As late as about 10 years ago, it was very rare to find a palatial home built in parts of Siaya, Ugenya, and Alego in Nyanza. There was a strong belief that even constructing an iron-roofed house was enough to earn you a date with your maker.
Strong beliefs in superstition and the pain of the “evil eye” from neighbors and relatives scared people away from coming back home to build.
And with the developments, most people who have made it and got well-paying jobs in other towns would rather stay in town and in posh estates instead of building back home.
But now, however, the trend is changing as palatial homes begin to take over the landscape of the once-remote villages.
This has been boosted by the introduction of devolution which has helped create local millionaires who are unafraid to live large and display the power of devolution through the pockets of county workers.
After years of staying away because of the superstitious beliefs of witchcraft, a majority now is returning home to construct beautiful homes and even mingle with their village mates for parties.
If you move around the villages now, you are likely to see very beautiful homes every short distance. A clear indication of the great transformation.
While some argue that most people who practiced witchcraft and killed successful sons of their neighbors have died in large numbers to natural causes, others believe modernity is at the center of the changes.
Elders also cite Christianity and the emergence of new churches as one of the reasons that contributed to their return, because now a lot of people are getting into prayers and now the superstitions and beliefs have decreased.
The spread of Christianity in the villages took away those beliefs and people began to be more comfortable.
Also the number of families dying in the cities and getting buried there contributed to the decision to come back home regardless of the situation.
Kizito Otieno, 68, from Mur Ngiya, says in the past there were a lot of issues between extended families, and most of the problems were occasioned by fights for things like family land.
He notes that a majority of families were not very close to each like in these recent times.
“For example, those who managed to get their families out of the villages and even educate their children well would rarely return. There was this superstitious belief that an unhappy relative would kill them through witchcraft. A majority stayed away,” he says.
He says that those who have been bad and do not like the progress of others have been dying over the years as they grow old.
According to Otieno, other events have also pushed people to begin embracing their homes. In 2020, when most people lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19, many traveled back home to start a new life.
“And the climax was during the 2007 post-election violence when we saw a grand return of relatives and members of our community that had stayed away for long. They began to construct homes,” he says.
He claimed he knows several families who have never returned, who were born and bred in Kwale and Mombasa counties, and believe it is their home.
“For example one of my grandparents stayed in Mombasa and married Taita, so when he died his body was brought home to Alego, and his children buried him and returned there. They have no links with Alego or us. They have no relations with anybody here,” says Kizito.
He says most people started returning home because their lands were now remaining idle after the death of their grandparents and there was the need for succession.
Return home formula
Julius Mwanda, 78, of Nyangoma Kogelo, says the chiefs have been trying to sensitize the people to return home.
He says a lot of traditional beliefs from the community made even outsiders fear them.
“If someone heard that you come from Alego, they would automatically fear you. Once someone traveled away from the village and made some money, they would be scared to return home because of the belief that if you return home, you may not live to see another day,” narrates Mzee Mwanda.
He adds: “Some of those things are true because there are people who were jealous and did not like others prospering.”
He says the majority of the people preferred to remain in the cities instead because even having an iron sheet house would make you a target.
“We had some old people who felt anyone who was developing was in their class. They felt uncomfortable when even the sons of their neighbors or relatives were progressing,” he notes.
But as time goes things are now changing and people now have built beautiful homes here in the village.
“Even those who have little education come back. They even join the village meetings freely. We still have some small beliefs but things are not as bad as they were. Our people also realized being away from the village was contributing to traditional roots going down and children mostly did not know whom to identify with,” he adds.
Luo Council of Elders deputy chairman Thomas Achando says that most Luos from Ugenya and Alego lived in the cities because of jobs.
Achando says most of them worked for the British government and were picked to work away from home.
“Most people from Ugenya and Alego worked as security officers for the British government. Once they realized that the job was lucrative, they would fail to return home because of the nature of agreements they made, it was not because they did not have houses or homes,” Elder Achando says.
He says that the Luos had a very good working relationship with the British government because of their level of education and ability to comprehend very fast and that is why most of them work under administration making most of them busy.
He, however, notes that a majority of Luos from Alego and Ugenya returned home to construct houses after the post-election violence in 2007.
“They never thought that someone could construct a beautiful house in the village all self-contained. They always thought such beautiful homes could only be constructed in Nairobi but now things have changed,” he says.
He also notes that there was fear of losing a life when they construct a home but it was not a major cause for not returning home.