Imagine a time, long before penicillin and you had the misfortune to catch lockjaw disease or Tetanus — a disease that clamped jaws shut.
If you were Luo, you would be minus six lower teeth, allowing medics of that era to feed you herbal concoctions through the gap.
Back then, cultural practices had a meaning. They gave the community identity. When one died, relatives, for instance, shaved their heads clean to symbolise a new leaf in the lives of the bereaved.
In the same breath, they never left a widow — young or old — to face life alone. A cousin of the departed would be selected by elders to inherit the widow. At times, a widow chose from amongst her brothers-in-law the one she fancied. The inheritor protected the widow, became a father figure to her children and provided for her family.
In keeping with strict tradition, a stranger — commonly referred to as jadak or a man from another community — was never allowed to inherit a Luo widow. You also had to be a man of mettle because wife inheritance was no child’s play.
Teeth removal might have died a natural death and wife inheritance is on the wane, but socio-economic pressures are threatening or redefining many hitherto thriving cultural lifestyles among the people of the lake.
For instance, chodo wino or the shaving of a newly born child has often put married families living apart in awkward positions.
Amongst the Luo, shaving child for the first time was traditionally only done when the child’s mother and father got intimate. If it happens that the child’s father was far away, the child’s hair would grow bushy till he returned home and slept with his wife.
Three years ago Aggrey Ochieng’, a resident of Nyatike District in Migori County, got employed in Mombasa as a casual worker leaving an expectant wife behind. She delivered six months later. He sent money to cater for the hospital bill and to see her smoothly through the post delivery period and assumed all was well.
But a few months later, his wife called saying she desperately needed him to return home so that they could shave the baby. Being newly employed, he told her that the only alternative was for her to visit him in Mombasa.