By Onyinkwa Onyakundi
When we was little kids in Gusii, there was a lot of life lessons that were imparted on us right on our mums’ laps and right from birth, that went into preparing us for the treacherous journey that lay ahead. The blessings and proclamations that our mums spoke into our lives ~ for instance ~ were on their own, not only a lesson on the nature of relationships that our community had with the neighboring communities, but also a declaration of what our role in the family and community was.
After giving her baby a bath, and as soon as she chucked it from the bath water, a Kisii mother would toss her little bundle a couple of feet into the air and break the fall by catching it as it came down. This she did a couple of times as the terrified baby yelled for dear life, in a practice known as ‘Okorusia chimbaa’ ~ to remove mbaas ~ which was meant to rid the baby of the fear of heights and other adversities that life would constantly be throwing their way all their life.
Ridding us of the fear of heights may have inadvertently prepared us all for life as Pilots or frequent fliers, but that was not the primary objective. Far from it. The practice of ‘Okorusia chimbaa’ was meant to scare the shit out of us so many times without incurring as much as a bruise, as a lesson that life can and shall screw you over and over again, but in the end, everything always comes back together if you focus and handle the fall well. At this point in time, that adversity would be the Corona virus. We’ll take devastating hits, but at the end of it all, all will be fine.
But it wasn’t all just acrobatics. As a mother tossed her Son into the air, she would be telling him that he would grow to become a big strong warrior that would go to ‘Sigisi’ (Kipsigis land) and ‘Bomanyi’ (Maasai land) to fight and defend Omogusii. That right there reveals two things. The first is the adversarial nature of the relationship that existed between us and our Kipsigis and Maa neighbours. The second is that defending and protecting our families and our community was a most noble and cherished obligation of every Kisii man. Heck! It was actually our life’s mission.
That is precisely why Kisii men that were brought up in that era and environment exhibit emotional maturity that those brought up in the millennial era of ‘you guy, my guy’ wouldn’t know a thing about. But I digress. You must wonder why they would only mention two of our neighbours, and leave out the third ~ the Luo. Well, the Luo were not forgotten, just that our beef with them was of a different nature. Our relationship with ‘Abagere’ was what Facebook would label as ‘complicated’.
The Luo weren’t exactly our adversaries, but nor were they really our friends either. We had a mutual loathing and despised each other on certain matters, but shared a symbiotic relationship that just managed to keep us on the rails. They nicknamed us ‘Okembo’ because some of our men had the habit of engaging in Cattle rustling in Luo land. But they were long distance traders who brought ‘Ebara’, Sisal ropes, baskets and such other merchandise into Gusii and left with Maize, Wimbi, Bananas and such other farm produce.
As these Donkey Caravans snaked their way through Gusii, it was customary for the homesteads where nightfall found them to provide them with food and accommodation. Out of this intimate interaction with this bunch of Luos, many stereotypes were formed, which were expressed in such sayings as “Tonaria Mogere borere” (usizoeshe mjaka kitanda) and “Omogere n’oyomambia” (mjaka ni wa asubuhi). The first advises against making a Luo guest too comfy, while the second labels him lazy.
Some like the ‘lazy’ label were ~ in all honesty ~ unfair and misplaced. This is because it was based on how the Luo faired in a Kisii test ~ tilling the land ~ rather than a Luo one like say fishing or herding loaded Donkeys for days on end into foreign lands. Some, when not contextualized, sound really mean, but in reality are just hilarity. Take ~ for instance ~ the one in which every time a child sneezed, the mother would ‘cast the Flu away’ by declaring that “may it fly away to Luo land”. In this era of the Corona, that would sound really mean and hateful. Wouldn’t it?