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Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

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Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga (c. 1911January 20, 1994) was a Luo Chief, a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence, Kenya’s first vice-president and later opposition leader.




[edit] Early years and career

Oginga Odinga was born in Bondo, Nyanza Province. In his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, Odinga estimates the date of his birth to be October, 1911. Christened Obadiah Adonijah, he later renounced his Christian names and became known as Oginga Odinga. He was a student of Maseno and Alliance High School. He went to Makerere University in 1940, and returned to Maseno High School as a teacher. In 1948 he joined the political party, Kenya African Union (KAU).

Spurred to empower his Kenyan Luo ethnic group, Odinga started the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation (registered in 1947). With time, Odinga and his group undertook to strengthen the union between Luo people in the entire East African region. His efforts earned him admiration and recognition among the Luo, who revered him as Ker (spiritual leader) – a position previously held by the fabled ancestral Luo chief, Ramogi Ajwang, who reigned 400 years before him. Vowing to uphold the ideals of Ramogi Ajwang, Odinga became known as Jaramogi (meaning son of Ramogi).

 Vice presidency

According to Luo tradition, a Ker could not be a politician, so Odinga relinquished his position as Ker in 1957 and became become the political spokesman of the Luo. The same year he was elected member of the Legislative Council for the Central Nyanza constituency, and in 1948 he joined the Kenya African Union (KAU). In 1960, together with Tom Mboya he formed Kenya African National Union (KANU). When Kenya became an independent Republic in 1964, he was its first Vice-President.

As Vice-President he did not agree with the increasingly authoritarian manner of Jomo Kenyatta’s government, and the shunting of resources to the White Highlands in central Kenya at the expense of the rest of the country. He resigned his post and quit KANU in 1966 to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).

      In opposition

The friction between Odinga and Kenyatta continued, and in 1969 Odinga was arrested after the two verbally abused each other publicly at a chaotic function in Kisumu – and where at least 11 people were killed and dozens were injured in riots. He was detained for two years, and was consigned to political limbo until after Kenyatta’s death in August 1978.

Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi, appointed Odinga as chairman of the Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board. He didn’t last long in the post, presumably because he was still outspoken against Kenyatta’s policies. Odinga attempted to register a political party in 1982, but when Attorney-General Charles Njonjo amended the constitution (which made Kenya a de jure single-party state), his plans were foiled.

Following the failed coup of 1982 against Moi’s government, Odinga was placed under house arrest in Kisumu. In 1990, he tried in vain with others to register an opposition party, the National Democratic Party. In 1991 he co-founded and became the interim chairman of Forum for the Restoration of Democracy(FORD). The formation of FORD triggered a chain of events that were to change Kenya’s political landscape, culminating in ending KANU’s 40 years in power – eight years after Oginga Odinga’s death.

Oginga Odinga’s son Raila Odinga is now one of the leading political figures in Kenya while another son Oburu Odinga is an MP.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Vice-President of Kenya
Succeeded by
Joseph Murumbi

Retrieved from “

Pre-Colonial Times

The Luo probably originated in southern Sudan, at Wau, near the confluence of the Meride & Sue Rivers. The Kenya Luo migrated into present day western Kenya via present day eastern Uganda, the first wave arriving sometime around 1500 AD. Arrivals came in at least five waves arriving at different times rather than as a single discrete migration: (1) the Joka-Jok (who migrated from Acholiland; the first & largest migration); (2) Those migrating from Alur; (3) the Owiny (who migrated from Padhola); (4) the Jok’Omolo (perhaps from Pawir); and (5) The Abasuba (a heterogeneous group in southern Nyanza, with Bantu elements).

The present day Kenya Luo traditionally consist of 12 sub-tribes (each in turn composed of various clans & sub-clans): (1) Jo-Gem, (2) Jo-Ugenya, (3) Jo-Seme, (4) Jo-Kajulu, (5) Jo-Karachuonyo, (6) Jo-Nyakach, (7) Jo-Kabondo, (8) Jo-Kisumo (Jo-Kisumu), (9) Jo-Kano, (10) Jo-Asembo, (11) Jo-Uyoma, (12) and Jo-Sakwa.[1] ( “Jo-” indicates “people of…”.)

By the 1840s, the Luo had a tight-knit society with ruodhi or regional chiefs.

[edit] Colonial Times

Early British contact with the Luo was indirect and sporadic. Relations intensified only when the completion of the Uganda Railway had confirmed British intentions and largely removed the need for local tribal alliances. In 1896 a punitive expedition was mounted in support of the Wanga ruler Mumia in Ugenya against the Umira Kager clan led by Gero. Over 200 were quickly killed by a Maxim gun. In 1899, C. W. Hobley led an expedition against Sakwa, Seme and Uyoma Locations in which 2,500 cattle and some 10,000 sheep and goats were captured.

By 1900, the Luo chief Odera was providing 1,500 porters for a British expedition against the Nandi.

In 1915 the Colonial Government sent Odera Akang’o, the ruoth of Gem, to Kampala, Uganda. He was impressed by the British settlement there and upon his return home he initiated a forced process of adopting western style of “schooling, dress and hygiene”. This resulted in the rapid education of the Luo in the English language and ways.

The Luo were generally not dispossessed of their land by the British, thus avoiding the fate that befell the pastoral tribes inhabiting the Kenyan “White Highlands“. Many Luo played significant roles in the struggle for Kenyan independence, but the tribe was relatively uninvolved in the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s. Instead, some Luo used their education to advance the cause of independence. The lawyer C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek, for example, applied his expertise to defend Mau Mau suspects in court.

[edit] In Independent Kenya

Oginga Odinga, a prominent Luo leader, became the first Vice President of independent Kenya. However, differences with Jomo Kenyatta led Oginga to leave the government and the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party in 1966. With Oginga’s departure from the government the Luo were politically marginalized under the administrations of Kenyatta and Moi.

Many years of poor economic management of Kenya, especially during the administration of the KANU party resulted in the Luo and a majority of Kenyans being systematically neglected. Ravaged by AIDS and with little or no infrastructure in most parts, the Luo areas – with high economic potential due to the proximity to Lake Victoria – remains poor and undeveloped. These factors being common in Kenya according the latest survey by the World Bank.

The most prominent Luo politician today is Raila Odinga, the son of Oginga Odinga and former Minister of Roads and Public Works. He is widely credited with enabling Mwai Kibaki to win the 2002 presidential election through the support of his Liberal Democratic Party.

[edit] Political Infuence in the Government

Since independence, Luo’s have been regarded as opponents to the sitting government. This was evident when the late Doyen of the opposition Jaramogi Oginga Odinga resigned as the Vice president. The struggle for independence did not feature any luo elders as some claim, however they did participate. Many remember their participation in the late sixties, seventies and eighties. During the late 1980s through the 1990s, their participation provoked violent political events, for example the murder of Dr. Robert Ouko. The 1990s also saw the reintroduction of the section 2A where more luos were involved, Oginga Odinga, James Orengo, Raila Odinga, Achieng Oneko, Anyang’ Nyongo amongst others.

[edit] Culture & Customs

[edit] Luo Religious Customs

The Luo traditionally believed in an afterlife and a supreme creator, whom they called Nyasi (Nyasaye), and had a strong ancestor cult. Today most Kenya Luo are Christians.

The first major ritual in a Luo person’s life is called juogi naming ceremony. Any time between birth and age two, an ancestor would appear in a dream to an adult member of the family. It is generally believed that only people who did good things while alive appear in dreams this way and are thus “reincarnated”. The child is supposed to assume some of the mannerisms of the ancestor he or she is named after. If the ancestor was quiet, the child becomes a quiet person in life, if talkative, same. The so named ancestor becomes the individuals’ “guardian angel” throughout his or her life. Evil people are rarely named. It is believed they go for good (to hell). The Luo are in the minority of ethnic groups in east Africa that do not practice ritual circumcision of males as initiation. Instead, children had their six lower front teeth carefully removed by experts at initiation. This ritual has mostly fallen out of use.

[edit] Luo Marriage Customs

The Luo traditionally practice polygamy though with young adults today this has largely fallen out of favor (in the old days, men could marry up to five wives). Historically, couples were introduced together from matchmakers, but this is also less common now, and Luos frequently marry outside the tribe. The traditional marriage takes place in two parts, both involving the payment of a bride price by the groom. The first, Ayie, involves payment of money to the mother of the bride, while the second stage involves donation of cattle to her father. Often these two stages are carried out at the same time, and as many modern Luos are christians, a church ceremony often follows.

Everybody in the Luo community is expected to marry. Spinsters and old bachelors are shunned by the community.

[edit] Luo Music

Traditionally, music was the most widely practiced art in the Luo community. At any time of the day or night, some music was being made. Music was not made for its own sake. Music was functional. It was used for ceremonial, religious, political or incidental purposes. Music was performed during funerals (Tero buru) to praise the departed, to console the bereaved, keep people awake at night, express pain and agony and during cleansing and chasing away of spirits .Music was also played during ceremonies like beer parties (Dudu, ohangla dance), welcoming back the warriors from a war, during a wrestling match (Ramogi), during courtship, etc .Work songs too existed. These were performed both during communal work like building, weeding, etc. and individual work like pounding of cereals, winnowing. Music was also used for ritual’ purposes like chasing away of evil spirits (nyawawa), who visit the village at night, in rain making and during divinations and healing.

The Luo music was shaped by the total way of life, lifestyles, and life patterns of individuals of this community. Because of that the music had characteristics which distinguished it from the music of other communities. This can be seen, heard and felt in their melodies, rhythms, mode of presentation and dancing styles, movements and formations.

The melodies in the Luo music were lyrical, with a lot of vocal ornamentations. These ornaments came out clearly especially when the music carried out an important message. Their rhythms were characterized by a lot of syncopation and acrusic beginning. These songs were usually presented in solo-response style through solo performances were there too. The most common forms of solo performances were chants. These chants were recitatives with irregular rhythms and phrases which carried serious messages in them. Most of the Luo dances were introduced by these chants. For example the dudu dance.

Another unique characteristic in the Luo music is the introduction of yet another chant at the middle of a musical performance. The singing stops, the pitch of the musical instruments go down and the dance becomes less vigorous as an individual takes up the performance is self praise. This is referred to as Pakruok. There was also a unique kind of ululation, Sigalagala, that marked the climax of the musical performance.

The dance styles in the Luo folk music were elegant and graceful. It involved either the movement of one leg in the opposite direction with the waist in step with the syncopated beats of the music or the shaking of the shoulders vigorous usually to the tune of the nyatiti an eight stringed instrument.

Adamson (1967) commented that Luos clad in their traditional costumes and ornaments deserve their reputation as the most picturesque people in Kenya. During most of their performances the Luo wore costumes and decorated themselves not only to appear beautiful but also to enhance their movements. These costumes included sisal skirts (owalo), beads (Ombulu / tigo) worn around the neck and waist and red or white clay were used by the ladies. The men’s costumes included kuodi or chieno a skin warn from the shoulders or from the waist respectively to cover their nakedness. Ligisa the headgear, shield and spear, reed hats, clubs among others. All these costumes and ornaments were made from locally available materials.

The Luo were also rich in musical instruments which ranged from, percussion (drums, clappers, metal rings, ongeng’o, shakers), strings (e.g., nyatiti, a type of lyre; orutu, a type of fiddle), wind (tung a horn,Asili, a flute, Abu-!, a trumpet).

Currently the Luo are associated with the benga style of music. It is a lively style in which songs in Dholuo, Swahili, English are sung to a lively guitar riff. It originated in the 1950s with Luo musicians trying to adapt their traditional tribal dance rhythms to western instruments. The guitar (acoustic, later electric) replaced the nyatiti as the string instrument. Benga has become so popular that it is played by musicians of all tribes and is no longer considered a purely Luo style. It has become Kenya’s characteristic pop sound.

Luo singer and nyatiti player Ayub Ogada received widespread exposure in 2005 when two of his songs were featured in Alberto Iglesias‘ Academy Award-nominated score for Fernando Mereilles‘ film adaptation of The Constant Gardener.

Also see Luo Section of Folk Music of Kenya

[edit] Notable Luos


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