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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jul 28, 2020


I have been searching the meaning of the Luo saying “yuoro law kuach “for years. Last week I bumped into another version which is very different from the common ones I know. And this new narrative could have its meaning stashed among the diaspora Africa in the Americas.

Deep inside Alego of Kenyan Luo land, Legend has it that there is a ritual dance preserved for prenuptial night traditionally but with the lakeside people becoming more permissive, this dance is these days performed by in laws much after the marriage. It is not a celebratory dance but is a bewitching dance to cement the marriage by “tying” the man. It is different from Luo wedding dances of Agoro or Ndaria.

That is why when I saw Rihanna video dancing the Alego ritual dance I was taken back how it reached Rihanna the Beljan pop star now based in the US. I know Rihanna has never been to Kenya. She did reach Tanzania where I grew up among the Wanyamwezi, Wasukuma of Mwanza suburban area and never saw any dance near this Alego ritual dance. They are definitely much raunchier and much more explicit than the majestic Alego ladies dance. The Alego choreography is however just as suggestive as the words and lacks punch and velocity. The other place with a similar dance is Togo or Gabon, which is in the same belt as Lakeside Nyanza.

The thing about Rihanna is that she has that deceptive Alego ladies look. They appear short but close by they are taller than they actually appear with a hidden forehead. From the dance floor they look like the limbs are disproportionately longer and the limbs appear to drag their motion. As a matter of fact, dance styles that require body mechanics are not popular in a leg. They are more into dances with coordinated footwork choreography repeated again and again.

They have this soft meek approach as if they are ready to apologise for everything including the way things are in China but check with Chris Brown if he ever got the apology. Interestingly it is Rihanna’s Umbrella hit that was the icebreaker for otherwise professorial presidential campaign for another Alego boy, long limbed President Barack Obama in 2008.

In general, different dances have spread all over Africa and some went with the African diaspora both eastwards and westwards including Rihanna's Barbados. It is the westwards that we like talking about because of their denial of the obvious African influences.


It is simple to say that the Americas music and dance was influenced by music from the Kongo Kingdom full stop. The Kongo Kingdom is not some automobile model. The multiplicity of ethnic groups which created the Kingdom of Kongo came from the ancient Egypt and the Nile Kingdoms, from the second century and much much later from the Ibo Land in the 11th century which known as the Kingdom of Ife, the new Nigeria. This reality represents the many reasons that explain away the complexity and wealth of Congo dance customs and spirituality and by proxy the same of the Americas. Specifically, the reverence of the Leopard in Haiti, Mobutu, Fidel Castro and the Luos of Kenya (Yuoro Law kwach) but has nothing to do with other tribes. The study of a Leopard is almost the same as the study of a Luo. Leopards never scavenge and when they kill the prey must fall on the right side for it to be a meal. That is almost replica attitude and arrogance of the Cubans and say a Luo (woman).

The existence of the dance styles can also still be tracked along that route by some of the words still existing today. And dance hall element of these in Africa and the dancehall elements transcends the rites, customs, spirituality and beliefs in any particular ethnic community like the Alego ritual dance that Rihanna picked for her music video, “Where have you been?”


The following dancehall lingo on either side of the Atlantic Ocean gives some tell-tale.

Sundama/Sundu: This was a dance style of the early 1990's in the Congos by pop groups such as Zaiko, Victoria Eleison, Anti Choc from Congo. The word is literally dance when bending over which was very lewd in suggestion. Fortunately for Lakeside Kenya nobody noticed that the dance posture which coincided with Benga Okatch Biggies milking of the juicy Sianda lyrics and first four letters went a long way in spelling the anatomy of Sundu which the song was about in Lingala. If the chant had been a wholly bantu word then chant would have been closer to something equally rhyming like, Inamae Ina; Inamae; Ina; Inamae Ina.

Nkumba / rumba: Disregarding the Nkumba narrative in Cuba of the “dance of the belly button” as the misconceived source of rumba dance. Nkumba can also refer to umbilical cord where a type of rumba version went rouge where you tie a couple by the rope. But the ritual was sometimes a row of couples lining up either side of the divide then meeting in a violent rhythmic face on face thrust at the waist to the repeated thud of the cow drum.

Twerk/ Twikila: For Christian public decency Twinka is not used, however the salacious twerk moves in 2016 and the Kikongo verb twikila is common practice among the Bakongo planters in villages in the Congo. It means planting vegetable by hand by digging a small hole. The slang, “twinka” to mean intercourse which was created among the youth was killed for public decency. However, an abstracts “kulula” is acceptable in pop music.

Nyekese/ Longinisa: The subtle message of this pioneer label is deliberate “booty shaking” to entice. I believe Nyekese is very normal language 50 miles across the Kenyan border into Uganda from the Kenya side. Nyakayasa is the equivalent fashion that goes with the deceptive booty walk.

Zombie dance: The word Zombie finds its origin from a Congo basin word “nzo” (house) and “mbi” (evil). Mbi is the same word for Dholuo meaning of mbi as supernatural powers. (ogoya gi mbi) This could have its source down the Nile unless there was back flow of movement.

Funk/Fuki: The naming of American music style by George Clinton brothers and Bootsy Collins of soul Singer James Brown happened sometime after 1970. Whether Bootsy Collins picked up after the Zaire pilgrimage is another matter. However, Bootsy Collins is academically credited to create the work funk from local dialect “fuki, lufuki” (odor). Musically funk transposed the master drums of the Congo basin which is very close to the lakeside Luos bass like hiss of the “Fuu” snake (puff adder)

Kisumba/Kisampi: Kisampi is spirit among the Congo basin dialect that stretches up to western Uganda. As a dance it is to dance flawlessly as if you are one dancing with the spirit or such. Don’t forget “mbi” the Luo word.

Which brings us full circle to the Alego spiritual world of ritual dance. There is no evidence that Rihanna did not carry the dance from Barbados. All that is clear is that the dance is originally from this continent


A few years ago my daughter who was discovering Africa’s greatness in Ancient Civilisation study program brought to my attention this video song

'Where have you been?'. It's a clever clip about a woman finding his man in Africa. I think it's not a man. It's Rihanna being starry eyed by the richness of African dance and music. I think it was after the visit that brought her as close as TZ. Whoever conceived this video is really smart.

It opens with a woman peeping from a deserted mangrove waters

At. 0-0.30

She shows of that pretty long negroid neck of hers protruding just out of the waters. It's the sort of neck that rests on a back with a slightly arching.

I used to foolishly think that 'tigo' and 'dhi kulo' gave ladies that poise. I was wrong. (Ooops I am being told that I was not wrong). Okay I was right.

At 0.45.

She steps in the mother land choosing to enter at some North African port off the Atlantic. The video is careful to avoid any foreigners but focuses on dancing barbers and Sahara Desert dark skinned Africans. The North African long legged dancing, the dull clothing, the sun baked earth, the stunted desert shrubs. Carefully chosen scenery. This is finished off with that midriff thrust dancing of Northern Africa.

It's Africa before racism and slave trade entered. When people just existed and coexisted before the crusaders came with religion to build walls, hatred and meaningless wars. Also visible is the rich the metal ornaments.

Suddenly brass music stops, the deep drums enter but the mixed races just continue dance freely without breaking a rhythm to the changed southern sounds. There was no racism. Just people dancing to music because people were just people. Note the majority are male dancers as is typical of the north.

At 1.30

The light is dimmed. We are now into mysterious Africa which is ‘Half virgin - half explored’ as the novelty goes. The loud Luo-like ear rings, the zebra skin, the non-metallic bracelets made of animal bones and wood. Rihanna voice changes to a low motherly crooning. A bit like a priestess chant in worship. We are truly in the bosom of mother Africa. The cutex is rich dark (by the way cutex and lipstick was invented by the harems of African polygamist as traffic indicators).

The dancers have changed completely from the Northern. Not only are they short kinky haired negroids (dark and brown) but the ratio of men to women is deliberately skewed to increased women. The light is bright yellow sunlight.

At 2.03

The dance takes you to what I believe is the North-eastern sehalian empires. Why do I notice the conspicuous pink flowers of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa the place of flowers)? The deep drums have been faded. The galloping dance is here. Wide waisted beauties with ' top-bottoms' just lying in restful pose.

Then cowrie shells ornaments lead us to the choral singing with dark Asiatic hair. My guess is that Rihanna is in Mombasa, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam among the taarab singers (the Arabs called them malaya)

At 2. 55

Then deep cow drum is back with a vengeance. The brass sound is phased out. The fertility waist dancing that reduced the need for Caesarean surgery is here. The dancing is raunchy provocative and explicit. The wood instruments completely kill off the brass and metallic horn section to be replaced by strings. It's now 'kanungo ye teko ' or never. The arutu, nyatiti, Ohangla.

The reed dance, waist thrust, post-natal dances, post puberty dances, suggestive dances, the hand choreography that the Indians stole. The malongo Luo twin dance of the lake people. The Kibushi of Eastern Congo, old mutuash of the Tchilouba. The South African snake dance. The Central African foot dance. It's hot, torrid and steamy Africa.

This when I notice the loud and spiritual the Alego-Central 'ndaria' dance 'eri en tie ka; iting'o kod atonga'(3.12-3.16). This is a song and dance preserved for favoured in laws by Luo-Alego clan girls as part of the final stage of the 4-part Luo wedding. Even if the Alego in-laws don't perform Ndaria dance, they slyly pay a visit for mock 'ndaria' where they sing and chant that song. It's an Alego ritual and it exists up to now among other things I cannot mention here. But to date it's there, secretly but duly observed as a marital due diligence.

We are deep in the real Africa. Savannah and Equatorial put together where worship dictates every aspect of life.

At 3.20

The screenplay quickly dashed to the glittering psychedelic Indian Ocean dances before she retreats into the deep water and the song peters out.

Yuoro law kwach

Africa has firmly taken its place in dance as the true cradle of mankind but I am still searching for the meaning of “youro law kuach” or is it “Yuoro law kwach”. And maybe the truth is hidden among the Leopard revering Pan Africans of the Americas because the African spirituality and rituals are rich in exile than in Africa.


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