A mausoleum for Bukusu chief who charted community’s path

Thursday September 12 2019
Chief Sudi Namachanja

Family members of the late Bukusu Paramount Chief Sudi Namachanja gather around his grave at Tulumba Village in Bumula constituency, Bungoma County on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. PHOTO | DENNIS LUBANGA | NATION MEDIA


About 15 kilometres from Bungoma Town in the remote Tulumba village in Bumula Constituency lies the Chief Sudi Namachanja Mausoleum and Cultural Centre, which the Bukusu highly treasure. It sits on a five-acre plot.

Chief Namachanja, one of the most prominent Bukusu chiefs during the colonial era, is remembered for his contribution to the preservation of Bukusu cultural values, as well as the emergence of an elite group within the community.


Built five years ago, thanks to the efforts of Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka during celebrations to mark the 43rd anniversary of Chief Namachanja's death, the mausoleum is a major attraction for scholars and Catholics in the western Kenya region.

The legacy of the chief, who died 48 years ago, remains strong among the Bukusu, and is always a reference point for religious matters, including conflict resolution.

The chief, who ruled for 48 years, sired 173 children and died at the age of 95.


Among the children he sired with one of his 117 wives was Maurice Otunga, whom the Pope appointed Kenya’s first Cardinal, and who led the Catholic Church in the country from 1971 to 1997.

He was ordained as a bishop in the 1950s, and efforts to have him declared a saint are under way.

“Thousands of Roman Catholics from dioceses such as Mombasa, Nairobi, Machakos, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret pay a pilgrimage annually to pray for the soul of the late Cardinal Otunga so that he can be declared a saint,” said Mr Leonard Kilali, one of the chief's grandsons.


“A Small Christian Community known as St Agatha from the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bungoma County, also visits the mausoleum every year. Catholics from other places also visit this place, which they consider sacred, whenever they want to make a special request to God,” he added.

Next to the mausoleum is the house in which Chief Namachanja lived. It was built in 1930, but is now known as St Joseph’s Sudi Vocational Training Centre, and has 36 students.

Among the remarkable features on the mausoleum wall are Chief Namachanja’s grave as well as his photo, which hangs next to that of Cardinal Otunga.

“The mausoleum is a treasure to us and there are no charges for visitors since our father welcomed everybody to his house. As the family of the late chief, we would like to see more people visit this place so that they can appreciate what our late father, and our brother, did for this country,” said Mr Chrisandos Otunga, one of the chief's sons and administrator of his estate.

Apart from building the mausoleum, he said, the county government refurbished their father’s six-room house.


The Sudi Stadium next to the Nzoia Sugar Company is among the many tributes to the chief’s contribution to the socio-economic welfare of the Bukusu.

During his reign, Chief Namachanja worked closely with Nabongo (King) Mumia of the neighbouring Wanga on administrative issues to foster peaceful coexistence between their communities.

Unfortunately, the road leading to the mausoleum is in a pathetic state, and there is no electricity. These are some of the challenges the residents want the national and county governments to address to enable visitors to see the rich Bukusu culture, which the chief steadfastly defended.

“We view this place as a rich educational centre, but the poor state of the roads and lack of power should be addressed to enable Kenyans from other parts of the country to benefit from this history,” said Mr Christopher Sudi, another of the chief's sons.

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