THE NEW LUO BACHELORETTES
Updated: Jun 4
“Don’t call me a single woman or single mother? Don’t call me a widow? Don’t call me a divorcee. Such names are not culturally available to a Luo woman of any age. Call me a bachelorette”. Asserts the diasporan Luo lady firmly but gently. So I meekly asked what is the distinction.
We were walking along the lake side watching the Lake Bus as it disembarks to cross the lake to milambo. In the middle of our conversation our attention was drawn to a window less house structure next to another home.
Our path the road in between the house and the home was not paved or marram laid but nevertheless it was usable by a vehicle. We noticed this lone house next to a well-structured home interesting. So we asked our chaperone to explain us to the mystery of the well laid homestead and well plastered house.
The chaperone told us that the house is inhabited by a yester year village belle. The house had not a single window or gap on the walls but only a door that is always closed. There was not a toilet for the 80year old woman who was the lone and lonely occupant of the house. She lived in the house alone and once in a while food is taken to her from across the road well-structured home. The way the walls were firmly plastered attaching to the roof level made the sight look like an airless dungeon
On the opposite side of the road the well-structured home belonged to the son of the 80 year old woman in the “dungeon”. The son is a pastor of a local protestant denomination. We were both stunned at how a practising Christian can treat any human being like a caged animal. We enquired whether she was mentally challenged. Our chaperone told us that she was just a normal human being but was now caged like an animal. The irony did not escape us that we had just been sighting caged fish farming on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. We also noticed the contrast that even the caged fish were treated much better than the way this pastor treated his own mother.
And the bachelorette turned to me and said, “this is exactly why we reject a terminology that do not reflect our Luo circumstances. And more so why we refuse to embrace terminologies that are barbaric when Luo customs are still fit for purpose. Christianity and Religion was meant to open our eyes and never to make us blind like this pastor”.
So does the word bachelorette "uncage" a Luo woman more than the terms “widow”, “divorcee” or even “single mother” in practice. I know that various Luo customs were more liberating to a woman than European customs. Customs like Dhi dwaro riya liberated a Luo woman more than she could avail herself in say the bible. It is probably easier to define that when we examine the character of these Luo bachelorettes
Who is the new Luo bachelorette?
The English definition of a bachelorette is a young woman who is not married. Translated in dholuo, “nyako ma ok odhi tedo”. The words single, widow, divorced have been thrown in the dustbin with this adoption of bachelorette as a crisp. So what is the anatomy of this Luo bachelorette? Who are these bachelorettes. I will attempt to describe the diaspora returnee bachelorettes. But they are not limited to diaspora returnees. I have seen several of Luo bachelorettes who never travelled to majuu (abroad)
1. These are middle aged women in the prime of their careers whether self-employed or employed but preparing for retirement.
2. These are women with or without family but very straitlaced in private life, how many times they go out, where they go to and with who. You will not find binge drinkers in this lot.
3. These women are settling in new habitats of similar likes as their diaspora.
4. They are very stylish in choice of returning habitat with very picturesque geographical features, lake view, mountain view, river source. Never constructing a concrete jungle in the middle of plain level ground and least of all in urban centres
5. They have dependants who are young adults either starting out careers or just completing careers.
6. And they have a revolting disdain for uncultured practices- supermarket religion- simply imported to replace anything African
MIDDLE AGED WOMEN
Most of the Diaspora returnees were in the first place actually economic migrants whose pursuit of life in the west was just to better themselves or give their young families a chance in western institutions. So whether it is a returnee from North America, Western Europe or Australasia, they left with a common objective, have similar experience and are therefore now resettling after 2 decades or so. It is therefore easy to see how their attitude and focus is the same. They identify one locality and coalesce there.
Most of these women were not afforded free time to overextended social life while in the diaspora. Most have adopted the lifestyle of the diaspora habitat of strict clockwork routine after routine to pay bills with minimal deviations to go binge drinking on weekdays. They appear cold and distant and very dour in their lives. It is for this reason that they tend to flock together. A diasporan resettles into a locality and in 5 years 8 have moved in.
PICTURESQUE AND SCENIC.
As women they have a natural taste for good things. It is 'condition before position' in their keen eyes when looking for a locality to settle. It shows in choice of terrain, locality and vegetation. It is reflected in their pet animals, their care for those in their employment. It is reflected in the house designs (form over substance), adequacy over grand houses. They have developed necessary hobbies and past times that are acquired after living majuu for decades like archery, hiking, holiday breaks, local tourism, charitable activities, befriending the aged people in the community, negritude pride in listening to tales of Luo heroes and heroines.
In summary, you will not have a single woman with 3 children living extravagantly when there are bills in retirement to be paid, or relatives to be catered for. Like President Obama said, they consider that a "poverty of ambition".
They are mostly religious and have kept to their faith despite living in very secular diaspora communities. In fact, in many western urban centres it is the African in their bright flowing tropical colours who religiously attend church. And this has not deterred them from African roots. But what has changed is their disdain for supermarket religion and complete re embracing African or Luo way of life that does not conflict with their careers. In other words, re embracing Luo ways of life with eyes wide open
It probably for these reasons that the bachelorette (nyako ma podi ok otedo) has chosen to put Luo customary lago at the forefront of the family. There is no deadline in dhi tedo.
In Dholuo there are two words that are used interchangeably even though they mean very different things. The words lago and tero are even falsely thought to be the same practice long associated with backward people still stuck in a medieval culture. Nothing could be far from the truth. The ritual is fast dying but the social practice is very much alive as is practised by other races all over the world.
The fast fading wife inheritance of the widow by kinsmen of the deceased had primary and secondary features. It had tero (involving sexual co-habiting) and lago (caretaking the deceased family). 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 for this blog is the secondary lago. That lago (caretaking) which addresses family care is sexualised to mean only tero (sexual cohabitation). This is very unfortunate and can be laid at the doorstep of modern faiths that completely bastardises anything African. The emphasis on the “family-result” here appears paramount. Can tero be separated from lago? A resounding Yes. And the diaspora Luo woman has done exactly that Traditionally there were cases where a woman was only available for caretaking (lago). Such cases would include but not restricted to;
Where it would be incest if there was cohabitation between the incoming inheritor and the widow
Where there the man or woman is barred from cohabiting with the sister in law
Where the brother in law or sister in law is biologically incapable of cohabiting
Where the inheritor has abandoned their duties of family care
Where the inheritor is incapable of care for the widow’s family
The modern day Luo bachelorette therefore coalesce around other diasporan, married or single to ensure that safety in numbers of the same kind to protect and blend with the group of career woman, retirement stage, taste buds, income status, independence, lifestyle and religious beliefs.
And this is easy to see. If the bachelorette had chosen to permanently settle in the diaspora of dispersed family units, the harsh conditions would not be accommodating for lago this family. Resettling in their lake side conservative communities that she grew up in will also not be conducive as culturally there is no burial place for bachelorettes. However, in this new voluntarily chosen habitat among returnees of similar habits, the resettlement will be easier for the purposes of lago the family unit fresh from the diaspora.
And this resettlement allows them to freely live a life that a chosen tero. Why so, the liberating environment allows the smooth cordial neighbourliness with mixed marital arrangements with foreign partners. Or for those not keen on tero, they are in the comfort of a community that will guarantee lago.
Luo customs are prescriptive but not constrictive.
Is it not amazing how Luo customs are adaptable even for a Luo bachelorette? Unlike the caged fish on the waters of Lake Victoria, Luo customs are not constrictive. Yes, they are prescriptive and that is why a disaporan bachelorette will make a mzungu come to pay dowry in cows bought from Ahero or Ndhoya market but the customs do not restrict that cows must be from Surrey, England and will not change the dowry prescription from 4 local bred cows to 4 grade cows or Kangaroos from outback Australia.
And that is why caging an 80plus year old grandmother at Luanda Kotieno in the name of Christianity still gives me sleepless nights and made the bachelorette seethe in anger.