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Visit Chonyi any weekend between November and May but be prepared to come away knowing more than you want to know on African culture. Board a bus in Mombassa, head north via Mombasa-Malindi highway. Branch left on muddy feeder road after fifty kilometers and drive for twenty minutes. The undulating land in front is Mabulu land.
Mabulu is a Chonyi name for rituals surrounding the traditional African farewell party for the deceased. Chonyi is an ethnic group which habitats, Chonyi Division of Kilifi district in the Kenyan coast.
I attended my first Mabulu five years ago. This was after I was posted to a local high school as a teacher. On a Friday, at around ten, stretching on my small bed, I heard ululations and screams. Like Moses and the burning bush, I checked to find what was awakening the rural night. What I found was mysterious than Moses’ bush which resisted consummation. Sweat-soaked People, danced in an arena sandwiched between two mud walled and grass thatched huts. A lantern separated two rows of dancers who faced one another. Two drummers set the rhythm-one beat a meter long drum and the second controlled a shorter one and marimba. Ten more lanterns spread in the compound. Dim flashlight moved freely. I leaned on a coconut tree where light reduced me to crescents of shadows. I stepped on a rock to view the arena over human heads. Ever since, I have found myself temporally shedding the skin of my Islamic faith just to have a repeat of the scene.
“Welcome Mr. Juma” A seventy years old man says.
“Who has directed you here?” I recognize Masha’s voice.
“Instincts and automatic search. I’m looking for visitors from towns. I want to enjoy their wealth.” I say.
“Wish you luck.”
“Sip from my goblet.” He stretches his hand towards me.

“My religion forbids.” I shake my head.
“Nobody will see you. These shadows host Imams and priests. In darkness, God understands.” Masha exposes his discolored teeth.
“Heathen practices.” I murmur and snakes through dozens of caressing and kissing couples. I swear to avoid slender and bearded men for fear of meeting Masha.
“Away with foreign religions. This ritual came with our patriarchs from Shungwaya, in 8000 AD. It used to be like coronations but Christianity and Islam have watered its value. When I die, my Mabulu must be attended by all people, including Kenya’s president, tycoons and all prime ministers in the world.” Masha shouts..
Mabulu occurs about a year after one dies. The date is set during mourning. A mature person is mourned for six days and a young person Each Mabulu day has it’s activities.
THURSDAY: Four o’clock, 16 March, 2006- Charo’s homestead. He died last year but you would think he has been resurrected going by the gusto in which people are streaming in his former home. They arrive by public buses, bicycles and on foot. They leave a trail of red dust behind. Luckily, the leaves of the whispering, sprawling coconut trees collect the dust. Goats, cows, sheep and heifers are pushed and tied to trees and shrubs in the half acre plot.
They report to Kanze, widow of Charo. They scan for a place to sit. Each nuclear family builds a shanty. In some cases brothers combine their families.
They unpack from old zip less bags and old sacks, old pots, stirring sticks, plastic plates and cups. Women light fire in the middle of the shed and men ferry logs to sit on.
Meanwhile Kanze and volunteers serve the guests with sima and boiled peas. Sima is made by pouring maize flour into boiling water and stirring until it form a hardened cake-like porridge. Eating, songs, dances, cigarette and opium smoking decorate the carousal until midnight on Friday when the shaman (medicine man) takes over.

He bangs two pieces of old hoes together, this freezes the noise. He wears a short pair of trousers, dirty white t-shirt and a cap made from cock feathers. He fills a traditional goblet with palm wine, pours it on the ground, calls upon Charo’s spirit to bless the living and sings:
* Koma na zilale {x 2}
Ooh wee! Na zilale
Koma na zilale {x 2}
Ooh wee! Na zilale
People wail when he sings the song three times. He receives 750ml bottle of palm wine from a family member of the deceased. Two must be taken with a traditional straw –a hollow pen like stick with a sieve on one side. He also earns 25 cents and is assured of entertainment throughout. His departure adds more vigor to the previous actions.
SATURDAY, 6:00 am. Exhausted bodies head for Charo’s grave, in a clan cemetery, four kilometers uphill. The procession is led by women clad in two pieces of cloth, one tied round the waist and the other one on shoulders. They balance reed-woven baskets on their heads, which contain maize flour. Men drag animals along (50 goats, 80 sheep, 10 heifers, 5 cows, 2 bulls). Some animals are attempting to mates unaware that they are heading to Calvary- going to die to salvage the living from the wrath of the spirits
Women pour the flour on Charos grave and spread raw sima on top. Kanze’s sons, daughters and Charo’s brothers are shaved by an elder as they sit on the grave. No piece of hair is supposed to fall on the grave because it can bring bad omen to family members.
After shaving, animals are slaughtered on the grave. Blood is left to flow on the grave. Carcasses are carried home where meat is roasted and boiled in the sheds.


The air becomes a mixture of roasted and boiled meat, palm wine, cigarettes and opium – the only grass thatched toilet is collapsing hence people relieve themselves in neighboring bushes.
The compound becomes a bee hive of activities; all available places are occupied by logs, dancers, children, peanuts and soda vendors. Everybody is holding something.
-Piece of meat goblet and straws. This will continue until tomorrow. As people salute Charo, they forget protruding toes on their shoes, torn t-shirts and tattered courts which they are wearing, their children not immunized against measles and polio, Kanze’s roof is leaking, local high schools owes them millions shillings in fees arrears and people are dying of hunger in some parts of the country.. They are occupied by making the party a success. By the time night calls they are too tired to sing hence songs are replaced by disco music.
SUNDAY: Each shed boil the head of the slaughtered animal and take it with boiled rice. However, three handful of boiled rice must be spread on the deceased’s door steps first.
This gives people permission to leave at their own leisure. After all, do they have anything else to guzzle?