Lifestyle, socio-economic and political structure of the Maragoli people of Western Kenya
Written by Nandemu Barasa `Omutolometi`
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Maragoli elders led by Mzee Kepha Agunda (C) tell the story of the Maragoli people of the larger Luhya speaking people.
In Maragoli, death was feared and whenever someone passed on, Maragoli people would mourn and gather around the fire place until after burial.
Initially the dead were just thrown in the wild where they were eaten by wild animals but due to health problems where infectious diseases were spread as a result of throwing the corpses in the wild.
Due to that pressure, Maragoli people adopted the modern way of burying their dead although they still embraced the cultural practices related to the dead.
The dead among Maragoli people are always buried three days after death. The body is buried facing north and burial takes place in the afternoon.
The grave was dug in front of the house except for the people who had committed suicide, those who died of epilepsy and those who had not given birth.
On the side of those who had not given birth, their bodies were not also moved from the house in the front door but instead the behind door was used.
It is important to note here that in situations where the house had no behind door, a temporary door was created where the corpse was taken out through.
Note that other than the body being taken out of the house through behind door, a special thorn was pierced inside the deceased`s buttock and left there so that he or she is buried with it.
Old people were the ones who buried such people because Maragoli people feared that young people who had not given birth and even those ones who were still giving birth would be affected by the problem of not giving birth if they buried such people.
The thorn was used to show that the community was not happy the way the deceased failed to give birth and they were therefore sending him or her off completely, cursing him believing that he or she will never come back in the community to haunt the living.
Those who had committed suicide and those who had died as a result of accidents were buried at night and a sheep was also slaughtered, family members sprinkled with dung (busee) which they believed would keep away the deceased.
It is important to note that in some cases if that cleansing was not done, the spirit of the dead would come around and disturb people in the community.
After three days, relatives would gather around the grave for shaving to signify a new beginning. They would also have a sitting where they would discuss about the debts and credits of the late. They would also choose a person to be in charge of the late’s home but not necessarily taking over the wife(s) as his wife(s).
Widow re-marrying among the Maragoli
If the widow felt like remarrying, she would not do it before she conducted a cleansing ceremony. Among the Maragoli, a widow would go to the farthest place where she is not known and make friendship with a man she would meet.
She will immediately propose to have a sexual act with the man and indeed she will convince his new catch until she makes love with him. She will after the sexual act give the man money which of course she will not tell him it is for cleansing but just to thank him for the service well done.
This rite is a bit different with the one conducted by Bukusu widows who intent to re marry in that in their case a widow will go to the farthest place where she is not known and also find a new catch whom she will convince into making love with but unlike Maragoli people where they perform the act up to the climax, among the Bukusu, the widow would scream just before the real act saying there was someone coming to find them and therefore as a result they will run away with all of them going their own way, never to meet again because meeting again will reverse the cleansing exercise.
The cleansing exercise that involves sex before one re marries be it among Maragoli or Bukusu apply to both men and women.
However, you can also cleanse yourself if you realize that one has used you to cleanse herself or himself.
Among Maragoli, you just throw away the cash you were given which is a bit easier compared to the Bukusu one which you must take a sheep, go and slaughter it at the exact place you nearly made love with that man or woman. Now what will happen if you were in lodging? Can you take sheep and slaughter it in these expensive hotels that some people meet and indulge in such acts?
If you are a Maragoli or Bukusu, just ask yourself if you have ever been lured into the sexual act with a stranger who later paid you heavily or screamed threatening that someone was just about to find you thereby running away never to be found again.
You better hasten to cleanse yourself because according to Mzee Kepha who says while laughing you will never succeed as you will be haunted by the deceased.
It was after conducting the cleansing rite that a woman or a man was allowed to re marry and continue with her conjugal life.
War, weapons, taboos, prominent people among Maragoli people.
Maragoli people did not take part in serious wars except that they mostly fought with the Nandi over land to graze their cattle. They also fought with Luos but it was long time ago when they were migrating into Kenya from Uganda. According to Mzee Francis from Majengo, many Luos were killed by the Maragoli in the war that was as a result of a land dispute.
Maragoli people fought using spears, arrows and bows, shields. Elders were putting on skins while children used to walk naked until they matured. At some stage they were given a small piece of cloth made from the bark of a tree which they would use to cover the front when a person was coming their way from front and immediately covered their behind after the person passed them.
Maragoli people kept mostly cattle grew millet, sorghum, cassava before also moving into growing maize, tea, groundnuts and sweet potatoes.
Among Maragoli people one was not allowed to make love in his or her parent’s house and it was treated as curse.
One would not also be allowed to sit on the chair that his father in-law sits and as a result women were not mostly allowed to sit on chairs but instead they sat on skins.
A girl would not be allowed to sleep or even sit on her parent`s bed. This was argued in a very interesting way that maybe the girl would be impregnated with his real father or on the other hand the son in-law would impregnate his mother in law.
In Maragoli there was no problem on shaking hands with your mother or father in law so long as payment of dowry had been complied done.
There are people who were respected among Maragoli many of them being Chiefs such as chief Agoi, Chief Mulubi. Maragoli people also have respected elites such as Professor Endire, Adagala, Francis Imbuga, Mwenesi and many others.
On the political arena Maragoli people have had strong politicians from Moses Mudavadi who was a powerful minister in the past regime and the father to the current Member of Parliament for Sabatia and the Deputy Prime Minister Hon Musalia Mudavadi. Other notable politicians include Yusuf Chanzu, Andrew Ligale, Former Sabatia Member of Parliament Moses Akaranga, and Peter Kibisu among others.
Maragoli people are mostly found in Vihiga County.