top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jan 15, 2021

Draw a straight line around this sentence” read the instruction in one of those tests used in the deep south, Mississippi to bar black people from voting. This was a Mississippi county voting test only applicable to black people. They say Mississippi is what has 4 eyes (i’s) and cannot see. It is the same vein that I find the wording of the 6th Commandment in the holy bible in dholuo precluding a section of the community.

The wording of the commandment was so bad it was doomed to fail. It put the onus on the young unmarried women but once you are married adultery was not barred according to the wording of this commandment in dholuo. Most importantly it is just as poorly worded as that Mississippi asking black people to draw a straight line around a sentence. Then putting one sex as the one responsible for the pervasion. It is just as bad as these conflict resolution groups putting men in charge of keeping of peace when men cannot exist without violence. How then are they in charge of keeping peace.

In dholuo proper wuowo is not adultery. Wuowo is equivalent to sleep over by post puberty women in the boys sleeping quarters. There was no sex in Luo wuowo until the poor translation introduced it. In any case it is when the girls crossed the line to penetrative sex that we ended up with por in dholuo proper. Once again por is not eloping in dholuo grammar. Por is unisex and both party share the responsibility, the shame and the guilt.

Por could mean the act of mating or could mean the act of a women getting married without the due process of Luo wedding which these days is called come-we-stay. In fact, here Por punished the boy harsher than the girl even if both carried the shame equally.

How we got to wuowo meaning adultery in the bible is not clear. What is clear is that it shifted the act and onus of adultery to women. It is the young girls that were not only punished the most but also the ones slighted the most and their chastity brought to question. All the youthful stories from Siwindhe point to tales of the onus passed to the ladies.

My long memory of tales of siwindhe and simba escapades was jogged by this story that I am sure you will find interesting. Most of all you will appreciate my concern that the responsibility on this commandment was shifted on to girls by the practices of Christian faith but not the Luo customs.

December Siwindhe tall tale.

With time the format changes but this story of 1980s confirm that the blame is still on the girls.

In about 1980 on some part of Lake Victoria I heard of this wuowo story. This girl Achienge had become notorious like every secondary school adolescent is around puberty. Befriending a local secondary school boy and escapes at night to visit the young men’s simba is the nightmare the girl’s parents face and have to live with.

The previous day Achienge had been found out and had received a proper lashing. You see these parts of Kenya there is nothing like talking to a teenager to convince them what is good for them. So she got what she deserved and had cane marks on her body. Why only her? Because the parents think that as a girl she had the power to control the boys’ behaviour. And besides the Luo bible specifically says of her 6th Commandment- Kik Iwuow.

She was still sulking when the father asked her to iron the shirts among the piles of clothes she had found a reason to inexplicably go wash in the river for a whole day. Or the rather the mother ordered her to iron some clothes in the main house. There is no sense in eagerly washing them for a whole day and not finding the urgency to iron them unless there was another motivation to go to wash clothes and dishes by the river for a whole day.

The father and some uncles were also having a taste of local stuff on the veranda. Sulking Achienge did not bother with them but stuffed dried maize cobs in the iron box, lit the dried maize cobs then swung it in the air until it was burning red hot with no smoke. The mother as a punishment barred her from using the costly makaa (charcoal).

About a mile from her homestead but within the same villages trouble was brewing. The boyfriend decided to come and check on her (ku roundia). Maybe to arrange another date or escapade. Ong’ech as he is called, approached a young 6-year-old from the nearest homestead to use an emissary to cox Achi-Maria out of her home stead.

The instructions Ong’ech gave the 6-year-old were innocently simple. And the 6-year-old received the same instruction with supreme innocence. It was simply, “go and tell Achienge that ‘Ong’ech is waiting outside’ the homestead”.

And true, Okinyo as the 6-year-old was called took in her shs 5 coin fees for errand tightly wrapped in her left hand and ran towards the home to deliver the message. As she approached from the gate, she could see Achienge ironing. Okinyo also noticed on the veranda was the ferocious dad with some younger speedster uncles. In her mind Okinyo decided to temper her instructions just because Ong’ech had instructed her that don’t let the dad hear you. Now the dad was sitting on the agola (veranda) of the round hut. Quick thinking and witty Okinyo saw a window of opportunity to keep her shs 5 coin.

The mother of Achienge was stoking the fire where the cooking pot containing orenge cow foot was slowly stewing. So when Okinyo playfully approached her gingerly skipping beautifully the two step on the front sole, she also just turned on the charm reserved for one named after a great beauty and village woman of substance, “nyar gi yawuoyi kombe laro; ayaye nyar ber ogwalo. uriyo nadu?”.

It is not really a question in Luo land. Just a salutation like Hi but the Luo version is something like, princess, the prettiest how are you? You know the Luo flowery way of saying things. It is very charming and disarming. Try it on any Luo lady. They just melt away right in front of your eyes. Every Luo woman has such a salutation from every different relative and each relative have their distinct line of salutation. And so did Okinyo to mama Achi-Maria. And in that soft childlike voice she replied to the salutation then added, “wow cha onyisa nuuuu awach ni Achienge ni oluonge” (that boy has asked me to tell Achienge that he is calling her).

To which Mama Achienge turned calmly not to scare the little girl and enquired, “which boy?”

Okinyo duly pointed to Ong’ech, “ma cha”.

And just at that very moment Ong’ech saw Okinyo hand point at him with Mama Achi- Maria gaze following the direction of the pointing hand. And their eyes made contact. You know just like at a zebra crossing you wait for the driver to stop but don’t move until your gaze makes contact.

Mama Achienge got up and headed to the main house where Achienge was ironing. Something told Achienge that the presence of little Okinyo and the move to the main house was not right as a coincidence. And she was ready to hear the latest charges against her even if the worst storm had passed. So she thought.

The mom did not pause. She went to her formal name of Achieng’. In this part of Luo land pet names have taken over. Achieng’ has become Achienge, Aluoch has become Luochi, Anyango is Nyangi or Anyange, Akoth is Akodhe (note the spelling). Even Francisca is Franco.

The mom’s words were, “Wach Achieng’ gi mhia ma rach ka opongo ni podi kara ok orumo dawe!”

Little Okinyo on seeing Ong’ech take off started to trot but when she heard those words from the mom, she also did, tienda gi ma cham atuoni after the monitor-lizard-head-le-boyfriend of a man. Of course the lizard boy was in full flight.

And in unison Achi Maria quickly processed the information and realised the next round of lashing had just been announced. She also declared, “Feets do your stuff” towards the gate after Okinyo who had a head start over her with her little hen steps.

And so it was Achienge racing after Okinyo; and Okinyo racing after Ong’ech; and all of them chasing each other towards the same direction. Okinyo instead of branching to her homestead realised that her mother would want to know just how much she has been receiving for such errands and what next is she about to sell. Therefore, she could not go to her home either. The tribulations of wuowo burden on the girl child.

To make a long story short they all caught up with Ong’ech who could not run anymore because the very Achi-Maria was screaming asking him to stop. To her credit when Ong’ech tried to retrieve the fees from Okinyo for poor workmanship, Achi- Maria protested and Okinyo kept her Shs 5.

They both then saw off Okinyo back to her home discreetly and waited until the storm calmed a few days later before she could go back and face the now relatively pacified Mama Achieng’.

Impetus to Sexism

I find the cultural aping here precipitated by poor translations in the early years of Christianity. In condemning adultery, the poor translations condemned Luo cultural sleepovers which were open get to know sessions for youths of the neighbourhood or visiting youths to the homestead.

In that process the young were denied a chance to grow up exercising the ability to keep control of their bodies with respect. In ancient Luo culture the punishment for any errant behaviour was por with or without pregnancy. Por ensured that both the boy and the girl equally carried the shame of a wedding without celebration. So the youths exercised self-restrained equally with the same vigour. It is not a surprise unisex bathing together at Lake side or river banks in broad daylight was norm in Luo Nyanza. The disappearance of this normal behaviour coincided with sexual permissiveness in Luo culture.

The same poor translation passed the burden of permissiveness to the woman just like in the English words such as harlots, prostitutes etc. when we all know that it takes the two parties. This one side meaning of the word is not existing in Luo language.

As in the above analogy where the very violent men are put in charge of conflict resolution, peace keeping and Truth and reconciliation committees, here also the pervert is left scot free and the dread for pervasion is passed on to the females and it does not matter whether one is as innocent as 7-year-old Okinyo. You are all guilty as charged. In fact, the more innocent the guiltier just like Okinyo who was now poised to lose the Shs 5 coin.

I am sure you all have your side of siwindhe and simba injustice stories to tell on a past December after Christmas just like today. Not that this can stop any Luo girl from finding an excuse to meet a boyfriend. Girls always found fetching firewood, washing clothes at the river and such past times an easy sneaky opportune gate way.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page