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 about 100,000, 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, 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.

General Information[edit]

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 who settled on the islands include smaller clans called the 'Chula', meaning the people of the islands, while others were called the Fangano. Other clans began forming when the people did much more expansion onto the islands. For example, there are three 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 Gwasii and they happen to reside upon the Gwasii Hills. Another group that resides on a hill are the Uregi who reside on the Uregi Hills of Meari which is a town in the Nyanza province of Kenya. The Kaksingri live in a small fishing village called Sindo, and they are closed related with Uregi who live in the Uregi Hills. 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 although it is heavily influenced by the bigger Luo Language. Further information upon the tribesmen's expansion remains 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 become 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. 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.

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]


  • 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.


  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

External links[edit]

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