Suba people (Kenya)

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The Suba (Abasuba) are a people in Kenya who speak the Suba language. Their population is estimated at under 30,000, making them one of the country's smallest tribes. They migrated to Kenya from Uganda and settled on the two Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano, and are believed to be the last tribe to have settled in Kenya. Linguistically, the Suba are highly influenced by the neighbouring Luo, to the point of a language shift having taken place among large portions of the mainland Suba. As a result, their own language has been classified as endangered. Despite this language shift, the Suba have kept a distinct ethnic identity.

There are also people in Tanzania (Tarime District, Mara Region) who call themselves Suba, but it is unclear as to whether or not they are part of the same ethnic group. Their language is very similar.

The Suba people originally migrated from Uganda across Lake Victoria and settled in the islands of Rusinga and Mfangano. Other subgroups migrated and settled on the shores of Lake Victoria in the early 18th Century. The Suba people who settled in the islands of Mfangano and Rusinga include a sub clam called the 'Chula'- meaning the people of the islands. Other people are called the Fangano. The Suba people who settled across the shore settled in islands called Uregi, Gwassi and Kaksingri. The Kaksingri live in a small fishing village called Sindo, and they are closed related with Uregi who live in the Uregi Hills. Another suba sub clan is the Gwasii people who live in the Gwasii Highlands. Gwasii are the biggest group of the Suba people living close to lake. Today many people in the islands and the highlands subsequent to the Victoria still retain the suba dialect that is closely related to the Ganda language although it is heavily influenced by the bigger Luo Language.

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.

Even though the greater Suna people usually identify themselves as Suba. They are not originally Suba. In real sense, the term Suba refers to a group of people who migrated form 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 Kenya refers to a mix of Bantu and Nilotes especially the Luos, and Kuria who settled in Kenya. A clear evidence of this is a town named Suba Kuria in Migori Kenya. The Suna Abasuba include the Wasweta (Kadika, Katiga, Wagire, Kakrao, wasio), Wasimbete (Kakiberi, Kamng'ong'o people)and Wigan (Wakwena, Nyasasi, Nyathocho, Kamsuru).

Their language include a combination of Suba and Kuria language and many of the communities interact freely with the Tanzanian Suba and Kuria people.


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. 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 Suba people is common. 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.

The most renown Suba leaders include:

  • Princes Jully: Benga Musician
  • Javan Otieno Miginda: One of the most accomplished youthful entrepreneurs based in Kitengela. He is seen as a future potential revolutionist and Gwassi leader
  • Onyi Papa Jey: Ohangala Musician
  • Tom Ogweno: Former Harambee Stars player
  • George BlackBerry odhiambo: Former Gor sensational midfielder
  • Tom Mboya: Assassinated Independence Hero:
  • The Late senior chief Seko(Magunga):
  • Chief Ogwada: Colonial chief in Migori.
  • Samuel "Chupa" Otieno Mapesa (Migori and related to Chief Ogwada)
  • Ezekiel Maswabe: An old businessman in Muhuru Bay
  • Joseph Mbadi: Gwassi MP
  • Ochola Ogur: Former Nyatike MP
  • The Late George Seko: Lecturer
  • The late Jack Asadhi Sarioba, former chairperson Nyanza west KFF branch
  • Raphael Otieno Onyado is the former veterinary officer from Gendo village.


  • Okoth-Okombo, Duncan (1999) 'Language and ethnic identity: the case of the Abasuba', Kenya Journal of Sciences (Series C, Humanities and Social Sciences) 5, 1, 21–38.
  • Heine, Bernd & Brenzinger, Mathias (eds.) (2003) 'Africa', in UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages. (Suba entry)

•Otieno Apiyo Caspar-Nursing and public health student kenyatta university 2012-2016- Tujifunze Lugha yetu(TLY) a book wrritten in Abasuba and translaten in Kiswahili.

  • Johnson, Steven L. 1980 'Production, Exchange, and Economic Development Among the Luo-Abasuba of Southwestern Kenya.' Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University.
  • Johnson, Steven L. 1983 'Social Investment in a Developing Economy: Position-holding in Western Kenya.' Human Organization 42(4): 340-46.
  • Johnson, Steven L. 1979 'Changing Patterns of Maize Utilization in Western Kenya.' Studies in Third World Societies 8: 37-56.
  • Johnson, Steven L. 1988 'Ideological Dimensions of Peasant Persistence in Western Kenya.' in New Perspectives on Social Class and Socioeconomic Development in the Periphery,' ed. Nelson W. Keith & Novell Zett Keith, New York: Greenwood Press.