How The Pokomo Hunted Hippos


One of the most important occupations of the Pokomo man remained hunting. With their iron blades, they made weapons which made them the kings of the River Tana and the near-by lakes up to the late 19th century. A group hunting expedition was called malaate. The older people decided in advance where to go for hunting. People sharpened their hunting spears called mafumo. They checked their quavers to ensure that the arrows were in good shape. They checked the strings of their bows to ensure that they were intact. They sharpened their big knives. Even the long sheathed spears called nsoma were sharpened. These were the common weapons used by the Pokomo. They were kept somewhere safe and ready for the great hunting expedition. No woman was supposed to pass over the weapons from the time they were stored. The Pokomo believed that if a woman passed over such weapons, they would be rendered ineffective during the hunting expedition.

Before a hunting expedition began, a medicineman expelled all evil from the land to make sure that no unforeseen dangers befell the hunters. The hunting expedition started very early in the morning at the first cock-crow. Young people took the lead in order to clear up the dew by beating the grass with sticks as they walked. Individual hunters carried food which was mainly bananas, rice or banana cake, in case they delayed.

Hunting hippos was quite thrilling. The hunters squatted in the canoes and paddled towards the hunting ground, ready with their weapons. They carried long-sheathed spears, hunting spears, small axes and knives. The people paddling the canoes must be experts. They were the ones who paddled either towards or away from the animal. They ensured a good attacking sight for the hunter and guided the canoe to safety when there was a danger of being attacked. The hunters were always alert as wounded hippos were very dangerous.

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The Pokomo believed that a hippo could smell a man whose wife was pregnant and that the two were natural enemies. Such men were, therefore, placed in the middle of the parties where “the hippo could not smell them easily,” thereby preventing disaster. When a hippo was sighted, it was surrounded by the hunters. They threw their weapons at the animal. The first to spear the hippo was said to be the killer and was entitled to wear the tail of the hippo round his neck. The dead animal was pulled to the shallow water and shared equally among the hunters present. The killer got a bigger chunk of the meat. The medicineman and members of the council of elders also got a share of the animal even though they would not have necessarily accompanied the hunting expedition.

If the man who wounded the animal first was married, the wife prepared a special dish he liked in appreciation. If it was a bachelor, his mother was the one who prepared the special dish for him. She also rejoiced with the other women-folk by dancing to the slow beat of kitoko dance and the fast beat of kubfanga dance. These were traditional dances. Generally when the hunters returned home with plenty of meat, they announced their arrival with songs. The villagers joined in the singing and dancing to welcome the successful hunters. They sang, beat drums and rejoiced. When the hunting was not successful, there was no dancing nor any kind of celebration. The hunters’ entry into the village was solemn.

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Some of the hunters were at times killed during these hunting expeditions. Such unfortunate hunters were remembered with songs called mwiiyo or eulogy. Buko, the son of Jillo, of the Mwina clan, was one of the bravest hunters remembered in the history of the Pokomo. A party of hunters saw six elephants drinking water from a point where the river curved like an ox-bow. The hunters immediately spread themselves and trapped the elephants at the river-bend. They killed five out of the six elephants, Buko always having a helping hand in each kill. He then wounded the sixth and the last elephant. Before Buko could strike again, the severely wounded elephant pounced on him. It got hold of him with its trunk and broke him into pieces. It then trampled on poor Buko. The elephant also dropped dead after that act. Buko was buried near the dead elephant for remembrance. The eulogy for Buko is vividly remembered in Pokomo oral traditions to date. The eulogy is as follows:

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Wamwina watongana na dzambo kuu, The people of Mwina met a tragedy,
Wakiwinza nzovu, wana na wakuu When they were hunting elephants,
Mumodza kayagwa ni nzovu mwedha, One was killed by an elephant instantly,
Wasidzaimuka, hata mumodza Before they knew what was happening.
Malaate yamakwenda huude mwaka, The hunting expedition that year,
Nsii ya Mwina, gere ya tsana dugha, Was in Mwina area near the river,
Wakuu na worani wajwana bfabfo, They fought diligently,
Na nzovu wahandahu wewokuwabfo. With six elephants which were there.
Silaha watsukwiyezo ndizo, The weapons they carried,
Mafumo, na maha, na nsaye nazo, Included spears, bows and arrows,
Na nsiku nee, nsano, wakimajwana, And after hunting for four, five days,
Wagala hodari, na majangina. They became instant heroes.
Na nzovu wakishindwa na wawinza, During this expedition,
Watsano wayagwa, mumodza kasaa, Five elephants were killed but one survived,
Hidi dzambo didza mwedha dza fara, Suddenly something awful happened,
Koro nzovu katsumpa na bwikira. For the elephant jumped with fury.
E, Kamutsumpia Buko jwa Jillo, It rushed towards Buko son of Jillo,
Koro huyu nzovu kayavya halo, For the elephant was revenging.
Kamugija na mukono, kamvunza kawii, It got hold of him and broke his chest,
Na mbavu, na oti, na mkono kawii. It also broke his ribs, neck, and arm

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Edward M. Yesse is a Pokomo from Ngao. He was born on 18th December, 1957. He passed through Ngao Primary School, Tarasaa High School and the University of Nairobi where he graduated with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Public Administration in 1986. In addition, he has a First Division Diploma in Constitutional Law and a First Division Diploma in Parliamentary Institutions and Procedure from the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, India, which he obtained in 1990. He is also a Parliamentary Fellow from the same Institute. He passed the Administrative Officers' Examination administered by the Public Service Commission in 1990. He obtained a Diploma in Business Management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2003. He attended numerous other courses. He is currently pursuing his MBA. He opted for an early retirement in June, 2013 as Regional Manager with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to personal reasons. E-mail: Mobile No: 0722647327 or 0733860825



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