Tracing the roots of US President Barack Obama’s family

Barack Obama when he visited Kenya in 1988

Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is the only President of the United States with African roots.

Obama’s early ancestors migrated to Lake Victoria region from Sudan in the fifteenth century. His family settled at a village known as Kanyadhiang, with Kogelo being the name of the President’s paternal clan. His early ancestors were known as Jok’Owiny

In Luo, the term Jok(y) means the people of. The Obamas are descendants of a man known as Owiny Sigoma, who was a fierce warrior who led his people to fight both Luo and non-Luo speakers in Yimbo area where they drove them away and settled there.

Author Sally Jacobs writes in the book, The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father, the first extensive profile of the President’s father who was said to be a man of great potential but who ended up dying having disappointed those who had faith in him.

The president’s family is a vast web of potential embarrassments. His great-grandfather was named Opiyo as he was the firstborn twin. He was born in the Luo community where twins are considered “a bad omen.”

His grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, is said to have ditched the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church for Islam because he considered Muslim women more “submissive.” He was a well-known wife batterer and had a hot temper.

The President’s own name Obama is derived from the word bam, which means crooked or indirect. The following information on the Obama family tree has been piece together based on the book by Jacobs.


Obama Opiyo was the great grandfather of Barack Obama jnr. He fathered the president’s own grandfather, Onyango Obama, with one of his five wives. Two of his wives were sisters.


He is the father to Obama Senior. He was the second born of eight brothers and was born in 1885, the same year that the British proclaimed Kenya part of its East Africa Protectorate.

He was among the first from his village to learn the white man’s language. He worked as a cook for the white man.

He had a notorious temper and at one time dug a grave for his fourth wife, Habiba Akumu (the mother of the President’s father), and was on the verge of slitting her throat and burying her when a neighbour spotted him and raised an alarm.

He convinced her to convert to Islam and change her name from Akumu to Habiba, a variation of the Arabic name for “loved one.”

They never enjoyed their marriage.

Habiba’s second born was named Baraka, a son. When six years old, he converted to Christianity and changed his name to Barack. He is Obama’s father.

His other wife was Sarah Ogwel famously known as Mama Sarah, who has become something of a family spokesperson and matriarch.

When Habiba could no longer put up with the mistreatment of his husband, she ran away leaving her children under the care of Mama Sarah.


He was born in 1936 and died in a road accident in 1982 leaving behind a chaotic homestead and failed dreams.

He had three surviving wives by the time his son was being elected the US senator.

His first wife was known as Grace Kezia. They met at a dance party in Kendu Bay on Christmas Day in 1956, when Obama Senior was the village dancing champion.

After his death, the family was divided down the middle over disputes on his estate valued at Sh450,000 by 1996.

Three months after Obama Senior’s death, she went to court claiming she had not divorced him.

When Obama won the election in December 2008, she was living in the suburban town of Bracknell, west of London.

Obama Senior met the President’s mother, Ann Dunham, at the University of Hawaii, where he was the first African student and the first black man that most of the students had seen.

They had their first date in front of the university library, married in February 1961 and the young Barack was born six months later. They divorced in early 1964.

He was also married to Ruth (Baker) Ndesandjo.

His other wife was Jael Atieno Onyango, who was almost half his age. They only got one son, George Hussein Onyango. Obama senior died when George was six months old.

Jael remarried and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Obama Senior’s troubled marriage life was partly blamed on his alcohol addiction.

In the book The Other Barrack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s father, the author writes thus: “It was clear that his heavy consumption of alcohol played a part. Obama was given the nickname “Double-Double” due to his habit of ordering successive twin shots of whiskey at one sitting, sometimes accumulating up to 16 shot glasses before him.”

Very few people, if any, can give a vivid account of what kind of man he was. “I can’t say I really knew him, Barack. Maybe nobody did ... not really. His life was so scattered. People only knew scraps and pieces, even his own children,” Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama is quoted in Dreams From My Father.




Has three wives and lives in Kogello. He is the only one who has not written a book about his father.

Sometimes back, he caused a stir after building a small mosque in his homestead, something that could have negatively affected Obama’s campaign for the presidency.

He unsuccessfully ran for Siaya governorship in the 2013 General Election.


He was the second son of Obama. In July 1997, six months after being sworn in as the Illinois Senator, he wrote a letter disavowing any claim on his father’s estate.

In 1988, as he was preparing to join Harvard School of Law, Obama started seeking deeper details about his father.


She is the president’s half-sister and Obama Senior’s only daughter. She was the second born child of Grace Kezia.


Eldest of Obama’s third wife. He went to the US in the 1980s to attend college. He says that he has blocked memory about his “profoundly abusive father who cheated on her mother repeatedly and often beat her up.”

He is an international marketing consultant in China. He has a BA in physics from Brown University and master’s degrees from Stanford and Emory Universities.

In 2009, he wrote autobiographical novel called Nairobi to Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East.


He died in a motorbike accident.


She is the child of the second marriage of Obama’s mother.


He is the youngest of the Obamas and lives in Huruma.

His mother, Jael Atieno Onyango, was half the age of the old man. George was their only child born six months before the Mzee died.