A translation by Jane Achieng.
The title of this post is in Luo and stands for Luo customs, beliefs and traditions.
I promised to write about some of the customs of my ancestors before the coming of the white man. Sadly most, if not all, of these are no longer practiced. The bigger tragedy is that as the generation of our grandparents die out, they are dying with the knowledge of our customs and traditions. Our tradition being mostly oral, it means there are hardly any records of the past. This present book does not give an explanation for the various customs. The author’s intent to was to note them down as he knew them or from the discussions with elders. It is not conclusive. It is however a good place to begin for students of anthropology.
I think the author would be very sad if he rose from his slumber today. In his preface he wrote
I have written this book as a collection of our beliefs, practices, customs and laws so that current generation and future generations will have access to them and may not lose them.
We have all but lost them.
It should not be believed that my ancestors were savage and that it is the colonialist who rescued us from savagery. On the contrary, let the record be clear that whereas the customs were different, these old women and men were not savages. They were a very organised lot.
It should be noted the Europeans first came to Kisumu in 1896 and went to war with people of Uyoma [my next door neighbours] in 1899. They raided cattle near Karachuonyo in 1904.
Having said the above, I will share a few things that I learnt from the book.
The largest geopolitical unit was chiefdom, headed by a chief. There was a standing force, clan elders, peacemaker, medicine man, chief warrior and so forth. A bastard, an unmarried man, one whose mother was not a Luo, people whose mothers were separated from their husbands were not eligible for leadership positions in the community. Whenever a matter affected the whole community, a national assembly was called. In attendance were the various clan elders.
Law regarding insult and lack of respect
A young person should not insult an elder person nor should he correct him openly. A young person should offer his chair to one older than him.
Law regarding homicide/ accidental killing
When one killed another unintentionally, there was no case. The elders required the person who killed to bury the dead and to stay for all the funeral ceremonies.
Laws which allowed one to kill
If one caught his wife with a lover, he was free to kill the lover, there was no case held against him. One was free to kill an enemy at war.
Law regarding sex and adultery
Sexually immoral persons were considered unfit to bring up children. Attempting to/ seducing someone’s wife was ground enough for battle.
These included the tribunal, clan meetings and the national assembly.
They believed god flowed in the human body. They did not know where God lived, that’s why they thought he lived in the human body.
There is a story that we are suffering today because some bride failed to heed instructions from God when she was told to go cut the ground once with a hoe and leave it there, for the land will dig itself. She didn’t do this. God was displeased and condemned us to dig till we sweat as the only condition for getting food.
Wars and the warriors.
It was forbidden to kill a person who had surrendered by climbing a tree, entering a house, carrying a baby or carrying soil or grass to take an oath. One should never kill a woman, a child or a traveller.
Oath taking and swearing
The Luo did not like taking oaths believing they retarded the development of homes.
Matters of the seasons and days of rest
If there was a death in the village during land preparation, the people rested; 4 days for a man and 3 days for a woman.
If a dead body was carried through the village, the people rested
The people rested after a cleansing ceremony.
Matters of marriage
When a father considered his son ready for marriage, he advised him to propose to a girl from a good family. There was a go-between. All information was passed through the go-between. The girl and boy each had a go-between. The son of the first wife was the first to marry.
The following were grounds for dissolution of marriage
- proof that wife was a food thief
- a witch or extremely lazy
a woman could leave the husband if
- he was a thief
- a wizard
- interfered in the kitchen or served himself from the pot
Twins married at the same time and all that was done to the boy was done to the girl. The treatment was similar/ equal?
Mothers and their children.
If a mother had twins, the day the children were taken out, the village rested.
When a woman gave birth, she was given a baby sitter.
When a woman was 6 months pregnant, she got a tattoo.
The first food fed to the baby after delivery and even before breast-feeding was milk from a sheep.
Children were named, and still are, according to time of birth, memorable events, a new proverb that has come into fashion, death of a great man and a big man passing through the country at the time of birth.
The death of an old man
If an old man died in the daytime, there would be no mourning till sunset. The wives stripped off their clothes in mourning. Everyone stripped; married sons, brothers, sisters, in laws. If the man didn’t respect his wife, she refused to strip. No one could strip if the woman hadn’t.
The third day after burial, was the day for community celebrations. People came from the community to celebrate. There were plays by each group. Everyone wore their best attire. The villagers brought the food to be eaten. This celebrations could go for a minimum of 4 days.
Some bad deaths
- death of a virgin woman
- a widow dies while still wearing the funeral dress
- a bride dies before she is confirmed
- a woman dies without giving birth
- death of a pregnant woman
- death of a person with abdominal swelling
- the death of a hunchback
- the death of a newly married man
- a man died leaving a pregnant wife
- a widow conceives whilst wearing the funeral dress
- a married man dies in his father’s house
As I have mentioned above, there were celebrations after a funeral.
This was taken by senior boys in the boys’ simba. The elders took theirs in their huts. Bhang taking started in the middle of the morning till evening. These people loved their weed!
Playing the game of ajua
The game of ndiga [Marksmanship]
Wooing or befriending girls
Here, I will note that sex before marriage was highly discouraged. It was not a burden to be a virgin. Boys who tried to solicit sex from girls before marriage would end up being beaten.
I think almost everyone drank alcohol.
Playing the bassoon
Social status and leaders
The rich were well respected. They were seen as the backbone or strength of society. The poor were not liked. This is because it is the physically weak, lazy idlers and gossipers who do no work who became poor.
It is sufficient to mention they knew how to count. Numbers which involve millions are incomprehensible.
The above summary is not comprehensive of the scope covered by the book but was intended to shine some light on the practices as they were before the coming of the Europeans.
If you have read up to this point, I think you will find the link below an interesting read.