In the last few months there are prominent people of the Luo community who have passed away namely Otieno Kajwang’ who complained of chest pains and died less than 24 hours later and the son of the former Prime Minister, Fidel Odinga who was found dead in his house.
While discussing these deaths and watching the funerals I realized that even fellow Kenyans are not familiar with the Luo style of mourning. When Luo’s mourn we go all out. There are professional mourners who dress up and sing and wail for hours on end. We have an open coffin where possible and as people pass by to view the body, they are free to sing dirges.
Most of the traditions I have learnt about the Luo are things I pick up from books, oral history and attending various ceremonies and events. Very few are practiced by my family. Below is a fictional Dirge which I write to explain the Luo style of mourning, what we think of when we mourn, what people who mourn tend to say at the funeral as they express their sorrow.
Omollo, our son here you are,
Lying in this wooden box; silent, unresponsive
A shadow of a smile on your face
It is I, you mother, Ajowi.
Omollo, I remember when I first held you in my arms
Crying, covered in fluid but yes crying
I knew then you would be a great person
I knew you would see many sunrises and sunsets
I knew you would bring us joy,
Omollo, my son
But look at how you have left us
Me, you mother, alone and with no other son
Your wife Awino, with just but a daughter Awonde
Who cannot even perpetuate your name
Oh, Omollo you have done us wrong, yes you have
Now you will not see your own son,
Who grows in the womb of her mother
You will never taste the sweetness of watching your own family grow into success
Omollo, life had just begun for you
Before the dark shadow of illness snatched you from us
Yes, you have done us wrong
Couldn’t you have held on a little longer?
Couldn’t you have fought with more valour?
Answer me Omollo, I am you mother,
Did you not find it selfish to leave us here all alone?
Ah Omollo, even in death, you still are as calm as always,
my son, you have broken my heart
But can we dwell on what we cannot change? No indeed
This is why I want to praise you, Omollo
Man of valor who was the first to attend a secondary school in this home
Man of wisdom who went ahead and graduated from University
With not only a degree but also a mention of honors
One of the best students of his class
The first man of the Ojowi Family to get on a plane to go overseas
The man who would wear a suit and speak to multitudes in authority
Our leader, our son our friend
Omollo the man who did not walk on land as mere human being did
But travelled in a chauffered Mercedes Benz
Handsome man who left many women gaping and surprised
As he chose the beautiful Awino to be his wife
A man who ensured money was not a problem
The problem was how or what to sped it on
Omollo, because of you we have come to know luxury
Because of you we have come to live lives worth looking back at
And yet you have left us
They say that the curse of slow sickness took you away
The evil powers always at work in the shadows strangled you in your sleep
Omollo, we mourn you, because you have left us with sorrow
Omollo, we mourn you because you have left us suddenly
Omollo, may the Lord carry you in his arms to heaven
Go in peace my son; Rest in Peace