Isukuti dance of Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya

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Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© Department of Culture, 2013

The Isukuti dance is a traditional celebratory performance practised among the Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya. It takes the form of a fast-paced, energetic and passionate dance accompanied by drumming and singing. An integral tool for cultural transmission and harmonious coexistence between families and communities, it permeates most occasions and stages in life including childbirths, initiations, weddings, funerals, commemorations, inaugurations, religious festivities, sporting events and other public congregations. The dance derives its name from the drums used in the performance, played in sets of three – a big, medium and small drum – and normally accompanied by an antelope horn and assorted metal rattles. A soloist leads the dance, singing thematic texts in tandem with the rhythm of the drumbeats and the steps of the dancers, arranged in separate rows for men and women. Transmission of Isukuti dance is presently weakening and the frequency of performance is diminishing. Many bearers are elderly and lack successors to whom they can pass on their knowledge. Lack of funds and the necessary materials to make the instruments and costumes also present an obstacle. Finally, many composers prefer to work in more commercial genres, and audiences frequently substitute contemporary entertainment for traditional Isukuti dances.

Isukuti dancers going through their paces in an isukuti performance
Isukuti dancers getting down to business
A veteran Isukuti player demonstrates his skills during a training session
Isukuti players in a Cultural Forum at Khayega, Kakamega County
Bulls facing off in a bullfight at Khayega as fans cheer on. Bullfighting is a popular sport in Western Kenya
Fred Shikomere carving the Isukuti drum at his homestead in Kakamega
A set of Isukuti drums
Isukuti performers at the Ilesi crying stone, a famous landmark in Western Kenya
Transfer of knowledge - young children learn the Isikuti practice by joining in performances in which they are allowed
Youth performing Isukuti dance at a training session