LUO ALBINOS: WE HAVE HAD SO FAR TO COME.
On the eve of Dr David Livingstone’s birthday on 18th March 1868, Dr David entered the following log on his journals;
“A VERY BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN CAME TO LOOK AT US, she was perfect in every way and nearly naked but unconscious of indecency-a very Venus in black”
In the next day’s journal on the 19th March 1868, Dr David logged the following prayer (or was it thanksgiving) in his journals:
Grace to love Thee more,
Serve Thee better’
Thus on his birthday, Dr Livingstone clearly separated his sexuality and spirituality and where they dovetail nicely. This theme must have been repeated again and again by other explorers, missionaries and European colonial administrators. In deed most of the photographs of Luos around Winam Gulf and its environs are usually of naked Luo women as Dr David Livingstone described. And yet miraculously there is almost zero mixed race children recorded in Luo land as in say the other ethnic communities around these colonial catchment areas or as in the case of Dr David Livingstone with his offspring (s).
In another example in South Africa they say the first mixed race was born exactly 9 months from the time the first white person set foot on the land. And that does make every sense. What does not make sense is the absence of mixed race children in Luo land from this colonial contact. What then happened to the mixed race born of Luo women? The absence of a Luo word for such a mixed race offspring cannot deceive us that they were not conceived and born because the novelty of the Luo dark skin still is a tell-tale in these colonial photographs more than any other ethnic group in Kenya. And further still the evidence that the Venus in black Luo women’s anatomy is still coveted by the Caucasians today is evident in the desirability of southern Sudanese women that makes them international top models. The elegant Luo woman before the contact with the rotund Bantu must have been the same as the pure Southern Sudanese cousins.
Absence in dholuo glossary
In the same light the absence a Luo word for Albino should not deceive us that there was no albino born in Luo land. The false logic that Luhyas came with the word Ludonde does not foolishly imply that Luhyas bantus came with the albinos. It is the same falsehood as with Intersex (people born with male and female sex organs). The absence of the word for them should not deceive us that they were not born in Luo land.
So what happened to dhoch (children born with what was perceived as abnormal those days)? The secrets are shallowly buried with Traditional Birth Attendants known in dholuo as jocholo.
One gory tale tells of killing them using a hard sweet potato as the assassin’s tool. Why such a violent way of terminating life? My own dholuo language expertise tells me that it was just an expression as “kicking the bucket” in English. There was no such gory violence emitted by the Jocholo. This is convincing as there are many less violent ways to end the life of a foetus no matter how undesirable or abnormal.
The Luos are not alone. One reads of the punishment to African American women who used to be lashed as for “breaking egg”. The enslaved African women slaves in the Americas would choose to let the foetus bleed to death by untying the umbilical cord rather than raise another slave for the cruel master who would sell them into slavery. One of the reasons why the African slaves chose to “break egg” was when the child was born out of forced inter breeding with a preferred superior African breed (e.g. Mandingo). So rather than give birth to the son of his brother or the son of his son or worse still the son of his father, they African slaves chose to “break egg.” Now you know why black people should keep of the phrase 'mother fucker' and all that pertains to its dark history.
But back to Luo, jacholo was entrusted with ending the life of a foetus for various reasons, like dhoch, mixed race, incest, rival tribe seedling planted in a clan for espionage or treachery.
It is in this condemned group where I find European explorers mixed race, the Intersex, and dare I say the Albino. So it is not true to say that mixed race, Intersex and Albinos did not exist in Luo as a society just because an equivalent word for them cannot be found.
Jocholo were TBA experts who apart from the scientific skills were also experts in extracting the truth as to the paternity of the child being born. One such paternity extraction tactic was scare mongering that the child will be obstructed in the birth canal and will not come out if the labouring mother does not scream out the name of who fathered the pregnancy. At this very moment the labouring mother is in such excruciating pain that what will happen to her and the child after she divulges the paternity is not her concern.
Jocholo also were women who could keep clan secrets and divulge the secrets only where the general good of the clan will not be endangered. That means not just any woman was qualified to be a Jacholo because the cohesiveness of a clan depended on her certification. The clan security depended on her and thus made her a military strategist. The dynasty succession depended on her making her a court counsel. Most Jocholo I knew led a very lonely life, were teetotallers and women of few words and generally kept to themselves unless when consulting elderly people early the morning or late in the quiet of the afternoon.
It therefore follows that such a woman apart from being of mature age and kinship was entrusted with state murder of the born. But was it murder?
Framework for Murder of Infants.
Customs, rituals or laws that allows us to diminish the humanity of others are not really customs but frameworks for murder. For example, repealing of English laws that stopped the insurance of human slaves as cargo was because such laws were the impetus for slave traders to throw their chained slaves overboard into the Atlantic Ocean so as to claim insurance compensation on such flimsy and sometimes false excuse that slaves were diseased.
From the foregoing any Luo custom that enabled the murder of infants because they were of different anatomy, or the mistakes of two consenting adults or of different skin complexion were not really customs but Luo frameworks for murder. Or were they?
The Luos that I grew up in and even today treat murder of any sort as the most capital of offences. I interviewed an elderly lady who tried to transpose me from 2021 to say 1861 at the very least. And up to yesterday I interviewed an elderly person who could trace the first living albino that he saw to the turn of 1947. However still there was no name for albino except the Luhya borrowed word. That means murder was still rampant as a custom in Luo land.
Even today Luos still treat murder as the worst crime that can come your way. And they believe that once it enters your clan then the bad murderous evil spirits never leave your lineage and family circle. It is so dreaded that in Luo customs even if you are just accused of murder and spend time in police custody with murderers you will have to be cleansed as if you murdered. Without going into elaborate condemnation of a murderer, let us just leave it that this allowance of taking away life at birth never came easily to the Luo community.
This is on the backdrop that Luos as a people are very courageous when it comes to matters that matter to them. And the whole world has come to acknowledge that Luos are blindly passionate on things that they believe in. In fact, society or national statutes are of no consequence when it comes to things Luos believe in. But then in matters of incest, intersex and albino we have them treating newly born children as better off dead than alive. In African slave sense as elaborated above we can say that infants are worth more dead than alive. What is this turnaround that has brought a full circle to allow my Luo people to see murder that way?
An African American “breaking egg” in the farm field of the Americas is either denying the slave another free labour or simply does not want to bring into this world another child who is less than a human being to be enslaved forever. They therefore choose murder. Is this the same as a Luo practice?
What harm is there in raising a child born of incest those days (200 years ago). There were no urban cities. This is a time when all these towns were not there. So what life would such a child face growing up. We know the pain Luo children of second wives in a polygamous marriage face at every burial today. We also know the pain of the estranged wife’s children because they are played on social media before and after every burial in any of the counties of Luos. We know the constant maligning of children born of mpango wa kando or “side chick” by mothers and grandmothers and people who contest public offices to be custodians of the of public interests. So don’t let us pretend that Luos are any more civilised on that score than 200 years ago (as far us these funeral maligners are concerned such above children ought to have a potato crushed on their heads literary). But in those days there was no such thing as social media to preoccupy their venom and then they go back to their busy lives. How easy was it to live such a life 100 years ago when born out of incest in Luo land?
The case of intersex and their tribulations is well known. Until the confession of flamboyant gospel singer, it was not easy for me to conceptualise their tribulations. In fact, I ignorantly thought it was a myth. When Apostle Darlan Rukii confesses of suicidal thoughts then we have to understand that his thoughts are, “mother why did you not kill me in infancy, I will murder myself now”. In other words, living as an intersex was such a burden to Apostle Darlan Rukii that the cowardly suicide was his only refuge.
I was in a popular office in 1996 and during the campaign for National office elections I watched as 60-year-old call a full grown man “mtoto wa Malaya”. The man being abused was my mixed race friend. And cleaner woman trying to console me as my friend was receiving insults turned to me and philosophically told me, “Huyu Mzee hajui anaweza zaa mtoto na awe Malaya”.
But my friend was strong after the elections which he won, and he told me, “If I were to choose my father, I would have chosen him to be Ja Ugenya so that I can comfortable support ReUnion Football club without any doubts”.
But that was what he said, what did go on inside him I don’t know. I cannot confess to his pain and how many times he lived it until the time we were in our late 30s. And neither can I tell the limitations and pains he goes through now. In general I am saying that mixed race children go through this being ostracised even today. What about 200 years ago when Luos tried to intervene by ending their lives? What was the unknown that Luos feared?
If any if those Kisumu women we see in colonial photos of historical Kenya had a baby by then, what kind of life would those babies have faced.
And now we get to our subject. An Albino like a mixed race child walks with the evidence and statements of their position. An albino is a perceived evidence of them being different and at the same time a statement of the challenges they face. There is no hiding place like let’s say tribe, race or sexual orientation or intersex. The world simply was devastating place for an Albino because among a sea of dark negroid Luos nobody could explain who they were. Was this the fear that was the driving force for this murder or was it the preservation.
We must thank enlightenment that the world has come of that so that they live normally and not worth more dead than alive.
If this ancient heinous practice by Luos was Luo euthanasia out of ignorance, then we can only thank God that enlightenment came even if it came slowly in drips and drabs. But one thing is sure. This Luo practise must have been Luo euthanasia and was definitely not a framework for crime.
With new enlightenment all the previously perceived Luo “abnormal” births are being handled well even if there are pockets of bigotry as the children grows up especially in Luo funerals. But the perceived "murder" is not there anymore in Luo land and has never been there. It was Luo euthanasia to save the foetus of the vicious and savagery of ostracization that lay ahead. And what a burden to bear by Jacholo! No wonder they led a pensive and lonely life.
Enhanced pseudo Euthanasia
This raises the last question of pariah for large inter-clan marriages. Should some Luo clans downsize their Nonro and Dho-ot (not steel doors) to allow intermarriage instead of being rigid to biological clan boundaries that were set in 1400s? For example, in what was South Nyanza for example, these clans that produce incest are so large and the ones last subdivided by Luo Ker, spiritual Leader, Paul Mboya is still deemed too large by some who consider the boundaries not fit for purpose.
On the other side of the lake, the populous Kapuny sub-clan of Ugenya broke ranks in the late 1960s and by practise de-classified their sub-clan to allow inter Ugenya Kapuny inter-clan marriages. Unlike the South Nyanza de-classification of the Konyango Rabala (re: Karachuonyo versus Karungu, Kadem, Kanyamwa), the de-classification was not ritualised and Ugenya Kapuny have not owned the de-classification, meaning it is still inter-clan incest though commonly in practice.
In summary Luo customs that germinate into frameworks for crimes should be pre-empted if they are not fit for purpose.