This is Sukuma.
He lives in a compound with kin. Their houses are many, usually mud brick with thatch roofs. Other scaffolding holds thatched tops covered in orange clusters. They are drying sweet potatoes. They look like mango, they taste tough, leathery, but as your saliva breaks them down a sweetness is released. The familiar flavor of Thanksgiving. Nearby, another open-walled hut houses a great mud and stick storage container. It is immense. Inside, husked millet awaits the rhythmic grinding of an afternoon mortar and pestil session. The “thump…thump,” filling the general silence along with cries of satisfaction from full calves and goats.
The Sukuma are primarily agro-pastoralists. Their herds are large, sometimes over 300 head of cattle and 600 goat and sheep. At one homestead I counted 122 ndama or calves. That makes 122 mothers, not counting bulls, not counting shoats. It is a sea of livestock. In the zizi you could walk on the backs of cattle and never touch the soft, dark manure-coated earth. A goat does, it is walking on the back of a bull.
The Sukuma are originally from the southern edge of Lake Victoria. They migrated to the Pawage division generations ago, and have become quite profitable. They are healthy. I forgot about muscles when among the Barabaig and the Maasai. The Sukuma are strong, their dogs are well-fed, my new barometer of food security. They are warm and generous. They welcome you in, give you seats in the shade, share warm milk and tea with you, and sometimes boiled sweet potatoes and meat. It’s easier to be hospitable when you have something to share. The Sukuma share stories, share wisdom, share smiles and jokes. Their beadwork is colorful like their personalities. Their children are happy, energetic and curious, the hallmark of good nutrition, of security.
Sukuma Family Portrait
The men ride bicycles to their herds who graze on their fields of maize, millet, and potatoes. The calves eat potato greens. Manure from the zizi is hauled to their fields. The Sukuma work constantly, they work hard, they profit from their labor. They are in general warm and happy, despite their toil. They are what we would consider the American ideal, innovative, industrious, and generous. Some have brick homes with tin roofs, generators, 4×4 trucks and tractors. They have cell phones, better ones than me, Nokia camera phones, MP3 phones, a Blackberry. They have modernized, yet teenagers dress in kanga and beads, straw hats and tire sandals like in the picture. They are proud. Balanced.
We sit in hand carved stools in the shade and drink fresh milk and listen to their stories over the thump of grinding millet. We snack on millet donughts. A donkey screams in the distance, and puppies doze in the sun next to a pile of sweet potato skins. I feel warm and content.