LUO LADIES: THE HIGH PRIESTESSES OF FILIBUSTER
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
In early 1990's I came face to face with a more than ordinary Luo lady in those dimly lit corridors of a government department at Jogoo Road Makadara in Eastlands of Nairobi. There was this lady officer supervising an estranged couple. She learnt that my mother is from Boro Clan of Ugenya and that made me her grandson. So as is customary she called me “chuora”. She claimed that we young men of today are jokers. “You really believe these western doctrines are of any use to you. A Luo wife has a master strategic plan for the husband that is reviewed every six hours. When she is cooking and when she is in bed, she adjusts the plan to mitigate or counter any new dynamic change.”
Buru- Buru diaries
She told me of a very interesting story in household of a Buru Buru estate of Nairobi. In this story an estranged couple were involved in a renewed battle front. Four or so years ago the wife had accepted to grant the divorce on condition that the husband fulfils all his responsibilities. The husband had assumed it is only things like, the Buru Buru house where they were boarding, school fees, upkeep and a ritual homestead as is demanded at home in the Lake side. Little did he know that there was another promise he had made on the spur of the moment in those boyish pre-marital letters. The letter had been nicely filed away even if the branded light blue Croxley cambric brand was now a little dog-eared at the corners due to time warp.
That other promise was that they will have at least four children and she had letters to prove it. Now she demanded the remaining fourth child. And to be fair she did not care who else the husband remarries after as long as she gets the fourth child before any new wife gets a child. That was just the beginning.
The difficult part was that it was taking ages for her to get pregnant and the husband now attempted to split nights with the prospective future wife while there was still work in progress for the fourth child with the estranged. To which the estranged wife rightly and legally refused to yield to as that was neither in the teen letter nor in the court settlement. And hence the hiatus in any possible divorce progress that found its way back to Jogoo road, Makadara DC offices, Eastlands Nairobi.
I listened to the story and laughed, not because it was only funny and looked like a strategic plan. I laughed because here was a filibuster right in front of my eyes and was reminding me of the American government lecture unit where I first learnt of a filibuster. Even by then a filibuster sounded like a dejavu when the lecturer explained using cookbooks and recipes. Why did she pick on those domestic examples?
What is a filibuster?
Filibuster, in legislative practice, is the parliamentary tactic used in the United States Senate by a minority of the senators—sometimes even a single senator—to delay or prevent parliamentary action by talking so long that the majority either grants concessions or withdraws the bill. Unlike the House of Representatives, in which rules limit speaking time, the Senate allows unlimited debate on a bill.
In the above tactic the legislators cannot be interrupted while they are speaking and can even form a tag team where a fellow legislator joins him when he is on his feet and he can now take a breather or go to the toilet. And they can say anything as long as they keep talking and even read menu, recipe, sports etc but will not interrupted. The longest recorded filibuster in US history was by a US racist caucus and lasted 24hours and 18 minutes. Of course the western texts now arrogate it to American then track it to the Dutch and stop there. I think differently.
We have better and longer filibusters’ tales like in the Arabian tales of Alfu lela U lela (A thousand and One nights). A tale where an African slave delays execution by telling stories for days on end and the executioners fall for the unending stories. In any case in African fables they are too many to list here. In the USA there is the tales of such delaying tactics during the African American subjugation. Pompey the negress is probably an easy one to narrate.
Pompey was a house slave who was so flowery she had to be firmly cut short once she starts talking. And she used this flowery language to delay the task master so that the slaves can have a longer break or even escape. And she could be sly too with words. In this sly communication legend has it that Pompey was up to the mischief against Master who was dressing up to go to a party.
Master: Pompey, how do I look?
Pompey: Massa, you look noble
Master: What do you mean noble, Pompey?
Pompey: Massa, you look Mighty
Master: Pompey cut the crap, how do I look?
Pompey: You look like a lion
Master: Pompey you have never been back to Africa, where did you see a Lion
Pompey: Massa, I saw one in the field the other day
Master: That was not a Lion. That was a jackass
Pompey: Well, Massa, you look like one!
And such tales of filibustering can be traced right back to Africa. Growing up in my teen years there was a common one that made me smile when a filibuster was being explained. We used it a lot in early secondary school banter and little did we know that what we took as primitivity is actually seated the highest halls of democratic legislation.
It is best illustrated in a celebrated verbosity dialogue between a village girl and boy engaged in teen romance:
Boy: Nyako adwari
Boy: Idag nang’o?
Boy: Idag-adaga nang’o?
Girl: Adag-adaga nono
Boy: Nono nang’o?
Boy: Nono-a-nona nang’o?
Girl: Nono-a-nona nono-a- nona.
And the filibustering would go on and on and on and on. And habit did not stop here basically because it is a culture that did not begin in our time like the the the third and fourth stage of a traditional wedding that contained what the Anglo-Saxons ignorantly termed as abducting. Here the Luo bride who knew very well the marriage process 'refuses' (filibuster) to go to the bridegrooms home until she is "pulled."
This tactic that is well fashioned by daughters of the lake especially when they want to get out of a corner. A simple youthful paused question like, "yawa idwa ni abi koru idwa dhi tuma naduuu?" from river yala/ndhoya catchment area has no answer. It is a filibuster. You really have to be a willy character to wriggle out of this filibuster with a culturally savvy answer without being direct, explicit, uncouth and vulgar. otherwise the whole clan will be airbrushed with a reputation of jok ma muagla, jo maranda, akor, jo saiding, etc
Folklore talks of this incident where a lady sent packing spent the whole day packing but never left even when the vehicle had been packed and ready to depart. When the hubby asked her what else she is still waiting to pack, she demands that the hubby gets into the car as well
Buru Buru diaries enhanced
And back to urban Lakeside women there was this incident when my errant in-law was caught in a case she could not win. I remember the incident like yesterday because Buru Buru estate phase 2 by then was in mint condition. You could still smell the paint on the black painted waist-size wooden fences. These fences were just for show and a thief did not even need to jump them because they were very low. But there were no thieves in Kenya so there was no need for steel gates. Also the window panes were simple without iron grills. If you locked your keys in, you could just remove one pane and send a young boy in to open for you from the inside. The estate roads were swept everyday by council cleaners. Garbage was collected regularly with very enthusiastic garbage collectors who just enjoyed their work and would even work on Christmas day. If a carcass of a cat stayed on the road for a whole day, the next day the people's watch man Martin Shikuku would raise the issue in parliament. Kenya and Nairobi in general was the place to be. And Phillip's house no 726 was paradise right here in Nairobi especially in the company of my Umira brethren.
So during one of this prompt tribunals, my in-law from Uholo part of Ugenya sensed defeat in a case we all felt she was provoked but we all lacked a clause to trigger. She had been inappropriate yes, but not out of order. You have to be deeply cultured to understand the difference between ji and jo so I will skip explaining. In the middle of a heated discussion when her response was required she stepped out and went to the toilet to pee. To this date I cannot remember whether she went out on the front lawn grass or she used the toilet with the door a jar. But she made sure everybody heard the loud gash ile ya fitina or finyo. And everybody was stunned by the roaring and furious waterfall for a brief 5 seconds or so. I was just in my late teens and the young errand boy in the group. The "jury" composed of my older cousins broke into un abashed laughter at the emphatic 'filibuster message' and everybody got up to leave. The now defeated husband a wod-nyaUrang’ just picked his car keys and went to the car. That was the end of the matter. That was the day I learnt that even the ladies water gush are controlled to give specific messages if necessary.
Of course in later life I became aware such tactics of when a truce is being called without an apology like,
· When one breaks into a hum that is going nowhere.
· When you are asked irrelevant questions like amedi chiemo itiek go kuon no
· Generally engaging in another irrelevant activity as if to say, you are wasting my time
It is just my conjecture that because some of these tactics became so effective in domestic strife resolution the filibuster became taboos to interrupt and defuse domestic tension. One of these was the kitchen boundary. Once a wife touches cooking pots to start cooking a real Luo man is expected to instantly cease any domestic flare ups. And unless the offence was a threat to the clan, it was not to be resurrected with or without apology. Or when a wife starts undressing to go to sleep, then that was the end of feud. Any Luo man who crossed such boundaries knew that they faced a chorus of condemnation from his brethren. I cannot overestimate the benefits of such taboos in the Luo family welfare of yester years.
The reality is that some may not even be taboos. A Luo woman will shout feminism all night long but generally is very protective about her kitchen or the man shopping for kitchen stuff. A Luo woman still wants her privacy in her clothes and when changing or washing them. And correspondingly wise a Luo man loathes crossing such boundaries.
Of course such habits can outgrow the usefulness especially in the urban uncultured Luo young men who expected a uniform explicit apology whenever there is some household transgressions. The latter day Luo young man is unaware that 99% of a Luo woman’s apology is unspoken and definitely unwritten. It will take time to appreciate the inbuilt filibuster, apology and most importantly the unspoken love that make the Luo woman hang around waiting for the cultured Luo man to stand up.