Exploring the cultural heritage of the Wanga shrines

Deep in the heart of Kenya’s western region lies the Wanga Shrines, a cultural hub with a rich history dating back to the 11th century.

The shrines are home to the tombs of legendary King Osundwa and Nabongo Mumia, the founders of the Nabongo Wanga Kingdom, the only kingdom in Kenya’s history that still exists today.

The shrines are a testament to the indigenous people and practices of the region, featuring museums, a cultural homestead, a botanical garden, and traditional hospitality and beverage facilities all managed by the Council of Elders, the custodians of indigenous knowledge and customary systems.

Located near Busia town and the gateway to Kampala and the Buganda Kingdom, the Wanga Shrines also have the added attraction of being near natural and man-made landmarks such as the Owen Falls at Jinja, the River Nile, Mt. Elgon National Park, Crying Stone, and Kakamega Forest Reserve.

These features make the Wanga Shrines a popular tourist spot as part of the Western Kenya/Uganda Tourism Circuit.

The Wanga Shrines and the surrounding Luhya community are known for their love of food and the importance they place on the act of cooking. In fact, the verb “to cook” in the Luhya language, “okhutekha,” is similar to the word “okhuteshia,” meaning marriage.

For the Luhya people, cooking is not just about sustenance, but about anchoring the future of the society through carefully selected cuisine and recipes, some of which are believed to have medicinal value.

Food is also a way to connect with the spirit world and the past, as the Luhya people traditionally believed in feeding both the living and the dead. Over 20 types of vegetables are eaten and cultivated by the Luhya people, with the rest being sourced from the local environment.

The traditional method of preparing vegetables includes the use of “omunyu,” an ingredient made from the ashes of burnt bean pods, dry maize cobs, sogum husks, and banana peelings. The filtrate, known as “lekokhe,” is mainly used as a tenderizer and to improve the taste and preserve the color of vegetables.

But the Wanga Shrines and the Luhya community’s love of food extends beyond just vegetables. Meat dishes, such as “mukimo” made from mashed green vegetables and “nyama choma” grilled meat, are also popular.

The Wanga Shrines also offer a variety of traditional beverages, including “busaa,” a type of fermented cornmeal drink, and “chang’aa,” a local moonshine.

Visitors to the Wanga Shrines have the opportunity to sample these local delicacies and learn about the cultural significance of food in the Luhya community.

As one visitor described their experience, “we were experiencing not just the oldest and only kingdom in Kenya, but also quite literally sampling a feast meant for the king’s.”

The Wanga Shrines offer a unique glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Luhya people and the importance of food in their society.


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