WHEN NOTORIETY IS MISTAKEN FOR FAME
Updated: Jan 8
Lupita Nyong’o the Kenyan Hollywood actress and model and star of blockbusters 12 Years A Slave and Black Panther may never take part in any story or folklore set in Luo land or of Luo origin. And it is not her fault.
The above slave story is a pretty simple story and half an hour’s drive from Seme, her father’s home area there are even more dramatic stories of slavery that took place at the same time as 12 Years A Slave story. I am sure of that. In fact, further west the real precinct of the word Wakanda were actually Luo dynasties set by her ancestors. However, Lupita probably does not even know that Wakanda or Oganda is of Luo origin for people who were servants of the Luo taskmasters known as Kabaka.
Lupita probably does not know that there is even folklore of famous Luo heroes, heroines, bad guys that a movie script can easily be fleshed upon. It is just for lack of recited folklore that Kenyan artists like Lupita cannot find scripts of Luo origin. Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet still appeals to the audience in Kenyan theatre goers because such stories have been recited for too long.
It is therefore not because we lack characters that such stories can be built on. If we revisit Luo folklore in the last 600 years, there are quite a number of such characters. I have selected the 10 of the most notable ones or if you like notorious stories that can be mistaken for being famous. And they are in no particular order.
1. OMOLO ONG’ONG’O (Uyoma)
A most disturbing tale of double personality psychopath at around 1600 AD when the new Luo arrivals at Got Ramogi reached rendezvous point in Alego of Siaya is not commonly recited.
As joint trek of Wango clan and Omia Ramul clan of Luos set of to the north of the Gulf or what is now Winam Gulf, this wing led by Omia Ramul stopped at the area around Msanda now which is the North west of Yala Town Centre to replenish and refresh for a few years.
While living there, a son of the trek leader Omia Ramul developed tragic habits that could easily find room in a Hollywood movie. First there was a missing boy incident and after a long search it was assumed he had been killed by some predator leopard that carried the body away since there was no trace of struggle or animal attack.
After the search party had given up, the body of the boy was found downstream floating a few days later. It was logically assumed that he had accidentally drowned. And the Wango co residents continued with their way of life.
Much later another boy disappeared and after a few days the body was found stuck in some reeds down the river.
And when a third boy disappeared not long after, the two clans of Omia Ramul and Wango knew the routine of disappearances. They waited for the body down the river at the reeds or the cataracts. All the children drowning were of Wango clan and not the Omia Ramul troupe.
When another young person disappeared this time search party was organized to go and scourge the deepest part of the river instead of waiting for the body to come afloat. And in the deep water, divers recovered the body of the child.
It was now clear that someone was targeting the boys and girls, killing them and disposing of the bodies or drowning the bodies. The two clans decided to keep watch parties. As all the children drowned were of the Wango troupe, they decided to keep a secret watch party unknown to Omia Ramul group.
Omolo Ong’ong’o movements proved to be suspicious after careful observation. And indeed when two other boys were found drowned, it did not take long to trace the body and it was only Omolo Ong’ong’o movements that could not be accounted.
At a tribunal involving the two troupes the Omia Ramul rejected all the evidence tying their Omolo Ong’ong’o with the derision, to mano doko oyuma (What a joke). The notoriety of their response earned them, the Omia Ramul clan their unwanted reputation of Aboyuma (Jokers) later shortened to Uyoma by the Alego people after they were ejected by the Wango clan and told to go back where they came from.
And Omolo Ong’ong’o did not get away scot free either as the simile of irach ka chi Ong’ong’o is the equivalent description of being beneath contempt. As the lady would be describing a fellow as so Ugly that only psychopath Omolo Ong’ong’o can bear her ugliness because she will be drowned anyway.
Surely such a script would sell to any audience if the properly sketched.
2. ODERA AKANG’O (Gem)
The legend of ruoth Odera Akang’o of Gem is known all over Luoland. He needs no introduction. He is known for being the most progressive of all the Luo chiefs. He left more footprints than all the Luo civic governors have managed in 40 years of county governance. His unexplained incarceration and death in captivity has even made him more of a demigod. And his death is seen as martyrdom.
A few fun legends are hidden of Chief Odera Akang’o. The easiest one is that he was never promoted to a chief but simply performed so well he was seen to be one. And because of his exemplary performance his excesses as a hard task master are easily palatable.
Odera Akang’o did not see a Luo to be of lower rank or class to a white man or any African chief. At that earlier times he believed in equality. His pursuit of education and order was in furtherance of the position of the Luo man.
But Odera Akang’o as legend has it had weakness of the flesh. I find it hard to believe it is partly pegged to female trades women which was not a very common occupation in this era. But legend has it that Odera Akang’o had this unwanted reputation of being a lady’s man.
That if he chanced on any subjects of neighboring chiefdom who were appealing to the eye, then he would keep her in his domain for weeks then inexplicably just let her free to go to her maiden home or husband.
What is always never said of this notoriety is that it was a practice very much rife among the Luo dynasties of the Kabakas in the Buganda Kingdom. In deed it was an honour to have your wife serve at the Kabaka palace. The only difference with the Odera Akang’o wenching is that while in the Baganda it was a source of pride and ranking, the Kenyan brethren saw nothing good from this notoriety. If Odera Akang’o copied the customs of the Baganda plus this pervasion is hard to tell. Whether in Baganda Kingdom or Gem, this was notorious of the hard task master from Gem clan.
3. OWINY SON OF SIGOMA (Alego)
Owiny succeeded his father Kisodhi and started his reign in Alego at a place now known by his name Sigoma. Owiny started very well but later developed a penchant for some of the most gruesome habits ever known in Luo land. Legend has it that the large population of hyenas in Alego are spirits of his subjects that Owiny ordered to be slaughtered to feed the hyenas at Got Renglingo. Every time the hyenas howled, Owiny Sigoma would order one or two of his subjects killed and served off a cliff to howling hyenas. And the hyenas like fish in a pond knew their feeding time and with their legendary greed regularly headed to the “feeding ground” shrieking and howling. And Owiny dutifully responded. And folklore has it that such evil acts brought him many battles with the people around. He fled the flare up and lived in Manyala area in exile.
After a while when things had settled and wounds healed he decided to come back but his clan and former subjects in Sigoma on hearing his grand entrance fled with all their wealth to leave Owiny deserted ruins to reign over.
Owiny on discovering that all had fled, was so furious that he took his martial axe and struck jabul (the court jester) for over entertaining him so much that he lost his focus. He then dragged the body of the court jester to the hyena caves and fed his body to the hyenas.
The hyenas later scattered all over Alego with no meals coming from Owiny Sigomas dwindling subjects and but were confined in Alego by the rivers Nzoia and Yala.
4. MRS ONYANGO RABALA (Karungu)
Collectively, Kabuoch, Karungu, Kadem and Kanyamwa clans are known as the family of Onyango Rabala. These clans evolved out of the wives of Onyango Rabala.
The clan of Karungu ironically was baptised so from the unwanted reputation of one of the Onyango Rabala wives who was adept at and had a readiness to fight with a rungu (club). She was so infamous with this arsenal that she earned the reputation as the place of the woman with rungu. Her skill with the club was not at fellow women or boys. She was good at clubbing men. Yes, men.
5. OMOL TCHATCHOU (Ugenya)
Tchachou can only be compared to Migele of Seme. Tchatchou is now a folklore story told to children. Tchatchou was from a sleeping part of Ugenya and was an ardent supporter of my community sports club. He fervently supported that one football club that was badly struggling. Maybe it is the financial struggles of this football club that led him into this heist.
I must say people from Ugenya have a number of such notorious heist characters. I recall at the fall of President Idi Amin’s government in 1978, we once woke up in the village and found that some neighbour had 154 brand new cars of all sorts parked in his village home. The surrounding maize plantations were flattened down by 20 sparkling Mercedes sports cars bearing Libyan registration. It was a sight to behold. Then we had this one who was so good at signing forged cheques but was never jailed not even for once. The police knew what he did. Even the presidents received his donations yet he had no job or business. But they could not arrest him. He was notoriously famous and could be disarmingly funny too (japuonj ma lake otop puonjo hygiene)
Tchatchou is infamous for organising one of the biggest heists in Kenya. The nation woke up to heist that was so large the banks refused to release the exact amount of money lost in the heist. What was disclosed in embarrassment was not the half a billion shillings equivalent. The irony is that at a time when Kenya paid incentives for much needed foreign exchange, a high street bank decided to airlift hard currency in whiffy brand new American dollar notes. Tchatchou who was working at the bank went to the airport, collected the money and “delivered” to the high street bank then disappeared from any town with a street in Africa. Folklore has it that is the biggest heist in Africa if the actual figures lost could be released. But that ain’t gonna happen soon. At least not officially.
6. OCHWONYO RANDIEK (Seme)
From the service men of Seme clan lived a war hero by the name Ochwonyo Randiek. Seme clan was surrounded by very cantankerous clans around them. Of course their cattle rustling techniques did not help matters because they themselves were a nuisance with this anti-social behaviour.
Ochwonyo Randiek was like gangster Luca Brasi in novelist Mario Puzzo blockbuster novel The Godfather. I have to mention that the Godfather book was turned into an epic Hollywood movie and this means that Ochwonyo Randiek story can be part of a movie story. And hence my insistence that these Luo folklore heroes can be turned into great movies. Ochwonyo Randiek was the meanest warrior to come from Luoland. In Ochwonyo Randiek’s path no living thing or non-living thing was left standing. He killed all living things and still had enough strength to scorch the earth during battle.
And Seme people were left terrified of their own son Ochwonyo Randiek’s war crimes. The defeated were brutalised because Ochwonyo Randiek was a brute who took no prisoners. To bring some sanity or order so that war does not cease to be a means to simply solve disputes, wise men of Seme clan deployed a tactic to keep Ochwonyo Randiek away from children, women, animals and those who have surrendered
After charging their brains before the war cries start, Ochwonyo was restrained with four strong fortified ropes held by eight or six strong warriors to restrain battle charged Ochwonyo Randiek from causing inhuman slaughter. Similar to a handbrake on a vehicle or better still it was similar to a fuse box in an electric circuit. The mention of the name of Ochwonyo sent Nyakach, Gem and Kisumo clans scampering for cover. And to date Nyakach dread even to marry a lady from Seme clan.
7. OGADA KITAL (Kano)
Ogada Kital (Ogada whose name shall not be mentioned) was son of Onyango Rende (Onyango Arende). Onyango Rende was a hard task master and a dreaded ruler in Kano area. With time members of Kano clan learnt his soft spots. Onyango Rende loved praises. He sought to be the star of the moment. And when Kano clan learnt this they moved in to milk this weakness. Kano clan members sent their best musician to the court of Onyango Rende to constantly sing his praises. And Onyango Rende was softened and bemused by the praises.
However, Onyango Rende had a son by the name Ogada Kital. Ogada Kital was a wicked son who gave Onyango Rende sleepless nights. Ogada Kital had such a dark soul that even if a villager had laid their grass roofed hut nicely, he would come and ask his subjects to lift the roof and go and replace on his house instead of building his own. Ogada Kital wanted the best by any means necessary. And this greatly displeased his father Onyango Rende that his own blood would do this to his loyal and peace loving subjects. It was a case of Luo riddle, Thuol odonjo I koo. His hands were tied and he could do nothing except to compensate the offended villages.
At that time in Kano also lived a small sub clan with incredible witchcraft prowess. They had a war time speciality of making the opponents stomach bloat so much they can’t run and fight and the assailed would just die of bloated tummy. Other clans were fearful of the spell. The sidho as they were called cast a spell on Mrs Ogada Kital. And after a harmless domestic kerfuffle a blinded Mrs Kital who was in trance killed the husband. And that was the end of dreaded Ogada Kital.
8. MISS AMOLO NYIKAL (Seme)
Amolo was Nyikal’s much loved daughter who was also his confidant in grave matters of the state. She was the regency’s chief advisor. But Amolo was no ordinary girl. She grew up with almost religious dislike for men in a romantic relationship. Not even his mother dared tease her with matters marriage.
Her cousins and age mates married and moved on but Amolo notoriously could move no nearer towards marriage. And the clan surrendered that Amolo was destined to remain not only a bachelorette but a spinster and “untouched”. This displeased Nyikal and the clan so much as they truly loved and respected Amolo but they also feared her.
Nyikal having consulted wise aunties who advised that Amolo was not abnormal but needed to be hand held into marriage. Nyikal then laid out a plan to yoke his favourite daughter into marriage. Nyikal had a buddy by the name Ila who was known to Amolo as a great family friend. So on one occasion after being tipped by senior women of the court as to Amolo’s fertility to conceive, Nyikal invited his buddy Ila to come and visit. Late at night the other houses became “unavailable”. And Ila who was having “black out” after beer brew binge drinking was taken to share Amolo’s siwindhe living quarters. But it was a trick. Ila had feigned drunkenness as per Nyikal’s conspiracy. And for the rest of the visit days the now easily intoxicated Ila shared Amolo’s Siwindhe.
When Amolo later discovered that she had conceived she became violently angry. Nyikal asked Ila to escape the violence and go back to his family until Amolo is pacified.
When Amolo went into labour Nyikal invited Ila back. Much later Ila went and fetched his other family to come and live in Nyikal home and that ensuring that Amolo daughter of Nyikal never left home but in reverse of Luo order, Amolo notoriously “married” Ila.
9. ALLAN THIGO (Kajulu)
I knew him personally. Like all supremely gifted people, Allan Thigo aka Ogango wuon Pap has a split personality. Some even claimed he was neurotic and difficult to deal with. I even wanted to believe that until I got into football management and understood how some football administrators were bereft of management skills. Allan Thigo knew their ineptitude and hence the contempt for soccer official’s authority.
Allan Thigo also knew how fickle football fans were. But most importantly Allan Thigo was an incomparable footballer and football coach. In short without Allan Thigo, Gor Mahia FC would have had a difficult time surviving the Gor Mahia football coups of the 1970’s. He single handedly fashioned Gor Mahia as not only fashionable club but a formidable force known all over Africa.
Apart from his on field antics with referees and opposing players Allan Thigo had another side borne out of his first hand acquaintances with the managers, players and fans weaknesses. On the field he could disarm the strictest referee with kidology of harmless faking and rolling around after every foul as if he had been shot. And both sets of fans loved the humour on the field and complemented him with a round buzz of chuckles. After all people just want to be entertained.
Football fans especially around that time believed in black magic more than today. Allan Thigo knew this and like all coaches and great players he also knew some were hogwash stories. But he milked the whole black magic belief. For example, playing against a young team, he would just exhaust them with space balls and easily win the game in the second half. Allan Thigo also knew that it takes only one odd goal to win a match. Not ten goals. It leaves the opposing team with pride to take home. He made Gor lovable by opposing teams who marvelled at the midfield power. And no team pressed the ball on the ground more than the Gor Mahia of Allan Thigo. And on the odd occasions when the team lost he would turn it on the fans and blame those who did not visit the correct “medicine” man.
The most hilarious one was this one time at the city stadium game. Gor Mahia had lost a game and fans were baying for the team’s blood so to speak. The fans held the riot police and the players under siege at the stadium. It was getting dark now. Allan Thigo was unperturbed by the hullabaloo. After showering he simply got out and in his birthday suit and waving his underwear charged at the fans. In his tall gangly frame and K knees; a quarter to mid night skin complexion in the dimly lit stadium perimeter the fans thought the underworld was done with the game and was now chasing them. With all his limbs flailing supported by his trim frame without uniforms, Thigo looked ghostly. And the fans scampered away from this pitch dark black shadowy figure running after them. In Luo rituals it is not right to strike some body with an under wear. Thigo knew that the Luo fans would never try to harm a naked person running towards them waving and underwear. Even some riot policemen readied themselves to jump into the land rover when they saw the naked frame of Allan Thigo firming out from the silhouette as he walked to the rest of the players. It was tienda gima acham atuoni time (feets do your stuff time). And that was the end of the matter courtesy of the notoriety of Allan Thigo.
10. ARUDHI (Alego)
Everyone who watched him play, say there is no greater Kenyan midfield player than Nicodemus Daniel Odhiambo Arudhi. I believe Arudhi is the Luo word for hurricane. Arudhi was Luo FC player in the 1960s to 1970s.
He was so good that he would get a pass from serving a jail sentence just to help win a game football at the City stadium. After the game then be taken back in a prison van. And in fact on one occasion when Ghana’s Black Stars had white washed Kenya 13-1 making Mzee Jomo Kenyatta ask his favourite cabinet minister Tom Mboya, Where is Kipchoge to save us, Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya hastily arranged a friendly game between Luo Union and Ghana’s Black stars to recue some pride. The second game ended 2-2 after Tom Mboya had ferried Arudhi to the City Stadium from the residence in prison.
But Arudhi had a superstar failing like many gifted Athletes such as tennis star Jennifer Capriati of Spain, David de Gea of Manchester United, Wiltord of Arsenal, Robin Van Persie of Arsenal, Jack Wiltshire of England, you name it.
In the developed world such flaws are managed by good PR and psychiatry sessions but not in this part of the world where it is still not appreciated as an illness. Nicodemus came from a good middle income family and a loving mother who had even housed the presidents’ children in their hour of need. He had no need for petty theft and shoplifting. He needed nothing of such distraction.
In the end he was gunned down in unclear circumstances while in police custody and the government later compensated the family. In the movie Nairobi Half-life, Oti the main character, his background, girlfriend and the manner in which the main character was executed is so uncannily the life of Nicodemus Arudhi. And that includes the eatery business in the movie which is similar to the Kariakor Market eatery that was run by Arudhi’s mum, Salome. But what do I know. I am just an anecdotes blogger.
Still I could not help noticing the similarities in Sidney Poitier's acclaimed movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" and the family of President Barack Obama. In real life Dr Barack Obama and in the movie Sidney Poitier are both travelling from Hawaii, are both wooing a much younger blonde girl. Both Dr Obama and Sidney character are mature and have a previous marriage. Dr Obama and Sidney character are very educated, very dark skinned, have similar short hair, and are technocrats. Dr Obama fiancé and Sidney fiancé have limited education. Surprisingly in the movie there is talk of the presidency some 40 years before it happened in real life. Relax they did not steal our script or did they? Could someone have met the couple and imagined such a script. Everything seems to fit. It is a possibility. It just confirms my belief that our stories past or present can also be block buster in the film industry.
In summary our folklore can be put on film and Lupita Nyong’o need not roam around all over Africa and to the Appalachians to find a story. I don’t like it when jealous pan Africans cry foul that ‘why is Lupita enriching her-self with our tragic history’. It is as if we don’t have stories to tell.
On our part let us tell our stories again and again and again. Instead of some New Yorker 12 Years A Slave we can tell our own Kager slave wife in captivity who escaped to warn the Ugenya people that the neighbouring chief Mumia slave raiders were planning to raid that very night. Yes, it would be delightful to hear the sound of “roll the camera” and see the handsomely legged Lupita rise from where she had just given birth and overheard the raid plot to run all the way from Mumias to Ugunja to scream at her people crying out loud, “Omia biro”. It will be our story. And it can sell too.
Our notoriety even if mistaken for fame can also sell in Hollywood.