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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Nov 23, 2021

When the colonialists arrived in Eastern Africa, they were surprised to find a vibrant strong willed but very civil and governable community around Lake Victoria. So much governable that they were even mistaken for being loyalists. Yet the Luo were on the forefront when engaging the colonialists in dialogue over matters that concerned the new Kenya colony. How did this militancy turn out to a very unruly image of the Luos? First we have to look up the word unruly. But before that who were the pacified Luos.

From 1200 AD, this is a group of people with very organised civic life, religion and communal life of prescriptive customs. No eventuality was not pre-empted by a custom or ritual. The dynasties and chiefdoms set up along the river Nile were by the Luos as they made their way down the river Nile to present day Kenya. Some like the Baganda and Banyakole Kingdoms still exist to date.

In Kenya the Luos set themselves in very well knit units of kinship with customary laws that are so intricate but so strong that has made those who do not understand them to consider them backward for persisting with such centuries old customs instead of jumping on the white man’s customs like Olympians jumping in a swimming pool. In deed several of these rituals and customs have been adopted into Kenyan Law as they were the only practical customs that intervened whenever there was a gap like in burial, marriage, land tenure etc. In general Luo customs has permeated and dominated much of the civic legislation of Kenya today that it comes as a shock when it is explained to a young Kenyan where the coat of arms or the Kenyan flag colours came from.

There was really never a cultural conflict from the time of European entrance and their departure. If any anything wonderment consumed the European anthropologist on the customs of Luos.

It is pointless to go over all those evidences of good citizenship like military service, civic duties in such a short article. In fact, it was even considered an element of servitude from members of the Luo community that they took up to orderly lifestyle of the colonials so seamlessly. The term wazungu waliobaki in reference to mahogany dark skinned Luos with negroid physical features was a term to denote how adaptable they Luos were to the new governance culture and how, it was wrongly assumed that they had an overdose of European culture.

And even after independence, it is members of the Luo community who filled administrative positions mostly due to their readiness to oversee order. And not only that endless stories are still told of the general Luo populace going above board in good citizenry. There is this true story from Ukwala the administrative centre of now Siaya district. Ukwala boma as it was fondly known used to harbour a mobile bank mounted on a land rover. One day at a marram terrain with gorges at a place called Ogaso just as you approach River Nzoia from Kisumu on the way to Ukwala, the mobile bank Land rover overturned. The driver and the security in attendant were injured and dazed with the cash spilled over onto the road.

A local person instead of stashing some of the whiffy notes and getting away, herded his harem of wives to guard the overturned vehicle. He then borrowed a bicycle to go and report the matter to Ukwala authorities 6 miles away. In deed the police Inspector came and found everything just like it had been described with the two officer injured and dazed but alive at the scene of crime. The police inspector, a Kisii man turned to the reporting local and told him, “You are the biggest fool and I hope you and your generation die poor”.

I am not sure what happened to the two but I can retrieve the name and the home of the local. Anyway this was after independence and it clearly evidences that Luos were still very law abiding to authority and good citizenry.

Around the same time lived an auntie medicine woman who was touring Uganda on seasonal tour of duty missions to attend to her clients who were all involved in good citizenry. Her medical speciality was marital issues and causing chaos (sasia) to disperse an opponent. Say if you have a petulant boss or opponent. She would endlessness befall your boss or opponent to domestic strife at home until he the boss or opponent leaves you alone to deal with overbearing matters at home. I am told she was very good at her expertise. She could even put a spell on wazungu expatriates who would abandon the Kenyan station to go elsewhere. She was married in a place called Siranga, half way between Ukwala boma and Nzoia market along the Kisumu Ukwala road. For some reasons at a Uganda maximum prison there was some sort of strike and all the prisoners started getting a way. My auntie Nyager, the medicine woman was visiting a prison warder who quickly explained to her what was happening. Nyager swiftly applied her stuff which bewitched the warders and the prisoners and all resorted to petty feuds not bothering to run away until reinforcement arrived to quell the prison disorder. And there are countless of cases of members of the Luo community preferring order to anarchy or disorder. So how did the Luos arrive at the unruliness?

I have observed such unruly tendencies on the Jamaicans. I am not jumping on to reggae band wagon. If anything I don’t know of any Luo girl who dances to reggae. I think it is that jumping called dancing that turns them off. Or is it the hairstyle. Anyway anybody who has been close to Jamaicans will tell you one thing. They are unruly to an orderly place. They don’t observe decorum to authority. Most immigrants from Africa will tell tales that, they will share a residential area with a Jamaican family and yet the newly arrived African children will go further to college and to good careers while the Jamaican will hardly finish high school. Why do they, Jamaicans abhor orderly education so much?

In the history of the Jamaicans that is how they fought of slavery. They termed all the structure the master brought as Babylon. Their rule number one is to reject Babylon and all that pertains to Babylon because it is no good. Anything from Babylon like sugar, salt, education, authority, police etc. is seen as evil. In general, the Jamaicans just hate authority and governments. At the same time, they are very loyal to mother and Africa and cannot conceive why the newly arrived African is so docile and domesticated. In fact, there is a loathing of the African readiness to accept what they see as subjugation.

Unruly Luo :

The adjectives of unruly are disorderly and disruptive and not amenable to discipline or control. The synonyms to unruly are:

disorderly, rowdy, wild, unmanageable, uncontrollable, disobedient, disruptive attention seeking, undisciplined, troublemaking, rebellious, mutinous, anarchic, chaotic, lawless, insubordinate, defiant, wayward, wilful, headstrong, irrepressible.

From the above definition Unruly is really far from the negative connotation the rulership have ring fenced it to mean to avoid finding out why the unruly. To be unruly as defined above is to react to some circumstance that is unhealthy without recourse to justice. In other words it ok to be unruly until that obstacle is removed.

It is the same with a Luo. A Luo will still observe laws. He will follow customs like burial, paying bride bride, observe kinship.

And if a Luo wins a scholarship to study abroad, you don’t find them in any sort of trouble spots. They are so obedient and observe the law of the land. But back in Kondele, they don’t need a second invitation to confront authority. In Nairobi’s Kibera slums they preserve their strength to uproot the railway line when the time arrives because they know the Babylonians will surely poke their ugly face.

They don’t even pay attention to Health authority orders even in pandemic like Cholera, HIV AIDS and Covid 19 because they like the Jamaicans see the government as Babylon. A place where all that anti society, anti-religion, anti-worship and anti goodness was crafted.

I am told Kisumu youths can even wake and dare the police in tear gas skirmishes. So where did this anti-establishment come from. Did it come from the political mistakes by the different Kenyan governments? True the Lake region has paid heavily to political mistakes of this nation. Of that there is no masking. Could it be the cheap lies from the state propaganda that produced this discord? True there are too many unresolved public cases and lies that are issued by the regimes. Or could it be just poor management of the civil service and state corporations. We are a long way from where we were at independence and seem to be drifting aimlessly to nothing due to benign neglect.

One thing is clear. The relationship between the state and the Luo nation is beginning to look like the one between the Jamaicans and Babylon (the slavers). And until a stroke of luck changes the course it will stay the same.

At the height of a Kenyan regime of past years, I asked a lecturer, how you change the course of a nation immersed in corruption like Kenya was by then. He answered, “Easy, just change the conscience of the nation

I asked the lecturer Mr Lucas Ojok, "And how do you do that, Sir?”

And Mr Lucas Ojok who died of a very unusual death in Uganda by then answered, “The person at the top, must preach and practice the new order”.

By the way Mr Ojok died of pneumonia during general Idi Amin’s reign. Nobody died after being sick in Uganda during General Idi Amin's reign of bullets and terror. Gen Idi Amin's Army never afforded Ugandans that luxury of dying of natural causes.


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