1,000 YEARS OF CULTURAL FARE EATING
AND WE ARE JUST GETTING WARMED UP TO THIS CULTURAL PRACTICE
Luo funerals bring people together. And like the founding president Jomo Kenyatta once said of African values, “it is good to be together but to be together with a purpose is even better”. I have said before in my earlier postings that burial events is also the place where closet relatives come to light so as to completely eliminate any chance of future incest. Some ill-intentioned people think that the colossal spending on Luo funeral is just like any spending say in a western wedding. There is a lot to be derived from this ritual of a Luo burial . The last funeral function I was involved in also gave me the chance to get close to my grandchildren even if by zoom. I got to meet and chat with the younger of my people.
My elder brother was 19 years my senior. This meant that his first child had children long before I did. So as a Luo I had my first grandchild as 20-year-old courtesy of 19-year-old senior brother’s daughter. And two of his daughters left me very pretty grandchildren. I became more fond of them and we could share banter during the light moments afforded by the burial organisations. Culturally they are my “wives” and if you are a Luo you will relate to this kinship referencing between grandfather and grand daughter or between grandmother and grand sons.
So just in talking to them I asked if they are attending the burials event up country. And even if they are not attending I have some “fare to be eaten”. I then told them that I feel neglected if they don’t eat my fare because it is like I am not good enough for my fare to be eaten. And they found this very funny because they did not think it could be mandatory or proper for a man or “husband” to feel bad if the fare was not eaten. Maybe because they think I don’t know about such petty delinquency among the youth of today. I tried to convince them that in Luo culture it is not a teen delinquency but custom to test a woman’s chastity or a young man’s aptitude to man hood. It is also evidence that the young Luo men have come of age and can keep a wife. It was a necessary part of coming through adolescence as a full graduate. And up to now my grand children think I am just having a laugh. It then occurred to me that if I cannot convince my own grandchildren that fare eating did not start with Mpesa, whom am I going to convince that it was noble cultural practice long before money was invented let alone the roads and vehicles.
My nieces Samantha and Tracy tell me that that the lingo on the ground is that “fare eating is the obnoxious habit of a lady accepting being sent money as fare to come for a date but the young woman has no intention whatsoever of honouring or even attempting to honour the engagement”. In other words, in criminal law, it can easily qualify as obtaining money or goods with false pretence when one has no intention of delivering the goods or service to complete the contract. But I grow cold feet over such whole sale rubbishing of some other people’s customs. It is better to inform ourselves with history and tradition before making such sweeping judgements. For example, what is the purpose of lesso, veils and gowns in that are intruding into Luo weddings when we all know that couple are not seeing each other for the first time. It is good to know how they arrived at lesso mock ritual before embracing it in a Luo traditional wedding. I may not know how other communities arrived at fare eating but I can authoritatively tell you that the Luo Fare eating was there long before money was invented and certainly long before public transport arrived on these parts of Africa. 1000 years ago we Luos had a far more advanced form of fare eating in Luo land minus the money and public or any such paying transport system.
Ancient Luo Fare Eating
In the absence of money, uber, public transport and roads how was this practised then? Did ancient Luo fare eating require money? The essence of the practise was that a Luo lady would lead a Luo young man to false social date that is not going to happen. The whole practice is not about the money or forms of transport. You can remove the two facilities but still have Luo fare eating.
4th Stage Traditional Luo wedding.
I am sure you have heard of the years gone by act of abducting or way laying a bride as part of the Luo 4 stage wedding. Personally I saw with my own eyes this cultural practice because I was born in the 1950s and lived through the habit. It does not happen now but when it did it was support even by the law enforcement of them days. The first one I witnessed was in Milambo near Macalder, Division of Kadem in South Nyanza. Abok Otoyo yuor-Nyaseme had been sought Akong’o. Abok had even gone through the process of stages 1- 3 of Luo traditional wedding and parted with 27 heads of cows over an 18-month period. Everybody knew Akong’o is now destined to be Abok’s wife and all were waiting for the day Abok takes charge of the 4th stage of Luo wedding. Even me as an 8-year-old in 1966 I knew this. Akong’o had the build of US tennis star Serena Williams but with a little more height. Nene en nyako ma opong’ to ni gi arathe. Then it happened in one ceres Saturday when they waylaid Akong’o as she went swimming and bathing on the banks of river Migori with fellow girls. Still Akong’o who had agreed to the proposal over a year before resisted, wailed and struggled with 8 bodied men for 6 hours to move no less than 2 miles. It is not that she never wanted to get married. Infact, no honourable man would touch Akong’o in the whole Kadem Division once the parents had agreed to engage Abok in consuming the wedding on the first visit and Akong’o allowed the mother in law to duly receive Ayie as the first stage of the Luo 4-part wedding. It was a done deal. But still Akong'o duly as is expected of a well cultured Luo girl gave a stiff resistance. Eventually they succeeded but Akong'o underscored her vows of chastity beyond reasonable measure.
The next ones I witnessed were in 1970 in my Ugenya area on the northern side of Lake Victoria. And my auntie Aoko even though spitting fire eventually went. At one time she almost got away from jo yuecho because her clothes had all been ripped of in the struggle but she would not oblige. This made her body slippery and they could not get a good grip. It was approaching midnight when they just had to lift her. It is not that pretty bubbling brown sugar Aoko did not want to go and get married. It was vows of chastity and honour to demonstrate that she is not an easy kill. Then I witnessed another Auntie Nala. Again snared as she was doing midday laundry in the pond. In these two cases the 4-part wedding had long been commenced and these were urbanites just coming for the 4th stage of the Luo wedding. Sorry I forgot my own sister who even visited the eventual brother in law as a social visit but when he attempted to move to the 4-part stage by blocking Teresia from coming back home then Teresia bolted and gave them a hard time even escaping at night in the wild Lumbwa terrain and trekking mile Saba at night among the hostile and nomadic Nandis. It is not that teresia did not know that the Lumbwa station master was not busy prepping and nest feathering her nest. She knew that very well but culture is very powerful.
The last “pulling” I saw was in 1991. I had gone to Jerra Inn near Sega. The proprietor was from my paternal grandmother’s side. So the daughter customary calls me chuora. On this day we went procuring food stuff for an NGO workshop. When coming back I found her standing near the entrance to the Inn. And she was pointing at an Akamba bus towards Sega-Kisumu highway headed to Nairobi. And she jokingly told me, “Chuora see the date I was bringing to you has been pulled and she is heading to Nairobi”.
Then she bursts out laughing, “Wewe Chuora, you are a born loser, you can even come last in a one horse race”.
Apparently jo yuecho had been tracking her for weeks and managed to corner her at the entrance of Jerra Inn. It is not that these Luo ladies did not know that they were in a marriage process. They knew very well and had no illusion where they wanted to be married.
How about my time? My time is graphic illustration of this love play. I grew up at a time when people had real girlfriends. The emphasis is on "friends". I remember during age-mates talks when boys talk, and you were being manned up and schooled on adolescent’s matters by older cousins there were such dos and don’ts like:
· never fail to return girl's stare; If you fail she will fib you,
· never take the girl's "no"; if you do it will mean that you are not a serious man,
· never fail to wait for a girl and put up with her deliberate lateness because these are just traps to test you; If you are impatient it might mean that you are less of a man,
· never fail tire of her bounced dates; if you do it may mean that you are not yet a man who can persevere to hard times of life.
. etc etc
And trust me the one word adjectives that were attached to such disqualifications were unwanted reputation, like muagla, poya, bolo, sihingwa, orochore. Those were not the sort of words you wanted in your clan, location or village because they were hard to remove. The whole village would be airbrushed with the adjectives i.e gweng' ma yawow rok nie cha. Even the parents of such a young man would not be proud. If such an adjective entered a home or clan, then other means would be used to kill of the reputation for example hiring a musician to sing praises of such a victim or the village. The inquisitiveness of who are they will help wipe away such bad reputation.
Then there is the group sleepovers of wuowo in a young man’s Simba. In as much as test a man’s self-restraint, it was also the occasion to test the young man’s aptitude to deal with opposition and turn that opposition to his favour. A simple response dialogue like this would test the young man’s ability to with stand and manage a home.
Young man: Nyako adwari
Young lady: Adag
Young man: Idag nang’o
Young lady Adag nono
Young man: Nono nag’o
Young lady: nono a nona
The whole point of the debate was not because she is not interested. No she is running her person specifications over the suiter. There are no correct answers but the suitor will be measured by their ability to turn this precipice into a low riding conversation
Mpesa fare eating.
Definitely there was no Mpesa in Ugenya in 1970s. And there were no town buses in Ukwala area in that time. To make it even more intriguing Luo women never took money from a man in 1970s going backwards. May be in 1980s. And the easiest way to make a Luo woman walk away from you in 1970s is to offer her money even for bus fare. And this is easily visible when you take a casual stock of Luo women who entered into relationships with moneyed Kalenjin money bags during the Moi's Kleptomaniac governance. They never cared for the Kalenjin money. Money for a long time remained a turn off to Luo women. Vice President Mwai Kibaki was scathingly abused in a Kisumu hotel when he tried to dangle money to a proud Lake side Luo woman. Of course the case was later dropped after they had tried to frame charges against her. It was in the papers of 1986. And you had to be very careful with expensive gifts as not to appear that you are buying a Lakeside woman with expensive gifts. It was a very difficult path to walk because a Luo “giftometer” had not yet been invented. Maybe it has now been invented to deal with this Mpesa cry.
But still we all had a taste of those false dates, again and again and again and again and when you thought you are safe. You still got some more false dates. Even when in urban areas in Nairobi it was the same. You will never see her with another young man or hear any reputation or party stories but she would take you through the run-around just to prove her worth and test you a marriageable man. There is a character on this wall who was taken through the play book, page by page from when the young lady was in form 2 to when she completed her technical diploma training in 1983. And on this group there is another Ja Ugenya Masat (one name withheld) who even tried to trick his lady and she ran off with her chastity leaving her shoes and some very personal clothing. But after 4th form when she felt the Masat man had passed the tests with flying colours, on her own volition she followed him to new work station where he had been posted. Matokeo? 52 years of marriage including 10 graduates and several grand-children from happily married homes despite challenges of temporary unemployment etc etc. Fire is the test of Gold and Fare eating is the test of real Luo men. Sorry that is just my riddle. Don’t take it seriously
What then were the value of these modern day Fare eating? Like any custom the fare eating has been abused and misused. It is not the only custom in the world that has been abused. Religion was meant to open our eyes and see how it has made us blind. Even Christianity has been abused by greedy people. It’s the very nature of human beings to abuse and destroy everything. But the concept of testing a Luo man remains the same. It is in the Luo woman’s interest to thoroughly examine the future partner.
One other fact that is easily not seen is that the most coveted things in life are not those that come freely and easily. Gold diamonds are to be mined from deep in the earth. A woman’s chastity is properly clothed. It is the same with how a Luo woman wants to see how much she is coveted. Even though the bride price has been paid like in the case of Akong’o above, it is her right to be coveted. It should not be confused with arrogance.
Are there any other examples? The unavailability of Luo women to other tribes is a case in point. Luo men can go marrying anything but as for Luo women they push their price index up by constantly being scarce in the market. Inflationary tactic I agree but relatively they are never easy hanging fruits on the neighbour’s fence.
Whether it pays or not is not the issue. Whether it is wise is not is not the issue. What is the subject of this post is the mistaking this aspect of chastity for a mere transactional fare eating? That is what I sought to disapprove. Luo men should forego the fare just the way my generation had foregone waiting in the sun or the mosquito infested Ugenya land. We even risked crossing the River Nzoia just to for a false date in Alego Komenya. Like Kabaselleh Ochieng sings Sukari na Chieng nene chama malit, koth nene goya malit, juu yako mama. And how many night runners did I confront. I did not run to the nearest social media. I just stuck to the game plan. And so did the many youths who are now grandparents. Listen to their stories the next time you have a family meet like at a funeral. Maligning fare eating means we are missing the point and have completely lost our way. Besides if one cannot worry about the culturally testing by missed date but only cries about the fare then surely this was an arm’s length relationship that is leading nowhere.
Before I forget, I calculated the cost of an engagement ring and those meaningless wedding veils that are worn once and guess how many round trip fares that potentially could be eaten there?
My point is that the transactional chorus of this Luo fare eating is far fetched.