Kisumu Social Hall in Kisumu is a nonprofit public corporation that is currently managed by the Kisumu County government. It seeks to bring members, associations, and individuals closer through social and historical activities. This essay highlights the history of the Hall as well as the activities that go on at the Hall today. It examines aspects of the local culture that have been exhibited through various activities at the Hall. It also examines attempts by the government to rehabilitate and modernize the place.
Kisumu Social Hall is located about 400 meters from the main public bus station in Kisumu City. Kisumu Social Hall is an important building in the history of Kisumu City and the entire surrounding region. Nearly every educated adult individual who went to school in the region during their youth can still remember either hearing about the Hall, or passing through its doors to participate in diverse and numerous social activities such as competitive music festivals that were held there annually.
Over the recent past, however, Kisumu Social Hall has seen its traditional focus waning and its fortunes dwindling. Gone are the days when students from schools as far away as Kisii or Rusinga used to converge at the Hall to stage their best cultural musical performances in a bid to book a seat for the national music festivals in Nairobi. In fact, the original Kisumu Social Hall building has been torn down, gone with many memories of childhoods well spent inside its rooms and hallways, and a new building is set to take its place. Whether the new Hall will live up to the status and reputation of the previous one remains to be seen.
The Kisumu Hall was built by the Municipal Council of Kisumu during the colonial period in Kenya. The foundation stone was laid on July 3, 1959, by Stanley Everett, Esq., Chairman of the Municipal Board, and other members of the African Affairs Committee of the Kisumu Municipality.
At its inception, the Kisumu Social Hall consisted of a clubroom and an administration office. Its raison-d’etre was to provide the local people mainly with recreational services. As already mentioned, the Social Hall was built during the colonial period. After independence, the new Kenyan government continued with the previous management system and continued to place the Hall under the committee for African Affairs of the Kisumu Municipal Council.
During the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Kisumu Social Hall became one of the most important centers for showcasing social events and cultural activities. Activities at the Hall became frantic and hectic as students from elementary and secondary/high schools and colleges converged to compete and win various events at local, district, and provincial levels. Winners of these events were often given prizes and an opportunity to represent Nyanza Province in similar events at the national level in Nairobi. For many such students, a trip to Kisumu Social Hall was also often their first trip from their village to a cosmopolitan city such as Kisumu. A trip from Mufangano Island or Nyansiongo in Kisii marked the first time a small, little starry-eyed villager got to rub shoulders with people living in a city, the first time for them to see so many vehicles in one place, street lights, tall buildings, and other elements of modern city life. Passing through the gates of the Social Hall was, for many kids, a rite of passage, an event never to be forgotten. It helped them to grow mentally, psychologically, and emotionally while at the same time learning about and showcasing their culture through musical performances.
The Kisumu Social Hall continues to put great emphasis on the importance of keeping the traditions and culture of the people of the county and the entire region alive and dynamic. This means that the local culture can be retained and passed down to younger generations. For example, music is taught in the Hall and is an integral part of African cultures. Dance, storytelling, and religious practices are all grounded in music. Music and dance go hand in hand so much that in many African cultures there are no two words in the language to distinguish the two arts. Dance in African culture has brought much meaning and is usually done by a community or group for a specific purpose.
For centuries, African cultural dance has captured the spirit of life events, community and spiritual beliefs, and identities of tribes and clans of various regions. In many ways, African music is a utilitarian function used in vital aspects of life such as a child’s naming ceremony, initiation rites, agricultural activities, national ceremonies, war times, religious ceremonies, and ceremonies for the dead.
Many of the traditional instruments that people used in the past are showcased at Kisumu Social Hall during concerts and performances. These instruments include drums, fiddles, rattles, flutes, rain sticks, slit gongs, bells, bows, harps, xylophones, trumpets, wood sticks, mbiras, and many stringed and wind instruments. African music is a way of life and not just a form of entertainment. African culture is deeply rooted in its music, and music assists one to overcome the struggles of everyday life. Music is used for communicating, passing literature, and welcoming heroes, among other ritual functions. There are diverse genres of music in Africa like hymns or dirges that create the mood for an occasion. Such traditions help individuals establish an identity. Kisumu Social Hall has therefore been very important in safeguarding and preserving local culture.
The Hall also provides people with an opportunity to exercise, maintain physical fitness, and become health conscious. The staff focuses on the benefits of being fit and healthy with regular exercise and maintenance of an ideal body weight which significantly reduces the likelihood of falling sick. There is even a Sports Section within the Hall dealing with sports and other recreational activities, notably football (soccer).
The Hall has undergone many changes. In a bid to pay for itself, the Hall has opened its doors to many different groups of people and now offers a wide variety of services to its patrons. The list of services at the Hall now includes taking care of unfortunate members of the society. More specifically, it includes the Mama Ngina Children’s Home, which addresses child services issues within the municipality, such as abandonment or neglect. Mama Ngina Children’s Home serves as a safe haven for children who have been left to fend for themselves due to the loss of important family or parental support and guidance.
The Hall has professional supervised staff who generate special projects such as mentorship programs that build character and self-discipline of children and he youth. The staff are involved in programs that are supposed to be responsive to youth needs.
As of this writing, Kisumu Social Hall is being rebuilt by the County of Kisumu government. Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu County, has set aside Ksh 63 million for the Kisumu Social Hall reconstruction. This project upgrade has been funded by French Development Agency through the Kisumu Urban Project. The plan is to complete the facility within the next several months. The funds will be used in modernizing performance halls and to create additional rooms for hosting community meetings, a cafeteria, two bars, additional office spaces, a few media rooms, with modern digital technology equipment, as well as the beautified landscape surrounding the building. Included in the construction will be an ablution blocks, which is a building in a public area (a park or campground) with facilities for refreshing and equipped with individual stalls. There will be a 100-meter bitumen access road to connect the facility to the main bus terminal and neighboring residential area, that passes next to the Social Hall. The upgrade will boost capacity and the activities of the Hall.
Our hope is that the new Kisumu Social Hall, when completed, will at the very least live up to the reputation and status of the previous building.
Kisumu Social Hall: This is a close image of the main entrance to the Kisumu Social Hall, showing preparations to have it demolished ~ The Main Entrance to Kisumu Social Hall
Kisumu Social Hall, June 2018: Kisumu Social Hall, currently housing the Kisumu Public Service Board Offices. The building was renovated at a cost of Sh5 million. ~ Google
Kisumu Social Hall: Kiaumu Social Hall is getting Demolished, and this Notice informs the Public about the coming demolition of the Hall ~ Notice to the Public about Kisumu Social Hall
Kisumu Social Hall during Demolition: This photograph is the front view of the Kisumu Social Hall Kisumu. ~ Photo by Yator Anthony, October 19, 2018
Students at Kisumu Girls' High School, Kisumu: Students from schools such as Kisumu Girls High School, shown here, regularly participate in events at the Kisumu Social Hall. ~ Photo by Meshack Owino, January 8, 2018
Students of Kisumu Girls' High School: Students from schools such as Kisumu Girls High School, shown here, regularly participate in events at the Kisumu Social Hall. ~ Photo by Meshack Owino, January 8, 2018
Lupita Nyong'o: Hollywood Actress Lupita Nyong's has commenced plans for the development of an ultra-modern arts and culture centre in Kisumu. ~ Daily Nation, https://nairobinews.nation.co.ke
Ochieng' Avenue, Kisumu, Kenya ~ The building is located next to the Kisumu Library.