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ACTIVE

DEAD OR ALIVE: SOME KENYAN VIEWS


ABOUT THE AGENCY
OF LUO AND LUYIA
WOMEN
PRE- AND POST-MORTEM
BY
NANCY

SCHWARTZ

(Western Michigan University)


ABSTRACT
Paying attention to burial disputes can help us to understand better matters relating to gender, kinship, community, agency, and power. Since Luo and Luyia
believe that life after death is a significantpart of a person's life, paying attention
to 'the hold death has' upon people is important, as are the writing of 'life-anddeath histories.' The paper presents three cases, one involving a Luyia woman
and two involving Luo women in which the women involved have, in the views
of community members, shown the ability to manipulate kinship structures and
strictures pre- and post-mortem. The paper seeks to challenge views that have
depicted women in western Kenya as passive pawns of a particularly patriarchal
form of patriliny. The paper discussesthe effect religion has on views about death
and burial, and examines the influence of indigenous religion, Roman Catholicism,
Anglicanism,and Legio Maria on these cases.
The discourses surrounding the deaths and burials of Kenyan public
figures such as S.M. Otieno, Robert Ouko, Robert Wangila, Bishop
Alexander Muge, and other famous men have generated, and are still
generating, a mound of newsprint, trial transcripts, and other writings
both inside and outside Kenya. Local lives and deaths deserve the same
attention as that given to the more famous. Instead of focusing on public heroes, I will examine the arguments of interment seen in several
less famous deaths and burials. I will follow the lead of Maria Cattell
who asked, 'what happens when a woman who is not a prominent and
wealthy professional in Nairobi dies and is buried, with much conflict
and controversy, in her rural home?' (1992a: 1). I will present three
cases which show that Luo and Luyia women in western Kenya have
not just been 'passive' pawns of 'patriarchal' patrilineal, patrilocal, polyof
gynous ideologies, 'mystified' through the 'cunning' manipulations
men (Buzzard 1982: 129-130, 261; Clark 1984: 348; Stichter 1988: 183;
Oduor-Noah
and Thomas-Slayter
1995: 167-169).' They have been,

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and are, active players in their societies who have shown agency and
the ability to manipulate kinship structures and strictures during their
lives. In the beliefs of some of the living, women can also have similar abilities when they are 'biologically dead.' This paper joins those
who are recognizing, as against some feminists' claims, that patriarchy
is not monolithic or prcemptory even in patrilineal societies (e.g., Mutongi
1999: 67-68; Silberschmidt 1999; Hodgson 1999a: 123-124; 1999b: 4143, 50 ; 1996: 109, 119-120; Abwunza 1997; von Bulow 1992: 540-542;
Oboler 1994; Udvardy and Cattell 1992: 285; Cattell 1992b: 314-315;
Bianco 1991; Kipuri 1989: 117 in Rigby 1996: 84; Kandiyoti 1997).
To say that women have power even in patrilineal societies does not
go far enough, for women can have certain powers precisely because
they are in patrilineal societies, or patrilineal societies of certain kinds.
The combination of patriliny, ranked polygyny, and the house property complex can make for a highly matrifocal and matricentric patriliny,
which can be positive for women both as living actors and as ancestors.' It seems as if Evans-Pritchard's
'patrilineal puzzle' has become a
of power are visible. The
in
which
new
configurations
kaleidoscope
of
Western
societies
are
coming to look more rigid
gender ideologies
found
in
African
societies (Amadiume
those
than
many pre-colonial
1987: 185; von Bulow 1992: 531-534: Hodgson 1997: 115-116; Rigby
1996: 83-86; Kipuri 1989: 121-2). Colonialism and post-colonialism,
despite their repressions, have not succeeded in suppressing African
their powers.
women from strategizing and demonstrating
There is a need to emphasize individuality rather than ethnographic
essentialism even when we are not dealing with the lives of 'exceptional
men.' These individual case studies are derived from three and a half
years of fieldwork on the Legio Maria Church in Kenya. They are all
about women I did not know well or at all. World-systems theorists
would label Kenya a country of 'the periphery.' The western part of
Kenya has been written about as a periphery of the periphery (Cohen
and Atieno Odhiambo
1989: 129). These cases were at the periphery
of my research in 'a periphery.' Why then discuss them? I do so because
those placed 'at the margins' quite often eject such labels (as do some
theorists),' and feel themselves to be at the center of things. Too many
of us have deficient 'peripheral vision' (Bateson 1994). This paper tries
to remedy that defect in vision in my own fieldwork.
Burials are often controversial matters in Kenya because they bring
issues of space, place, and identity to the fore. They do so in a particularly acute way for people living in the western part of the country
who have experienced high rates of labor migration, and faced politi-

435
with state violence (Schwartz 1996). The prevalent
cal outsiderhood
feeling for both Luo and Luyia is that however far bodies have carried themselves,4 no matter if they have a house which is 'away from
home' (and may even feel 'like a home') while they are alive, at death
bodies belong back at their 'true home,' which is in western Kenya
who have been buffeted by the forces of
and not elsewhere.? Those
wherever they have lived
economic and other forms of 'delocalization,'
Even those who have
their lives, need burials that 'relocalize'
'no sense of place,'
in
communities
that
have
media-created
participated
such as cyberspace, should literally come down to earth and return to
the real place and refuge that is the home soil of western Kenya.'
While Luo and Luyia were critical of a particularizing
'peoples and
cultures' vision of the world before this was popular in Western theory,
most still apply the maxim 'think globally, but act locally' to the dead.'
A new ritually constituted home is, in Dholuo, the Luo language, a
ligala (lugala in Luyia). As it grows into an extended family compound,
it becomes a dala, a term borrowed from Luyia (edaala). When all the
occupants die and the dala goes to field, it becomes a deserted home
(gunda, ekundalomukunda in Luyia). Luo hold that 'the dead in any case
must stay inside the enclosure until the past is ploughed' (Macgoye
1998: 29). These fields of the dead have new homes built near them.
New homes, extended family compounds, and deserted homes are all
'physically, socially, and imaginatively constituted settings', viewed by
the people not with a positivist's eye but 'a deeper understanding'
(Zeleza and Kalipeni 1999: 11). All are not just places but 'moral spaces'
(Masolo 1994). A dala gains moral density as bodies are planted within
it. Those who were wananchi (Swahili for 'citizens' or purported 'patriots')
in Nairobi and other towns, living their lives as denizens of a troubled
nation-state, become reconstituted as members of the 'Luo nation' (or
'Luyia nation') when properly planted 'at home.' For Luo, the burial
of the body 'at home' completes a trajectory begun when a placenta
(biero) is buried in the homestead at a child's birth.9 Luo say men should
return to the land where their placentas are buried. Married women
should return to where the placentas produced by their wombs have
been planted. From birth, the living are already bound up with the
dead. Luo like to live on land 'made fertile with the dust of lives and
wombs entangled' (Macgoye 1998: 44). The rituals of placental and
body burial in homes promote family cohesion and reinforce lineage
memory.'o
For several peoples in East Africa, kinship is like a magnet, something that is, or should be, so 'strong that it must be maintained at all

436
costs and death alone cannot separate its members' (Ocholla-Ayayo
1976: 39). The land is a 'terrestrial anchor' for ancestral spirits (Huxley
1960: 101); it is a magnet that calls its own home. With a proper burial, the dead can start on the path to ancesterhood with its potential
in future generations. When properly buried
for partial reincarnation
among kin, the essence of a person, 'does not die. The blood is like
water that soaks into the ground and becomes mud' (Burton 1981:
a Luo philosopher, has noted that where
121). Ochieng' Odhiambo,
land deeds are not universal, the concern to plant bodies back home
is 'deeply rooted' for practical and spiritual reasons (Associated Press online, April 13, 1999). Ancestral spirits and properly buried bodies can
support claims to land in ways that pieces of paper and the corruptible legal system cannot. One reason that land registration, land consolidation, and land sales have been so controversial among Luo is the
belief that the soil contains a community of spirits (Shipton 1984a: 125;
1984b: 618; 1988: 103; 1989: 30; 1992; 1995: 171). As the developmental cycle of domestic space proceeds, and a dala becomes a deserted
home (gunda), it turns into one of the 'dearest' types of land. OchollaAyayo notes that land 'which houses the grave of one's ancestor has
the highest value and is untransferable'
(1976: 37). Being properly
planted and returned to the soil where other kin are or will be buried
helps provide rights and roots for survivors; it provides a symbol of
'the intergenerational
continuity of the family' (Gordon 1985: 896;
Malusu 1978: 5-6)." A good burial is a 'back to the future' strategy,
a good burial has consequences for the dead, the living, and those not
yet born.
To be 'taken home and given an honorable burial' has long been
an important goal for those who die away from their homes (Omtatah
1991: 107, 110). To die inside one's homestead is still the ideal. A
body that dies outside the moral space of dala should not be brought
in through the front gate made in the euphorbia hedge fence (ojuok)
that encircles family compounds. According to Luo and Luyia indigenous beliefs, the body of a person who dies 'outside' the family compound 'dies wrongly' and must be taken in through a gap made in the
hedge fence (Schwartz 1997; Whyte 1990: 102).'z If a body cannot be
brought back home because the family cannot meet the financial charges
of corpse transport, or because the body has become unavailable for
burial inside a homestead as, in the commonly given example, with a
drowning, Luo and Luyia have used ritual substitutes, such as the fruit
from the sausage-fruit tree (Kigelia africana) or a banana stem, and buried

437
that within the homestead (Schwartz 1997; Ocholla-Ayayo
1989: 40;
Odera Oruka 1991: 71, 73). Even though substitutes exist, burial of
the body back home is preferred. The way Luo and Luyia lavish money
on corpse transport and elaborate funerals 'back home' has periodically
been attacked in the Kenyan press and other public forums. When
Raila Odinga, a Luo leader, did so in 1999, he 'recommended
Luo
from poor families be buried where they die, and the family "bring
back the shadow" by returning some personal effects to Luoland for a
symbolic burial.' Raila Odinga did not extend his suggestion to the
elite. The same report which cited Raila Odinga's views indicated that
people still were holding 'fund-raisers to rent buses or pay for plane
transport so bodies can be buried where the deceased first established
a connection with the land.' It linked land and spirits, citing Jane Osege,
the twenty-four year old wife of the chief in a village near Kisumu,
who brought forth the often repeated phrase, 'If a person is buried
outside the home, the spirit will keep haunting us' (Associated Press online, April 13, 1999).':3
Those who have good deaths and burials become good spirits and
offer names to descendants ( juogi mar nying). They are 'the good ones.'
The dissatisfied dead are bad ones, who are believed to haunt (chieno)
those responsible for their bad deaths and bad burials. Among Luo, 'it
is assumed that even dead people may return to claim their rights'
1976: 171). Spirits can 'only succeed in their haunting
(Ocholla-Ayayo
if the customs are on their side' (Odera Oruka 1991: 77, 80-81). The
English term 'ghost' does not cover this class of beings ( jachien, plural
jochiende in Luo; esikhienolebikhienoin Luyia). A jachien is a deeply unhappy
spirit, 'It is a spirit whose sociocultural position can no longer be altered;
it may be appeased or silenced temporarily, but it cannot be converted
into a good spirit ... a ghost can be good or bad' (Ocholla-Ayayo 1980:
668). In a period and in places that have witnessed a 'population explosion of the dead' (Schwartz 1996), burial is fraught with even more
emotion; aggrieved spirits have had ever more things about which to
be angry. Recording 'life and death histories' seems to be a research
technique that may help us to understand better some societies in Africa.
Life histories have become popular as a way that living Africans can
'speak for themselves' (White 1993: 29). If dead men and women 'tell
no tales', how can we gain access to their 'voices'? Luo and Luyia
would say the dead contribute to ongoing history in dreams, in acts of
possession, and through their deeds.

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Case

Several Sites, One 'Bad Body,' A Dispute Post-Mortem

I met Claris Madaga when I was doing research on Legio Maria,


Africa.
Catholic church in sub-Saharan
the largest African-instituted
a
number
of
observers
to
have
a
has
been
largely
thought by
Legio
in composition
but is actually more multi-ethnic
Luo membership,
(Schwartz 1994a: 137-138). Claris Madaga was a Luyia from Busia, near
the Uganda border, who was employed as a secretary in a government office. Her husband was a Luyia from an area in Siaya District
where Luo and Luyia were notably intermingled. He was an accountant with a multinational company. Her father was an Anglican clergyman working in Nairobi for a major religious organization. Despite her
pride in all of their professional statuses, she had taken her father's
brother's eleven-year-old daughter, Julia Agenga, to a Legio church in
the Kariobangi section of Nairobi for treatment shortly after the child
had come to live with her father. This Legio church was situated in a
status was lower than the
part of Kariobangi whose socio-economic
and her father lived and
where
Claris
her
husband,
Madaga,
places
decided
to
resort
to
She
Legio after western docordinarily worshipped.
tors couldn't treat what she and her husband first thought was Julia
doctors' couldn't deal with what
Agenga's malaria, and 'traditional
Claris Madaga later decided were Julia Agenga's 'demons.' Through
this experience, she came to appreciate that Legio was 'not just for the
lower class' (Schwartz 1994a: 139).
Julia Agenga's problems were seen to have their origins in a bad
burial. Claris Madaga affirmed that her 'second grandmother'
(her
she
had
become
a
troublesome
because
second
wife)
spirit
grandfather's
had died while visiting her son in Uganda, and not had her body laid
to rest by him in Busia. Properly married Luyia (and Luo) women
should get usufruct rights to cultivate land from their husbands' mothers when alive." They also have had a right, when dead, to use land
within their marital home for a burial place that will be remembered
of the patriline their
and visited by the children and grandchildren
buried
have
The
wombs
rights
grandmother's
improperly
produced.
had been disregarded. Claris Madaga did not view the grandmother
as deserving reproach for possessing Julia Agenga. In her view, the
blame for young Julia Agenga's possession fell upon the woman's labor
migrant son who buried his mother in Uganda. While he seems to
have done so because the body 'was bad,' and had started to decay in
the hot climate, this apparently had not been an adequate excuse for
Other corpses of those who have died away
the second grandmother.

439
from western Kenya have been properly prepared to arrive in a condition satisfactory to those at home. The second grandmother seems to
have felt that odor should have taken second place to honor. Claris
his wrongdoing by
Madaga depicted the son as having compounded
seeing to it that the spirit of his unhappily buried mother was transferred from him to young Julia Agenga.
Western Kenya was once part of Uganda, and several Kenyan ethnic groups have been divided between two countries by colonial and
then post-colonial national borders. Although Kenya Luo have been
'the single most visible' labor migrant community in Uganda (Mazrui
1979: 263), Luyia, who are even closer to the border, also have gone
to Uganda over the decades. Even after the major 1970-1972 expulsion, some Luo, I,uyia, and other migrants stayed in Uganda. Views
of Uganda as a good place to make a living underwent change after
some Kenyans were 'disappeared'
in Uganda, and others were openly
killed. Some of those lost to the turbulence of 1974-1976 included very
an early political activist and
high profile people: Kungu Karumba,
later successful businessman; Andrew Opio, a Standard journalist; Onyango
Amoth, an East African Community official; and RJ. Onyango, a physician and scholar. In the minds of many Kenyans, the 'gruesome tales'
about the disappearance and death of 'hundreds' of 'ordinary' Kenyans
in Uganda, along with the deaths of the 'notables,' had turned Uganda
into a hecatomb of sinister deaths and unsettled spirits (Bailey, ed. 1993:
206-207; Ochieng 2000). For a period, it had been an especially bad
place in which to be permanently.
While her relatives spoke as if they believed that Julia Agenga was
Claris Madaga stated Julia
truly possessed by the second grandmother,
Agenga had 'cheated' during the exorcism of the badly buried woman's
spirit by demanding to eat chicken. Chicken and their eggs are foods
Luyia and Luo restricted in the past to men (K'Okul 1991: 66; Schwartz
1989: 88).' Shilaro notes that some Luyia declared, in what 'may have
been an incidence of male chauvinism,' that a woman who ate chicken
or eggs 'would give birth to dumb children' (1995: 13). Another explanation relied on what could be called the principle of competitive exclusion, the belief that a woman who ate chicken or eggs would not
become pregnant herself (Kenya Education
1959: 13).
Department
Several men related to me that women had not been allowed to eat
chicken because it had been believed that women had greedy appetites.
A middle-aged Roman Catholic Luo man added that the restriction on
women eating chicken and their eggs had been found throughout
Africa." In his view, the restriction was ecological; it had been imposed

440
on women through the 'wise decision' of men, who had determined
that women would not have left enough chicken alive for propagation
had the restriction not been imposed on them. The prohibition helped
conserve a valuable source of protein for men and children as well as
a bird needed for provisioning ritual meals. Some older women told
me they appreciated
Christianity for enabling them to eat chicken.
Some older women still observed the restriction with pride, perhaps
vaunting the memory of their past fertility, having subscribed to the
'principle of competitive exclusion' theory. However, Cecilia Orinda,
an older female diviner-doctor and former Legio church mother, who
had preceded her husband both in joining Legio and in gaining ordained
status in the church, advised me that women of strong character had
done what they wanted to. With a grin of mischievous pleasure flitting
that
across her face, and her own will still vibrant, she proclaimed
women, in the past, 'did not eat chicken, unless their hearts desired
that they eat chicken.' Claris Madaga seemed to be indicating that her
second grandmother belonged in the more conservative group of Luyia
women, and not where Julia Agenga's possessive speech placed her, as
a woman who ate 'what her heart desired.' It is possible that omuliro
kwa machen?a, the roasting of a hen over a funeral fire, might not have
been performed for the second grandmother. This ritual hen was eaten
by those who helped with the burial, or one that was done properly,
but it was roasted for the 'departed soul' (Wako 1985: 30-31)." LeVine
has noted that when Gusii old women did not get their ritual funeral
offering, people said it was a 'certainty' that the spirit of the dead person would 'turn against his or her survivors and send disaster to them'
could have been demanding
(1982: 44-45). The offended grandmother
her ritual offering in exchange for turning away from possessing Julia
Agenga.
Interviewing spirits to determine their 'heart's desire' is, I concede,
as difficult as explaining to them matters such as financial obstacles in
arranging corpse transport or other problems that cause 'bad burials.'
At the S.M. Otieno trial, courtroom 'prolonged laughter' greeted the
response of S.M. Otieno's kinsman to the opposition lawyer's query,
'Can you not explain to these ghosts and spirits that it [burial outside
of the countryside] is not your fault'? Yet the kinsman's response was
an appropriate one in a Luo, and I suspect Luyia, context. He replied,
'No. This is because you cannot catch these spirits or talk to them'
(Egan [1987]: 59). One thing spirits are for Lwoo (Nilotes) and some
non-Lwoo in East Africa is 'wind'. Proverbial wisdom proclaims, 'The

441
'wind' that blows, oh my kith and kin, is there a person who might
seize it and enclose it in his or her hand' (Schwartz 1989: 266)?
'heart's desire', dietary
Determining what the deceased grandmother's
preferences, and ritual concerns were must remain speculation on my
part. I knew about her only secondhand, when she was already 'wind'.
Claris Madaga's discussion of the bad burial and its aftermath brought
Uganda, Nairobi, and western Kenya players into it, as well as the
Hollywood cinema and two unnamed sites abroad. Spirits were shown
subject to clock time. The issue of jealousy between co-wives, caused
by an economic inequality between them, which should not have existed
had the husband been a good polygynist, was raised. One of the good
results of the bad burial was that posscssion by the Holy Spirit and
the badly buried grandmother's
spirit acted so as to protect young Julia
from
abuse
from
teachers at school and from a drunken
Agenga
physical
father 'back home.' Something positive finally came out of the great
unhappiness of the improperly buried grandmother. The family's desire
to avoid further troublesome possession for Julia Agenda brought the child
to Nairobi-far
indeed from Busia. The conclusion seemed to be that
a place that is a good one in which to be buried might not be the
best one in which to live. Speaking in English, Claris Madaga told me:
There was a grandmother of ours, the second wife of our grandfather. The story
is that the mother was bitter with the son. The son changed her to my uncle's
house. She got into the small girl. The spirit of the grandmother was in the girl.
She could make her fall down. She talks in her throat, the place swells,then the
woman starts to cough. Then the woman starts talking. The girl had chronic
coughs, coughs like the old woman. It's like that movie, 7he Exorcist.'The woman
said that her son had changed her into that girl. My own grandmother asked the
dead co-wife,'Why arc you coming to my house to spoil it?' The children of my
own grandmotherwere well off compared to the childrenof the secondgrandmother.
[Julia] could be eating when the woman came. Ugali[stiffporridge/bread] came
off her hand and hit her on the cheek. The mother would have to feed the child,
she wouldn't eat. She would have trouble in class and have to be carried home.
The father tried taking this girl to a medicine man in Uganda. 'I'he woman would
say, 'You are trying this [to get rid of me by exorcism], you can't.' They would
take her to doctors too. We took this child to Kariobangi, with some sisters and
the girl's mother. The woman inside her started to cry. The girl was told to kneel.
The Legios prayed for her. She knelt down with her mother. We saw the throat
of the girl swelling.The girl fell down. A man asked, 'What do you want.' She
cheated and said, `kuku[chicken.].' 'Kukufor what,' he said. 'I am giving you two
minutes. How many are you?' 'Seventy-two.' 'I am giving you two minutes to
come out...'
The people were told to move in one direction in case the spirit gets in us.
The girl jumped and stood. She had been as if dead. Then the spirit came out
of her. They did extra prayers in the evening ... Those prayers were to chase
that demon completely.They saw that the son of the old woman had done medicine at home. They told her it had to be removed. She had to take them home.

442
A group of five Logics,four from Nairobi and one from Seme [a location in western Kenya], who had the power to remove medicine, went ... They went to the
girl's home with the girl; they really removed things. I didn't believe in those
things, but I saw it. After the medicine was removed from the house, the father
of the girl was given a jembe[hoe] to dig with. He found medicine by the gate ...
'I'he father's father's second wife wanted to be buried at home. But the body
was bad [starting to decay] and couldn't be taken home. The son went to a medicine man and told him to chase the spirit from him. The son was first possessed,
then transferred the spirit to the girl. It was not that she wanted to go and trouble the girl ...
The [Holy] Spirit of Legio Maria doesn't allow a member to be beaten. A
teacher did so. '1'he girl trembled so much she had to be taken home. The father
was teaching in the school. She told him about a teacher who would get bad
news. One week later his wife died. The girl's father has three wives who are all
at home. He drinks and so forth. When she went home, she was afl?ected,the old
woman tried to come back. So the girl came to Nairobi. Now she stays with my
father. He is a Christian, a pastor ... I was very impressed. I even told my father,
'Your church couldn't heal her.' My husband's side is SDA [SeventhDay Adventist]
but he himself is Anglican. We were married in the Anglican Church. We were
surprised about the Legio. We never believed it but were made to think twice.
We thought that people who foretold continued in the Legio. We did not believe
originally that they were ordinary people. But the girl was ordinary. There was
no one like this in our family. My father has been abroad twice. He was put in
an awkward situation. He told me to help the girl ...
She asks questions [since her exorcism] and is too young to know the stories...
I asked her how she knows these stories, the truths she tells people. She said that
she will see; it is as if there is a photograph. Then another picture will come.
Claris Madaga took me to Julia Agenga. The child declared that,
after her exorcism, she no longer felt as if someone was 'tying her
neck.' When filled with the Holy Spirit, she saw people dressed in
white, 'just women,' circling around her. Claris Madaga claimed that
some Legios had become jealous of Julia Agenga, and said prayers that
harmed rather than helped the girl. According to Claris Madaga, 'The
moment her [Holy Spirit derived] power receded, the woman [the badly
buried second grandmother]
started coming back.' It seemed as if the
could
aggrieved grandmother's spirit
only temporarily be kept in abeyance.
Claris Madaga predicted that Julia Agenga, who had recently started
going to their Anglican church in Nairobi, would be back to Legio
within the next three years so as to be protected again from the deceased
grandmother's
aggrieved spirit. The badly buried woman was not going
to be forgotten, even if not buried back home in Busia, with a grave
to mark her presence and to remind her living kin that she was still
among them. She was a woman who could not be controlled, even in
death.

443
Case II. Hagnes Ombogm-Two Husbands and Fame in Lij, Followed by An
(Urifortunate Death'
Discussion of marriage in East Africa as 'a relationship of absences'
has tended to focus on women who are anchored in rural patrilocal
marital homes while linked to labor migrant men (e.g., Lovett 1996:
The pressures on Luo women to remain in marriages for
access to land and other economic necessities have been described as
being strong (Hay 1982: 112). Luo women have been reported to find
it very difficult to divorce their husbands legally (Whyte and Kariuki
1997: 138; Potash 1986: 51; 1978: 380; Hay 1982: 118; Parkin 1980:
216). Patrilineal kinship, patrilocal residence, polygyny, and bridewealth
have been said to 'reinforce each other' (Shipton 1989: 19; OduorNoah and Thomas-Slayter
1995: 167). Patriarchy has been portrayed
as so much a part of Luo marriage that Hay has commented,
'one
common, rather affectionate way to refer to 'my wife' is as 'my slave,
jamzvana' (1988: 441 n. 14; Bryceson 1995: 15). I never heard this usage.
_7amwa is a word that means 'foreigner.' It is derived from Bantu m-zva
prefixes, which apply to nouns referring to human beings, plus the Luo
person prefix, ja-. The phrase more closely references a woman's 'foreign' status within her marital lineage, which fades with time. She ceases
being called miaha (a new bride) or wendo (stranger/guest) as she becomes
a mother of lineage members.
Among Kenya Luo, neither patrilineal ideology nor bridewealth seems
to have kept women who wanted to exert their wills permanently and
completely rooted in the processual phenomenon which constitutes marGiven the
riage in a society with a system of delayed bridewealth.
of
some
Luo
women
have
for
divorce,
opted
difficulty
long term separation (Wilson 1968:
They have taken the 'exodus option' to
deal with unsatisfactory
with some frequency.2 While
marriages
bridewealth
has been portrayed
as an institution that assures rural
women's submissiveness and rootedness (Lovett 1994: 287-288, 1996:
61), among Kenya Luo, bridewealth is an institution that anchors children in the lineage of the person who fulfills its terms rather than an
institution which necessarily encumbers women.21 Luo women, whose
work and managerial skills have been highly regarded, could actually
be quite mobile.22 Women who left their husbands for long periods of
time, or who never came back, were said to have 'departed' (noa) or
'run away from/escaped/fled'
(noring'o) their marriages.23 When dishomestead
cussing
composition, people would speak about 'the husband who married a woman first' (chuoremohange), 'first first wives' (mikayi

444
Some wives never came back; some
mokwongo),and even 'co-husbands.'
eventually returned to their first husbands. If a woman had children
with her first husband, she might return when her children were older,
more expensive to care for, more concerned with their kinship status,
and when their father was also more interested in exerting his claims
to them. If he were deceased, the woman might be accepted back by
one of his brothers. This freedom to leave bad marriages, at least for
a time, and other freedoms that Luo women had in life, did not always
follow them into death.
Hagnes Ombogo, a daughter of the clan with which I gained fictive
kinship, seemed to be such a woman who lost freedom with her death.
She had left her first husband, to whom she had been a first wife, and
had gone to live with another husband, who was a member of a different
clan, elsewhere in Alego. She had first gained some prestige for becoming one of the early members of the Roman Catholic lay organization,
the Legion of Mary, when it came to Alego, sometime between 1938
and 1942. Then she had joined Legio Maria when it started in the
early 1960s, and had gained local renown for saying Mass when Legio
women could still do so. Women began to be excluded from saying
Mass in Legio officially in 1968 (Schwartz 1989: 64-72). Hagnes Ombogo,
who had built a small church (kanisa, od lemo) at her second husband's
homestead, continued to say Mass without regard for a rule promulgated by men. When I asked Nathaniel Ogana, who was the brother
of a male Legio priest, and a member of her second husband's clan,
about women who had been priests and said Mass in the early days
of Legio, he replied, 'Ombogo is one who built one [a house of prayer]
in the area here in the 1960s. TAH, TAH, TAH.' The 'TAfI TAH,
TAH' was a glossolalic 'performative utterance', indicating that he (or
the Holy Spirit) did not think much of what Hagnes Ombogo had
done; the idea was something to be driven off, a troublemaker in need
of exorcism.24
Trufosa Amoyo, an older Legio woman, had married into the same
clan as Hagnes Ombogo's second husband. Her brother had been
Hagnes Ombogo's first husband. She knew many of the people in both
the areas where Hagnes Ombogo had married. When Trufosa Amoyo
commented on Hagnes Ombogo's having left official Legio ways in
1971 (oring'oga kanisa), she did not criticize Hagnes Ombogo either for
this departure or for having left her brother. Instead, she spoke about
Hagnes Ombogo's locally famous past with tones of affection and pride.
Hers was a 'counter-memory'
to that of Ogana and other menfolk who
muttered about Hagnes Ombogo.25 Speaking with the quiet and sweet

445
conviction that was characteristically
hers, Trufosa told me, 'She was
a marvel (hono). She said Mass; she built a church; she gave people the
Host.'
When Legio ended the practice of allowing women to be priests, it
had still allowed women to be ordained as church mothers. A church
mother might even be called a female priest ( padri madhako). Church
mothers were 'Mary's representatives.' They led the Praesidium prayers,
which were sometimes called Mary's Masses, and other special prayers
that involved rosary and catena beads. They felt they had a parallel
status to that of male priests, who were 'Christ's representatives,'
and
had 'the major Masses.' Ombogo had dared cross the lines. She did
not want to be 'like a priest' but to be one fully. She wanted to do more
than arrange the altar for Masses in the church, prepare holy water,
and lead prayers to Mary during Wednesday and Saturday services in
house (Od Mama). Asked why Hagnes
the Praesidium house/Mary's
had
left
Trufosa
Legio,
Amoyo retorted:
Ombogo
Was she not a priest? She just respected the people. Priests had told her, 'You
were not given authority to say Mass or dispense the Host upon being ordained
as a church mother.' Later, they questioned her, ''ell us of another church mother
you know who has said Mass as you have?'
There had actually been a number of other women who had said
Mass in and out of house churches after official Legio rules came to
forbid this, but this does not lessen the free and strong character of
Trufosa Amoyo's relative by marriages.
Hagnes Ombogo's luck began to change in 1971, the year she completely broke with Legio. She and her husband had both become sick
that year. Some said that this happened because her second husband
had rung her bells that were on the altar in her church. He had previously assisted her at Masses, had prayed with her, but had apparently not usurped such a prerogative before. Almost immediately after
he had rung her bells, her second husband had died. Some seemed to
see Hagnes Ombogo's sickness as deriving from guilt and/or a divine
rebuke over her failure to prevent her second husband from appropriating her divinely bestowed privileges to call a service to order. Since
Hagnes Ombogo had become sick so soon after this husband's death,
some people suggested that his spirit (or a supportive agnatic spirit)
might be the source of her troubles. A few people seemed to think that
the sickness stemmed from a deceased grandmother
from her natal
and not from her second marital home. Whatever the
background,
cause, she had lost her Holy Spirit derived gifts. Some men told me
she no longer had 'a good head' for things. She would 'make noise'

446
like those possessed by demons or indigenous spirits, forget ritual order,
and say Mass even while in a state of mental perturbation.
Eventually
she saw she had to stop saying Mass. Not long after her second husband's death, which could have been a time of greater freedom for
her, as it has been for older women in many parts of Africa (Udvardy
and Cattell 1992: 282-283), her Mass-saying days were over. She had
lost more than her work and her health. Given the circumstances of
her second husband's death, her second husband's people had not
wanted to take Hagnes Ombogo under leviratic care. She had gone
back to the area where her first husband lived. She first tried to find
shelter with her first husband's brother, but he had driven her off. She
then tried her 'husband of old' himself but he also had driven her off.
These men insisted that her second husband's people find a levir in
whose homestead she could live. They refused her shelter.
A Luo husband is supposed to build a house inside the family compound for his wife.2fi A common term for spouse is jaot (literally, person of a house, a householder). Ideally, when a I,uo woman marries,
she should become head/owner
of her own house and hearth (wuon ot).
While the woman is a zemonot, the woman's husband or his father, at
least nominally, is head of the entire extended family compound (zemon
dala). Married men actually do not have their own houses, and few
men in recent times have the abilalduol (office or forum) they once had
in the past. Young males still often have a bachelor's house (simba) but
married men rotate between their wives' houses. While a dala is conceived of as a space which can 'guarantee, enhance, and protect the
and agency of its inhabitants,'
its men and
well-being, personhood,
women should 'prioritize the collective well-being of the inhabitants of
dala' (Masolo 1994). Hagnes Ombogo had different priorities in life.
Her marital problems had made Hagnes Ombogo essentially 'homeless.' For a married woman, to be without the house of which she
should be muon ot in a dala has consequences than can be more serious in death than in life.
A wife should be buried outside the house that has been built for
her in the compound.27 A woman's grave should go on the left side of
her house. A husband is to be buried on the right side of his first wife's
house. The directions are taken from the door of her house (dhoot, literally 'mouth of the house,' also a term for a lineage segment).28 If a
labor migrant couple have lived their entire marital lives 'away from
home', without having had this house in the dala built, a temporary
structure that substitutes for the house of which the woman would have
been zemonot needs to be erected. Only then, can a proper funeral for

447
her take place. Houses are located according to what number wife the
woman is, another house cannot substitute for a structure in its proper
location. LeVine has noted that Gusii, who also follow this practice,
will usually not abrogate the rule even for wives who are unloved by
their spouse or children. Even an 80 year old female 'ritual practitioner', who was regarded as 'a witch' by some of her kin, had this
house built for her so she could properly be located in space. That it
had been built post-mortcm meant an element of 'disgrace remained',
but at least 'ritual restitution had been done' (1982: 31-33). Hagnes
Ombogo would go to her grave without ritual restitution.
Her only son, who belonged to her first husband's kin group, was
dead, so she had lost this potential source of refuge and support. Her
only daughter had married, and she was not wanted at her daughter's
marital home on a permanent basis. Luo women do not lose membership in their natal lineages at marriage, but too much time and two
marriages meant she could not return to her natal kinspeople for more
than a visit or ritual occasion .21 While Kenya Luo and other NiloticLwoo women may have spirits of both their natal and marital lineages
protecting them (Singer 1983: 85), neither these spirits nor the Holy
Spirit seemed to be guarding Hagnes Ombogo well. Still, the Holy Spirit,
the spirit of charity, or a kinder notion of kinship may have moved
Josephine Atieno to come to Hagnes Ombogo's aid. Josephine Atieno
was a daughter of her first husband's second wife, and a permanent
resident at a Legio church compound relatively nearby to where the
first husband and his kin lived. She had finally taken in Hagnes Ombogo
and given her 'elder mother' a place to stay. Hagnes Ombogo had died
in 1974, when she was around 70, in the house where Josephine Aticno
was living. This Legio church had buried, and would in the future bury,
some women and children in their compound, including one of Josephine
Atieno's children, but Hagnes Ombogo had not been buried in the
Legio church compound. She had plenty of relations nearby to claim
her. She had also parted with official Legio ways before her death.
None of the 'plenty of relations' wanted to claim her fully. Her second husband's kin, who had not wanted her anymore when she was
alive, certainly did not want her once she was dead. They seem to
have insisted on the Luo custom that 'a wife is always considered to
be the wife of the first husband to the extent that when she dies, her
son must bury her in her first husband's home' (Cohen and Atieno
Odhiambo 1992: 114). Hagnes Ombogo's only son, who had been born
of the marriage with her first husband, was dead. Her first husband
would not bury her inside his dala. He was angry she had left him for

448
another man, and had only come back when she was considered mentally ill. He relented enough only to accede to 'man's inescapability from
first marriage'-thc
other side of women's 'right to return to the husfirst
band of her
nuptual [sic] conjugation' (Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo
1992: 38, 127 n. 26, emphasis in the original). He allowed her to be
buried outside the front gate of his extended family compound.
Graves, by houses, inside the extended family compound are 'the
most important markers' of belonging among Luo (Shipton 1984a: 125).
Rendered almost homeless, head of neither a house-church nor a more
ordinary house, Hagnes Ombogo died hardly belonging to anybody;
hers was a lonely gravesite. Some second husbands have buried wives;
some first husbands have gone to court to contest these claims, even
going so far as to attempt exhumation, which is deeply disturbing to
Luo (Weekly Review July 17, 1987; Ocholla-Ayayo 1989: 43), but Hagnes
Ombogo had no one who wanted to fight for her body. She was left
with an uncleaned mound, hardly recognizable as a grave, unless people pointed it out, which men from her first husband's clan sometimes
did. If a cross had ever been erected on the grave, it had been eaten
by termites and not replaced. Her burial was much like the one Maria
more like that 'for a dog'
Cattell has described for 'Mary Omundu,'
than for a human being (1992a: 8). It recalls Oguda's lament, 'How
sad it is, that like a dog, I'll die and vanish, a forgotten woman' (1970:
58). The positioning of her grave seems to suggest that although Hagnes
Ombogo successfully 'struggled and strategized' to achieve a degree of
freedom from male control in life, at death the power of Luo 'patriarchy' reasserted itself. The positioning of her gravesite seems to procould not ultivide a stark lesson that like death, 'male domination'
mately be evaded (Lovett 1994: 283-284). The hardly discernable mound,
the very absence of a good gravesite, seems to stand as a sad reminder
and 'the 'topograof the linkage between 'the power of topography'
1999b:
At
first glance, male
of
and
Ferguson
35).
phy
power' (Gupta
hegemony looks to be more 'complete' at her death than it had been
during her life. In the 'war of position,' she appears to have become
the 'loser' she had refused to be in life .30 However, her gravesite also
literally expresses how she did not fit in the Luo men's world.
When Hagnes Ombogo's eldest child, a daughter, died at 3 a.m. on
October 21, 1984 at the age of 49, the embers of anger about Hagnes
Ombogo's ignominious burial ten years previously flared-up. Because
Hagnes Ombogo had not been given a proper burial by her first husband, who was the father of the dead daughter, chicken was not offered
to her first husband or any of his close kin at the daughter's funeral. He

449
and his kinsmen were only given bread, soda, and cold nyoyo (a boiled
maize and bean dish). They were given no 'hot' or 'real food.' This denial
of full commensality was a way of denying the fullness of their kinship
bond with Hagnes Ombogo's daughter, a public reminder of their failure to give the daughter's mother, Hagncs Ombogo, a good burial. When
a Luo woman marries, she 'goes to cook' (dhi tedo). Bad cooking can be
a wife's weapon of 'everyday resistance' (Cattell 1992b: 308; von BJlow
1992: 530; Hutchinson 1996: 199). A Luo wife can fatally curse a husband by shattering her cooking pot, dragging her cooking implements on
the ground, or striking her husband with her cooking spoon (Schwartz
1998; Okot p' Bitek 1971: 147-148). Hagnes Ombogo had tried to come
back to hearth, home, and the complex of kinship relationships and obligations bound up with cooking at her first husband's home, but had been
driven into the cold. Weary and ill, she had not responded then with 'the
wife's curse' which surrounds cooking paraphernalia.
Yet during Hagnes Ombogo's daughter's funeral ceremonies, there
was another funeral at the dala next to the one in which Hagnes
Ombogo's first husband lived. The homestead was the one occupied
by the first husband's brother, the man who had rejected and refused
Hagnes Ombogo when she first came back from her second husband's
homestead. Some people seemed to think that there had been 'ghostly
vengeance' or even 'retribution ' against this man's compound by Hagnes
Ombogo, activated from her unhappy rest by her daughter's death into
taking 'assertive action' against her first husband's kin.3' Lienhardt has
taken note of how the 'reciprocity of human relations' includes 'the
reciprocity of enmity and aggression' (1975: 213).32 Lienhardt's discussion focused on this reciprocity in Lwoo-Nilotic orature and the relevance of such narratives for the living. I am seeking here to show how
female spirits are postulated to participate in 'the reciprocity of enmity
and aggression.' There was a suggestion that the dishonor to Hagnes
Ombogo had, in time, at least partially been paid back.
While many anthropologists have become comfortable with the notion
that 'what we call our data are really our own constructions of other
people's constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to'
(Geertz 1973: 9), there is still unease about really dealing with what
spirits might be up to (Turner 1992a & b). Death has been treated as
of physical
a rite of passage that involves 'transition or transformation
life into the mode of spirits' (Ocholla-Ayayo 1989: 31), but positivistic
social scientists have not regarded all stages and parties involved in the
process as being of concern to their studies. There is also a large literature on living women possessed by spirits of the dead, but the focus

450
has largely been on living women and not on strategizing female spirits, even though these strategizing spirits are part of living women's
arsenal, and a source of strength and pride. Wariness about dealing
with 'spirit stuff' has tended to hold even when analytic focus has been
on societies which believe that spirits have ancestral personhood after
death, which lasts for a lengthy post-mortem period before they retreat
into anonymous ancesterhood.
The Kenyan government may not yet
have tried sending its police to arrest spirits of the dead, although it
has done this for a fictional character like 'Matagari' (Ngugi wa Thiong'o
1987: viii), but many Kenyans take their spirits quite seriously (Odera
Oruka 1991: 77-78). Kipkorir and Welbourn have noted that Marakwet
understand that spirits 'are not matters of philosophical speculation or
of some other world "out there." They are part of the total society of
the living and biologically dead' (Kipkorir and Welbourn
1973: 2).33
Luo share this belief. They hold that 'personal immortality' continues
until the death of the last person who 'personally knew the deceased.'
Before then, a dead person, such as Hagnes Ombogo, 'hears everything' (Ongong'a 1983: 22-24). Luo symbolically ensure this by putting
something into a deceased person's ears so that dirt does not enter the
ears when the body is in its grave.34 The dead person may visit friends
and relatives in response to what he or she is hearing, and be a party
to cases in which s/he and/or they are involved.35
Those who would deny 'the reality of spirits' are likely to consider
the satisfaction Hagnes Ombogo seems to have finally obtained as spurious, because benefits to the dead are benefits to 'nothing.' Oddly
enough, this group is likely to include a number of scholars who are
almost 'dwelling with the dead a la scholar Casaubon in George Eliot's
Middlemarch' (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 1993: 10). It is likely to include scholars whose own form of 'ancestral worship' has let certain eminent dead
men (like Foucault and Barthes, for instance) continue to 'colonize' (and
monopolize) theory 'from the other world' after their deaths, and to
discourse ad infinitum in academic contexts (Ogunyemi 1995: 3).
Case III- Being in Limbo Can Be a Good Thing fir an Independent Woman
Legio had provided shelter for other women who left husbands'
homesteads permanently. Some women came to stay in a church compound because they had rejected all rituals surrounding the levirate.
Some women stayed in a church compound because their husbands
had repudiated them after they had stopped working with indigenous
spirits and medicines, and ceased bringing in the good income this

451
work had brought to the marriage. Some had other reasons. In addition to these women and a priest, those living at a church could also
include some of the boys who were servers for regular Masses, one or
both of the two girls who were servers for 'Mary's Masses', sick children who had been given to a female resident to foster over the long
term, temporary visitors on prayer missions, and adults living at the
church for a brief period of healing and/or exorcism. Mother Marita
Auma was the most senior of the women permanently living as a resident at the 'Lihudu' Legio Church in Alego.36 I talked with her once
before her death. I met Mother Marita when she was visiting Joan
Akanga, another Legio and independent woman, who, at around sixtynine years of age was several years younger than Mother Marita. Joan
Akanga lived a short distance from the Lihudu I,egio church. Both
women, like Hagncs Ombogo, had joined Legio soon after it started.
Joan Akanga was more like Hagnes Ombogo in some ways. She had
also taken a second husband, although she had done so after her first
husband died. She had decided to leave her second husband for a levir
belonging to her first husband's clan when her three children were
close to grown. When this man died, she had another house built for
her by her first husband's mother's co-wife's Legio son, when her own
son built his ligala (new home). With a house of her own, Joan Akanga
had left men and in-laws completely (naweyo chuo kabisa). Except for the
now dead man who had built a house for her, she considered her inlaws arrogant. The three of us talked in Joan Akanga's house, which
was near but separate from her first husband's and her son's. Mother
Marita was less outspoken than the forthcoming Joan
Akanga was, but
I came to learn that she had been, in her own way, an independent
and determined woman. While Joan Akanga was a lay female in Legio,
her friend had the status of an ordained church mother, and had garnered greater respect from the congregation.
When I asked Mother Marita about her husband, she first told me
'he was utterly gone' (nosedhi kabisa). After his demise, she had some
'serious problems,' about which she did not want to talk. She did say
that the problems had made her leave Roman Catholicism for Legio,
which had taken care of her and relieved her suffering. She added,
'14o opidha.' Pidho is a word that can refer to 'bringing up, maintaining, nursing, giving sustenance to, planting a seed in soil, adopting.'
Joan Akanga preferred a marital metaphor, breaking into our conversation to comment that the church had cared for Mother Marita 'as
her husband' (kaka chuore). Later, others supplied more biographical
details about Mother Marita's life before she became a 'wife of the

452
church' (chi kanisa). Her first husband had been from another location
in Siaya district. The levir she had left to live as a wife of the church
was a man from this same location. The levir had gone to live in Alego
among the kin of his and her husband's mother as a lowly land client
( jadak) in an area a little over an hour by foot from Lihudu.37 While
Mother Marita had three daughters, one of whom was a Legio, and
from her daughters, her only son had become
several grandchildren
before
sick
Legio started, and had died from his sickness. With this
death, her unhappiness multiplied.
At her funeral, Father Nicholas Ogira, the priest-in-charge
of the
Lihudu Legio church, spoke about this great unhappiness at some length.
It turned out that before coming to Lihudu, Father Nicholas had spent
three months towards the end of 1964 at the small Legio church where
Mother Marita was then living, which was near to her levir's home.
In 1967, she had come to Father Nicholas at Lihudu to speak further
with him about her son's death. Her son had become sick after his
only wife had given birth to one child. She had taken her son to an
uoga (diviner-doctor). When they had reached the ajuoga, her son was
not healed. He died in the night on the roadside on the trip back and
had a 'bad death.' She had presented a fiercely matrifocal vision of
Luo patriliny, lamenting the death of this son 'of her own blood.'3$
Father Nicholas recounted:
She told her story, how it had been before Legio began, and the difficultiesin
which she had found herself when she had only one son. This boy of hers had
married. When his wife had given birth just once, an illness a111icted
this son. She
went with this son and took him to a diviner-doctor.After, they ended up at the
diviner-doctor'splace, well, he died. He died; he did not get well. She related to
me how very terrible it was for her, how she was in torment. She had carried one
man, and she buried one man. She was surprised at how difficult it was, for he
died at night, the night put him out of his misery like an animal which is already
dying, and there was no one else who might help her. It was just like when some
hyena, who has killed an elephant, has a heavy burden. It cannot drag the load,
nor can it lift it, and the problem was she could not leave him on the side of the
road because he was of her own blood; she had given birth to him.
She had felt that God had punished her for taking her son to a
diviner-doctor, being a 'bad Christian,' and putting herself and her son
in a position which would result in his having a bad death. She had
repeated to Father Nicholas, 'Nyasaye nochula, Nyasaye nochula' (God made
me pay, God made me pay). She had told the Legio priest that she
felt she had finally been compensated for her son's death on the roadside, and her years of concern about this bad death, when she had
found him. She had reminded Father Nicholas that he had met her

453
when her sorrow was still raw. He had come to know of her story at
his first posting. If it was the will of God, she wanted Father Nicholas
to take her in at Lihudu, to watch over her, knowing her past. She
asked him to bury her properly when her time came.
Father Nicholas had accepted her. She had come to stay at Lihudu.
She had cooked for the then young Father Nicholas Ogira, and helped
see that neither he nor church visitors went hungry. She had sought,
bought, and been given food for him and others. She would go back
to the area where her levir lived to work some gardens there. She also
worked in her 'clan branch' gardens and in the congregation's gardens
in Lihudu.39 She had become the church mother, selected by God, who
oversaw the preparation of holy water, 'Mary's medicine' ( pi haze?i,yadh
Maria, yadh Mama).
Mother Marita had been in residence at Lihudu for about sixteen
years before her death in 1984. She had the good burial from the
priest she had picked out sixteen years previously, the priest who had
indeed replaced the dead son of her flesh, the priest who had become
her son in spirit. When she died there was a collection for her funeral
from the entire congregation, not just the congregational clan branch
to which Mother Marita had affiliated. For Mother Marita, the Lihudu
church had indeed not only become 'a place to feel at home' (Welbourn
and Ogot 1966), it had become fully a new home for her. She was
planted in its soil. The church had come through as an alternative to
the lineage system, levirate, and other indigenous practices she had not
found satisfactory.4
Mother Marita died Monday, October 8, 1984 between 1 a.m. and
3 a.m. She had become 'seriously sick' on the Sunday before. Father
Nicholas Ogira and Mother Domtilla Athoro, the second most senior
church mother in residence, had prayed for her before she died. Mother
Marita had asserted she was going to get well, but her will and their
prayers had not prevailed over death. Just a few minutes after Father
Nicholas and a resident church mother had left her upon finishing their
prayers, she was dead. When I inquired why she had not been brought
to hospital, for some Legios did rely on multiple healing strategies, I
was told that government hospitals, like that in Siaya town, felt that
medicine was wasted on older people, and wouldn't give it to old people like Mother Marita, preferring to save their limited resources for
the children and grandchildren of older people. Most thought her sickness was not 'that sort of sickness' which hospitals could cure.
When I arrived at the Lihudu Legio church compound
on the

454
1984, an area priest who lived in Nakuru, and
walked through the compound, holding a red
sword and an asper. They were weapons to
would be carried by men at a more indigenous
burial, reminding enemies, living and dead, that the death was protested.4'
Walking at a rapid pace, with sword and asper in hand, he lamented
her death and sprinkled holy water throughout the compound to deal
with the 'demons' and 'medicine' he, and some others, thought had
worked against Mother Marita. The body was brought into the church
and a brief service was said over it.
building Monday mid-morning,
On Monday and Tuesday nights, some women came from their homes
to join some of the church residents. They prayed and sang quietly for
the safe passage of Mother Marita's soul. Some non-Legio relatives,
who had come to the church, lamented more loudly. To deal with the
possible smell from the body incense was lit. Candles were lit to emphasize that Legios always 'walked in the Light.'
Deacon Andreas Anduto, a Gem man who was a regular traveler
with the Legio leader, the Baba Messias Simeo Ondeto, as well as a
close friend of Father Nicholas Ogira, came to help bury Mother Marita.
October 11, the day of her burial, the drizzle became a heavy rain
after Mother Marita's coffin lid had been knocked down. Inside the
church building, Father Nicholas Ogira took note of the rain. He said
that people did not have to stay for the burial that would take place
when the rain stopped. Everyone stayed. Mother Marita was buried in
the grassy area in the front of the church that some congregants called
a 'Limbo,' or burial ground. A wooden cross was erected on the mound
and flowers carefully placed all around the deep and well dug grave.
Kenya Luo and other Lwoo have had a belief that when a great person dies, it will rain (Deng 1986: 7; Schwartz 1997). Rain is seen as
'an act of divine reward and blessing' (Ocholla-Ayayo 1976: 168). While
Mother Marita's death did occur during ndalo opon (the short rains of
September and October), rains do not come every day in the rainy
season. This time, the rains had come. The woman once punished by
God had been rewarded by God.
Because Legio did not approve of such things, her Legio daughter,
a woman with one eye who had managed to be married as a first wife
despite her disability, did not have her head shaved. There was also
no funeral fire (mach mar magenga), and a number of other Luo burial
practices were not in evidence. However, before and after the rains,
there was 'funeral feasting.' Legios and non-Legios tendcd to eat in
separate groups but everyone was satisfied. There was plenty of tea
morning of October 8,
was home for a visit,
wooden St. Michael's
replace the spears that

455
and nyoyo (beans and maize) to start. Many sacks of maize had been
bought and turned into kuon (stiff porridge); many chickens and at least
one large cow had been slaughtered. The congregation as a whole contributed to provisioning the funeral foods. Women church members did
most of the cooking, but a few men assisted because the gathering was
so great. Mother Marita had a good burial, one that contrasted to
Hagnes Ombogo's bad burial. The year following her death, on November
for her; and flowers were
9, 1985, there was a memorial service
again placed on her grave. The Legio ceremony coincided with the
indigenous belief that, 'The ancestor spirits are especially active about
the anniversary of their deaths, and for a big man, annual feasts may
be held in his honor about the time of his death' (Whisson 1962: 5;
1964: 8). Legios held the ceremony for someone who had become a
'big woman.' November is a month when the short rains may cease
and ndalo oro (the dry months) sometimes begin. Some Luo say that the
dry season is considered male while the rainy season is considered
female because 'it is females who produce.'42 Mothcr Marita had produced only one son who had produced only one child for her lineage
of marriage before he died, but she had been productive in other ways.
It rained again. Although several Legios spoke of having dreams foretelling Mother Marita's death before she died, after her death neither
Mother Marita nor the Holy Spirit sent an indication, through glossolalic word or charismatic dream, to show that her soul was troubled
about her burial. 4:, Unlike Hagnes Ombogo, the Busia grandmother
buried in Uganda, and Mother Marita's own son, Mother Marita seemed
at peace with her death and burial. All that she asked was that rosaries
be said for her.

Conclusion
I have not discussed the death of anyone I knew in detail here. I
did not even get the names of all of the parties involved. At the time,
I considered these deaths small cases. Yet lives and deaths about which
we know little, lives which ended before we were aware of them, lives
known about only through hearsay, lives lived on what some theorists
deem 'the periphery of the world system,' are not little, or small, or
statistical, or anonymous, or peripheral to those who fully participated
in these lives. Women and others who die on a daily basis from hardship, heartache, malaria, and other prosaic conditions in Kenya do not
reap the widespread attention given to famous men. Former Chief
Justice C.H.E. Miller, commenting on the 'S.M. Otieno case,' observed,

456
'It appears there is there is truth in the classical saying, that when beggars die there are no comets seen' (Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1992:
17, 43). Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is certainly a classic for English literature aficionados in many parts of the globe, including many of Kenya's
professional elite (ibid. 84-86, 93). Paul Mboya's Luo Kitgi gi TimbegiA Handbook on Luo Customs is another well-known work in Kenya. In
Mboya's work we are given a more democratic guide, `JVyamethois a
comet, when it appears, the old and wise say that trouble is going to
afflict the world' (1983[1938]: 27).44 The saying does not just refer to
not buried
the troubles of prominent men. The second grandmother
in Busia who possessed Julia Agenga, Hagnes Ombogo, Hagnes Ombogo's
daughter, Mother Marita's son, and Mother Marita herself all lived
(and died) under the same sky of the same troubled nation-state as men
whose deaths have become more visible to international eyes. There is
a need to go beyond praising (and lamenting) Kenyan famous men.
The 'challenge of local feminisms' asks for inclusiveness (Basu 1995).
Taking into account what women are believed to do in both life and
death can provide a more inclusive description of women's agency in
Africa. Many Luo, Luyia, and other Africans still believe that 'biological death' does not have to end women's ability to subvert male models, claim their rights, and challenge wrongs done to them. The more
we look at the almost lost stories of these women, the more they and
patriliny expand with possibilities.

Acknowledgements
My research in Kenya was conducted under the auspices of the
Institute of African Studies of the University of Nairobi. I am grateful
to the Institute and the Office of the President of Kenya for facilitating my research. My fieldwork was funded by the Wenner-Gren
Foundation, the Society of Sigma-Xi, and Princeton University. I must
acknowledge the help of the Baba Me.ssias Simeo Ondeto and Dalmas
Oyier in supporting my work on Legio. For comments on issues dealt
with here, and for other support, I am grateful to D.A. Masolo, Asenath
Okoth Okombo, Frankline Mahaga,
Bole Odaga, Atieno Odhiambo,
Maria Cattell, James Fernandez, Alice Horner, Philip Kilbride, Linda
Snyder, Parker Shipton, and Monica Udvardy. An earlier version of
this paper was presented at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the African
Studies Association. I appreciate the stimulation of my co-panelists and
the audience in moving me to carry this work further. Henry Odera
Oruka, who was to be on the panel, could not attend the meeting,

457
and died in a road accident shortly after the meeting. I regret the loss
of what would have been his wise counsel. To all the Legios and othcrs in Kenya who aided me in my research, including those who appear
here under pseudonyms, I am most indebted indeed. Finally, I would
like to thank the anonymous reviewers from the journal of Religion in
Africa. Responsibility for the views expressed here, however, remains
my own.

NOTES
1. I will be referring to the area of my research as western Kenya. The phrase
Western Kenya can be taken to mean Western Province, while western Kenya refers
to a broader geographic region.
2. I discuss this view of Luo polygyny and patriliny and some related literature further elsewhere (Schwartz 1989: 80-82; 1992, 1998). For another view on how this type
of kinship and marriage systemcan 'weaken the seminal ideology',see Obbo (1976:384).
3. Other critiquesof center-peripherymodels include Cohen ( 1994:121 );Grosz-Ngat
(1997: 4-5); Hanncrz (1989);Appadurai (1990: 4-6); Gupta and Ferguson (1999b: 38).
4. Luo have the highest rate of labor migration of any ethnic group in Kenya
(Schwartz 1989: 24-26; Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1989: 4). The Luo 'diaspora'
extends beyond Kenya and other African countries. 'Outposts' of the 'Luo nation' are
also found in Scandinavia, Western Europe, Russia, the United States, and many other
places around the world. This extensive movement has, however, not mitigated concern to bury bodies 'back home,' and may have increasedit (Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo
32, 57-59, 133-138).
5. Discussionof the meanings of 'home' was central in the S.M. Otieno case (e.g.,
Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1992: 24-26, 40-2; Okoth Okombo 1989: 92-94; Cohen
1994: 99-111).
).
6. For a review and elaboration of the concept of delocalization, see Kilbride and
Kilbride (1990: 12-16, 54, 59, 152-156, 173-174, 237). They link this concept to that
of reculturation in their later work (1997: 209-210).
7. For discussionof communities with 'no sense of place,' see Appadurai (1990: 2)
and his reference to Meyrowitz (1985).
8. See, for example, Ayany's discussion of Wellington Ombaka's earlier view on
Luo intermarriage and identity (1964: 34; first edition 1948).For a discussionof Ayany's
work and the work of other Kenyan scholars who have articulated a view of peoplehood in flux, see Schwartz (1989: 22-23) and Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo (1987).
Gupta and Ferguson examine the move away from a 'people and cultures' view of the
world by more recent theorists based in the West (1999a: 1-4).
9. Placement of placentas and bodies in the soil is not the only way the living are
bound up with the dead. Luo indigenous spirituality involves belief in a partial reincarnation of the dead, which is emphasized by naming after the dead. Should a child
who carries an ancestor's name fall ill, some soil from the ancestor's grave has been
an ingredient of manyasi(medicine)by which the non-corporeal ancestor is further incorporated into the body of his/her living representative (Odera Oruka 1991: 62; Egan
[1987]: 97).
10. Luo recognize that placentas of the urban bom may have to be buried elsewhere
but still prioritize placenta and body burial back home (Egan [1987]: 70, 140).It is said
that urban women living away from their marital homes should return to rural areas so
placentas can be put inside the soil of their marital homes. Luo burial of placentas pro-

458
motes 'insider status' for a person (Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1989: 25-26). I have
also discussedplacental issues in relation to reports of 'murder by means of placental
ingestion' though co-wife feedings (1998). One of the most famous of these 'placental
incidents' (negruok
mar biero)was said to involve Gaudencia Aoko, an early leader of Legio
and later founder of the Communion Church (Schwartz 1994b). Macgoye refers to the
importance of burying 'the precious cord' (1998: 31). Bianco has discussedthe importance of burial of the umbilical cord among Pokot in affirming both a person's origins
and supporting land claims (1991: 778-779).A Gusii proverb highlightsthe importance
of a woman being buried in her marital home with umbilicalimagery, 'You do not forget the place of marriage rings, nor the place of the umbilical cord' (Mayer 1949: 7).
For a more general Nigerian discussionof the importance of rituals in spiritual space
promoting 'family cohesion' and 'lineage memory,' see Nzegwu (1999: 186).
11. Haya present another example of a people who continue to be concerned with
burying bodies back home on farms (Weiss 1996: 192-195).
12. Making a gap in the homestead fence for bodies that die 'outside' and following 'African tradition' is a matter that has become controversial for many Christians
(Schwartz 1997).
13. The S.M. Otieno trial was a venue in which this phrase was repeatedly brought
forth (Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1992: 59, 62).
14. For a discussionof how Luo women's usufruct rights have declined under colonialism and post-colonialism,see Pala Okeyo (1980, 1983). Coquery-Vidrovitch also
takes note of this decline in a discussionthat depicts patrilineality more negativelythan
my presentation here (1994: 67).
15. I was told that Luo women, especiallywhen they were pregnant, might grind
up eggshellsand eat the shells for calcium. Moreover, women could eat raw eggs, along
with ground up dmeleseeds (Meliaazedarach)and akech(Veroniasp.) as a treatment for
poisoning.
16 O'I.aughlin found that Mbum women in Chad were prohibited from cating chicken
'under pain of reproductive failure.' She added that the prohibition was 'common in
Equatorial Africa,' and felt it clearly illustrated sexual ranking and male dominance
(1974: 301-303, 315).
17. With a male burial, Luyia roasted a cock (Wako 1985: 30).
18. Lovett does note that a 'sizeable minority' of women ran from the extended family compounds in which they were supposedly rooted (1996: 56-57, 64).
19. In Luo, the noun for divorce is weruok.It is related to the verb were,which
involves leave taking with mutuality. A stronger term is kethokendruok,which literally
means 'to spoil the marriage.' Both terms have the reflexive-reciprocalending -ruok.
Divorce, although difficult for a Luo woman, could be initiated by her.
20. For a discussion of Luo women resorting to acts of violence against husbands
and co-wives rather than opting for separation when they are dissatisfiedwith their
marital situations, see Schwartz (1998).
21. Bridewealth among Luo can be viewed as an encumbrance upon men who have
not been able to marry without having shown their capacity to work and raise some
bridewealth on their own. The Luo term for an unmarried man is misumba.The Luo
term lacks the positive note found in the English term 'bachelor.' Misumbaalso refers
to someone who is 'a dependent, worker, slave, or servant.'
22. For a discussionof women's 'freedom of choice and mobility' among the related
Nuer, see Singer (1973: 86). See also Hutchinson who observed that a Nuer woman
could force her husband 'to resign himself to an indefinite state of separation' (1990:
401; 1996: 222-236).
23. For discussionof Luo 'runaway wives' in the period from 1930-1963,see Ndeda
(1995: 69-71).
).
24. For extensive discussion of strategic use of glossolalia in Legio, see Schwartz
(1989).

459
25. For a discussion of public memories and counter-memories, see the anthology
edited by Werbner (1998).
26. Hasu discussesthe obligation of Chagga men to build houses for their wives and
place them 'inside' their marital lineage and moral space (1999: 24-27).
27. In an earlier period, bodies were buried inside houses.
28. Burton has noted Evans-Pritchard described the related Nuer as using thokmac
('the hearth') or thokdzviel('the entrance to the hut') as terms for lineages(Evans-Pritchard
1940: 195).Burton emphasized a link to burials, noting that married Nuer women were
to be buried 'on the west side of their cooking fires, the thokmac, as the location has
strongly feminine denotations and connotations' (1991: 92-93).
29. Hakanssoncites an informantwho contended Gusii women could attend the funeral
of a mother or father for only one day 'because they are the property of their husband
and his lineage.' He sees this as illustrating'the peripheral lineage status' of Gusii women
as daughters and sisters of their natal lineages (1994: 523). Luo women were expected
to return home for a number of natal patrilineage rituals. I knew several women who
stayed for the three days of a mother's funeral and the four days of a father's funeral.
Hakansson has, in addition, noted that Gusii have 'gray hair rules,' which 'preclude
any old woman nearing her death' from living on land belonging to her natal kin, or
even 'acquiring gray hair' at her parents' place (Hakansson 1994: 523-524;Mayer 1949:
8, 28-29). While no Luo articulated such a rule to me, I know of no cases in which
married and separated or widowed women with 'gray hair' lived at their parents' place
for long periods of time. Some middle-aged separated women did stay for lengthy visits. Like Gusii, Luo also found the presence of an adult unmarried daughter dying at
home highly problematic, and would bury an unmarried daughter outside the homestead fence to avoid have her spirit trouble the living (Schwartz 1995).
30. The 'eternally incomplete nature of hegemony' and the view of the cultural as
a contested site in an ongoing 'war of position' are discussed by Gupta and Ferguson
(1999a: 5).
31. For further discussionof 'assertive action' by spirits among other Lwoo-Nilotes,
see Burton (1978: 609).
32. For discussionof reciprocity involvingancestors among Luyia and their demands
for 'respect,' see Cattell (1989: 353-359).
33. For a similar discussionof Luyia views on the idea of 'irrevocable physical death'
accompanyingbeliefsin a post-mortem spirituallyactive phase of life, see Malusu (1978:
2, 18-19).
34. This practice of protecting the ears of the dead is followedby other Lwoo-Nilotes
and by Luyia (Burton 1987: 105; Wako 1985: 30).
35. See Cohen for reference to the discussion as to whether S.M. Otieno was 'a
party to the case or the subject' of the dispute involving his burial (1994: 100-101).
36. I am using a pseudonym for the village that was the main site of my fieldwork.
37. For a discussionof the problems jodak (land clients) have had, 'in burying any
dead (and thus planting spirits) on the land', see Shipton (1995: 174).
38. Hutchinson also notes that while cattle-links(and bridewealth) are deemed to be
crucial in tracing patrilineal descent among the related Nuer, there are also powerful
'blood connectionsbinding mother and child' which 'undercut the social significanceof
a man's substantive contribution to his child.' 'I'he 'blood of motherhood was in some
sense primary' for Nuer (1996: 176-177, 178).
39. For further information on the clan 'branch system', to which church members
affiliate,sometimeswithout strict regard for their marital or natal lineages, and the benefitsand support the systemprovidesto affiliatedcongregants,see Schwartz(1989: 119-128).
40. For discussion of one aspect of churches being to function as 'a kind of alternative or shadow lineage system', see Shipton (1989: 21-22).
41. In Legio, women and men both carry swords if they are associatedwith exorcistic patron saints.

460
42. The symbolismlinking fluids and the sexes is complex. 'I'he most common word
for condom is a 'raincoat.'
43. I have elsewhere discussed troubling dreams sent to Legios by a church mother,
who was my own mother under fictive kinship, after she was brought into her homestead for burial through a gate gap (Schwartz 1997).
44. The Luo text is: 'Nyametho
en sulzvemangi ize?e
kobiroto jodongo
zvachnimanoderamabiro
wuoke
The translation is my own. The name Mboya appears on the text. Mbuya
is the more accurate spelling for the scholar's name (Odera Oruka 1991: 159 n. 10).

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