- By The Standard
Rose Wumba, 42, from Mukava village in Malava, Kakamega County, is busy decorating her house ahead of Christmas. She says the culture has helped give the people of Western a unique identity but regrets that the tradition is fading away.
Once a common practice in western Kenya, the tradition of smearing houses with special clay and drawing patterns on the mud walls is fading away.
Women no longer scoop clay from river banks and fresh cow dung to smear on their houses as was tradition a few days to Christmas.
The special clay would be mixed with cow dung and ash before women embarked on decorating their small huts across villages.
Today, many have embraced semi-permanent and permanent houses which do not require decoration.
We found Rose Wumba, 42, from Mukava village in Kakamega North busy giving her house a makeover in preparation for Christmas.
She is among the few people who have stuck to the centuries-old tradition of decorating houses to usher in holidays.
According to Wumba, she gets the clay soil from a nearby wetland.
“I break it into smaller particles before mixing it with fresh cow dung and stirring it vigorously with water until I get a soft mixture.”
The mixture is smeared carefully on the walls of the house uniformly to give it an admirable look that would make one think it has been plastered using cement.
She says she then waits three days for the house to dry before embarking on decoration using coloured clay.
“I get different types of coloured clay from the river to decorate the house. You can also use charcoal paste, long raw bananas, battery cells, green pumpkin leaves and a toothbrush or sponge to paint the house making it tidier and attractive.”
Wumba says the end result is a beautiful house “which makes one feel just as good as someone who has a permanent house.”
She first creates vertical and horizontal lines using coloured smearing mud before using a banana to outline the lines.
“You can paint flowers, draw festive themes or pictures of your choice. The house can stay attractive for two years before you repaint it again.”
One draws inspiration from nature as one goes about their work. The art was passed on from mother to daughter. A decorated house enhances love and togetherness in a family, says Wumba.
Wumba has passed the skills on to her children. She, too, learnt the skills when she was a child and has cherished them since.
According to her, the art of decorating houses goes hand in hand with some of the activities under the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).
“Children should embrace it since it will boost their learning skills in terms of art, identifying types of soil. It also keeps the environment clean,” she notes.
Kennedy Kasson from Muting’ong’o village was also busy smearing his house with clay soil mixed with cow dung, a venture believed to be a preserve of women in the society.
He says after roofing his house, he rubbed soil onto wet plaster by hand before kneading it on the exterior wall
“Decorating houses is mostly done by women, but I have no choice but to give my house a facelift since I have the skills, it will save on costs involved in hiring someone to do the job.”
“Every year, I ensure my house gets a facelift just the way we buy new clothes for children to wear during the festive season. The house must be neat and attractive just like Christmas melodies. When done correctly, there is no need to repaint it even for up to five years,” he noted.
According to Kaskon, Western culture is slowly eroding the culture of decorating houses.
“Some people have a false impression that traditional African houses are of low-class people and should be discarded, far from the truth, people must stick to their culture because it gives them a desirable identity.”
Kason says he is not about to abandon a culture he grew up seeing.
But the tradition appears to be fading away with just a handful of locals still clinging to it.
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