Saturday, July 31, 2010
Thursday, 15 July, 2010: The legend of Gor Mahia
It was time to leave dear Homa Bay, and none too soon, for my life surely was in danger. Forget the lion, the leopard, the buffulated buffalo, and the homuncular hippo—the most deadly African beast is surely the Four-Post Jellyfish.
It seems that this particular specimen had roosted over my bed, and so I had no choice but to vacate, seeing as I had left my jelly-extraction kit back in my leopard-skin pillbox hatbox box. I escaped unslimed, and we headed out to the next adventure, to learn of Gor Mahia, the famous Luo hero, known for his bravery, wisdom, and diplomacy, not to mention his magic. He was most certainly a real person who, in his youth, had led the Luo in successful battles against neighboring tribes. His did this, so it is told, sometimes by transforming himself into different creatures and objects, his favorite shape being that of a termite mound. When the British arrived, Gor Mahia, then the leader of his people, saw the hard reality of the situation and collaborated with them to save his tribe. Other tribes fought back and were easily slaughtered by the British. Over the years, many stories were told about his different adventures, and it was Adrian’s field work that gathered these legends into a grand retelling, The Epic of Gor Mahia (Pangolin Publishers, 2003). This day, we were to drive to the burial site of Gor Mahia in order to listen to one of the elders tell us some of the stories.
We were headed into the most remote region of western Kenya yet, from pocky pavement, to dirt road, to dirtier road, to roads where we had to stop the car and move large rocks out of the way, and finally to little more than a foot trail. Adrian warned me that if it rained, we would be stuck, all while the clouds were gathering in purple piles to the east. We finally parked the car just amongst the tufts of tall grass, below the hill that contained the burial site. A short walk up brought us to a clearing, with a group of locals led by one of the descendents of Gor Mahia. The site was no more than some mounds of dirt, demarcated by stones, but the interested parties were hoping to build a proper monument in the near future. As we were shown the site, our storyteller arrived, an old behatted man who had much trouble navigating the dirt, stones, and trenches. Eventually, the men were all seated on top of the grave site, thanks to a collection massive wooden chairs that had been dragged from who knows where, while the women sat on the ground on the outskirts of the area. Just as our master storyteller began, a few thick raindrops fell, and we were told that this was naturally Gor Mahia’s blessing. The clouds passed, and we listened, under the baking sun, to the legends of the great Luo hero.
Even Adrian, who has done so much research on Gor Mahia, learned a few new stories, and while the nonsense was most likely hiding under that rocks and stones, the stories we heard added much to our knowledge of Luo people, their history and culture, not to mention their vivid imagination.