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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jun 4, 2021


Unlike English customs, Luo customs are interpreted and not simply administered. The interpretations of nonro clan cell to avoid incest is a classical illustration of the difference between English Common Law and Luo customs.

NONRO definition

What is Nonro or nono? In Luo customs the smallest cell of genealogical family is Nono or Nonro. It is in that cell that any intermarriage is considered incest. If we begin with the larger Luo Nation, the next stage is clans (Ugenya, Kano, Sakwa, Kamagambo etc.). After clans is sub clans or dho-ot (Karuoth, Kaugag, Kakhan, Kaluo in Alego clan). All these bear male names because they directly follow male Luo ancestral chart. The cell after dho-ot is Nonro.

Ninety-Nine percent of Nonro cells are named after women. You hardly meet a nonro cell named after a man which once again raises the issue of Hebrew influence. Nonro is the final determination of a person’s biological roots to eliminate any chance of incest and interbreeding. In addition to this it creates a special responsibility within a group. Is Nonro relevant today? Has Nonro ever ceased to be relevant? Even at the height of Tanzania onslaught on tribalism Nonro survived and played its role. At no point did Luos of North Mara region, Tanzania cease to determine Nonro. Of course in Kenya as President Moi was busy exterminating tribes, Luo communities were registering and enforcing Nonro under the very Societies Act that was proscribing tribalism. A futility in itself which underscored the inability of modern state laws to be interpreted. The very President Moi who was busy stifling tribal associations was also the chief champion and defender of Nonro when in complete in disregard of what was in the High Court, the President took sides to support Umira Kager nonro cell of the people of Ugenya.

Nonro which are usually named after women is determined at birth and is fathers linage, not mother. Nonro does not change with legality, geography or time. It is there at conception and even in absent fathers or where a woman was not married it can still be determined with stunning accuracy. The accuracy was traditionally assured by the use of elderly midwife who understood the values of maintaining that purity. They sometimes extracted information to determine this Nonro at the most excruciate labour pain in a woman. Where a child was fathered outside Luo clan the interpretation of the child’s Nonro is not administered but interpreted.

Benefits of Nonro

I am not an anthropologists and will fail terribly if I tried to underscore the benefits communal living. On the face of it you can say that the determination of Luo Nonro had the obvious benefits of avoiding incest and all that is derived from genetic engineering. But it is more than that. Maintaining a unit of people, you are closely related to was useful because it was safety in numbers. There were the benefits of African socialism in ventures and celebrations.

Mostly as members of a nonro cell could also work together in cooperative economics, commercial cartels, and political intrigues. And these were not practised by Luos alone. Other races all over the world practised these and still are practising these customs.

Even socially, Nonro and communal cells were useful in many ways such marriage, welfare, bereavement, spiritual nourishment. The notion that internet dating dating site such as Tinder, Harmony, and all other dating sites are recent invention of the internet is a tragic folly. Even before Tinder and all dating sites, Luos had profiles of different clans say Kabuoch, Ugenya Kasaga (leadership), Kadem (Ranchuonyo) Seme (stealth), Ugenya Karuoth (domineering), Ugenya Kager (Home makers). Further to this Nonro profiling is the reason why marriage between dynasty to dynasty persisted, night runners to night runners, herbalist to herbalist, birth attendant to birth attendant to sustain skills improvement and continuity.

The Purge on Nonro

In an effort to distance ourselves with tribes or to embrace new cultures, the urban Luo slowed or corrupted nonro but at what cost? Loss of spirituality like dropping keyed ancestral names, embracing modernity just picked from where Christianity and modern state cannibalising of ethnicity left off. Tom Mboya’s preaching on African Socialism is not entertained by even the most vociferous “okew gi Odhiambo” prelate. The most ardent Jomo Kenyatta follower will not name their children with African names. So who bears the blame on this killing of Luo customs.

First of all, let me say without any fear of contradiction that many cultures and groups have existed in state structures without a problem. And specifically Nyanza province had several groups now conveniently clustered as Luhyas, Kisii, Kuria, Kispigis, Teso and Elgon Maasai and there were no administrative problems. The administrative of South Nyanza for a long time was Kisii and nobody had a problem with that. Even today the boundary between Luhya nation and Luo nation does not obey Nyanza, Western province administrative boundaries. Ironically where there are violent confrontations like between Elgeyo and Marakwet the Kenya government policy was “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

The impetus to kill Nonro is partly pre-empted by the state politics against bad faith tribalism. The fight to eliminate tribalism has resulted into what is referred in economics as the Cobra hypothesis or the Cobra effect. In an attempt to eliminate tribalism with Christian names, western propaganda, we ended up with more serious problems like ethnic impurity. Instead of living together in one community like Indians and Jews ensure discipline, morality and cultural values and practices are observed we opted for a caricature. In these communities’ members are disciplined and in some cases risk shaming or eventual superannuation and eviction from the community should they fail to follow the rules. Take urban Nairobi during colonial era, Kaloleni estate was associated with Luos; Bahati estate with Kikuyus; Kibera with Nubians and Majengo was a preserve of coastal people. In fact, up to 1990 remnants of these communal values existed. I recall a Kaloleni girl saying, “don’t mistake me for a Buru girl who dates a makanga in a mobile matatu” when she was practically dating an almost equal level of income. Another example is the claim that “this is Kaloleni estate baba, it is girls who move out and boys stay to watch over parents”. In the above two illustrations, these young Kaloleni youths are not talking economic status but rather are propounding ethnic values of do's and dont's when and where. These values had spiritual and economical rules to them. And mostly were appendages of Nonro values.

Currently cases of indiscipline, immorality and division in families are a permanent feature as Kenyan communities resorted to intermarriage and living among different communities in order to curb tribalism. This has resulted into confusion as far as cultural beliefs and practices are concerned. As neither the custom of the man or the woman leads the household. Take for example Luos who live among Kikuyus in Nairobi. It's a well-known fact that Luos are not supposed to be buried outside their homes. A case study is that of S.M Otieno and Wambui. The intermarriage didn't benefit the people of Umira Kager and Luo community as a whole. Quite the opposite because where a wife belonged to the community and almost everyone benefited from their kin's marriage. The fight over S. M’s final resting place led to a judicial precedent because never in the history of Luos has a widow sought to bury her dead husband away from his own clan. The people of Umira Kager won the case. If Kenya had truly eliminated tribalism, then it was the beginning of the rapture of the ethnic purity veil and the interpretation of Laws and replaced with just mere administration.

Nonro is like a tether

Rural to urban migration has also eroded Nonro cultural values because a child ceased to be a community's responsibility much less subject to nonro tethers. In the words of late Bishop Okullu, "even a ferocious bull is tethered in the owners kraal". The dismantling on Nonro meant that there is no kraal and no tether for the strong bull. Children are mainly brought up in a nuclear setting. The mum dad and in some cases house help being the only disciplinarian. If you look closely at the abnormally high cases of domestic violence, juvenile permissiveness and delinquency among the youth in the urban centres you'll realize that no one, not even the parents are able to notice divergent behaviour change in their children. The parents are busy chasing the coin, leaving their children in the hands of the house help who is also interested in getting her coin than annoy the boss by disciplining the children. In such situations you'll also discover that the house help is also from a different ethnicity. The cultural values may not be the same therefore makes it difficult for the maid to impose rules on the children. The result is cohesiveness but loss of morals and ethnic purity. The borrowing of words like "cucu" or "ruracio" among Luos is worryingly common these days. Of course reverse borrowing of words could be there. But all of them on either side losses meaning in translation. We risk losing our identity and cultural practices as a result of "forced" and "false" coexistence.

Things like "juogi" or naming children after our dead relatives is almost becoming extinct as a dodo. They no longer even give their children Luo names anymore. Reason: they don't want their children to be identified as Luos after what happened in Naivasha during post-election violence. What resulted in the maiming of Luos in Naivasha for example; rural to urban migration and the desire to eliminate tribalism. The mere pretence that Luos and Kikiyus can peacefully co-exist in a vacuum of ethnic values is like in the parable of wheat and tares. The parable of wheat and tares Mathew 13:24-30. Tares look very much like wheat only that it's a weed. You can only separate wheat from tares after harvesting to avoid uprooting the wheat (the down crop). The co-existence of Luos and Kikuyus without a dominant custom to interpret daily lives can be termed as a "ticking time bomb". That parable also teaches Christians that both good and bad will co-exist. And that whenever you toss a coin, you are likely to end up with a tail or the head. And that right there is what happens even in the diaspora, when the coin is tossed and the result is not pleasing whether in Nairobi or western Rome, London, New York or Chicago. The tainting of ethnic purity is rudderless when simply administered by replacing with unknown foreign 'convenient values'.

And still we expect the same children to bow and salute to Black Lives Matter with any conviction when they do not possess the same conviction that is the basis of their lives.

NONRO in other parts of the world.

Right under the noses of President Moi and Attorney General Njonjo who were the chief campaigners against ethnic purity. The Kenyan Asians and Somalis were in all sorts of business cartels and intrigues. During President Moi time I never saw a single Kenyan Asian married to a Kalenjin despite their wealth because the President Moi campaign was simply an administration of a law and not interpretation of the same law.

The Somalis, Jews and Indians have jealously guarded their purity which has greatly impacted positively on their success especially in business and strength as a community. The secrets are kept within the community. The wealth and ethics are kept within. The closest to this in cultural values have been the Nigerians in particular and the west Africans in general.

Of course the Somalis in the diaspora even upped the tempo and believe in certain parts of London. For example in the hearts of European capital and strict anti bigamy laws, Somalis still practice polygamy and proudly claim welfare cheques in polygamous unions. With what advantages? The USA and British top medics is almost all Indians. You have to convince me that the Indians who struggled to go to Alliance High School in Nairobi is now a doctor in UK and a Kikuyu child who beat her can only be a nurse. This in my opinion is a warped argument unless you bring in the siege mentality which is ethnic purity.

Is Nonro applicable today?

We all know the fate of Facebook and WhatsApp cooperative economics. So I will not go there. But what if these ventures followed the well-trodden paths of Nonro. Would the failure rate be this high? Still on cooperative economics, if say a young lady was venturing on bakery business. Would it not serve the purpose if her base clients are members of Nonro, followed by dhoot then clan? Don’t say that it is unfair competition or cartel if the whole world is doing it and getting away with it.

How about in family structures. I am yet to see an internet dating site for Kikuyus only or Kambas only or Luos only. Are we not missing a lot when we can resort to larger dating groups who know nothing about say Kamba, Kikuyu or Luo values? Will a western dating site know the values and responsibility of say a Kikuyu or Luo widow, widower or divorcee?

Then the question is if religious groups, races and other nations have refused to let go of these cells, what is the Luo interpretation of Nonro that makes us abandon what binds together and adopt a loose arrangement like Black Lives Matter?


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