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Why This Bukusu Saying is after the heart of the spirit of mulembe

We explore the meaning of the Bukusu proverb ‘enyama yo mundu eli nga yemboko, okinyolela khusibumba‘ which translates to: the meat of a human being is not like that of a buffalo, if you find it you are as good as dead. This search for meaning, takes us on a journey into Bukusu and Luhya culture where we get to meet the heart of the spirit of mulembe.

Mulembe is all things Luhya. It is a greeting; it’s peace; the essence of our existence. A people and their warmth; salams over the radio, nights filled with isukuti and kamabeka, all captured in a word. The spirit of mulembe is all that and more. For instance, the spirit is about looking after the environment as it is our cultural heritage. Take the case of the sacred tree, kumurembe I mean, who in their right mind would wantonly cut down such a tree? Or any tree for that matter?

Our search today for the spirit of mulembe leads us to a Bukusu saying: enyama yo mundu eli nga yemboko, okinyolela khusibumba. To the Bukusu, for that matter the Luhya, life (in particular human life) is sacred. Frankly speaking, the warmth of soul needed for one to be identified as Luhya, meaning one of one oluyia, is at odds with a murderous nature. Naturally therefore, the Bukusu abhor killing. So much so that Bukusu folklore is rich with morals aimed at deterring community members from taking each other’s lives as is the case in this Bukusu saying.

Never the buffalo

At the foot of Mt. Masaba my grandfather told my father, Mbukusu lived in harmony working the land. Occasionally, when Mbukusu got tired of engoko, he’d get his protein from the wild. There, he could hunt any animal his heart desired, except for the buffalo, emboko.

This is because anyone who went out hunting for buffaloes, never returned alive. Buffaloes are fierce, aggressive and generally very dangerous when provoked. It is for this reason that the Bukusu said: enyama yo mundu eli nga yemboko, okinyolela khusibumba. Meaning, buffalo meat just like human meat is sacred; it can only be taken by the one who gives it. As we know, the giver of life is God: Wele Khakaba.

Thou shall not kill for the spirit of Mulembe will desert you

The symbolism here is, if one chose to kill a human, they faced a similar fate as one who hunts a buffalo: certain death. Further, I imagine that the death that comes to one who kills comes with a curse that passes down generations. The fact that death by murder among the Bukusu carried a special name, khufwala kumuchosi, only attests to this.

Therefore, this Bukusu saying by reminding us of the sacredness of human life is after the heart of the spirit of mulembe. This is because a person who takes the life of his brother, is as good as dead. This is because the spirit of mulembe has deserted them.

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