NAMLOLWE: WHERE WE MEASURE BEAUTY IN KILOGRAMS.
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
In 2008 after the US presidential elections in the US when the world was celebrating the likeable President Barack Obama, I happened to be passing by California visiting old school mates on my return trip from Mexico tour of duty. I mention this incident because I was nicely surprised that negrata (people of African descent) is still a novelty with Mexican Aztecs parts of the world. While killing time flicking through tv channels in my hotel room I stumbled on a very interesting debate and it dawned on me that a bigger part of the world was still even on a bigger double celebration with universal acceptance of Mrs Michelle Obama. Right there on a show on US prime time view was a resounding sigh of relief that Michelle Obama acceptance was proof enough that:
1. Dark girls need not bleach their skins to be accepted and
2. Big bodied women like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana do not have to feel limited because of their frame and instead they should embrace their girth.
It is the second celebration that I want to write about today. I come from a part of the world where beauty was seen in big sizes. New Yorker Size 0 would just attract derision of rang’ede, rakor, ramidekre, siranda etc. Not that my people were championing obesity or body shaming rapudo (petite women). But certain environmental conditions just favoured a full some body of a Luo woman to the extent that even oruenjo (stretch marks) on a full body of dichol (a dark skinned Luo girl) was seen as a mark of beauty just like double chins, lembe ofuono or ng’ute ong’olo nyo.
And true I was privileged to work for an INGO that was housed on the first floor of a building owned by the famous fashion icon in North London. On the 2nd floor of the building were the dresslers and their sewing machines. The 3rd floor was the fitting room and changing rooms for the pretty models. As we shared the same entrance to the building, every now and then in the evenings or weekends I would have to let the super models in when they hit the entrance buzzer (late workers). What shocked me on seeing them from one metre away was how small and frail they looked. From lake shores these supermodels were far from attractive. Culturally they were frail. If they were Luo women, they would have to be fattened first. Discussing with a colleague from the media department, I was even made aware that the women I see on the screen as models on some Next Top Model are merely actors because their frame is too big to be models of size 0! This was a culture shock and reality check for me.
SNEAKY SHAPE UPs
What is remarkable is how did yester years' Luo women maintain that fulsome body frame without getting obese? There were no gyms, no dieticians, not clinical nurse, no weighing machines. And yet the weight was not a problem. If anything they lived longer. A woman stayed Nyaburi for a long time. The body shape from nyako ma-pong’, ma-hembo, manyuru to nyaburi was not markedly different. No wonder a Luo woman has only two classifications, nyako and dhako. In addition to this in old age the women retained same body structures. For example, in all my Life I never heard of a Luo woman bed wetting because she is of old age. Go ask around. I doubt whether you will hear of such a problem even in nursing homes of a Luo woman even in the 90s ma layo I piende unless it is a serious medical condition. I cannot say the same for other groups because I have the experience of administering procurements for Homes elderly women in Kenya.
My conclusion is that there must have been sneaky shape-ups to maintain the size of these Lake based beauties. There must have been a healthy living lifestyle that helped them maintain this body at just the right frame. Ok I am fibbing a little. I read about the idea in 1973 in a women’s magazine for blacks. It must have been American Essence magazine from Johnsons and Johnsons Publications.
In the above article the author was encouraging pan African women in diaspora (real and original diaspora not economic immigrant workers) to live like women in their motherland, Africa by shaping up on every aspect of their lives at the slightest opportunity in their daily lives.
Lakeside Sneaky Shape ups.
With the above idea in my mind since 1973 I have jogged my memory to how I saw my people live in the 1960s and fables and legends I heard. There are various traditional shapes ups. Some are forced by habitat. Well I think all.
For a start Lakeside weather and we all know how it impacts even in seasonal productive years of ploughing, harvesting and weeding. The type of foods available in the ploughing season, planting season, rainy season, weeding seasons, harvest time impacts on sneaky activities that shape the body. They also enforce change in diet which in turn impact on the obesity on either side of the scale- either reducing or increasing the weight in a seasonal cyclical rhythm.
As much as foods were determined by the seasons, some foods and diets were enforced by nyamrerwa (traditional paediatricians) or jocholo (traditional birth attendants) or even the herbalists. For example, any Luo knows that ludhbor (flat tripe0 is for brestfeeding mothers). Generally, a woman who has just given birth is spoilt with certain delicacies like oduko (bible intestines), akwacha (tripe ti intestines), chino (honey comb intestines), lokro (sweet breads) etc. But at the same time fish was not allowed near a manyuru (mother who has had just had a baby) nor was game meat. Why is so?
Traditionally Luos ate dried or smoked fish, because fish eats flesh. In general, Luos did not eat game that ate flesh. So fish was to be drained of any kwir (possible impurities) first. But then dried/smoked fish was not good for mothers who are breast feeding because baby food will dry up or is not manufactured enough by the body due to dry fish (nyathi wang’e biro bam taboo).
In managing a woman’s diet like this the body size variations was also maintained at perennially nyaburi so that the size between hembo and manyuru stayed almost the same. The Lakeside lady remained elegant unlike women who have no ‘shelf life’ after giving birth.
I have posted before on Lake side intermittent Fasting coupled with long hours of sleep, less alcohol abuses of the body unless during nyasi or ndalo keyo. Binge drinking is not a traditional Luo thing. End off.
Cooking- The elaborate dishing or serving of food is not just cosmetic. Take for example the way nyuka is stirred or the way kuon is dished on the table.
A Luo woman’s way of stirring says volumes about her character but also exerts a lot of energy. The repetitive and methodical separation of rech, ring’o-makil, ring-diel, ring-rombo and ring-dhiang’; gweno, (poultry and beef) is derided by west Africans people. But consider for a moment the time taken to separate the pot for fish and vegetables only (and they have different names). West Africans will cook all this in one huge nyuol-ber pot because after all they are destined to the same stomach. But the sneaky task of energy and exercise in separating this meal is in itself a sneaky exercise.
Then we get to what appears as window dressing of food. For example, it looks cosmetic that a Luo woman persist in shaping and moulding kuon before it is placed on the table or before diners. Still this exercise in itself is a sneaky shape up. Enough of the catering business as a sneaky shape up.
I worked for an INGO by the name Indigenous Food Plants. I met a odiero jarachar who was thrilled and interested in some mannerisms of Luos as a healthy life style even before we get to healthy traditional food plants like ochwa instead of sugar, nduma instead of bread, kuon-kal instead of maize meal.
The muzungu insisted that the breathing during the loud Luo laughter’s was good for the heart. So I helped him to name the types of a Luo woman’s laughs eg, tito- nyiero, ngeko-nyiero, goyo-huan, goyo-buaja. And in contrast, he said the stifled laughter of say Orientals, English and Bantus is just good for them physiologically because their anatomy can be sustained that way. For the purposes of my post it suffices to list the loud boisterous laughter of Luo women as a sneaky shape up that maintains that beautiful fulsome body
Don’t act like you don’t know this one. The way a Luo woman walks is in itself like going to the gym and burns just as much calories as going to the gym. From the tender age when she was scolded by the mothers (note the plural), woth-ka-nyako, her walking graduates to a sneaky shape up to maintain the beauty.
I will not go about describing them but they are various for different purposes and come in different names like nyono, reto, tondruok etc. They all count in sneaky shape ups. By the way, is there a Luo woman marathon runner? That was just by the way. Don’t read anything in it.
My mother when watching tv once commented, “to nyi wasung gi dhianjore ga mana I kom? Ok gilos ga law da? I leave it there that the exercise involved in sitting down burns a few kilo calories.
Oh before I go do modern day Luo girls appreciate the anatomical benefits of Luo sitting with their knees tight as opposed to the trending western ngenyruok of crossing the leg?
Ohh yes, it was brought to my attention about 15 years ago that there is one thing that Luos do with abandon. That is dancing. And they dance with a serious face because it is full combat. They sweat. A young diasporan visited Kisumu ohangla night and said that more than anything the genuine sweat scent that you smell at an ohangla gig is a novelty. You can never get that real authentic energy sweat in a London club and may be only if you attend Rio de Janeiro fiesta.
And Luo dances had different names until you get to the oldies when slow steps like yong’o, dodo came into play. Just another shape in a Luo way of life to maintain that bountiful body
The American style banter among the Luos is legendary and is only comparable to the African American banter. It is sometimes confused with a people with no serious things to do and yet Luos remain the most passionate and still minded group of Kenyans. Even in the middle of a serious debate, they will throw in a banter. The recent example that had me in stiches was the current BBI debate, when a random street speaker in supporting Raila stand on BBI said, “Wabende waol gi opposition. Jomoko bende odhiye e opposition ocham tear gas waneye”
And How about Nyathi yom nang’o that emanated from the boat tragedy of 1984. This endless banter is good for the fulsome pretty Luo body.
Essence Magazine (extracts only).
Some of the activities described above was only good for the rural life by then. Even if you wanted to apply the same, the new way of life got in the way. We are no longer in communal life, the schooling takes away 25 years of your formative life and processed mass produced foods have taken control of the world. We can only look at comparable societies and how they are coping. And this is where what I read in 1973 may become useful or at least we can borrow the transferable knowledge and skills and adopt them to our circumstances and environment.
It is a long time ago and I am writing from memory what this magazine was recommending as sneaky shape ups for the pan African women of North America today. Let me rephrase what I read in 1973. I have been around and don’t ask why I was reading a women’s magazine. I was once a boy remember.
1. Waking up- a good lungful yawn is good for your body.
2. Washing your hands and rinsing in the morning is good for body circulation. Now you know why men don’t wash their hands when they come from the bathroom- look at their low life expectancy. You also understand why women rush to wash dishes.
3. A glass of water helps wakes you up your digestive system to speed up metabolism.
4. Ladies when dressing up reach out to bra to clip it instead of clipping it then sliding it around. That exercise helps stretch your arm joint. And this goes for other steps in putting on clothes or shows. Don’t take the easier lazy option.
5. Beddings: Even if you have a house help, stretching to make your bed every morning is gym time on its own. Do it yourself. Washing your inner garments is good for your long health and helps manage that lakeside body.
6. Cleaning: There are the corners of the house that require you to move the furniture to reach. Well, just strain every muscle sinews to reach those angles with the mop or the broom/brush. House help, washing machines, dish washers are utilities to give more quality life more abundantly. The emphasis is on abundantly. Sneaky shape up times will help live more abundant years in good health.
7. Walking: Taking the bus all the time (Uber these days) is a killer. Do the short one mile distances on soft comfortable shoes that helps race the heart. A sneaky walking to work for 2 miles will not kill you just like it never killed your ancestors. Instead it will reduce your health bills just like it did for your aunties of yester years.
8. Traffic Lights: Use every traffic light to tense parts of your body that need firming up. If you observe that on 10 traffic lights, that is enough as going to the gym. With a city with no traffic lights use the road crossings to tense the rear muscles and any losses parts of your body for 20 seconds before you cross the road. So before you cross the road firm your body. Or basically do that during the queuing time.
9. Cook: you own food instead of the fast food of pizzas, burger, bread etc, the quality time you get when chatting of thinking within yourself is precious. Part of the devastation that has driven the North American Red Indians and the Australian aborigines can be directly traced to the destruction of their ethnic food production, preparation and consumption. What is left of these communities is mass alcohol abuse that will take hundreds of years of public investments to restore. The level of health problems in these two communities is massive.
It’s a long time ago, and I cannot recollect all the 20 but if I do, I will update these transferable skills. And if you have any of your own sneaky shape ups let us know. We will thank you massively.
In summary it is the sneaky shape ups that helped maintain the Luo ladies’ bodies to be perennially elegant. Now I can also explain away why Luo women outlive the men. It is not true that they stress the men. It is just their sneaky shape ups to maintain that body that gives them longevity.