TABOO: LUO WOMEN PRESENTS
WHY LUO WOMEN DON’T GIVE XMAS PRESENTS
People find it strange when I say that in my clan we measure beauty in kilograms. It sounds politically incorrect and freak statement to make but you will understand this in a moment even if you don’t agree with it. My people believed that the more buxom a Luo woman is the prettier she is as the apparent comfort and happiness radiates beauty. This could be because of the complexion or the girth but at least she appears well nourished and that in itself is a success story that generates attraction. Everybody loves a winner. So a Luo woman showered with gifts and presents is naturally blooming, attractive and voluptuous.
In the beginning it was an abomination for a Luo woman to give presents to a Luo man or even a boyfriend. It is not easy to explain this to today’s young Luo men why other young ladies do it so freely and yet in their own community the Luo ladies don’t give presents.
It is even more difficult to explain why a Luo lady will give presents to a non-Luo man but not treat the Luo men the same way. It could be something to do with their belief that when they spoil foreign men with gifts it is like violating the men or abusing the lost souls. Something they would not dare to their won Luo men. Like a white or Arab slave owner declaring that he is a monogamist but keeping black concubines.
To understand the Christmas and other gifting in the Luo community we have to go back to over 1000 years because Luos in general and Luo women in particular are last bastions of Luo culture. The bits of customs Luo men discard easily, Luo women still desperately hold on to like in ethnic purity maintenance.
Needless to say, Christmas gifting came into Luo land with latter day western aping of European customs. It did not come with returnees from the world wars. Was never there with urban migrant workers in pre independent Luo land and not even with immediately post independent Luo workers more so because women were not always the migrant workers. But even if they were there was a third deterrent it appears. The men never wanted gifts from their wives and young boys considered it a mark of uncircumcised Luo man to be treated with gifts.
I remember in 1971 a cousin married a Luo man of Musanda near Yala and working with East African Railways in Mwanza, Tanzania had a very interesting episode. The wife was the sole key punch operations staff at the electricity company in Tanzania, TANESCO. Risper Ann Aor also doubled as the data operations expert at Nyanza Textile company in Mwanza, Tanzania. Data operations/ processing was a method of key punching information from Olivetti machines onto a processed card in binary formation as seen on shopping items and text books in tiny lines. It was the precursor to the computers as we know it today. Risper was the only expert in the whole of Tanzania. Most of the staff on such Mechanised Accounting were trained at Kenya Institute of Mechanised Accounting on Victoria Street, Nairobi. I think it was third floor of Mercury house. All regional Africans flew to Nairobi to train in mechanised accounting using key punching cards from this college.
However, Risper’s husband did not care. Wilson never cared for Risper’s earnings. The money did not concern him because as a Luo especially from the boisterous Sakwa people of Siaya county ‘what has a woman’s money go to do with a man!’. Wilson would never accept this money, because it belonged to her and her parents. That was the arrogance of Luo men by then.
You can now understand why pop singer Gabriel Omolo and his band Apollo Komesha laments in his 1972 song, Tutakula vya Ajabu that it is not right to be fed by a woman. But how did this come about? Who indoctrinated this backward idea into a Luo man’s head. What a barbaric and primitive culture! Not all Luos think that their culture is primitive. Luo purists also point to other impure cultures of trying to introduce slavery in a modern society by making the Luo men not worth their salt malleable and lacking acumen. So how did it start?
I can cite similar cases from even world famous Trade unionists Luo that was busy sending young Kenyan men and women to study abroad but kept his graduate wife at home because he did not need that money. But more to the point he did not want the world to think that he was being fed by a woman even if his wife. He was proud of her Makerere degree alright and her background but had no time for her money. That is how deep the Luo sickness with provision from a woman is. Then when did the rain start beating the Luo man to accept fending from wives or girlfriend.
Probably very late 1950 but definitely before independence an incident happened on the Uganda bound train through Malaba crossing border. A later to be President Obote was robed in a sack (gunia) and bundled on to a Malaba Uganda bound train with instructions not to be let off until the train crossed the border in to Uganda. On whose order was this? The great Tom Mboya? The account varies and the last eye witness passed on in 2018. Mboya detractors say that Obote brilliance made Tom Mboya envious while Obote detractors point to an angle that interests this blog very much. That Obote alikwekwa. Something the Luo of Kenya could not just see happening.
The punishment for anti-social or anti cultural Luo behaviour especially around Ambrose Ofafa (jakalkada) time and Chief Owino Daudi’s reign in Nairobi was that the Luo girl to be robed in a gunia and sent back to Nyanza. So if a Luo girl became errant and no matter how much she changes her name from Adija, Mwajuma, Mwanhidi, she will be hunted down and repatriated to Luo land. Now if this was future president Obote’s crime for kuwekwa, then it means that even to a Luo man kuwekwa was so repugnant and basically an abomination to the community that the colonial government embraced it.
WHAT IS KUWEKWA?
Kwekwa in my simple oswahili is to be maintained by a woman spouse. It was when a Luo man submits himself to the care of a woman. It was not marriage. The man was generally a toy thing or a thing to be kept for mating only. The man was a cellophane. Everybody sees the offspring but nobody recognising the existence of their father. When I was young, a wise uncle of mine like many wise people used to be solicited to cast off the spell of kuwekwa. Then an emissary would be sent to collect the clansman being maintained from wherever the woman lived cleansed and given a new lease of life and immediate local carefully selected bride from renowned clans known for producing home maker women.
The main characteristics of such Luo men is that they were slow, malleable or just love good life without toiling. In general, they were very soft characters. On the side of the women they were communities where because of migration, colonial repression, or migrant families, the men were in short supply. Sometimes with such communities they would find themselves bachelorette stage with no men interested because of their age. Such women resorted to maintaining men. A few cases were widows and even women who just feign Muslim names moved to Majengos of East Africa and maintain watu wa bara.
The consequences of Kuwekwa is that the man loses everything and the offspring losses direction. So the woman and the man both loose. I think you can now begin to understand why Luo women loathed to maintain a man. They would never want it for their own children.
Even in the latter years when Luo women maintaining musicians became trendy, they, Luo women would never proudly own the life because they know and everybody knows that they were not welcome in Kenya or Congo or western Africa because nobody believed in this as a marriage except kuwekwa. The arrangements are as un-formalised as the gifts given to a Luo man by a Luo woman and it can be recalled any time.
Like the Vikings and many African tribes, the Luo man’s role was to fetch wealth, to protect the empire and to multiply. The Nordic Vikings and the Scandinavian women in general depict the Luo women. They are managers, administrators, nanny welfare state and everything else except to give and maintain the man. The very concept of giving a man meant that they had less than a man who cannot go and fight, cannot go for raids, cannot go warring for her. Its unpalatable to a Luo woman. It brings tears to her soul that her man is now demanding to be treated like her.
So over the years every saying, every custom, and every ritual is built around this common mainstay.
Take for example marriage. In Luo marriage, the bride is never gifted. The gifts are basically to the mother of the bride. Its only in later years that the father started poking her nose after enticing the mother of the bride with monogamy (we are one in Christ and all that jazz). In all the stages of a Luo wedding the men are never the recipient. From Ayie, nyombo, diero, dher oyuma there is no mention of the father of the bride. Subsequently the bridegroom is never mentioned as a receiver of anything in a Luo marriage.
In Luo sayings there are countless of sayings that warn or imply that to be the recipient of gifts from a wife is not an ethical thing to do. Sayings like loch dhako, ka irango gik ma gweno chamo are all directing a man away from a free loader off the wife.
The Luo saying dhako ochayo miend chuore is a classic. She will never shower the husband with platitudes because its unmanly to force such on to him in front of clansmen. The Luo wife is constantly to draw attention to his tough exterior so giving him gifts is still subconsciously anti-social.
Most Luo men of my generation grew up to almost a taboo in to the kitchen. It the same Luo cave men who find celebration of Christmas gifts, baby showers, birthday gifts very uncomfortable because they take something off the man.
I sought a middle aged woman’s opinion and her response was very interesting. “I buy my 60-year-old husband and Christmas presents and take him out if he agrees but you cannot see the appreciation”.
Another middle aged woman, decries, “He takes Christmas days and his birthdays to be a creation expert. He appreciates presents from our children more than mine as if those children came from his ribs, those children came from my -----”
A sober female observer said, “I think that traditional Luo processes of socialisation and the positioning of a Luo man as a provider over 1000 years have somehow dehumanised the Luo man to the point that his feelings don’t matter in the overall scheme of things. Luo men are not wired to show emotions which in turn portrays them as lacking the capacity to appreciate emotion. They are they fore not conditioned for human warmth”
However, this is a very isolated experience. I spoke to one Rita Wamaitha who openly said listen even to Luo tv advert of Roiko tedo chiemo. It’s so full of passion. It is in everything they do be it opposition politics or football and in every corner of the globe it is visible. The pull of Luo emotion cannot be summarised by Christmas presents. Which other tribe has dominated Kenya so much that Uhuru becomes Ohunye and Kenyatta is Onyatto”
Phonetics aside, I spoke to a single Luo woman who scoffed “if Luo men were emotionally unwired what is this stampede to marry a Luo man. Stats don’t lie”
And here in lies the answer, probably Luo women are being elbowed off their men by non-Luo women not afraid to buy the Luo man with Christmas gifts. If that is so the Luo woman is just but a victim of cultural revolution because they are slowly giving up the habits of the Vikings of the river Nile 1000 years ago.
When I asked why they are not ready to give up on that archaic bravado custom, one Luo lady answered, “this same new culture will take our sons away. Raising a son up to 25 years of age then watch another woman come and buy him away with presents and extinguish your generation of descendants?”
“What’s the point?” she added and hung up the phone