By Josiah Odanga
When Linoh Odongo, 20, was found hanging on a Baobab tree, in the vicinity of their Orinde home in Kakelo Location in Kasipul last October , as expected, misery was for every village folk who arrived at the scene. The family of Ngima had lost one of their own in the most unwelcome way. “No…no Odongo, you’ve struggled with your physical disability all this long only to kill yourself when you’re already a man,” bewailed one of his uncles.
Soon, children, X and Y (names concealed) aged 8 and 10 respectively, had been instructed to cane the swinging Odongo with a twig. Caning him would ‘hide’ them from the would-be maneuvering bad spirit of Odongo because they were the first to find the ‘curse’ in their shamba. In the meantime, tens of the perplexed observers had retreated to their gossiping cocoons. There was a particular concern. They wanted to know whether the Ngimas had a history of kinsmen committing suicide.
A day hardly passed, and in the neighboring Otel village, both young and old villagers were dashing into the compound of Mr Richard Ojing. Kojwach East Location Chief James Oindi confirmed the passing on of Clinton Billy Ojing, 25. An Egerton University student of Bsc Economics and Statistics had just killed himself in his brother’s simba (house); depriving his parents the joy of witnessing a graduating son this December. It was moaning and gnashing of teeth. But before ululations would settle, the self-appointed ‘Committee of Inquiry’ aka gossiping cocoon had poised a question already: “Did anyone in Clinton’s lineage ever commit suicide?” The same question which had been asked of the Ngimas.
Fast move to March 2018. In the nearby village of Kochia, in the same Kojwach Location. The body of Shadrack Odhiambo, was found helplessly hanging on a rope in his house. Many wondered what devil had excited the hardworking butchery operator of Ringa market into such a horrible conclusion. Chief Oindi confirmed Sad’s death. As expected the ‘Committee of Inquiry’ had been mounted with question ready. Still in March 2018. Orinde village. Not very far from the Ngimas. A wife inheritor of a dubious origin (often known as Abandu – word meaning a Luhyia) had hanged himself in the house of the woman he ha inherited. It is reported that Abandu had accused the woman of infidelity.
Here is the point.
Otieno Obondi (not his real name) a 63 year-old neighbor to the Ngimas had this to narrate:
“There is reason Seventh-Day Adventists in this region do not attend Camp Meetings at night. Not very long ago, a Seventh Day church goer on his way from Dudi Camp Meeting was murdered in the simba of Odongo’s father. Even though there was the question of infidelity, when it was obvious who the murderers were, Odongo’s uncle, the key suspect hanged himself. So, we don’t have to go further, that man’s spirit is the bad omen that we see in his brother’s house.” Indeed, that’s how far the gossiping cocoon had stretched their ‘survey’.
I met mama Margarita Ndege Aido, 93, whose home lies not very far from Shadrack’s place. She said: “Migowe is Ajok’s father. Ajok’s blood brother (Shadrack’s uncle) had hanged himself, years past.”
As for Abandu’s death, Chief Oindi also confirmed that Abandu’s father had thrown himself into River Miriu thus drowning.
All these incidences fall within the borders of Rachuonyo East Sub County, HomaBay County.
With suicide incidences on the rise on earth, out of 175 countries, The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114. Most of the deaths have been characterized to depression; especially due to social and economic push and pulls. With 2 million depression cases as at 2015, Kenya earns sixth position, according to a recent report by World Bank.Notably, if a new study report were to be released today, Rachuonyo East Sub-County could get a medal for having relentlessly improved Kenya’s position on the list.
While attempts are being made to curb the situation; for instance some governments have been establishing industries so as to address joblessness, and nongovernmental organizations like Befrienders Kenya working around the clock’ to counsel people who are likely to die by suicide – focus being suicide prevention, the cultural perspective of the Luo will surprise you!
Luos say: “There must be something. People do not just commit suicide!”Are there ‘cursed lineages’ who must commit suicide down the road?
Nelson Otieno, 73, of Kojwach Kawere in Kasipul insists that suicide do not just happen: “The spirits of people who kill themselves always maneuver. Some clans are cursed and it’s cast in stone that the living must bear the brunt of the dead. Guidance and counseling is not just enough. Some issues are beyond human understanding.”
Importation of curses
According to Nelson, Luos in particular, should obey Luo Kitgi Gitimbegi (The way of life of the Luo)” as was published in a book by Paulo Mboya (1936). In Luo Kitgi Gitimbegi, Nelson observes, “jogam (intermediaries) were pivotal in identifying a lady from the ‘right’ family before marriage. One of the main focuses of jogam (who were aunts in most cases) would be whether the lady or the man had a suicidal background. This was to prevent ‘importation of curses’ from elsewhere into a clean family.” Another thing which could be considered by jogam at marriage time included whether a family was of witches or not. It was also familiar to find ‘bad people’ intermarrying, says Nelson.
For almost similar reasons, care when tieing knots is not unique to the Luo only. Fredrick Nyakundi Angwenyi, 82, of Mwamonari Location in Kitutu North says the Abagusii people also had Esigane (intermediaries) who ensured marriage is not actualized with a troubled family.
Both Odongo and Clinton have died Misumbni (bachelors). This is the worst worry! “Spirits of Misumbni are the worst as they would not allow younger ones in their lineage to marry,” observes Margarita Ndege, adding that bachelors are the “most lethal ghosts.” In fact just before Odongo would be buried on November 20 2018, the relatives and neighbors were in rude shock. Two of Odongo’s sisters had attempted suicide already.
The baobab tree which Odongo hanged himself has this far been uprooted. The houses where Abandu, Shadrack and Clinton killed themselves have since been demolished, or earmarked for demolition. Apart from caning the deceased with a twig, demolishing the house where a person has killed himself or herself and uprooting the suicidal tree, Luos had another way of dhimo (cleansing) the troubled families.
Nelson says a witch doctor would be invited at night, and a black sheep slaughtered. The witch doctor would thereafter perform magic before the blood could be poured on a road, in a village far away, just before days break. The first road user that day would be unlucky to have repossessed the malevolent spirits. That’s to say, Luos have no permanent cure to the ‘curse’ of suicide.
To Nelson and Margarita, education is a disaster, especially because it has dispersed the concept of jagam. A person could be meeting and marrying a cursed lady in town or school. Margarita bemoans her deteriorating culture saying that if she could be youth again, she would whip all Luos to conform to the dictates of Luo Kitgi Gitimbegi. Nelson on the other hand believes knowing God would help keep the ghosts at bay, although if one is to backslide the dead would still come to haunt.
All that a side. Where does this cultural perspective of the Luo imply especially now that Kenya is in the middle of this misery? Are efforts by Befrienders Kenya and like-minded organizations, to prevent deaths by suicide, an exercise in futility?