RIYA: LUO WIFE’S RIGHT TO SEX
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice, they would get divorce. But he would turn to African culture to un-divorce. It’s a big problem for the African. And for a Luo family that the real solutions are found in the traditional way of life.
Sex is at the core of many marital problems and since a woman is biologically not well placed to access sex as easily as a man, the woman is the most disadvantaged. So many of aspects of Luo customs and African customs in general which underscore the right to sex for a woman have been falsely construed as a cultural permissiveness that reached a crescendo during the HIV AIDS pandemic. The maligning of anti FGM friendly customs have been so resounding that even a “qualified maybe” is hard to find among anti FGM campaigners. You are left wondering where all the demonstrators against FGM have gone to where women have a window of opportunity in a custom that positively identifies with the women’s right to sex.
Without subjecting myself to research papers the whole concept of honour killing, FGM is to suppress a woman’s sexuality or better still to stifle a woman’s sexual freedom. The threat of killing plus or the genital chiselling is meant to curb her desire to sex. In these customs’ views the right to sex does not belong to a woman. All living species in the world apart from human female have the right to sex. Here in lies the deviation of the Luo customs to a woman’s sexual rights, before marriage, during marriage, after marriage and even after life.
How the Luo as a nation arrived at the need to recognise this right is not very clear? The Luo woman is not any different biologically from other women of the world. So biologically we cannot find a good reason. However, in matters habits we can at least try to understand the habitat of the Luos. As a community the group formed from raiders, and the need to swell the numbers for a source of security- strength in numbers. Maybe due to the long absence of the men or the sheer need for sex during ovulation in the midst of raids and counter raids, the right to readily avail sex to women evolved.
EMBERS OF SEX RIGHTS.
What we are left with today are evidences of the right to sex contained in sayings, words and customs of the Luo people that constantly remind us that unlike many groups in the world, the Luo recognised that a woman’s right to sex is a human rights issue or inalienable right. As observed above the actual practice on consumption of a marriage is never a matter of religion of law courts but a matter of traditions and customs. And with this is sexual rights of a married woman. A few of these customs are listed below.
From my observation the right to sex was not an afterthought in the Luo way of life. There was a carefully identified problem and solutions sought with the full knowledge that it is possible that some preparation is put in place. An evidence of one dying custom of the Luos, the bride price of dher pap is a good example.
Luo bride price was never negotiated like in many tribes. And it was not just a number picked from the air. This is so because the bride price was broken into categories of recipient. Say a prize for brothers of the girl, for mother in law, father in law. Eventually it would just be say 8 heads of cattle depending on the number of groupings of kins, from mothers, fathers, brothers, grannies, etc. Then with urbanization it evolved in to those who were able giving separate small gifts but leaving the bulk 8 heads of cow or so for the father in law. Just a normal cultural evolution like changing cows for cash or cows for educating a member of the in law family. But there is an older separate bride prize known as dher pap.
Dher pap translates to cow of the field or cow of the ranch. This bride prize was gifted to the family of the bride in some unusual way. Some say the animal was just tethered to the field near the home of the bride. Some say that the animal was delivered but the emissary delivering it never entered the home of the bride and never spoke much except to exchange of un (tether).
The purpose of Dher pap was to communicate to the family of the bride and to the bride that the bride groom is sexually incapable and therefore her right to seek sex outside the clan is not only permitted but acknowledged as an inconvenience.
I thought this system of the Luos was supreme that it allowed the men who are otherwise incapable of sexual intercourse to have a normal family rather live an abnormal life of same sex marriage or force the bride to a surprise of seeking some closet lovers once in a marriage.
It is abnormal to assume that sexual libido is equal in a couple just because they are married and in love or were perfectly matched. The Luos were aware of this inequality in ability whether natural or brought about by unnatural happenings. Otherwise how else did they come up with corrective tools such as tweyo gara, hongo roth, ong’ora.
Tweyo gara is a phrase used to describe the behaviour demanded of a polygamous man to make his return back to his home known. Literally it means tying or wearing anklet jingles. The implication of the phrase actually means that anybody entering polygamy must accept that the sexual demands within his harem is insatiable by one man alone and must therefore announce his entrance in the homestead to avoid finding any of his wives in a compromised position with a substitute lover. Indeed, this rhymes so much with the discovery of the nail polish and lipstick along the NILE VALLEY
Hongo roth which literally means clearing a gap through a fence was also another way encouraged of the polygamous man to create a gateway for the lovers of his harem since he entered a playing field where he cannot mathematically match the demand. It is a scientific improbability that the polygamous man can ever meet the sexual demands of his conglomerate. The obvious acceptance of polygamy and right to sex was mutual between the husband and the co-wives.
As much as ong’ora was right to sex, it was also a right to propagation and just like dher pap was ethical to allow the man to be succeeded with descendants or in the case of ong’ora to vary children’s sex. (It appears that my people already knew that it is a man who determines a child’s sex. How they knew, I don’t know). Ong’ora was also used to mitigate mysterious child mortality (sickle cell anaemia). By giving the wife the right to sex, one parent was replaced in conception. Since the children in a marriage all belonged to the father the most replaceable spouse was the man.
Is there such a thing as sex between marriages unless it is sordid as the western wife swopping or illegal affairs that result in honour killing? The most known intermarriage sex in Luo and still acceptable to date are around dhi dwaro riya or simple riya and such sayings as yuoro law kuach and ng’at ma musumba bende idewo wach ne.
I am not sure whether the riya here is the same as the ria in thirst as my Luo vocabulary dictates. It is slightly used differently with ria as in sexually active. Once a wife ceases sex it is termed ose wok i ria. If that is so then dhi dwaro riya aptly means “go and seek thirst” or in other words to go to quench thirst. To date this is a custom that has beaten all law courts in the world. It defies national geography. It enshrined in the belief that a Luo wife has the right to go and seek sex anywhere and come back and her place is still intact. Even if she re-married in court, Luo customs consider such courts ultravires and have no locus standi (business) in Luo customs. Most legal authorities are limited to national boundaries. The Luo dwaro riya has no boundaries. It gives a Luo woman access to sex anywhere in the world even in outer Mongolia and when she dies her place is intact as she simply sought sex but not marriage.
A recent example is a former cabinet minister’s wife left in 1970 and after 40 years of serial marriages was brought home and her place restored as the legal wife and the clan simply puts it “oa dwaro riya” (she has come back from quenching her thirst). No power on this earth has been able to circumvent this Luo custom because it emanates from the implied Luo Bill of Rights that a woman has right to sex just like a man. There have even been half baked attempts to alternative burial but still dwaro riya stands tall like a colossus in Luo customs.
The contentious Yuoro law kwach seems to cover right to sex but since it is contentious, I will leave it as such. In urban dholuo translation of ololo, okeri, okongo, it means “the inlaw is the clothe from a leopard’s skin”. Proponents of this Nairobi Eastland’s translation say it means that an in-law is as valuable as coat made of a leopard’s skin. On the other hand, we have siasa kali (traditionalists) adherents who claim that it was cautionary translation of “an in-law is a borrowed clothe”. Hence use it sparing for the purpose and return it to the owner. I leave you to judge which is the authentic meaning.
Ngat ma musumba bende idewo wach ne was a dry slur at slaves or internal stolen lovers. Slaves had no right to ownership of the children born out of that union. So there were no rewards for slaving during grave yard hours’ work. It is the same as secret lovers’ rewards. There are no rewards for those grave yard hours’ risks with time stolen with clan members’ wives. The children will never be claimed. In other words, why bother with what a slave or secret lover does during graveyard hours with a wife of the clan. This stance guaranteed the wife the right to sex
After marriage sex has been the most maligned of the Luo customs and was blamed for the rampant AIDS spread in western Kenya until someone pointed out that even groups around Kagera region that did not practice the custom were dying just the same if not more. Then they jumped to circumcision. I don’t know how that one ended. I know for a fact that Ogot Tao told them where to place that one.
The wife inheritance of the widow by kinsmen of the deceased has primary and secondary features. It has tero (involving sexual co-habiting) and lago (caretaking the deceased family). That wife inheritance custom here recognised the widows right to sex and caretaking of the widow and dependants. The two roles can be mutually exclusive in certain circumstances though in most cases it is one and the same thing.
The most interesting aspect of this inheritance is the secondary tero. That a woman is entitled to an additional tero (sexual cohabiting) should the immediate inheritor passes on if the union with the inheritor produced a child. The emphasis on the “child-result” here appears to be dual. One is that someone needs to care take the child and secondly that she must still be at an age where she must access the right to sex.
Then there is the custom most derived and used to flog the Luos even if the practice is not as gory as described. The way the social scientists narrated it in project proposals to attract funding was equivalent to someone maligning Christians as cannibals because they drink the blood of Jesus and eat the body of Jesus. I read these project proposals and they were that gory. That proposal always purported that when a Luo widow dies before she is inherited then a mad person is brought to sexually penetrate her. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to believe that then also believe that every Sunday Christians are cannibals.
The main purpose on this blog is such customs appears to stress the wife’s right to sex in a symbolic way. Interestingly the man is not accorded such rights. On the contrary when a man loses his wife, then Luo customs demand that he, the widower cannot spend the night with any woman under the sun until he meets the deceased woman in a dream and they have sex. Worse is that he was not even supposed to sleep in a constructed hut until he has that dream of consuming sex with the late wife. The spiritual right to sex of the deceased wife is still spiritually respected and guaranteed with this custom.
This is where the deliberate customs and logical thinking stuns even the most civilised Luo. If in the above case the deceased wife had ceased sexual intercourse with the widower (nene ose wok i ria), then the widow is exempt from this ritual guaranteeing right to sex to the deceased because it is irrelevant. And sure enough if you examine it biologically, then if the two had ceased having sex in marriage then it is practically far fetched for the deceased to romantically appear in the widowers dreams. Very logical but the older folks are few and scattered for me to examine this any further.
Without going into the details of the customs, more than any customs on this blog I find this as the ultimate proof of a Luo wife’s right to sex even if it is after life.
Of course the above customs have now been replaced with an urban population, escort services, and plastic toys (until the plastic bans is extended). What is paramount is to acknowledge and accept that that what we threw away was not uncivilized as we were told.
There is also an increase of DNA tests inheritance disputes. This can only go a long way in proving that contrary to western triumphalism that the Luo customs have been vanquished, there are adherents who are closet practitioners of this custom giving a Luo woman the right to sex.
In consulting for this blog I was told of a story of polygamous man who could not have children with his wives even after the first wife obliged that he marries a second wife. The clan resorted to the Luo right to sex for the wives and the man was succeeded with several descendants. These stories exist with the folklore of Luos whether they are told in whispers or not.
Most importantly when new NGOs with fat dollars come around to preach the right to sex for women, we should let them know that we had it and they destroyed it but are now practising it secretly.
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