The Abasuba are one of the smallest and lesser known of Kenya’s tribes. A photo exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum is now filling in the knowledge gap.
Titled The Abasuba Pictorial Exhibition, the show is presented by Elimu Asilia, a collaborative project between the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and the Goethe-Institut Kenya.
“The exhibition enhances the visitor experience particularly for those interested in learning more about the Suba culture and appreciating Kenya’s rich heritage,” said Ashah Owano, the head of the museum’s resource centre.
Between 2013 and 2016 researchers from NMK interviewed members of the Abasuba Council of Elders to tap their indigenous knowledge of their community. The exhibition captures numerous aspects of the Suba people presented as photographs with explanatory text.
One photograph is of a map of the Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano where many of the Suba people live. They are believed to have migrated there from Uganda more than 500 years ago.
Photographs show cultural foods, food containers, kitchenware and traditional methods of preserving food. There are pictures of fishing, farming, and basketry.
Others show dance and musical instruments (pictured), with a footnote explaining how Suba music-making skills are slowly dying.
There are posters of indigenous plants, and their medicinal and other uses. The fig tree was used to predict the start of the dry season and the Euphorbia “is used to catch liars.” On Mfangano island, cultural shrines have been preserved and are still used by the Wagimbe clan for practices such as rainmaking.
Another poster explains how the Suba language is listed on Unesco’s Red List of Endangered Languages because it is mostly spoken by older adults. This has prompted efforts to salvage the language.
One of the most famous members of the Abasuba is the late Tom Mboya, former cabinet minister and independence activist who was assassinated in 1969 and buried on Rusinga Island. There are pictures of him and his life.
Alongside the photographs are display cabinets containing Suba cultural items such as a winnowing tray, clay pots, fly whisk and a lyre harp.
A virtual view of the exhibition is available on the Elimu Asilia website. The exhibition will run until the end of August.