While police elsewhere in the country were patrolling streets from dusk to dawn to enforce a curfew at the weekend, Kenyans in most parts of Kisumu city did not require a cop. So police work that night was an overnight stay in the cold for no good course. Reason? Something mysterious kept residents indoors – Nyawawa.

Kolwa East chief Ms Jennifer Kosowe confirmed to the 47 Reporters that the dreaded spirits of the dead were experienced in her location on Friday night from around 10:30pm. “Yes, they passed here. Our people were beating debes to keep them away,” she confirmed.

Nyawawa is Dholuo word for spirits of the dead (ghosts) that oftentimes come maneuvering and tormenting the peace of Luo people, especially over the surface of ‘Luo Nation’. They give no notice whenever they decide to invade a place. They invade anytime between twilight and dawn. Thus, Nyawawa are known for their ambush. A Luo might be going about their business as usual, but upon detection of the approaching ‘procession of ghosts’, they better run for their dear life to the nearest homestead, until when the ghosts have passed. Alternatively, Luo folklore has it that anyone who can not make it to the nearest house during such an ambush should lie flat over a heap of sand. Failure to do either is a sad story for later.

The sojourning ghosts are believed to come from the lake. In this case, Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria). According to the leader of a faction of the Luo Council of Elders Ker Nyandiko Ongadi, Nyawawa do come inform of ‘yamo’ (wind). Oftenly, Nyawawa have the ability to speak words that can be heard by the living. “Sentiments like ‘weya uru’ (stop bothering me) and ‘nyathina dong’, rita uru’ (my child has remained behind, wait for me) are very common of them. Nobody knows who they are,” says Ker Ongadi.

Besides, “the wind”, do grasp and chant all manner of sounds that they get to hear as they travel. Not sounds of barking dogs, croaking frogs, cluttering iron sheets, sirens, hooting vehicles, and throbbing rivers and waterfalls and the hahahahaaaaas of human beings.

According to Mr Ongadi, Nyawawa are dead people who never “rested in peace”. That they are family members who were aggrieved of their death, especially those whose deaths did not occur naturally.

Here is a brief story as narrated by Ker Ongadi:

“During the days of yore, a certain family conspired and killed wife to one of their sons, for no apparent reason. It was a family of all manner of riches – posho mill, a fleet of busses, etc. Soon after the woman was burried, the posho mill started to produce a unique sound anytime it was being operated – ululations of the deceased woman. As such, everyone in the homestead was scared. A witch doctor was called to cleanse the posho mill and the homestead in general. Upon arrival, it’s the ghost woman who warmly welcomed him with a calabash of porridge. The witch doctor later reported that the woman offered him porridge. But he proceeded to slaughter a goat for sacrifice anyway. After the blood had been smeared everywhere, an in-law who carried the goat’s meat on his head got it stuck their….”

“So this bewilderment started long time ago,” Mr Ongadi concluded, adding that, “that is why during their sojourn, they often take a bit longer to leave a home where a lot of people have died (where there are many tombs). And while at such a home, they utter bitter words like ‘stop destroying my homestead. Can you all leave now. I am not going…stop bothering me!’.”

There is no perfect English or Kiswahili equivalent of Nyawawa. However, in Bukusu language it is called Nababa.

Besides lying flat over a heap of sand or squatting in the house, something more must be done to keep the unwelcomed visitors at bay. Residents should beat metallic containers. Consequently, sufurias and lowly-placed iron-sheet roofs have been the usual casualties. Luos in villages are known to buy new sufurias soon after the misery is gone and peace restored, following the crushing of the old ones. One must avoid objects that produce booming sounds like drums. Reason? In so doing, you are most likely to entertain them for a dance, night unending. Every homestead must beat a sufuria (metallic objects). Wherever their is silence, the ghosts are likely to settle in and the repercussions dire.

A story is told: In the early 2000s in the faraway land of Nyatike, there live da middle-aged woman who only bore one child. The son lived in town. Nyawawa invaded her village at around 8:00pm. She had left the door to her main house open and was preparing ugali for supper in her kitchen, just besides her main house. It’s then that she heard people murmuring inside her main house and carried with her a small source of light made of a can filled with kerosene to find out what was a miss. She reportedly went shouting: “un ng’a gini? Uwacho nang’o” (who are you? What are you saying?). The first to be slapped was the flickering source of light. Then it was pitch dark! Next was her. She was slapped to a pulp by the ghosts. And just before the Nyawawa could vacate the woman’s house, the ghosts entered her kitchen and ate all the ugali. And there they went, rejuvenated and ready for their ‘next patient’. The woman fell ill instant but was only found at sunrise by neighbors. They rushed the now dumb and deaf woman to an unknown shrine where she was cleansed by a witch doctor. So, the woman suffered because her house was calm when everywhere else people were beating objects to scare Nyawawa.

Nyawawa invasion was, since time immemorial, a sign of bad luck for a people. Mr Ongadi says that people are likely to die en masse following their passing. To avert the calamity, traditionally, Luos would offer burnt sacrifices to their ancestors at mountain tops of Got Ramogi and God Umma, for example. However, lately, people resort to prayers – which is a white-man’s culture.

Some people have asked why Nyawawa has never made it to the list of “wonders of the world”. Because, this is one of the the most dreaded invaders since the beginning of time, at least for the River Lake Nilotes.

Following the Friday night invasion of Kisumu by Nyawawa, a conversation ensued on a Luo dominated Facebook group. Majority claimed that they have never experienced Nyawawa in urban setups like Nairobi.

But on his part, Ker Ongadi says Nyawawa inversion happens anywhere. “The only difference is that urban dwellers will most likely not hear of the wind of ghosts pass by. But the aftermath has always been doom! It could manifest itself in freak matatu accidents, for example.”

Ker Ongadi has likened the Nyawawa incident in Kisumu to the Corona-virus pandemic. However, he is upbeat that the recent State House prayer event will scatter the gathering clouds of doom.

“Our people in Kisumu must stay steadfast in prayer and obey government directives like wearing masks, sanitizing their hands and maintaining social distancing. The coming of Nyawawa has never meant good for the future. Nyawawa is misery, it is death!”

By By Josiah Odanga

Multimedia journalist

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