The Abagusii have always advised couples to consume ‘crossroads soil’ (rirongo) “to cure infidelity”.
Infidelity among the Abagusii was punished by death. Adultery was believed to affect the health of the mother or child and could even lead to death. Close to delivery, pregnant women were urged to take traditional medicines to prevent prolonged labour, induce labour and to avoid caesarean delivery.
The Abagusii have held on to the rirongo tradition for ages. Rirongo was prepared by herbalists and could be taken with drinking water or porridge.
The Abagusii considered marriage sacred. If a man wanted to take a second wife, he had to consult his first wife. The wives respected each other.
A polygamous man had his own separate house and would never spend a night in either of his wives’ houses.
In a polygamous family, the husband was served food from both his wives’ houses (in case he had two wives). He would eat small portions of the food from each house. The husband was not allowed to have sexual intercourse with his pregnant wife until the child could walk.
Obino Nyambane, the Kisii County Director for Culture, says women and men respected marriage to the extent that immorality was almost impossible.
“Men were allowed to marry up to five wives. It was a way to respect the spirituality that came with traditional marriages. Children from such marriages respected each other too. Co-wives respected their husband and lived together as sisters.”
Obino says the community had a way of dealing with infidelity in marriage hence the use of rirongo in healing those found to have cheated. The effect was referred to as ‘Amasangi’.
The word ‘amasangi’ originates from another Ekegusii word ‘Ogosanga’ meaning sharing.
According to Obino, death would occur when a husband or wife who had been unfaithful administered medicine to their child.
“You need to cleanse yourself before holding your baby. You could lick a small portion of the concoction and bathe before going home.”
If a man or woman fell sick and was bleeding, the cheating spouse was not allowed to visit him/her. Men who had shared a married woman were not allowed to sit facing each other while eating. It was believed that a woman who was due for delivery could bleed to death should a woman who was cheating with her husband visit her during labour.
“The purpose of marriage was solely for procreation and not leisure. We now have instances where couples are into cheating as a way of life and the consequences are dire as the current generation doesn’t subscribe to traditional beliefs,” explains Obino.
Josephine Moraa, 67, explains that with the kind of lifestyle in modern marriages it would be prudent if every couple uses the concoction.
“Infidelity is at its peak; not even holy matrimony has been spared. We have heard and read of marriages where the wife has got children out of wedlock.”
Traders say demand for rirongo in Kisii town is high.
Mary Ogeto, 64, has been hawking the concoction at the Kisii fresh vegetable market and the Daraja Mbili market. She says she sells a portion, 20 grammes, at Sh 200.
“We sometimes package the same and send it to individuals living outside Kisii and even those living in foreign countries.”
Nearly 20 traders sell the same at the second largest open-air market in Western Kenya; Daraja Mbili. Behind the busy walkways in the market are rarely noticed herbalists who sell the much sought local concoction.