KENYA SUMAKU

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THE RAINBOW IDEA AND ITS CONTRADICTIONS IN A CULTURAL SETTING

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on August 2, 2009

It was mid afternoon and the clouds looked pregnant with rain, yet somewhere within the western sky, there was a crevice within the cloud. Through this crevice shone one bright arrow of sunshine, casting itself through the cloud and forming the famous silver lining. The spear of sunshine took a progressively slanted position with the setting sun. The traveler hurried home, fearing the coming downpour; the farmers rejoiced that, at last, they could plant their millet maybe the next day. The children at home sang a song:

Mbura gatwe, mbura gatwe nkonyenyere rikongo ri’enyang’aaaaaau!
Mbura gatwe, mbura gatwe nkonyenyere rikongo ri’enyang’aaaaaau!

As if to spite the children, the winds started blowing. At first it was a soft breeze, then a strong gale that sent the clouds away. The western sun became momentarily much more visible, and a rainbow in full splendor was formed. Set against the background of Nkora Hill, the rainbow formed a wide, inverted and extremely symmetric arch; a breaking of the sun into an array of colours, each with its own story of beauty and complementarities. The children sang on. By now, there was a fine mist in the environment and the clouds were fast fading away.
As the dream of an early planting season petered for the farmer, the rainbow suddenly disappeared with the setting sun. The children who had been singing boisterously suddenly remembered the various chores they had been given by their parents. Many were the families that could spend the evening without a meal of sweet potatoes or pumpkins and milk because the children had forgotten to keep the fire burning hot. For some chemical reason, if the fire goes out during the early stages of cooking, these foods and others of similar characteristics will afterwards not cook however much you boil them. That process was referred to as ogokuba.
The rainbow, having caused so much grief in many homes, was aptly called “omokubi nyongo”, or the phenomenon which causes “ogokuba” in pots. Although the Aba-Mogusii people were avid users of earthenware pots or chinyongo they have never mastered the art of making the earthenware utensils. The doyens in making the earthenware pots were Aba-gere. Aba-Mogusii are historically descendants of Mogusii and they refer to themselves in short as Aba-Gusii after their hero/parent figure. Their understanding of the history of their Luo neighbours told them that they were the children of the hero/parent figure Luanda Magere and therefore logically referred to them as Aba-Magere, modified into Aba-Gere. The same system was used in naming their Kipsigis neighbours as Aba-Sigisi.
So the Abagusii had a useful system of nomenclature for the pots which they did not make. Egetabo was probably the smallest earthenware container, a bowl of sorts also used as a lid. Egetega followed closely. Egetega had two small handles near the top which took the shape of ears. It was used for cooking vegetables such as chinsaga and rinagu. Egetono was the next size of the pots and was used as a container of traditional beer or for milking. The big pot which was used for cooking “obokima” or ugali was “enyakoruga”. By referring to the rainbow as “omokubi nyongo”, Abagusii were not linguistically or metaphorically celebrating its beauty, they were implying that it was a cause for sorrow.
The children of Kenya had been singing the song:

Mbura gatwe, mbura gatwe nkonyenyere rikongo ri’enyangaaaaaaau!
Mbura gatwe, mbura gatwe nkonyenyere rikongo ri’enyangaaaaaaau!

It is as if Kenyans were farmers, anxious for the planting season to come. Then big men and women riding in heavy cars and talking and singing sweet songs came along. They sang their way into the hearts of people, making omokubi nyongo ‘cause célèbre’. The very essence of a rainbow is the separation of colours, which allows each colour to express its uniqueness mixed with the tyranny of independence. If the essence of sunshine is to provide energy for photosynthesis and light for creatures during the day, what does the rainbow represent? The Bible says that the rainbow is a sign that the Almighty God shall not use the flood to cleanse the earth again. So in that sense, is it good news or bad news? Instead of the flood, a different agent will be deployed, the Fiery Fire of Hell, is it any easier than the flood? Needless to say, the rainbow dream of the Kenyan politician petered away when the light of God was not allowed to shine. The children sang for the rain to come, but their songs quickly turned into chilling cries. The rainbow came and was soon past, for they remained in darkness. The boisterous singing died down, the wailing began in earnest. Then the people reflected. They asked themselves, since when did ‘omokubi nyongo’ become a harbinger of joy?

-Tony O. Mongare

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