THE UNORTHODOX NYOMBO (LUO WEDDING).
Updated: Jul 5
Culture is very powerful and at full throttle will destroy any resistance in its path. At its friendly best, culture will easily transform the resisting agent. A person who sets out to change a culture finds himself consumed by that very culture. This is exactly what has happened to the western Christian church in the last 60 years when trying to consume and transform the Luo wedding of Nyombo to western traditions.
A prectical example is the western church’s onslaught to classify wuowo (sleep over) within the Luo customs which was termed adultery. It was lumped together with the 10 forbidden commandments. But all these were a waste of time because the church despite experiences in other parts of the world had assumed that these ancient Luo customs would be a walkover to convert to western traditions. Instead the orthodox 4 part Luo wedding has now exploded into a more traditional wedding that is way too strong and sophisticated for the church wedding. The church wedding has surrendered to a ceremonial state or attorney generals wedding and is now relegated to take place after the Nyombo. Most of the colourful activities such as cake cutting, 'I dos' have been stolen by nyombo. The churches traditional white dress is now largely ignored as just after the fact window dressing while wuowo and por are now reinstalled as forms and paths to Dhi tedo(getting married). And that is the folly of taking a culture head on. Culture is way too powerful. It is better to negotiate than to confront a culture head on.
ANATOMY OF ORTHODOX LUO NYOMBO (WEDDING).
The orthodox Luo wedding was in 4 parts clearly defined, segregated and sequenced that any one part cannot by pass the other.
STAGE 1.- Wangira (Path Finder)
The contact is made usually by an aunt or uncle as matchmaker or path finder. The pathfinder ensures that there is not even a distant relationship and various aspects of compatibility including even bedroom aptitude go through due diligence. The lineage of the partners is checked for anti-social habits that are not compatible with the family. Issues like a hard fisted man can easily usurp a marriage proposal.
STAGE 2- Nyombo (process not an event)
A mock sparring negotiation (ngera) of the bride price is the next stage followed by the departure of the girl for her new clan. The payment of the bride price is never concluded in one stage and as the Luos say “dhako inyuomo nyaka chieng’.
The departure at one time used to be the mock abduction and forcibly pulling of a loud and elaborately resisting girl. The saying, 'when a girl runs holding her beads or breasts, it is not that they are going to fall off, it is just because your attention is desired or she wants you to notice them' best describes the resistance of the girl in this pulling mock 'abduction'. Essentially stage 2 is the payment of the bride price and relocation of the bride from her maiden home to her new marital home as a member of the new clan.
The very day the bride is brought into her new home they are considered married. That very day also a small group of girls on the very same night will follow the bride. This party of up to 40 girls is called jo-Omo wer.
This is the night the groom and bride will meet sexually. This is now the beginning of the marriage. If jo-Omo wer girls do not come, then there is no sex until the next night when the jo-Omo Wer party arrives.
That first sexual encounter must be witnessed by two or three girls of the same age, usually reliable buddies. Outside of the simba hut the rest of the jo-Omo Wer girls are singing all night. (Ndaria and Agoro). The girls don’t sleep as they sing aloud all the night with extravagantly bawdy and salacious sigalala, huan and buaja demonstrating that deliberate romance and the much coveted intimacy is in the air for the very first time,
Lead: Agoro eeh
The next morning a traditional stool is brought and the girl is made to sit on it. Smudge of blood left on the stool will confirm that she was a virgin at marriage. The girls will immediately carry the stool in triumph with great joy dancing with even more in-your-face buaja directed at any marriageable man on show on their retreat trip to go and exhibit to their village that their daughter was indeed a virgin.
STAGE 3- Diero
The third stage of the wedding ceremony occurs on the morning after consummation. As the omo wer girls return to their village they meet the older women coming in the opposite direction to celebrate the marriage. This is called the diero of the women. The diero women will have heard all the brouhaha from afar because Luo girls at the prime of their lives singing at the top of their voices in the stillness of the morning air can scale mountains and valleys to go very far. This is a triumphant singing with a completely different set of songs specifically for Diero by representatives of a mother in law.
They are showered with the most prized gifts as they represent the mother in law who did a sterling job to produce a virgin.
The next day there is the diero of the young brother in laws. The very people who forcibly resisted the pulling of the bride are now here to celebrate- and they now come to the husband’s home to celebrate and will now be showered with gifts much lesser than the mother in laws representatives.
STAGE 4- Jodong’
The final ceremony occurs a few weeks after the wedding day. After the marriage has been consummated, the bride asks a handful of her friends to remain behind in the village to keep her company in her new home. They would stay for anything up to a month. Then the bride’s girlfriends who had stayed behind to give her company now accompany her to return to their village for a final celebration, the jodong’.
Chant: Sigalala bar wiya, sigach mama nya-Kenya, sigalala obaro wiya
Lead: Aor yoo
Chant: Sigalagala obaro wiya
Chant: Sigalala bar wiya, sigach mama nya-Kenya, sigalala obaro wiya
Lead: Aor yoo
Chant: Sigalagala obaro wiya
Lead: Bed piny, min achieng' ose donjo
Chant: Bed piny
Lead: Bed piny maro onyon nie, bed piny
Chant: Bed piny
The husband would take the wife to her maiden home to visit her family, and as many as sixty people would join the celebrations. The wife is showered with a goat which is led to her parents’ home. The animal is slaughtered for feasting to mark the beginning of jodong celebration, followed by feasting drinking, dancing and singing (by tradition such slaughtering for ceremony is always slaughtered from the back of the neck).
UNLIMITED GIFTS (PERQUISITES) TO MOTHER IN LAW
You will notice that the father in-law and fathers'(uncles) participation smoothly ceases after the bride price of the 4 cows. This is not a mistake. Its occupational. In over 1000 years it Is the Luo mothers who were administrators and governors of the homestead as the men dealt with external expansion of the empire just like say the Scandinavians. Naturally the women become the highly remunerated executives with all manner of perquisites and golden parachutes just to borrow corporate lingo. In dho Luo these gifts are covered under the term Diero ni maro. There is no diero ni or . Just Diero nin maro period.
The following gifts (diero) are strictly for the mother in-laws and they did not form part of the 4-part wedding gifts. And the slogan dhako inyuomo nyaka chieng makes every father in-law wince silently as they know their place in this business is being demarcated. They will never be part of the following gifts.
•Diero ni maro
It is different from Diero above that follows the first night of the bride at the bridegrooms place. But both are directed a mother in law. Diero ni maro is not part of the wedding and comes much after the couple are living together. It only becomes part of the bride price if the matters below take place.
Diero ni maro is where the son in law sends his kinsmen to the mother in law's place with a well-chosen gift bull to be slaughtered and the skin carried back to the son in law in appreciation of the wife's diligence in bringing up the daughter (read wife) with say decorous manners. If on the other hand the wife's people, strictly in mischief and kidology, manage to wrestle this bull out of the hands of the delivering herdsmen before its slaughtered for the mother in law, then they have to arrange for another mission. Usually young men sent to deliver this cow should be alert and not easy oglers that can loose attention of focus by pretty in-laws sent to distract them while younger brothers take possession of the bull as part of the dowry. If the in-laws take possession of the live bull, then it ceases to be Diero ni maro and forms part of the bride price but goes to the mother in law's count. The son in law then has to dispatch a fresh package of Diero ni maro to be slaughtered. Its all kidology and spectacle when pretty sisters in law go at full fire of flattery, banter, and charm at the delivering herds boy's team. A spectacle not the straitlaced about sexual innuendos.
•Dher Oyuma/Dher Kayiem
Where the cow above in Diero ni maro has been taken possession by in-laws before it is slaughtered, then it is now Dher kayiem / Dher oyuma and becomes part of the bride price but assigned to the mother in law's stock. The beguiling sisters’ in-law are praised as true diplomats who can bemuse and calm a turbulent home. In other words, they become legends of their maiden home either for their charm or beauty for having waylaid the messengers of Diero ni maro. (Remember the loose definition of a diplomat as the person who can tell you "to go to hell" and you literally go to hell smiling.)
Riso dhako is not part of wedding or bride price. For one the husband is showering the wife for some good deed. is a scenario where the husband to a woman who was troublesome at pregnancy (moody etc.) and took retreat to her maiden place remained there until giving birth. The husband/son in-law was mandated out of good manners and show of responsibility to offer a goat to the mother in-laws when going to receive the wife and the new-born baby. The reason why it metamorphosed into bride price is because long term planning sons in law decided to take care of any eventuality in advance should the wife deliver while at her maiden home while visiting her people for any reason. It eventually evolved into a practice and tradition as an evidence of prudent sons in law and mostly a mark of the aptitude and disaster preparedness of the new son in law.
•Wero ni dhako.
Wero ni dhako on the other hand is doing some generous shopping consumable gifts of foodstuffs to welcome the new-born. Mostly it is something you know she secretly craves for or silently wishes for. It could even be accompanied by a change of behaviour or bad habit like smoking or ogling at other women when she is around. The reason why it fits here is that fast thinking husbands will complete it with a gift for the mother in law as well. It therefore became standard practice that the very day the wife is gifted , a set of gifts for the mother in law is also packaged there.
Good deeds by the wife could even be receiving your friends with courtesy, caring for an ailing relatives in her house with humility; shouldering a man’s responsibility like paying school fees; keeping secret of your weakest moments e.g. bed wetting. Examples of her good deeds are many and this is a family blog where are there are things I can’t write here. I am not as brave as Venessa nya Gem of Alvin and Vaness Nyagudi Lee- I love her banter when provoking the shy Alvin. And they allowed to use their photo for the blog.
As the gifts are never received by the in-laws it cannot form part of the bride price. However, the glowing reputation of the son in law cements the relationship and rekindles the bride price memories of good performance, so I will term it convertible bride price.
The main four part has almost been combined into one or two stages and the order slightly reversed in the new nyombo practice. What has been the impetus to change?
IMPETUS TO CHANGE
I have no empirical evidence on this but I believe the change has been necessitated by various factors.
The biggest impetus to change are the influences and obstacles that were brought by Western culture and Christianity. Instead of obliterating Luo traditional wedding, the traditions just went into separate existence. Sometimes delayed or shortcuts made and modified and is now threatening the existence of the western wedding.
Modern educational system has greatly influenced because of the times it takes away the participants to these ceremonies. Schooling up to the age of 25 greatly reduces the available time for these elaborate traditions.
Immediately after schooling young people embark on different career paths that leaves on average 30 days per year for social events. These 30 days are also competed for by Continuous Professional education (CPE), other mandatory social events like attending to the sick, funerals. So in a way the pursuit of education stood in the way of some cultural practices
Financial constraints and the poor pay structure bestowed on Kenya by colonial masters also restricted travels for these ceremonies. And as Luos ceremonies are religiously tied to ancestral home by the Lake side, it meant that only technical Dhi nyombo appearance was being observed. The real Luo elaborate customs was being squeezed out. Bit by bitpeople either postponed this nyombo or observed the bare minimum in nyombo.
There was also increased incidences of mixed marriages with ethnic groups far removed from Lake side basin in the rest of Kenya and outside Kenya The effect of these mixed marriages on wholesome practice of nyombo can not be under estimated. Most of the essentials of Nyombo was observed and even less was noticed where the groom is a Luo. And this is a common feature of any mixed marriage.
All such obstacles to nyombo created a not fit for purpose practice and people cast their eyes on the incomplete western weddings in the church. It from this that the present one day nyombo has evolved as people clang to the left over of Luo traditions.
FRESH FACE OF UNORTHODOX NYOMBO.
In mid 1980s there was furious court battle over the burial of a prominent Luo lawyer with the clan demanding that their son could not be buried in Nairobi diaspora as per the wishes of the wife and the “the will”. In the words of prelate Bishop Okullu, "even the fiercest bull must be tethered at home."
A high court judge ruled that a Luo man’s burial place is determined at birth- on the right hand side of the mother's house. But the biggest revelation and shock was that the much maligned and fast fading African customs is actually the African common law and should never be superseded by the English common law.
After this common law revelation people became aware that the African customary marriages held a higher place than was first thought. All over Kenya traditional marriages started filling the social media from the very rich and elite family circles.
Despite these changes the wedding nyombo has conformed in form and content and context but retained the key fundamentals. This unorthodox Luo wedding or nyombo has maintained the style and romance, of the key non reducible fundamentals.
Even where the 4 stages have been mixed into a concoction very far removed, the ritualistic traditions have been maintained in this new unorthodox nyombo. We will now examine the anatomy unorthodox Nyombo.
POR is when a girl geographically moves into the bridegrooms place to commence a married life without following the sequences of nyombo. This short circuiting of the Luo nyombo wedding process was an escape route for a girl to get married. Ancient Luos girls had a pre-requisite of remaining virgin up to wedding night. However occasionally during group sleep-over known as wuowo in boys’ residential quarters (simba), love plays could cross the boundary leading to deflowering of the girls. At this point the boy has no recourse but to take the girl and marry her in a short-circuited nyombo procedure called por.
The unorthodox nyombo most of the time consumes permissive ‘live-in’ or “por” as if it was not por. In other words, unorthodox nyombo has embraced por. And this is very convenient to jump through hurdles of cosmetic procedures as we front conditions before positions. And this is in order to keep up with the modern sexual permissiveness in the world.
The orthodox Luo Nyombo was separated into 4 distinct instalment covering several days or even years as analysed above. Now Nyombo takes places in one instalment which accommodates the demands on the time, the costs. Now the bridegroom will arrange to make the trip all in one instalment on one day.
Traditionally the entourage was no more than 4 people on the first stage. It would normally include the bridegroom and three representatives. And as the process moves to stage 4 the participants swell to a spectacle.
The representatives were carefully vetted to represent the home of the groom. An older enforcer whose role was to sit back and keenly watch the proceedings and counsel in whispers. This was the person who would even call the first recess or time out after scanning the environment and changed the order of the gifts. Such a person would be the one to sense danger, watch for potholes, potential minefields and sensitive matters. Another key person was a charismatic spokesman with the skills to avoid minefields and defuse tension. The fourth person would probably be the age mate of the bridegroom. This was like an errand boy and personal assistant.
Ka irango gima gweno chamo to ok dicham gweno
Women were not allowed into the entourage and mainly because the element of competitiveness and putting the host under pressure was to be avoided. Also details of any mishaps was not to precede the bride to her new home. Substantially she was being given a chance to begin from a clean slate. This would not be possible if a woman accompanied the entourage to nit-pick on every detail and short coming. Ka irango gima gweno chamo to ok dicham gweno.
In the new unorthodox nyombo, the entourage is bigger and includes even non Luos. Future sisters’ in-laws’ aunties, nieces can also be part of the entourage. In other words, all the participants at the stage 4 are present from the beginning and I see this as positive as the whole Nyombo is in competition with the western wedding. Also as the western wedding is held in urban places, this is the only chance for the clan to take part and reduce the chance of travelling to limiting urban ceremonies.
Despite this flooding of ombueny, when it comes to official business talk, the entourage is usually scaled down and sat a side from the main entourage.
Traditionally all nyombo must take place in the house of the mother in law. In Swahili they say, “Even if your mother is seated next to a queen, if somebody asks who is your mother, you will never make the mistake of pointing at the queen”. It is the same with the Luo Nyombo. The venue is always the mother in laws house/homestead. Even if it was a European coming in a chopper, he will have to enter the grass thatched house of the mother in law. And here in lies “Guok ok ka mugogo”. The bride is rooted at the rural home and the home dog will never bark at her even after a long absence.
The Unorthodox Luo Nyombo has religiously observed this ritual. Any Nyombo conducted in the urban houses or in any other house except mother in laws house is null and void and must be repeated. The groom is even now allowed to pitch tent on the left hand side of the homestead if the entourage is too large for od maro. Why the left side? because that is where the siwindhe(girls quarters) was situated. On the left side but near od maro
Ayie is the gift given to the mother in law. It precedes any other gift and must be expressly announced. It is never a huge amount and must not be anything near the actual bride price in value. Even though small in value, it is the most significant part of the bride price. Mother in laws take pride in the recognition more than just the price.
This one has been maintained by the new order of Unorthodox Nyombo.
In Luo tradition the bride price was gifts. And the gifts were in four denominations. The gifts for the father in law. The gift for mother in law, the gift for brother in law and the gift visiting maternal uncles of the bride (mothership connection!). This was loosely translated to mean four cows. It is also possible to reduce the maternal uncle’s gifts to a she goat. In emergency, one can even release an instalment of a cow and a goat first with the rest to be brought later. In opulence and charisma, a rich person can decide to gift say 5 cows per section hence 20 cows but that is just taste and style. But one key element of the Luo bride price/Nyombo, it is never bargained. It is like a western ring gift or a dress. It is a gift. You gift what you have.
The content and context of the bride price has been retained in this unorthodox nyombo. The form of Ayie and cows has been religiously enforced even on white men with no extortion. This is a key custom in sealing a Luo marriage. The cows must be symbolically herded into the homestead of the bride and handed over. Traditionally the herds boy does not join the main entourage because they are two different stages but this has been ignored. He can now join. Not the sex of the herds boy.
The general time table of the day is between mid-morning and mid-afternoon is religiously observed. The dreaded time of when chicken come home or cows come home is clock watched. So the entourage must depart before this time. This was observed then and is still being religiously observed now.
The new Nyombo has recognised the key attendance of Father in law, mother in law, brother in law, sister in laws in their role as personal assistants or errand boys.
Also conspicuously appearing in the unorthodox nyombo is the bride. The bride was never a participant. She will be in the homestead but was not allowed even to greet the future husband. After the functions she could follow them out of the homestead and say byes. Otherwise, no contact.
The new Luo wedding or Nyombo has liberalised this and normally after the gifts have been passed then she can cross over and sit with the husband’s people. In whispers, I have been told it is because she is keen to protect her territorial integrity from silver tongued cousins
There is therefore no other restriction from the hosts side. The older unmarried sisters of the bride used to take a back seat. This was more out of embarrassment that they have been overlapped in the race to get married. It had no ritual meaning.
Sumptuousness is the name of the game; it was unusual to have fish as a menu. However, it was a must that nyombo would be incomplete if the menu did not include poultry. And it must be a cock. Must be a cock. Other Menus could find their way as a sign of extravagance. However, a cock was served to the groom with various parts dished to the bridegroom. The senior most person was also served with key parts of the designated and ritually portioned cock.
This “animal” is stalking nyombo and it appears is too impatient to wait in Nairobi. The stand of the fast fading traditionalists, is 'who cares?' The groom has parted with Ayie for the mother in law and the 4 cows preceded the entrance of the entourage. The newly married can do whatever they want in the temporary siwindhe (girls quarter). They can even jig, drink in that borrowed siwindhe space after the chicken have come home. I believe this exemption was created for those who have come from far or crossed turbulent rivers during day and could not make it back at night. Anything they do there is just an extension of ong'ora. Let them be.
Alcohol was absent, but showed its face later with the new 1960-70s rogue urbanites. But it appears Unorthodox Nyombo has frogmarched alcohol out of the homestead of the in-laws. And rightfully so. Nyombo is a serious issue. To be sober is paramount as we are bringing together two young people. There future is in our hands. To be sober is non negotiable
There was singing and no dancing. The tradition has now brought in entertainment and hired traditional dancers. I am all for it once the whole day is sealed with exchange of gifts. The entertainment industry is being supported and the whole 4-part wedding has been compacted into one.
ENTERTAINMENT. It is a whole new dimension now . But is that really very new? This leso masquerade games of the zanzibar Arab slaves girls harems and extortion games that have taken a centre stage is a whole new dimension. Unpalatable in Luoland because from the time the girl and boy meet all nonro is thoroughly examined even before they think of any friendship. But sparring games did exist with small non punitive penalties. No extortion.
How about the ancient prohibited penalised mannerisms like crossing your leg; looking at Osiris the god of child birth (borrowed from the Greek culture) etc?
The Ugenya Kager Luo clan had a mischievous one that earned them the unwanted reputation of “Tum Kager”. Legend has it that as groom’s entourage were being taunted by the flirting sisters in law, the pre teen brother in-laws would come and pull the stool under one of the entourage members and oops you are down. And given that your modesty were covered by some small leather, it would be exposed and there was the handsome penalty of a goat! These Ugenya Kager people are a pain. So lets bring on the banter to lighten up the day.
The brouhaha is welcome for me because the Luo it appears in a competition with the western wedding have combined everything into one-day compacted event from Diero, Omo Wer and Sal are all in it. No harm done except a whole new employment industry.
And even if not mandatory, the brouhaha and the social media of the Luo was prominent right from when the path finder makes in-roads. It reached a crescendo the night of the “pulling” followed by Jo Omo Wer and feasting.
The equivalent brouhaha to date is the SUV’s, the Facebooks, you tube, the elaborate events management, drones, the over-elaborate attire, and the busybody invitations that do not even understand the dholuo or the significance of every stage of the love plays. It is all good. It has been there since the beginning of time
No Nyombo would fall through because there was no singing or because the groom did not arrive in a SUV or chopper.
The marriage is still complete even if the sisters in law did not change into several dress codes once. It is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is sanctified and solemn gospel singing that is rearing it head in a secular event. But of greater significance is that the brouhaha is upstaging the straitlaced western solemn western singing that was so domineering that it was appeasing the newlyweds chocking with debts. Wedding must stay a time to be happy without fear.
The remaining challenge with the unorthodox nyombo is when is the consummation of the marriage. In orthodox nyombo, the four part wedding was not deemed complete until after Dhi omo Wer girls come singing with gusto with evidence of the stool. In other words before that point THE bride could even change her mind.
In the unorthodox nyombo, the sex part is passed way before in what was by then por. So when exactly is unorthodox consummated? I listened to Venessa bride of Gem and she bluntly told a straitlaced Alvin not to shy away from the fact that they consummated their marriage the night after the western wedding. She firmly asserted, "people get married for the purpose. otherwise what is the point?" I agree that she has a point. And therein lies our answer
Even the unorthodox nyombo remains consummated similarly at the same time as the orthodox nyombo. Verily I say unto thee, unorthodox nyombo is the new kid on the block. Or may the sheriff in town.
The new nyombo has kicked out the western nyombo back to Nairobi and the urban areas. Like in West Africa I see the possibility of cooling period of 1 year passing before the newlyweds commence on the Christian and western church wedding now that the church has crept in to bless the "secular" Luo wedding.
Better still I see the western wedding being extinct like an appendages of some amphibians/reptiles because it is being rendered useless once the church people have joined the nyombo procession at the mother in-laws homestead and the Christian blessing of the wedding done at the mother in laws homestead. If Las Vegas, USA can hold a blessed wedding at mid night and it is fine, why cant a Luo nyombo wedding be blessed "i od maro" before the chicken and cows come home.
In these hard times is there any room for additional spending and more so with the frontiers of the church being rolled back in Europe and North America. I foresee the church just joining the Luo nyombo to solemn the Luo wedding in 5 minutes with "I do" vows just before the chicken and cows come back to the kraal.