The Luo People of Kenya: Legend of Nyar Mgondho
The Luo live near Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. A small population can be found on the Tanzanian side of the Lake. There are several Luo dialects in Uganda and South Sudan. The latter is believed to be the original home of all Luo speakers.
THe Legend of Nyar Mgondho
A poor fisherman called Mahe migrated from Southern Lake Nyanza then called Nam Lolwe. He settled at a place called Gwasi. From Gwasi, Mahe continued to eke out a living as a fisherman.
One day, he was fishing as usual. It was a particularly bad day for him, since it was late afternoon and he had not caught anything substantive to take to market. Mahe consoled himself that there would be tomorrow, since the sun always rises without fail.
Just as Mahe was about to call it a day, he felt a tag at his fishing line. At first he thought that his hook had touched a rock so he tried to unlodge it. Instead, the weight on his hook was bigger and Mahe decided that perhaps God had rewarded him with a very big fish.
Mahe’s surprise catch
Mahe dug his feet into the ground and pulled at his catch. He heaved and heaved and eventually the head came out of the water. But it was not the head of a fish. It was the head of a beautiful girl, holding firmly onto his fishing line. Mahe was disappointed. He had wanted fish very badly, and now he had a woman instead. Mahe helped the girl onto the beach and prepared to pack his things for home. The girl would not be left behind. She said she would go wherever he went. Mahe explained that he was just a poor fisherman and that he had nothing of value in his miserable hut. He never even afforded to join his friends for beer.
“It is the last place that a beautiful girl like you will want to spend a night,” Mahe explained.
“Don’t worry Mahe. You have rescued me from the deep waters of Nam Lolwe where I have remained lonely for many seasons. I will be your wife and together we shall work and get rich.”
“What will I call you, now that you know that my name is Mahe?”
“Call me Nyar Mgondho,” the beautiful girl replied.
Mahe’s change of fortunes
And so Mahe took Nyar Mgondho home where she became his dutiful wife. Whenever Mahe went fishing, he caught a lot of fish and whatever Nyamgondho planted, the harvests were good. Nyar Mgondho had brought good luck to Mahe. With the income from the fish, Mahe bought Nyar Mgondho a pair of goats, male and female. Mahe could now afford to drink occasionally with his agemates.
Soon the goats had increased so much that Mahe bought a cow and a bull with proceeds from his fishing and goat keeping. Mahe made a fortune from fishing as his wife looked after the homestead. Their livestock increased so much that Nyar Mgondho was overwhelmed by the work at home. She encouraged Mahe to get another wife. The Luo were polygamous and the man would take on extra wives as his fortunes improved. Mahe was very grateful to Nyar Mgondho who had brought him a lot of luck.
Before long Mahe was a very rich man with several wives. It was not long before the riches got into his head. Mahe boasted to every one that he was a rich man and should nto be taken for granted. His walled homestead resembled a small village, teeming with wives, children, livestock and chicken. It reached a point where Mahe saw no point of fishing anymore. He had everything a man would want. He could even afford to spend more time drinking with friends.
Riches get into Mahe’s head
Mahe’s behaviour changed drastically. The richer he got, the more he drank beer with friends, acquintances and strangers. He relished boasting about his riches and his large family. Due to drinking for long hours, Mahe started arriving home late. He made a lot of noise when he went home. He demanded food with a lot of insults. His own family started to fear him. His wives hated the insults and occasionaly if one was slow to feed him, Mahe would beat her. Mahe’s homstead was not the same happy place that Nyamgondho had helped to build.
The wives became fed up with Mahe. They conspired not to open for him if he ever came home drunk and qurrelous. It didn’t take long before that happened. One day Mahe went home drunk even more than usual. He knocked on Nyamgondho’s door, making a lot of noise as he did so. She refused to open. Mahe went to the second wife’s door and knocked with force. She too did not open in spite of Mahe’s insults. Mahe knocked on all the doors of his wives but none was willing to open even after he used all the threats in the world. It was almost day break when Mahe gave up knocking on his wives’ doors and retired to sit outside.
Do not insult others
Mahe was completely fed up when he uttered the unthikable words:
“This is me Mahe, the richest man in Gwasi, having to sleep outside because all my wives will not open for me. Not even the one whom I fished out of Nam Lolwe!”
Nyar Mgondho was just preparing to wake up for the day when she heard those words.
“Mahe! What did you just say?” Nyar Mgondho asked. She could not believe hare ears. She had come to live with Mahe when he had nothing but his limbs. And now he had the audacity to speak like that.
“Listen to her. I hooked her out of the water like a fish. I gave her a home, and now she is so big headed she will not open for me,” Mahe repeated.
Nyar Mgondho was not going to take it anymore she assured herself. She picked up what she could carry on her head, and without as much as goodbye, she walked out. Mahe saw her walking towards the lake. He said to himself that she would not be able to survive without him.
Now a most shocking thing happened. As Nyar Mgondho was going towards the lake with her belongings on her head, some goats followed her. Some cows followed her too. Mahe watched in shock as some chicken followed her too. Soon, all the cattle sheep and goats walked out of the enclosure and followed Nyar Mgondho towards the lake. Mahe watched in shock as his entire wealth in livestock followed Nyar Mgondho without a sign of coming back.
When Nyar Mgondho reached the lake, she walked right in. The water reached her at the ankles at first but she walked on. Then the water reached her at the knees but she did not stop. Mahe watched in disbelief. All this time the animals walked with Nyar Mgondho. Soon the water reached her waist, then shoulders until only her nose was above the water. Mahe called out to Nyar Mgondho but she did not hear him. The water was now up to her ears. Then she disappeared into the lake and the animals followed her one by one until there was not a single animal left.
When Mahe saw that he was now as poor as he had been before the arrival of Nyar Mgondho, he wept in remorse. The tears flowed to the ground where his feet turned into the roots of a tree. Before very long, his legs turned into a tree trunk and the reast of his body developed branches with many leaves. That tree can still be seen to this day, outside the ruined stone wall of Mahe’s former homestead.
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