SOAS University of London



Photographic works by Kate Parsons
15 October - 12 December 2003

The Kigango's function is religious, social, cultural and psychological and forms a symbolic structure that bridges both worlds of the living and the dead by being half buried in the earth. lt is a visible reminder to the living to respect the ancestor but also by reciprocation the ancestor will protect the family. The post always faces West towards the setting sun.

The type of wood used for durability, attractiveness and sometimes protection were Muhuhu, Mwanga, Muhumba and Mudungu; the two former
are most commonly used. these woods are considered to be more resistant to termite damage, fire and often have spiritual value in themselves. If on erection of the posts it leans or cracks, this is thought to be a bad omen and is then supposed to be replaced for fear of retribution by the ancestor. It is alledged that the Kigango can last as long as seventy years. However, a great number have been stolen or bought to supply the tourist trade.

The decoration, usually on the front but sometimes on the back of the Kigango, is expected to attract both the living aind the dead. The colours used to date are white (Kama) and blue (Bulvu) inlay with red ochre (Mbvu) on the body of the post. The blue is said to represent the sky or a spirit. Before the blue and white became more readily available charcoal substituted the blue pigment and the white inlay was made of ground down snail shells as opposed to a 'chalk', both were bound together using a latex extract from a tree or cactus leaves (Muvila). lf a person had died of a serious illness such as TB or leprosy the Kigango would remain uncarved or decorated


According to the spiritual leaders these posts have only one life, reflecting our own. When they have rotted away they are often replaced by a Kibao (Vibao - plural) which is placed in line in a shrine or shelter in the homestead.


Koma are the short sticks, often made of Mkone wood, that represent the wives of the Gohu member and are placed by their side. Uninitiated males may be given these types of sticks too as they are relegated the same rank
and status as females. 'Koma' can also be the generic term used to describe all three posts - Kigango, Kibao and Koma.


Makomba are the coloured cloths tied at the neck and waist of the Vigango, Kibao and additionally on the Koma.
The name for these cloths are:-
• Ngundu - Red
• Msimbiji - Dark Blue
• Nyaruhe - White
• Kitambi - Light Blue For The Vigango Only.