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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Oct 24, 2021

This is not like Rumba God Franco Luambo Makiadi’s 12600 letters from all over the world castigating family jealousy. This is the story of our own 12600 letters containing our way of life before the letter writing was replaced by the speedy way of recorded literature. I will stay off your parent’s payslip because if some of you were to read the payslip and realise how little they earned and maintained the family from, the guilt and pain will cut you deeply.

These days we want everything faster. We live faster. We communicate faster. We marry faster, we disagree faster, we divorce faster and we even die faster. Everything is fast and in a way we have lost so much recorded literature of our not so distant past.

I stole a letter from an fb friend that reads so much like the letters of yester years but really says so much about our way of life about 20 years ago. Working backwards these are guys who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and are therefore projecting that life on Ibrahim. My fear is that these old letters are somewhere waiting to be thrown away without paying attention to how rich our culture was before now. In its own way was probably irrefutable evidence that the Luo belief in virtue is more important that virtue itself.

In the letter to one Ibrahim, after salutations and good wishes, his father moves quickly set boundaries firmly but softly on ethnic purity. You can say iron hand in soft gloves.

The first order to Ibrahim Othieno is family whether in affluent or not, family is family. The second order is unity of purpose- the very reason why he is in Nairobi. J O B.

Then comes the third order on friends. Choose friends wisely. Stay away from unreferenced women. It is not that ladies from Nairobi are bad. The issue is that they have not been referenced by a go between and no due diligence has been carried out. The term Nairobi women does not refer to a tribe or clan. It just means they have not been referenced as there is no matchmaker. You could be getting yoked with a history of gender violence for all we care.

And there is nothing unusual in this. Referencing that was the order in Luo customs when getting in life partnerships is still an institutional requirement all over the world. Just last week it was observed that recruiters faced with a lull in job hunters have turned to diaspora from Anglophone Africa to head hunt for people they know to take up jobs that can be performed in Kenya, South Africa etc. In a way thanks to Covid19 fiasco that office based tradition is a thing of the past. But recruiters need go between diasporan who can vouch just like the Luo needed a match maker to underwrite a marriage.


But I said such letters carried the belief in the virtues more than the virtues themselves. I am sure if you pick the yester year letters from your parents before mpesa and texts, sms, WhatsApp and messenger and missed call killed them you will notice the same pattern in the contents and contexts of those letters.

You will also notice certain virtues that the enforcement cared less whether you were affluent or not. In the above reference letter, if Ibrahim had any thoughts that he was a bread winner and is now above the law, the first 4 paragraphs and the main objective of the letter have rubbished that. Ibrahim has been spanked and has been left with his tail between his legs.

This reminds me of a very interesting subject we were having on how much one got away with Luo customs. In this case we were discussing the ritual of how many days a wake was observed for a deceased twin or someone who had a twin. One of my readers contended that his grandfather had more wake days just because his grandfather was rich and a cabinet minister. So I called a relative who is a descendant the said cabinet minister to ask if the grandfather received this honour because he was a big man. The scoff I got was, “dhi umer kucha gi wach face book. Kweche Luo onge wach muandu”.

Without translating the rebuke, I attracted, the answer was that Luo customs do not take notice of whether one is rich or not. They are triggered by certain events here being birth.

In the letter to Ibrahim, it is clear that he was being ordered to be submissive to kinship without fear or favour. He was being ordered to respect all. And that is basically how community bonds are maintained.

Has the situation remained the same? I will give you an example. What if in family bereavement the date of burial or programme was at issue. Who would have the final say? The dollar driven diaspora son or the elder son based in Ugunja with no such bottomless resources. How about the order or receiving the sons in laws married to the daughters? Do they maintain the traditional order or the moneyed son in law takes the upper hand?


They say justice must be seen to be done. It is the same with Luo customs. The enforcers of the customs were the first to let go. If they butt the eyelids, then you can forget any order in the customs. And that is exactly why the 12600 letters to Ibrahim ensured enforcement.

The 12600 letters were the evidence of the belief in the virtue. They were more important than the virtue. They superseded rational thoughts that destroys the soul of a community and shielded the triumph of irrationality.


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