Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Paul Ogunyo
Over the years it had occurred to Thiringinyi that in most parts of Nyanza they would consider what he was attempting to be kwero. A taboo. He was going against chik by wanting to marry an okuyu. Never mind that no group of elders had passed this down as some new year’s resolution after an Otieno somewhere had had the misfortune of marrying an undesirable and in a way served as the ultimate case study. But for Thiringinyi it was different because from the first moment he’d set his eyes on her six years ago when he had been a not so fresh faced campus student he had always known somehow that if the gods were to grant him the small mercy of her affection then it would indeed turn out to be something special. And six years later he had been proven right because there was still no other woman who could match his Qujuru.
In the beginning they had kept it as casual as possible but with time he’d got to know how amazing she was (and how crazy the women he’d been dating were in comparison) and slowly he’d begun to question majority of the myths he’d heard from his parents about these people from the mountain even though in reality he had always known that they couldn’t stand up as a reasonable representation of the mannerisms of a tribe of over six million people. But he could understand where his parents were coming from. They were on the wrong side of the ‘historical injustices’ spectrum and this had festered over the decades and become a widespread reality to most Luos. The Mt. Kenya folk couldn’t be trusted was what he had had drummed into him and the existing political scene helped to do little to quell the tension. It only served to draw a clear line between the two tribes and he had plunged right into the middle of that divide with his relationship with Qujuru.
He spared a smile when he remembered how his family had found out. He’d been at his brother’s place and Qujuru had come to visit him. As fate would have it, his aunt also happened to pass by and met Qujuru insisting on knowing her last name. The story of Thiringinyi and Nyar Okuyu had spread faster than a Savannah bushfire. He came from a family of hardcore gossips so he wasn’t surprised or offended. His mum had set him aside and warned him as sternly as she could but he was an adult and she couldn’t threaten a grown man into dumping his girlfriend and so Thiringinyi had decided to have some fun. He’d asked his mother about the other tribes around and their shortcomings starting with our Luhya neighbours to the north.
‘Abandu dwanyre ga marach to kit gi rach,’ she said (Those people misbehave a lot and are very uncouth.)
Thiringinyi had smiled inwardly at that because he’d been hosted by his friend’s aunt who stayed in Buru Buru and was a Luhya and he had not seen her or her kids who were half-luhya misbehave or act uncouthly. Actually he’d been welcomed like one of their own to the point that his friend’s aunt would be very upset if he stayed away for too long without dropping by and saying hello.
‘We unakuja tu huku kama Brian yuko,’ she would always reprimand when he popped up again.
If that was misbehaving and uncouthness he had promised to have a word with the Oxford Press on their definitions of words. But he’d known that her misgivings stemmed from a major breakdown in her relationship with a family friend of Luhya origin and it had ended nasty to the point that they were now in essence long time friends who lived right next to each other but never uttered even a single word of hello to each other.
He’d then asked about the coastal women with a stereotype in mind but just wanting to hear an older voice say it. She’d said they were good, dutiful and submissive women who took good care of you but that their juju was so powerful you’d never really be safe in their hands if you crossed them and you’d never be able to leave them unless the grave took you but she had suspicions that some of them could raise the dead so it was kind of a good thing marrying one if you wanted to live long. Just don’t cross them. Thiringinyi could barely contain himself and wondered if every coastal woman took juju classes alongside English and Math.
Lastly he’d asked about the Kamba and he’d got a gem. His mother had thought about that for a moment and said very confidently that since most of Ukamabani was such a harsh environment with little food the girl in question would be very pliant and obedient and would not ‘bring her head’ during the course of the marriage because any time she thought of doing so she would remember how terrible back home was and just swallow her pride and move on. Thiringinyi had laughed his heart out never mind how wrong that observation was. After all with migration still a trend even today not all Kambas have their ancestral home in Ukambani!
But he’d seen just how hypocritical these stereotypes were from that last one. By 2007 it was wrong to bring home a Kamba girl because Kalonzo had decamped from ODM and any Kalenjin was a welcome brother. Come 2013 and it was now reversed and the Kambas were now good and Kalenjins were now public enemy number two after Qujuru’s people. Woe unto you if you brought one home you’d go back home with her and live with Ruto. Or something like that was what his father would undoubtedly say.
The whole thing to Thiringinyi was as comical as it was impractical judging tribes on the basis of age old stereotypes and political affiliations that were as fickle as they were ridiculous. He knew that some of the stories he’d been told were indeed true and that there were serious difficulties involved in marrying from a different tribe with the impending clash of cultures even without the deep seated tribalism always threatening to boil over at any point to contend with. The extended family even in a same tribe marriage was always a slippery stone to step on and family feuds could be the easiest to start and hardest to stop but to survive all these, Thiringinyi knew without being told that he needed a good, strong woman be she Luo, Kikuyu or from Mars.
A terrible person was still terrible even if they came from your tribe. And his parents had told him more than enough nasty stories of how a few of their friends had ended up leading miserable lives at the hands of some women and funnily enough most of the time they were Luo. He had even wondered amusedly how he had not picked up a phobia against women from his own tribe from the stories but in the end there had been one mitigating factor: deep down these women were just bad women and Jezebel would have felt right at home with them. Tribe had little to do with it.
But if both sides accepted the decision and decided to peacefully co-exist then it was difficult to see where issues would crop up, at least until the next general election most likely. But such was the design of human nature and even Thiringinyi himself knew he wasn’t immune to it. His only saving grace was probably that he was willing to give everyone a chance. Well, maybe not everyone but a rather more significant number than normal. And he promised himself to always try to improve.
“What are you thinking about?” Qujuru asked now awake from her short slumber.
They were on a bus on their way to Kisumu to see his parents and officially introduce Nyar Okuyu. Thiringinyi looked at her beautiful face and felt a little bit better and his convictions a tad stronger just by just that wondrous smile.
“I was just thinking about all the issues and stereotypes and remembering how far we still have to go to for things to be easier.”
“They’ll get better. When they see how good we are together they’ll come around.”
He liked how so full of positivity she was. It spurred him on and gave him all the strength he needed.
“So long as you don’t marry a second wife we’ll be fine,” Qujuru added with a cheeky smile.
He came from a polygamous family and that had been a sticky point with Qujuru’s folks but he’d seen firsthand how hard it was to maintain two wives and two families in essence and he had sworn that it would be the last thing he’d do no matter the benefits. After all, it would require two women to find him attractive and marriageable and he’d already found one so no way he was going to take any chances.
“And as long as you don’t kill me and take my money,” Thiringinyi replied with a bigger smile, “or run of with my kids in the night I don’t see where we’ll clash”
“Who says you’ll be rich?” Qujuru questioned.
“I’ll be having a Kikuyu wife,” Thiringinyi replied. “The kings of the hustle. Some of it is bound to rub off on me eventually!”
And with that Thiringinyi added a positive touch to all the stereotype madness.