Sanitizing Human Folly and Iniquity: An Interpretation of Essisie – Bullfighting Festival in Western Kenya.


Bullfighting among the Luhyia of Western Kenya can be a big event pitting a village, or a collection of friendly villages against a competing village or collection of villages that are related, either as communities, or as a geographical region. At a smaller scale, the duel could be between “my” bull and “your” bull. Unlike la fiesta (the festival) in Spain which involves a fight between a bull and a matador (a human fighter), the Kenyan bullfighting festival is a meeting between bulls. Human beings in this context only play to catalyze the bulls, to cheer and to celebrate the winning animal(s). Characteristic of the often well publicized festival is that before, during and after the actual bullfight, there is extensive singing and verbal exchanges between the “bull drivers” from the opposing sides. The very fanfare that accompanies this fete leaves one wondering what is really in it.

The thesis of this paper is that the bullfighting engagement is a social projection leading to a psychological achievement. The paper adopts a qualitative approach that involved attending several fights and conducting intensive interviews with those viewed as ardent patrons of the festival. Meanwhile, the paper also  relies on the sociological and psychoanalytic paradigms, as it attempts to go to the core of the festival by analyzing the oral exchanges and other related dynamics of the activity – observable and implied – so as to unearth the social and psychological cause-effects underlying this never dying “recreation”.

Joseph Muleka