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Matungu shrine that stores the history of Wanga Kingdom

Tuesday August 20 2019

Nabongo Cultural Centre

Nabongo Cultural Centre tour guide Betty Baraka displays the first cloth that Nabongo Mumia wore, at the centre on July 31, 2019. PHOTO | ELIZABETH OJINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The Luhya regard the shrine of the Wanga Kingdom, located on the Mumias-Busia Road in Matungu, Kakamega County, with great reverence.

Also known as the Nabongo Cultural Centre, the shrine contains the tombs of Wanga kings, including the community’s founder Nabongo Mumia.

Locally known as Eshiembekho, the shrine is managed by the Luhya Council of Elders

The centre was officially opened on December 13, 2008 by political and traditional leaders led by Orange Democratic Movement chief Raila Odinga as a project of the Nabongo Council of Elders, a team of advisers to the reigning king, Peter Shitawa Mumia II.

Depicting the past and present leadership of the Wanga Kingdom, the centre boasts a mix of the modern and ancient.

A vast field with well laid out walkways leads to various structures on the 12-acre piece of land, with a number of traditional shrubs scattered around.



Most of the buildings facing the road, which can be easily seen by passers-by, are modern, and house a restaurant with internet connectivity and a library. But the traditional features are further inside the centre.

A mausoleum housing the tombs of four great Wanga kings stands on the right, with a round mud-walled, grass-thatched lecture hall on the left.

Inside the mausoleum are burial chambers of Wamukoya, Shiundu, Shitawa and Mumia, the paramount king. The grave of Nabongo, the first leader of the Wanga kingdom, is separated from the four.

The Wanga kings were buried in a sitting position in circular huts.

“The king would be wrapped with the skin of bull that had been speared to death. A pot of traditional brew would be placed in front of his body, with a straw extending to his mouth,” Ms Betty Baraka, the tour guide, explained.

After the king’s burial, his successor would take over.


A raised platform from where a crowd can be addressed stands next to the lecture hall facing the centre’s entrance, offering an exclusive view of all that symbolises Wanga royalty.

A traditional Wanga homestead with huts built with wooden poles, mud, cow-dung, reeds and grass sits about 500 metres away from other structures. Here, visitors can sample the traditional busaa brew.

A modern building housing a library and a museum that hosts Wanga traditional artifacts stands next to the mausoleum.

In the museum are many cultural items, including Nabongo Mumia’s royal regalia, gear used by elders during formal events, items used as a medium of exchange before the advent of the shilling, weapons and farming implements used by the Wanga in times gone by.

A notable item is the first Kenyan flag flown by Joseph Thomson in 1883.

"We have the first clothes that Nabongo Mumia wore, a gift from the Arabs in 1890. He also received gifts such as a wooden bicycle, horse, motor vehicle from the British government and firearms,” Ms Baraka said.


Ms Baraka said that Wanga identity, supremacy and territorial control dates back to 11th century.

Legend has it that their migration to their present-day home was started by Makata in Egypt, and continued by Simbi and Nangwera through Ethiopia.

Mutesa, Kamanyi, Mwanga, Mbwoli, Muwanga II moved to Uganda. “Wamoyi moved to Ibanda in Samia, Uganda. His son Muwanga III migrated to Lela in present-day Nyanza around the 10th century,” said Ms Baraka.

Muwanga III had eight sons, among them Wanga. While Wanga was expected to settle in Tiriki, he left secretly and travelled west.

At Imanga (Butere) he found organised leadership under Chief Mwima, who hired him a herdsman.

One of the chief's wives noticed that Wanga worked with one hand, keeping the other hidden.

As he washed his hand one day, she noticed the royal ring on Wanga’s finger and alerted her husband. Chief Mwima was furious, since it was taboo for a royal to work for a fellow royal.


Back in Tiriki, word about Wanga's disappearance spread. His cousin Mukolwe set out with a team to look for him.

They finally found him in Imanga, but he refused to go back home with them. So, Mukolwe and Mulima remained with him. Chief Mwima later gave Wanga land in Imanga.

Due to his influence and generosity, the people around accepted him as their leader. This led to the collapse of Chief Mwim’s reign and the birth of the Wanga Kingdom.

Nabongo Wanga established the hereditary system of leadership. So far there have been 13 kings. The current one is Nabongo Peter Mumia II.

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