforts to translate the Bible into Suba started as early as 1988, but it was only completed in 2011.