By culture and language, I am a Luo. But, by blood, I am related to Wilfred Machage, who, by culture and language, is a Kuria. Yet the Kuria, Kisii and Zanaki -- Julius Nyerere’s people -- are very close to my Abasuba branch of the Luo. The Abasuba were once Bantu, with roots in Buganda, Busoga, Buluhya and Rieny (in Tanzania). But history drafts its own agenda. That the Luo have swallowed us is a historical happenstance.
Thus, today, you can’t separate us from Jokajok — the Kochia, Karachuonyo, Kasipul, Kabondo, Nykach, Kanyamwa, Kanyidoto, Kabuoch, Karungu, Kwabwai, Kadem and Kanyamkago — the first Luo group to arrive in Nyanza, all now living south of Winam Gulf.
In turn, you cannot separate these from the Suba — Waware (my clan), Wakula, Gwassi, Kaksingri, Kamasengre, Kaswanga, Kasgunga, Waondo, Kamreri, Kamagambo, Suna and Muhuru. Intermarriage and cultural assimilation has been so systematic that, today, they are just one people. Although, Jokajok are the dominant force, Suba influence is so great that South Nyanza Dholuo is remarkably different from that spoken north of the gulf. I stress the Kamagambo, Suna and Muhuru because they serve as the link between the “Luo proper” and the “Bantu proper”. For instance, the Kamagambo and the Abagusii are extremely close.
Likewise, if Machage wants war with the Luo, he will be hard put to draw a line between the Suna and Muhuru, on the one hand, and his Kuria — not to mention the Kowak of Tanzania’s North Mara and the Maragoli of Kanyamkago. These two moved to those areas only a century ago — the Kowak from Raila Odinga’s Sakwa, a branch of Jokowiny — who, including the Asembo, Seme, Kisumo, Kajulu, Uyoma , Kanyada and Kano, were the second Luo group to invade Nyanza. Jokomolo (Ugenya, Gem, Kakan and Kagan) and Jobasuba were the third and fourth. Thus, although originally Bantu, the Maragoli of Kanyamkago are very busy becoming Luo, just as Jopaluo of Kitara, on the eastern shores of Nam Onekbonyo — the Luo name for Lake Albert — have long ago become Banyoro and Bantu. It is never done consciously. It is always results from inexorable socio-historical currents. If Otieno Kajwang is a militant Luo, his Waondo and Kamreri — to whom my mother belonged — are very close to the Terik, who do not know whether they are Luhya or Kalenjin.
If certain politicians from Bunyala or Busamia are militantly Luhya, the Luo influence on them is so profound that they cannot say they are “pure Luhya” or even “pure Bantu”. Although such historians as Bethwell Ogot, Gideon Were, Ben Kipkorir, William Ochieng, Godfrey Muriuki, Henry Mwanzi, Theodora Ayot, Henry Ayot and Kipkoeech arap Sambu concentrate on particular communities, all reveal that each community is a mind-boggling mixture of blood, cultures and languages.
In The Communities of Kenya, Wanguhu Ng’ang’a has attempted a holistic picture of how the European political creation called Kenya was peopled before the advent of colonialism. The larger a community is, the more “impure” it is. Thus the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba cannot tell you that they are “pure” anything. And that is why it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw clear geographic lines between any two communities.
This is good because — whether the politicians like it or not — all the communities which the fortuity of history called colonialism once brought together into a commonwealth called Kenya are inching closer and closer towards one another. The process is agonisingly slow. But it is methodical and unstoppable. Given the number of Kikuyu women married in Nyanza, if Gema declares a war on the Luo, Gema’s own cousins and nieces will be among its victims. Raila Odinga may kill his own grandson if he wages war on Kiambu.
Such gradual conflation of ethnic energy was what produced such great nations as China, France, Germany, Japan and Russia. It is what will one day produce a truly homogenous ethnic entity called Kenya. This is the wheel of history that those now igniting the fire of tribalism are trying to turn back. But time is inexorable. It will remove all those who stand in its way as remorselessly as a bulldozer.