THOU SHALL NOT DESPISE A LUO WIFE'S MARRIAGE!
There is a great song by a legendary poetic Congolese songwriter on the tribulations of market seller who sells fabrics at the market. The song narrates that when a husband buys lingerie from the market fabric retailer for the mistress, the wife never even thinks of poisoning the husband when making the meals but will readily imagine the death of the market fabric retailer who stock the lingerie.
Despite the array of arsenal that Luo women possess, in domestic fights, a history pre meditated husband killings are in short supply. And believe me Luo women have all sorts of safe arsenal ranging from underwear, thighs, stripped nakedness and you name it. Just a small tap on the feet of the hubby with an underwear when the hubby is having a siesta means the husband is dead. No judge is going to convict that his wife killed him by tapping him with a thong or stripping naked in front of him in broad daylight. No way. Tragedy that have involved Luo women have more or less been in the heat of moment of weakness during a domestic flare up. In deed we do have some cases that even courts of law have put aside as mere allegation. In my teen there was a University professor who was killed in an arson case but the High court ruled that it is inconceivable that the wife of the University don would have wanted the husband dead instead of the co wife.
But why is so?At around the time of the time of the tragic death of Whitney Houston, Me and my brother in law Mutula got involved in the blame game as to who was to blame for the death of Whitney’s drug riddled life that knew no bound of even their daughter. Like everybody else we found it easier to blame Bobby Brown the husband who she seemed to welcome in to her life, time and time again. Then my brother in law who is slightly older than me told me of an ancient story about a Luo love story that seems to repeat itself in Luo love folklore.
The scene of the story is around Ukwala, so to give you a good picture, I need to introduce Ukwala to you. The Ukwala town centre that you see today is a shadow of the Ukwala that we used to know and in a way shows how backwards wealth has moved from the hands of the ordinary Nyanza people.
Legend has it that Ukwala the name comes from a place of captives. Like Bagamoyo, Dar es Salam, Shimon la Tewa the name originates from slavery. And indeed apart from the later day chang’aa distillery, what drew the Whiteman to Ukwala to make it a regional center was the slave route. The slave’s camp or the camp of the stolen seems to be a more plausible reason. To counter the slave routes through Sio Port into Uganda the abolitionist set camp at a place to be later known as Ukwala.
Ukwala witnessed growth and Ukwala Health Centre was opened by Kenyatta himself before Independence, I am not sure in what capacity. Before the Siaya district offices were set up, Ukwala served as the district centre and all those structures were set up in Ukwala including law courts. In fact Ukwala Town centre witnessed a service network that even Siaya in its present all powerful position has yet to reach.
In any modern state the Ukwala ruins (gunda-ukwala) would be a state / government listed heritage site to be preserved for future excavation to tell the story of this region.
Ukwala also hosted a prisons manned by prison staff for sentences running up to 5 years. It is this Ukwala prison that serves as the scene of this story.
His strength and weakness.
Serving some years for having defaulted on government contracts was a fine gentleman. I think it was something like obtaining goods with false pretence. This was a fine gentleman in every way. I will call him Omond-Agoko.
Omond- Agoko met a very loving and charming young Luo girl, Athieno from the west of Ukwala (off Ruambwa road). Omond- Agoko was also a Luo but of a lower educational class. Less status in short. The marriage had its difficulties because the brothers could not just visualize their sister marrying a son of a lower Jo Apidablodi (Public Works Department). The two love birds insisted and persisted and the baby was soon coming at a time when having a child out of wedlock was more devastating than corona these days because the girl became a pariah for life. Besides Athieno was this domesticated women brought out of a well cultured religious family with great tutelage on the qualities of a man as good natured. In Omond –Agoko, Athieno only saw the character.
Sometimes the older brothers would send the younglings to go and insult Omond-Agoko at this place of Jua Kali. Athieno would be dead worried that this was the end of the matter, but the next day Omond-Agoko would talk to Athieno as if no incident ever took place.
On the day when Omondi-Agoko went to pay bride price past Ukwala westwards towards Rwambwa it was the most daunting trip that only the brave cousins agreed to accompany him. As they entered the compound the mother in law could be heard commenting, “Agoke nogo no to e mana” (which of them is the son in law). This in dholuo is so derogatory and is an affirmation that in-law and grandchildren are not approved of. Bellowed infront of a visiting entourage, then the writing was on the wall that this clan is not welcome here.
And Omond- Agoko as usual just smiled away. And this was right in cue with what had been drilled in Athieno conscious as to what makes a good man. The more they tried to harass Omond -Agoko and the indifference Agoko showed the more intense Athieno’s love grew. In fact these incidents just went to temper and steel Athlon’s admiration of Omondi- Agoko. Not that this is specific to Athieno. It is a ridiculous trait of Luo women that that sort of talk just fires them on.
They lived ever after and Omondi- Agoko who was a good mechanic fitter at Kisumu Kamas upgraded to tendering for government vehicle repairs. He became more of government retainer fitter all over Siaya but based in Ukwala. With the influence of the family well connected wife business was booming. And even if the girl was a family disappointment and was never really welcomed back into the fold, they were happy that something good seems to be coming from this hopeless situation. Okay let us make the best of a bad situation they must have thought. However Athieno never forgot even if Omond- Agoko in his true colours of never allowing such feelings to thaw had long forgotten,
Life went on fine and by the time they had their 4th child tragedy struck. Omond- Agoko had a strength of a good heart. Like all Luo men his strength was his weakness because he failed to control his strength to serve him. Omond-Agoko weakness was a weakness of the flesh and the soul. He was not really a womaniser but was too kind. The same kindness that floored Athieno was now on the prowl as master to control Omond-Agoko and attack the marriage.
All of a sudden anybody with a financial squeeze headed to cash laden Omond Agoko. For nine months a husband would watch his wife sleep next to her and knowing that she is pregnant. The day she delivers, it’s Omond-Agoko to loan the cash to fund the wifes maternity needs. And it went to school fees, dowry, funeral expenses. And before you know everybody was living a lifestyle funded by Omond- Agoko because of his legendry good nature that killed Athieno. And before you know, house maids, bar maids, chamber maids, bridesmaids and all those other maids joined in the act. That is how Omond- Agoko ended up not being able to service the contracts he had taken and owing so much money for advance payments resulting in a charge of receiving money by false preteens or such a charge.
Athieno like a true Luo wife turned her back on her maiden family and refused to seek help for them to use their powerful civil service connection influence the verdict. In her eyes it would better be jailed than beg the family that so despised the husband.
And when it came to visiting days she would travel westwards from the Kisumu- Ukwala route through Ambira, Siranga as if going to her maiden home but stopped 3 town centres before at Ukwala to visit the husband in Ukwala Prison. Then go back home past Siranga Ambira Ugunja and not venture centimetre on the Ukwala –Rwambwa westward roads towards her maiden home. It was even a walking distance continuing on the same main road from Ukwala but she would have none of it. I know the route well as I remember attending popular Benga King Owino Misiani nights in those Omoya Ukwala days.
On the 4th or so visit Athieno decided to go visiting with the last born who still could not speak by then. On this occasion after the visit suddenly there were no buses coming through to Ukwala as the River Nzoia was threatening to overflow the 1927 Italian built bridge making it impassable even by wading. She walked all the way to Nzoia market. Across from this side of the river was the water covering the bridge to slightly above knew level but not turbulent. Anybody crossing to reach vehicles on the other side had to wade. Now she had to wade and it was already getting late. She took of her shoes and rested on her bag balanced on her head. She then rolled back her dress and inner petty coat and tucked them in on the rubber tight hose of her under wear to hold them tight. So in a way she looked like a young footballer wanting to show of the thigh sprinting muscles. She adjusted the knot on her kanga/lesso holding the back on her back to make sure that it is tight and in place. She waded the waist deep waters holding on to the rail. That was daunting but not for the baby on her back who was playfully laughing. She was not afraid to swim if she needed to. And was not worried of mixing it when swimming. Years of afternoon swim fun built her ability to hold her breadth under water. And she is these original Luo girls with proper proper huan laughter which fills the lung with air meaning her lungs are ready for such a battle. As post adolescents girls they even used to practice huan and buaja laughs while collecting firewood or swimming for admiring boys on the other side of the river. Stifled laughter and speaking with the nose had not yet arrived in Africa let alone Luo land. Living such healthy lifestyle with singing at story telling meant swimming across River Nzoia in her prime was expected of her even with a baby on her back. Maybe it is that playfulness that also gave her courage when others were baulking.
The challenge really was the fear of some idiot who would decide to use the same side of the railings to wade across therefore meaning that at one point she had to manoeuvre hands free of the railings. One such adventure was market lunatics Malanga and Majuma the wife. Malanga was cross dresser. People say he say he was gay. I refuse. Gay had not been invented in Luo land. True to lunacy Malanga and Majuma would decide to compete on either side of the railings, while laughing like lunatics. “Iber ber manadi ni Malanga !” he would shriek like a lunatic oblivious of the dangers they were exposing people to let alone their own safety.
If they ever came she planned to stand in the middle and wait because she could not afford to be caught on the west side of River Nzoia (towards Ukwala). She had to be the on east side away from Ukwala and among the Legio Maria base. Reason? On the west side was also a renowned thug Okello who just enjoyed beating up on people so that the police could come out to arrest him. He felt he had tried GSU, police, Army, NYS service but he had been denied just because he was a Luo with six teeth removed. What Athieno did not know is that during one of those arrest, Okello had been beaten so badly on the manhood area and therefore was incapable of rape. In fact Okello was a protector of women. But Hey a rumour is a rumour. A bad reputation sticks forever in Luoland.
After Athieno crossed she waited for any of the buses on the terminus that was going to do a last minute trip eastwards trip back towards Ugunja but none arrived. Then a Good Samaritan just came and offered to host her with the baby for the night. With the baby as her protector she did not imagine the worst to come to her. Whether it was the worst or not or years of abstention got to her it is not fair to judge. She had a baby to protect. She protected the baby well and made another baby that night with a total stranger.
Ukwala Prison Inquest
On her next visit to Ukwala Prison she brought herself to confess to Omondi- Agoko before the end of the visit. Omondi-Agoko went silent. The silence was even confirmed with no letter writing to Athieno in between the visits. Athieno read the message well and never visited and did not allow anybody to visit for her. She wanted to be told in her face to pack her things and leave. Not by a proxy.
In his solitude, one prison warder noticed Omond- Agoko changed aura. This warden had earlier noticed that Omondi- Agoko is the only prisoner who was unperturbed no matter how many times you count him. You know how they used the roll call in the prison those days. The warden would take a stick and count you by striking you hard on the forehead.
A normal roll call would be “One”, the strikes you on the fore head. Then the next person, “two” then he strikes you on the fore head. Sometimes a warden on a bad mood would just start counting in English. Half way he would pretend his English is finished and he does not know the next number after twelve. So instead of thirteen, he would just start stammering with “threelve”, “threeelf. Then start recounting again from “achiel”, now in dholuo which he should have done in the first place. Omond –Agoko sometimes saw the funny side of this comedy or tragedy. This made a mark on the wardens. Besides they knew his crime was a white collar crime of stealing from thieving large corporation.
So this time the same harsh prison warden wore the human side of the enterprise and called Omond-Agoko aside. Those days prison in-mates treated themselves as men in a military garrison (jela simba yawuoi). The warden knew that whatever is the matter came from out of the prison. After the warden listened to the story, he went to deep Luo myths and proverbs and counselled him that many children were born with absentee fathers and such things should not even be discussed with the wife. After this chat with the elderly prison warden Omond-Agoko wrote to Athieno demanding why she has not visited and asked for his favourite delicacy to be brought with one the kids. Athieno came in the next visit and the warden made a point of keeping an eye to ensure Omond-Agoko kept the peace and behaved Luo manly.
Years passed after Omond- Agoko came out of prison and picked up his life and even flattered with his Christian faith. As usual and right to character he again fell into liquidity problems in the same circumstances. This time intervention came from the most unlikely source before he went to jail.
A brother in law who was serving in the unheard of lands down under saw things differently. You know what they say about Australia and geographical ages of women. “A woman over 65years of age is like Australia, everybody knows where it is but nobody wants to go there”. Somebody forgot to add wisdom comes from a woman over 65 years of age. A sibling of Athieno read the script differently. To the sibling, for Athieno to reject the family help even in her hour of need, meant that Athieno had disowned them even with their affluence and power in Luo land. And for Omond- Agoko to embrace Athieno with that pregnancy while in jail meant that something poetical was unravelling and the whole family will be the villain in the story. Omond–Agoko and his jail terms is threatening to be the undisputed hero.
The sibling made overtures and peace with Athieno made use of family influence and moved Athieno and family out of Kenya. Omond- Agoko refused and in love convinced Athieno, the sibling and Athena’s children he should not be in the new life. He said, “The problem is not Kenya or Kenyans. The problem is me. If I come with you, you will not have achieved anything but I love my family so much that I want to sacrifice myself and remain here. Go sort out our family”
The last commandment
I need to talk to Mutula my in-law how that story is panning out now. However back to our Bobbi and Whitney story, Mutula was telling me that we really do not know the soft spot in Brown that attracted Whitney Houston and vice versa. And by extension this applies to the Congolese poet why it is the market seller who is at fault. Or more directly why a Luo wife will find fault with all but not the husband and any anger dished on the husband is a temporary flirt with rage.
Maybe it is the fury of a Luo woman when her marriage is despised that makes her protect the marriage and by extension the husband.