KAKAMEGA is the headquarters of the Luhya, a loosely defined group of peoples whose only clear common denominator is a Bantu language, spoken in more than a score of vernaculars, which distinguishes them from the Luo to the south and the Kalenjin to the east. Numerically, the Luhya (also spelt Abaluhya or Luyia) are Kenya’s second-largest ethnic group, and most are settled farmers.
Kakamega itself was founded as a buying station on the ox trail known as Sclater’s Road, which reached here from the coast in 1896. Historically, its only fame came in the 1930s, when gold was discovered nearby and more than a thousand prospectors came to the region. However, very few fortunes were made. In the early 1990s, Kakamega became the first town in Kenya to use the bicycle taxis known as boda-bodas, now almost a nationwide institution.Today, it’s a lively place, but with little to detain casual visitors. If you’re passing through in August of an even-numbered year, however, it’s worth being aware that some of the Luhya communities in the district are swept up in exuberant boys’ circumcision parties – though the actual chop is usually done in hospital and the initiates themselves tend not to be the ones doing the partying. A more sedate event, the Agricultural Society of Kenya annual show, takes place at the town’s showground every November.