CULTURE AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AMONG THE LUO.
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
What is a gynaecologist in dholuo? Or even what is reproductive health in dholuo. I have been trying to find out the direct translation of a gynaecologist in dholuo, the language of Luo people. It appears nobody knows of any such dholuo word. And like many words whose use are pretty modern, the correct direct translation goes missing. We are left with description or nearby false words to bring out the meaning.
So does it mean that the functions of a gynaecologist or reproductive health were never in existence in among the Luo people? A gynaecologist is a doctor who specializes in female reproductive health. In my understanding therefore what is missing is the word for a Luo who specialised in female reproductive health.
The question therefore is who specialised in Luo women’s reproductive health in the not so distant Luo community? Most Luo ladies I have managed to interview from the ages of 35 years of age to 70 years of age insist that there was such a speciality. And they add that most of these things were basic common knowledge that every girl and boy knew!
At first I found this a little bit out of the ordinary. It was not easy for everybody to be well versed with a branch of science that takes ages at the university to master.
It is at this point that I was taken through the basics of say what is so complex of teaching cleanliness of a young girl, or a woman who has given birth. I realised at the same time that the things I took for granted like a husband tendering to a woman who has given birth I inherited from my Luo culture and not a paid gynae. The nutrition, the preparedness was not from any gynae. Wero (showering of a sister in law who has given birth) I never learnt from any gynae of face book with women bumps. Ooh there was no Facebook.
Even in post-natal mental health routines I was never taught by any paid services. The whole series of gifting the wife and mother in law in wero, diero, dher kayiem no Luo man is taught on you tube face book or paid professional. Yet all Luo men spoil their wives with the foregoing gifts. And they have immense role in the post-natal mental health of a woman whose hormones have just been unbalanced during child birth. No court cases or litigation gives that one back.
By the way the traditional cardinal wero is the gifting of a wife or mother who has given birth. The ritual of diero is the gifting of the mother in-law after a wife has had a baby. Diero can also take place after the traditional wedding just like dher Kayiem. However, they form of the whole body of showering after a woman has given birth. The emphasis on these rituals are mandatory by any Luo man beyond the age of 18 living anywhere on the universe.
And there were so many taboos that directly barred the husband that I practised without realising the depth of the taboos. A good one was that infidelity by person with breast feeding wife would make the child sick! It did not rhyme to a young lady recently until when discussing this blog that the young lady was told that it was all hygiene to the woman who has just given birth. And taboos were not only addressed to the man and the woman. Even the sister in-law who is the house help was barred from so many things and was literally living the life of an ancient monk (I am not sure of modern monks). And woe unto her should the next child not arrive within 2 years!
The bottom line is that there was not a session of coming of age where this knowledge was imparted to the incoming youth. This formed part of the inbuilt tutorials in siwindhe, simba and chike as one grew up in the community. And thus rendering the roles of the a professional gyane irrelevant and non-existent until the modernity took away the tutorial space and gave us an expert to pass on to us the skills and knowledge. In other words, the family inbuilt system is now replaced by 8 years training by professional bodies.
How apt was the traditional inbuilt training or was it just fit for purpose? A friend who specialises in alternative medicine tells me that most health needs are still catered for. And true some dances like ohangla was for a certain age group because of physiological reinforcement they did to the pelvic bones. The absence for these have been taken elsewhere with post and ante natal classes. (Rumba as a dance has its roots in post-natal health).
Still this body of science ranges from the basic to the most complex of that modern medicine just came through the other day and yet was a common knowledge. I will venture into this one medical condition in reproductive health known as raliel just to illustrate my point.
In about 1970 in my preteen years, there was popular record by Gabriel Omolo that bordered on the mythical. I forget the title of the song. Gabriel Omolo is the all-time Kenyan sales record breaker with his household song Lunch Time. Gabriel Omolo was very good in social commentary. At times he ventured in kidology on Luo customs like Jaluo Asili, Keep change, Jadak kende. In this song about raliel he sung about a person who used the gynaecological condition of the ladyto stigmatise and destroy relationships, if I recall the lyrics correctly. However, to the Luo community raliel was not stigmatised and did not even need a cure. It was just a slightly deviant medical condition. Legend has it that one of ancestor Rachuonyo (ancestor of Karachuonyo) wives was raliel and so was the daughter of the ancestor of Seme clan. What is this raliel that was so much a common knowledge that Luos knew about and boys were tutored on the antidote?
Raliel is an abnormal body reaction in a woman that can make sexual intercourse impossible. From the fables we heard and from this song by Gabriel Omolo, everybody knew how to go about this handicap. In other words, in the ancient life knowledge was passed on within the community.
Raliel is a medical condition where the birth canal can unpredictably cover itself or close like an anthill. The medical condition causes the birth canal sphincters to tighten up making sexual penetration impossible or extremely painful.
According to Luo folklore the manoeuvre is to surprisingly apply pressure on her throat during an attempt penetration at which point the sphincter loosens and becomes normal with no risk of tightening again during intercourse. This Luo trick was a reproductive health adjustment that made women with such deviants live normally in the community. Below is a medical article from WomansLAB magazine for your ease of reference.
“Woman's Lab article:
In some women, the muscle stays tight all or most of the time—even when it shouldn’t be. It can become so tight that even the most determined signal from a woman’s brain is not able to release it– even when she desires to have vaginal intercourse with her partner. Or, it can tighten up on occasion, like when a woman is thinking about or attempting to have sex or have a gynaecologic exam. For some women, it’s situational. The bulbocavernosus might work fine during sex, but contract up for a gynaecologic exam. Or, it might work fine in the doctor’s office, and tighten up during sex.
A tight bulbocavernosus muscle is most noticeable during attempts at vaginal penetration. The word to describe tightness in this muscle is “vaginismus.”
When vaginismus happens, the muscle is not the only problem. The muscle squeezes the small blood vessels, depriving the area of oxygen, and it squeezes the small nerves which can be painful.
In women without much oestrogen due to menopause or anti-hormone treatments for cancer, the tightening of this muscle can pull the whole vagina tight. This makes it feel like the vagina is shorter and narrower.
The absolutely predictable thing a woman with vaginismus will tell me about her attempts at vaginal penetration is:
• “it feels like there’s a wall in my vagina” or
• “my partner feels like they are hitting a wall” or
• “my tampon is hitting a wall and I can’t get it in.”
I cannot find the date of the entry of this journal, but it is very very recent. Exactly when did modern medicine discover this, I am not sure but must be very recent while the Luo tuition had such tutorials in place. At this rate it is easier to understand why there is no gynaecologists word in dholuo
For a change this post is not about which is better. It is not about why we should go back to traditional values of reproductive health. The post is just to state that the lack of an equivalent dholuo word does not mean that gynaecology or reproductive health as a speciality did not exist within the Luo community. Like many other things of careers, it existed. We just had an in-built holistic way to live life abundantly there was no need to train one person to commercially take up the job.
Whether it was expensive to train one person or such training would unveil personal bedroom talk to the community is not an issue here. It may be because corrective operations may cause its own problems that the Luo as a society was not ready to deal with. The bottom line is gynaecology and reproductive health like other profession existed and everybody was tutored and had a role to play in the family health.
It all very well backslapping and chest thumping of what my Luo people passed on to me but how about my children and grandchildren and great great grand children. Has the new society been given a full handing over report on where to pick up from cultural reproductive health education or health provision. If not I am afraid the wero and diero and all the other knowledge and skills that have been accumulated for over 1000 years have just fallen through the cracks. And here in lies the real hiatus in cultural reproductive health transfer, not the everyday fault finding the attempts of the modern institutions.