I am Luo and I come from Nyakach. It is a dry land at the base of a plateau not far from the lake. The soil ranges from dry, hard clay soil to sandy soil that can only be used to mix cement for making bricks.
Water is scarce; in the early days, there were water catchments commonly referred to as yao which people used to get water from. These dry up during the dry season leaving residents to depend on neighbours who may have dug a well and sell about 30 litres of water at Kenyan shillings 5.
Despite its harsh conditions; I love Nyakach. It is full of contrasts, the flatlands of Ahero flanked by the Nandi hills in the distance make for a picturesque scene. Our nearest market is called Sondu, it has a cattle market frequented by people from the nearby Kericho county towns and then has the Kisii who come to sell their wares. Of course there is fish to be found among other things on sale.
For many people who haven’t been to Nyakach all they remember about the area is that the people there worship a black african python, which they believe brings good luck to them. I will attempt to chronicle the stories of this snake better known as omieri.
Omieri, is a snake rooted in Luo myths. According to ancient Luo folklore, Omieri is a snake that lives in Lake Victoria and appears on land in times of drought to summon the rains. In part this explains why when villagers see a long python near their homes, the snake is revered rather than killed or shooed away.
In 1987, a massive python appeared in Nyakach, near a woman’s home. The Nyakach people immediately recognized the good luck charm, and started feeding the snake with all manner of foods in hope that the snake would bring rain to the dry land.
People came from far and wide to see the snake including international tourists. The Kenya Wildlife Service was concerned about the whereabouts of the snake and rightfully so; sometime later, a villager burnt the grass surrounding the snake in a bid to show visitors its whereabouts at night, the snake got burnt and sustained injuries and was transferred to the animal orphanage in Nairobi for treatment and recovery.
A few days after the snake was transferred to Nairobi it started raining in Nyakach and the surrounding flatlands in were flooded with water. People lost their homes ad were stranded in the floods. Many linked their troubles to the transfer of Omieri to Nairobi. Debate ensued in parliament as the then MP for Nyakach begged for the snake to be returned to Nyakach.
The snake however, remained in Nairobi until it died in 1989. It was given an honourable burial with people going as far as to have an in memoriam book signatory in Nairobi and raising money for burial expenses. But she reappeared again…
In 2003, a 16 foot long python appeared in Wasare, Nyakach. The snake had come to the marshes to lay eggs. Residents gave it all manner or food to eat including ugali (maize meal), bread and goats. Although the snake rarely ate, the residents continued to revere it.
The snake had security from the Kenya Wildlife Service and local youth, to ensure that no harm came to it. It is not clear what happened to the snake, it probably moved away from the area after some time.
In February 2006, a python appeared in Kano, another area of Nyakach. Residents of the area celebrated its sighting as a sign of good luck as there had been a long spell of drought. It is unclear whether there was any rainfall or good luck that was associated with the sighting of the snake.
By now it should be pretty obvious to you that Omieri is not one snake, but a type of snake. Any fully developed python, which appears in the vicinity of the Nyakach area especially near the lake, will probably be labeled as Omieri.
So does Omieri really bring good luck? When the python snake appeared in a woman’s homestead in 1987, she immediately erected an enclosure around the snake and kept the snake fed. When pythons are full or hatching eggs they rarely move away from the present habitat.
They lady charged people to come and see the snake, and got tax free income from the people. The snake brought good luck to her home as she was able to raise money which incidentally to pull out of poverty.
Some would describe this as mere coincidence others would term is as a sign from the gods that the home was blessed. In the olden times, the woman would probably immediately qualify as a village doctor and mediator between man and God.
Although I am a Luo from Nayakach, my immediate family does not practice a lot of the Luo traditions. I have however learnt about them from others through word of mouth, reading books, stories and even talking to the elderly people whom I meet.
This tale of Omieri is a belief which I find peculiar, do not really associate with (I am terrified of snakes and cannot even look at a picture or a movie with snakes) and would rather not be associated with. What do you think of the mythical figure? Are there other African cultures with similar beliefs?