THEY DON’T MAKE LUO MEN LIKE THAT ANYMORE!
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
In an Afro Cinema of the beginning of the millennium, there was this dialogue where a wife to the next Nigerian regional Governor challenged the husband who was faced with two children running away from home with the stinging words, “You can’t even manage our household of 4 people and you want to be governor, how are you going to govern?” Maybe like the Nigerian family the Luo woman is always examining the lines A Luo man must not only be a man but must be seen to be a man of his household first.
I have sampled the some true stories to illustrate how the Luo man has metamorphosed over the years. One thing is clear, the Luo woman should not take the blame for this metamorphosis because they have also been shocked. And my warning to you is that do not try these at home because these type of men had a character of steel that rose beyond what you see. For example, I grew a t a time when men abused their body with alcohol only over occasional weekends and during festivities of the harvest. Not every ceremony was a drinking binge. The rest of the year was preserved for governance and management within the clan. In fact the Luo language has an array to describe all manner of sloth and overindulgence. Luo words like botho, andwayo, horo, bodho, buth, wuoro, mimo, ich-lith, ndanda, mludhe are all shades of over indulgence in a man. Try and see the Luo man these women saw that is not so evident to the naked eye. The trust, the responsibility, the industry, and generally the belief in marriage of the yester year Luo man was the more desired by women that opulence per se. The current English binge drinking fun loving Luo man pales in comparison with the yester year man. The aristocrats who colonised East Africa in Happy Valley and such lustful locations truly warped the image of being a modern man.
I am sure that what comes out as Luo mischief in these stories belies a character that Luo women are looking for but only from Luo men. Why? Because for one, Luo women find it hard to marry out of their ethnic group and it is not for the lack of being coveted by other ethnic groups. And when they marry out of their ethnic group the bar is usually raised so much so that they only marry a fit and proper person.
1.The over-romanticised 1950’ and 60’s
Before the breakup of the East African Community so many of Luo Kenyans from the then Central Nyanza lived in Uganda as migrant workers and in Tanzania as migrants. Even today we have so many western Kenya people who settle in Uganda. And so many Luo clans like Asembo and Sakwa are in Tanzania.
There is this gentleman from Ugenya Kager who worked at Kilembe mines in Uganda. A very progressive man who during those days thought it was awful for a man to live in a rented house. He reasoned that it made the landlord be the husband of you and your wife. And your children became the landlords children. Wherever he shuttled in Uganda jobs before Kilembe mines, he always constructed his own houses in open spaces and in the process left a series of Kisumu Ndogos in Uganda as immediately other settlement was dotted around his house.
In a personal capacity he built an insurmountable relationship with his in-laws and made it a point of outshining other in-laws whenever there was a cultural meeting at the in-laws. Needless to say he was revered by the in-law clan as an upright person. In general, he was an upright person even in the eyes of his brothers and sisters in laws that he helped hand hold in to adult life. This is a person who on coming from Uganda bought all in-laws from the wife’s side whether married or not a posho mill. He then settled all his brothers’ wives with businesses. His wealth was truly spread out in the clan and he could not stand the sight of a child not going to school. It gave him sleepless nights.
Traditionally by then Luo’s started to pay bride price in the gradual stages of a traditional Luo wedding of Ayie, Nyombo, yuacho, omo wer. In effect a man could part with bride price then it would take even 3 season before the woman moves into her marital home to consume the marriage.
One of the sister in-laws who was staying with Opio was in the process of getting married to a well to do settler in Uganda. Then Opio sends word to his in-laws’ home that he wants to take a siweho (marry the sister to be his wife in a polygamous marriage). When the mother in-law and father in-law people protested that the sister in law was already in the process of getting married to the prospective husband, he offered to refund whatever bride price. And strangely enough he was being supported by Mrs Opio herself.
And here comes the part that defines all that there is about Mr Opio of Ugenya Kager. He let be known a poorly disguised threat delivered by his very wife to her people that, “if he Mr Opio has not performed well as a model husband worthy of another girl from that home, then he is ready to forfeit even the wife back to the clan, because in his life he has never been a number 2 to any man”. So let them take back their daughter who already had 4 children and he does not want the bride price back.
Rather than lose the model son in law, the in-law clan yielded and Mr Opio got his wishes.
I met him once in Ugunja and he told me why he drives around with all his wives in one vehicle. He told me “so that they cannot conspire against me and I cannot conspire with one against the others. I am weak to my wives charm on a one-to one because they all have such a bewitching personality even if diverse. We are all bewitched by the women we fall in love with, so you must find a way of managing that charm. I chose polygamy as a way to manage my weakness. ”
In Ugenya Kager they come in all colours.
2.Then came 1970’s
A woman married to a Gem man grossly underestimated the man. I think. As the income dwindled because of the seasonal tourist low season the Kisumu Kajulu clan lady shifted allegiance and remarried another Luo in the Kisumu Ndogos along the coast a short distance from Malindi Kisumu Ndogo.
The estranged man did not try to seek the wife or enquire into her disappearance. Instead Omonge spent time travelling upcountry more regularly than before. In fact, way more regularly. His mission to seek out the home of the man who has taken over Mrs Omonge. And he did find out that the man also had a rural wife somewhere in Kano plains of Kisumu district.
His next action bewilders all including me. I have to confess that he told me only when he had completed his mission of wooing the wife of this Luo man to come with him to Malindi’s Kisumu Ndogo.
In one of the furtive lunch time break visits to the school to visit the children she left behind, the ex Mrs Omonge noted that the 3 children’s school uniforms were now so well cleaned and the kids looked much healthy and happy. In fact, the children were in a hurry to get away from her and run home rather than eat their favourite delicacy of chips and sausage. So in the immediate next week she made another trip to her former house and discovered a new woman busily doing the wifery chores.
Human beings naturally compare whether in a bathroom, office or in the battlefield. And the competitive nature made her realise that this is Mr Omonge’s taste. If it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.
Then back in her new house in the nearby coastal Kisumu Ndogo, the former Mrs Omonge carefully examined the photos on the new hubby’s photo album. And Alas! The woman she was working her socks off to replace is not upcountry in Kano plains but is the new Mrs Omonge!
After a month of soul searching, heart searching and whatever else searching she fled back to her former marital home to claim her right to the No 1 Mrs Omonge and superannuate the new Mrs Omonge. Needless to say such matters are usually transferred to a tribunal back in Nyanza. The tribunal confirmed that in Luo marriage there is no promotion of demotion. The two lived happily because the new Mrs Omonge refused to go back to Kano plains.
I can promise you the dialogue in Mr Omonge house hold when he was at work could make the jinis laugh. I sampled a few as retold to me by Mr Omonge.
3. The furious 80s
Sometimes these things are man-made. In a modern western wedding, an urban Luo woman for reasons of her own undoing just created a hiatus. The groom being these rural achievers with top education had insisted in dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s like a Luo man from an educationist’s home. The reputation of brides and bridegroom from educationist parents is well known in Luo land. You marry the daughter of a teacher and you are guaranteed a marriage made in heaven. The same goes for son of a teacher. Any way their record is exemplary.
Then the bride groom decides to up the tempo by bringing in Nairobi urban culture into a Luo marriage. And the man calmly said as long as they don’t participate it not a problem.
The first sign was on the day the bride to be went for the last visit to part with the bride price in cash as the cows had been done with. They were asked to do this Swahili identifying-the-bride-to-be. The groom refused to move from his seat to identify his bride from a parade of lesso clad women. His reason, “I am not an urban boy that will chat any woman because my next sentence to any lady is to know her clan and their door. How can I now exhibit false ignorance that I don’t know the woman I am marrying as if I am Kijana wa mtaaa”
So that was skipped when the groom side refused to identify the bride to be in those lesso things. Then they brought a cake to be cut. The groom laughed it off and packed the cake for the wedding day. Everybody was stunned. Basically he was not doing anything out of Luo custom and out of Christian ways. Lesso and singing of Luhya mwana-wa-mbere was out.
The bride’s clan read the script well by this point and advised her. But she insisted in pushing the boundaries. Then on wedding day. She made the cardinal mistake. She insisted that as part of the vow the groom must include that he ‘will never marry another wife’. The groom scoffed that it is obvious. The bride refused to get into the vehicle to bring her to the church unless the traditional man goes to pledge that part. The man rebuffed that demand and went into the church to wait for her. 6 hours passed and the man did not yield. He sat calmly chatting everybody.
Then at 7.pm with everyone getting ready to disperse, he directed them to the reception hall. Again without the bride and he did not move give new concession. His reason is that “as an Anglican married in an Anglican church it is beneath him to reiterate such vows”.
After they had made merry, every departed. And he also went to his house.
Before midnight, he was woken by the knock on the door by the sentry. The bride came in fury with her. The next day on Sunday the pastor conducted the speedy wedding and exchanging of vows in front of the congregation. And that was the end of the matter for Mr and Mrs Arudhi as they were wedded.
4.Into the roaring 90s
This Nairobi case is laughable but is very close to me. Back when Nairobi City had buses that do their routes across the City. There used to be a bus that crossed from Kariobangi South to Otiende. Near the Kariobandi-Outering roundabout there was this Kariobangi south shanties masquerading as bungalows. Apparently they were built for widows of Mau Mau freedom fighters/ veterans but evidently some of the owners were born long after Mau Mau came and went by. That is another story.
Rented in one of the houses was a Kenya Bus Conductor by the name Odindo Skuaba. As is normal being a Bus Conductor, police, teacher was a middle class income by the 1970s. So like any middle income person, Odindo developed a taste for sordid lifestyle that Congolese call ‘second office’ or Article 15; or the Tanzanians used to call mshikaji or Al watan of TX (KX if you are in Kenya).
Then Mrs Odindo found out about KX of TX and in anger made a fatal error of judgement. She crossed the city all the way to Otiende in the west of Nairobi on a Sunday to pay TX a visit. And TX calmly answered, that ‘she is living with her brother in-law which is a no man’s land. So they should go back to her house in Kariobangi South to deliberate and come to a peaceful solution’. (Peaceful my foot!)
Naively Mrs Odindo agreed and they got in the bus (No 14) to come home and found the Mr Odindo watching Gor Mahia FC football team trailing to Re Union FC 3-2. This was a serious matter because like in all team-breakaway jinxes, the breakaway( here ReUnion) team never beats the parent team (Gor Mahia) whether in Brazilian Flamingo and Fluminense, Italian Inter and Ac Milan etc.
According to Odindo, the moment both of them entered the house, the tv screen became blurred. As much as him and his cousins loved Gor Mahia Fc and hated ReUnion FC, they could not careless what was happening on the TV screen. They were not talking. Not looking at anything but had eyes fixed at the tv screen in dead silence because there was nothing to hear, see, talk about or listen to. The world stood still.
Then TX broke the silence and calmly said while sliding on slippers and tying the housework lesso she had brought with her that, “Nyieka aye obiro oma mondo uyal wa kode, koro abende aneno ni onge kama adhiye ka use yala gi nyieka (I have come here to stay as a co-wife).
And that was the end of the matter.
5. Embers of 2000s
Even in the diaspora the Luo man defies logic and tempts even the English common law against bigamy. I came to know this case very late long after it had happened. A pound chasing Luo wife separated bed rooms in a Luo traditional marriage on account that the man was intending to take another wife at home in Kenya. Actually the man had just said as first born, he wants to go and give guidance back home in matters of the clan. So he does not mind her going ahead with her diaspora life while she is still strong until she retires to their comfortable home.
Whatever the case a London communal group heard the case. It did not merit extreme measures, but like President Tito Okello once said in 1985 Uganda peace talks, Turudi Uganda jameni, Maisha ya uhamishoni imefanya Mzee anakuwa kijana; kijana anakuawa Mzee; bibi anakuwa bwana na bwana anakuwa bibi; akili banachanganyikana (Lets sign this Uganda peace treat; the life of an immigrant reverses the natural order of things).
So living in their separate rooms, the octogenarian deliberately flirted with an English woman who used to visit when the wife was doing ‘graveyard’ hours to chase the tempting pounds. One day when she missed her shift she was rudely surprised when the English woman who had her keys walked in and marched the stairs to their bedroom, (now his bedroom) room in the apartment. To which the Luo wife asked, just by giving those legendry Luo dagger looks. The English woman, now at the top of the stairs turned and said, “I am going to our bedroom, do you have a problem with that?”
And that was the end of the separated bedroom, the estrangement and all strife.
7. The whimpering 2010s
Just before Covid 19 fiasco, a group of in-laws were teasing their recently widowed sister in law that she must be inherited as per Luo custom. It was just banter but the in-law found just a chink to settle scores with tamed modern Luo men. So she told them that actually she would like to go through with it. And the men were busy listing the criteria as per Luo customs. She looked at them and said, your brother left me well settled I don’t need money, school fees or any of those things. In fact, I don’t need your time. I just need a Luo man to inherit me”.
This threw the brother in-laws off track. The nyieks were also bewildered. Then one brave one asked, “What do you mean shemeji?”
Then she answered. I need a “true man like your late brother. Will any man whose phone has no password or secret code against his wife step forward, please?”
And since there are no such men in the whole of Luo land, that was the end of the matter. But in reality some times humans manage the inability by making new laws and regulations by adopting foreign corrupt ones to blend in or camouflage.
(The above stories are all Non fiction but the identities of the characters have been neatly scrambled)