Suba people (Kenya)

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The Suba (Abasuba) are a bantu people in Kenya who speak the Suba language. Their population is estimated at about 300000, with not that many fluent speakers left. 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(Suba North), Gwassi, Kaksingri of Suba South and Migori 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.

Suna Girango or Abagirango is another group that is usually grouped together with the Abasuba of Suba South and Suba North, since they also call themselves Abasuba. But, this is because Girango is son of Musuba (Suba) and Girango had many children for instance Simbete (Simbiti/Simiti) Tegi and Gire hence descendants of Musuba or Girango calling themselves Abasuba meaning Musuba's people. Suba clans in Suna include Simbete, Sweta, and Wiga; and they have a clear and distinct ancestry that goes back to forefathers who crossed red Sea from Misri as illustrated below:


Their language is also distinct and very different from the Olusuba language spoken by the Island Abasuba. The Kisuba language spoken by the Suna people as well mainland Subas of Kaksingri(Awakune), Ekisuva, Wagassi who speak Ekisuba(Wiga Dialect), is very similar to egikurya and Ekigusii. Kisuba language of Suna people is the same as the Suba-Simbiti language that their brothers the AbaSimbiti, Aga Sweta, Surwa and Hacha people of Tanzania speak. But, currently those who claim to speak Kisuba actually speak igikuria (bunchari dialect) which is 85% lexically and syntactically similar to Kisuba (Kisimbiti).

General Information[edit]

There are also people in Tanzania (Tarime, Musoma and Rorya Districts, Mara Region) who call themselves Suba, and its believed that they are part of the same ethnic group as the Abagirango since their language and cultural heritage is very similar.

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 brother 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 resides 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 a long 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 Suba dialect that is closely related to the Ganda language, Lusoga and Kenyan Egikuria and Ekigusii of Kuria and Kisii communities respectively, although it is heavily influenced by the bigger Luo Language in some areas. 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 became 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.

Even the greater Suna people usually identify themselves as Suba. They are in a way related to the Abasuba from Suba district due to their migratory route, Subas of Kaksingri(Awakune), Kasgunga, Kienche, Awakione Simbithe, Wasweta and Kamagambo used the same route from Lusoga through Musoma, to North Mara in Tanzania before entering Kenya. In Migori we have Suba clans such as Waware, Wiga, Kaswanga who are related to those in Suba District in Homabay. Suna people are actually the Abagirango or Girango people that is why they also call themselves Suna Girango or Suba Girango. Girango had many sons who are named after the sub-tribes of suna for example Musuba,Tegi,Gire. Musuba or Suba son of Girango is the reason why Suna people like to call themselves Suba. However, the correct name for this community is ABAGIRANGO, meaning Girango people In real sense, the term Suba was used by Luos to refer to smaller bantu groups that occupied areas around lake victoria as most of these bantus were splinters from their main tribes of Kisii,Kuria and Suba and the term later became the name of 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, Kakrao,), Wasimbete (Bahiri kiberi, Bahiri ng'ong'o, bahiri Nkena, Miaro, Nchogu)and Wiga (Wakwena, Nyasasi, Wanje, Nyathocho, Kamsuru).

Their original language is Kisuba 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 -especially 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.



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. Example is given of the spirit of Gumba in Rusinga and Mungusa of Kaksingri.

Dowry included 30heads of Cattle but this also depend 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.

The most renowned Suba and Girango leaders include:

  • Eliakim Otieno Marwa - former Chairman Suna Girango Welfare Association
  • Chacha Maucha - Colonial chief of Suba and Kuria in Suna
  • Omollo Opere-Form Member of Parliament and Politician from Suba North
  • Phillip Ochieng-Columnist and Author Kaswanga Awendo
  • Evans Kidero- Nairobi Governor
  • Sammy Wakiaga-Former NIS Director and Businessman
  • Ong'anyi Nyamachowa - Prophet/seer of Simbete (Bahiri Kiberi clan)
  • Masagati Nyabori - Medicine man of Kiberi Clan
  • Professor Silvery Ochola Gaa Historian
  • Silvester Kasuku -Head of Lapset Project Kenya
  • Zaddock Syongoh Former Member of Parliament
  • Millie Odhiambo MP for Mbita and Suba North
  • Adoyo Daniel (Wakili) - ICT Consultant
  • Silas Jakakiimba-Politician and Businessman
  • Naphtaly Mattah - GGCC CEO and Education and ICT Cabinet Secretary Homabay County
  • Peter Nyakiamo -former Member of Parliament and minister
  • Nyironge - Medicine man Suna Girango
  • Riogi - Cultural leader Suna Wasimbete
  • Muguru Mwene - Legendary Suna girango warrior
  • Thur babbel Baraza Odenge, former senior chief Suna
  • 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 Stakus 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
  • Muganda Wasulwa (Major): Renowned Nyatike politician and Businessman in Nairobi
  • John Mbadi: Suba South/Suba MP
  • Ochola Ogur: Former Nyatike MP
  • The Late George Albert Oluoch Seko "Prof": Lecturer KSTC/UoN and Senior Administrator KEMRI
  • The late Jack Asadhi Sarioba, former chairperson Nyanza westKFF branch
  • Raphael Otieno Onyado is the former veterinary officer from Gendo village.
  • Dache Cavine Otieno: a literary scholar,security expert and correctional scientist from Tonga nyangina,currently working with the ministry of interior and coordination of national government in the department of correctional services,based in Mombasa borstal institution.

Language Barrier[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2]


  • Silvery, Ochola Gaa. 2015 'In Search of the Abasuba Identity 'African People

Jenkins, Orville Boyd. (January 1997). The Suba of Kenya and Tanzania—A Cultural Profile. (n.d.).

  • 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.
  • Joshua Project. Suba in Kenya. (n.d.).
  • Nelson W. Keith & Novell Zett Keith, New York: Greenwood Press.
  • News From Africa. (April 2002). Languages: Living on borrowed time. (n.d.).
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Otieno, Jeff, "Extinction of languages in East Africa worries Unesco", The East African, Nov. 2010
  2. ^ Muindi, Matthias, "Languages: living on borrowed time", News from Africa, Apr. 2002

3. ^ Amadi Allela student at the Technical University of Kenya.

External links[edit]

Did you know Suba is at risk? (n.d.).