Rusinga Island is famous: It produced one vibrant trade unionist in the name of Tom Mboya who became Kenya’s first Planning Minister, credited with airlifting a batch of Africans to get university education in the United States.
Now the island is seeking another reason to be known: wrestling. Since Saturday, the annual Rusinga Cultural Festival has seen muscle men compete for bragging rights and fame for their villages.
Matches begin with a referee signalling the topless men, many who are veteran fishermen, to begin.
It is not a violent fight. This purely for entertainment and the wrestlers earn points by repeatedly pinning down their opponents. If your favourite wrestler pins the opponent more times, he wins and you get to brag about the whole day. If he gets pinned down, he loses and the opponents ridicule him until he gets a rematch.
More points are earned when an opponent’s back touches the ground. Watching the fights takes you back to the scenes in Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall of Apart, where a fighter called Amalinze whose back had never touched the ground was overpowered by Okonkwo.
At this year’s festival, wrestling was just part of the many games on offer. Ages Traditional Group showcased many performances like dances in their traditional regalia, creating nostalgia of an era gone.
Chrispory Juma, who works in South Sudan but is a native here, has been attending the event every year. He says this year’s festival was wonderfully organised.
“This year’s event had amazing display of dances and wrestling along other sizzling performances. It should not be missed by anybody,” said Mr Juma.
According to the event organiser Mary Eboso, the festival is meant to rejuvenate and ignite cultural practices of the Abasuba community who occupy the island.
“The event is organised to celebrate and appreciate cultural practices of the Abasuba community who live in Rusinga Island and other areas around Lake Victoria,” said Ms Eboso.
Ms Eboso said this year’s event was different because of wrestling and other cultural practices of the Abasuba community.
“We had wrestling and dances which have never been displayed in past events,” said Ms Eboso.
There were also plenty of traditional Abasuba and Luo dishes. There were traditional vegetables and a demonstration of how to cook kuon anang’a – ugali cooked using gee made out of dairy.
Ms Eboso said the event helps the current generation to learn and appreciate traditional practices which are good for positive living and art.
“The event has been helpful to the current generation which has become captive to technology,” said Ms Eboso.
There are also boat races in Lake Victoria and hiking and camping in the island. In Litatre Beach, fishermen take part in boat races.
Joseph Okwiri, a fisherman said the event is important to the fishing community as it recognises their economic contribution to the area.
“We always participate in the cultural festival because fishing and boat riding is part the cultural practices of our people,” said Mr Okwiri.
Visitors to the two-day event also get opportunities to sample historical places in the island.
Independence hero Tom Mboya’s mausoleum is a few metres from Kamasengre grounds where the event was held, while the Abasuba peace museum in the nearby Mfang’ano Island holds historical secrets of the Abasuba people.