Asenath Bolle Odaga does not include “Raila” — our Prime Minister’s first name — in her Dholuo-English Dictionary. But, in his Kidneys For The King, Miguna Miguna suggests that Raila derives from rayila, the Luo word for the “prickly” plant called matata in Kiswahili and nettle in English.
For the nettle’s thorn is like the Sinaitic fruit that “burned” Moses’ kinaesthetic organs into an audio-visual hallucination of El Elyon, the mountain deity.
Rayila has the same effect as the datura — the “bush” whose “burning” never “consumed” you but merely excited your senses exceedingly.
The verb ilo means to “prick” the skin and cause great irritation, itching, scratching and general excitement.
Thus Luo Christians sing with “mor gi ilo” (noun) — “happiness and excitement” — whenever they anticipate the advent of a Shangri-la called heaven.
In such a mental state, the dyed-in-the-wool believer may be far too excited to notice its double edge. For the prick may be like the sting in the wasp’s tail and may result in something like “prickly heat” — the itchy rash that attacks especially Caucasian skins in equatorial climes. In general, then, to “chortle in … joy” — a Lewis Carroll coinage — is to be beside yourself with happiness.
But this significance of ilo is metaphorical only. Literally, it means to physically nettle, prick, itch, irritate and cause to scratch the body, often even aggravating the agony.
Another Luo name for the stinging bush is aila or ailaila.
But it and rayila raise a fascinating question: If the name Raila was given to Amolo at birth, it implies that Nyar Alego and Jaramogi (his parents) gave it to him because great signs attended Amolo’s nativity.
What those signs might have been we are not told. But Luo folklore has counterparts the world over.
The legends surrounding Amolo’s birth might recall, for instance, the “signs” which Owen Glendower — the great Welsh magician — claimed to have surrounded his own birth.
Owen’s thaumaturgy – which is part of the charm of William Shakespeare’s play King Henry IV Part I — is fully described for us in The Elixir and the Stone: Unlocking the Ancient Mysteries of the Occult, an engrossing account of Afro-European Hermeticism by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.
Similarly, all of Raila Amolo’s endearment epithets connote a miracle worker in the vein of the New Testament’s Simon Magus and Jesus Maschiach (“Messiah”) and Jokajok’s own legendary Gor Mahia and Nyamgondho wuod Ombare. Mahia and Agwambo mean abnormal, extraordinary, miraculous, mysterious, unique.
Indeed, if Raila’s future was a prophecy, it was not wide of the mark.
For, in Kenya today, not a single serious politician provokes as much national excitement — both for and against — as does Nyakwar Ramogi (“Ramogi’s grandson”) — Ramogi reputed as the man who led Jokajok Luo into Nyanza, their “Promised Land”.
That is why so many Kenyans hope that — since Luoland has become a microcosm of Kenya — other communities will chip in with their votes to help Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga to fulfil Nyar Alego’s prophecy.