At the beginning of this week, death snatched from us one of the country’s most recognisable matriarchs. Mama Sarah Obama, the grandmother of former US president Barack Obama, passed on at a ripe age of 99.
It was a bad time to bid the world adieu because the residents of Alego-Kogelo in Siaya did not have an opportunity to carry out funeral rites in accordance with Luo customs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mama Sarah was not given a befitting send-off that is accorded fallen legends around the shores of Lake Lolwe. The funeral ceremony was not marked with pomp, honour, colour and razmataz as it should be done in that corner of the world. It was executed at a swift speed. I am cock-sure, even those who died before her, cringed in their graves.
The death of this nonagenarian makes me think about many legends that have graced the red soils of Siaya, starting with the step son of Mama Sarah Obama, Barack Obama Senior, the brilliant economist and father of the 44th President of the United States of America. Looking at other ridges of Siaya, we can think of many other fallen flowers that were plucked from the garden of life. The one-billion-dollar question is: What have we done to fuel and fan the fires they lit?
Think of the Paramount Chief Odera Akang’o, the man who made many people from Gem Yala to go to school at an early age. Think of CMG Argwings Kodhek, the scion of Siaya who was one of the first Kenyan lawyers. What of B.A. Ohanga the first Kenyan minister from Gem Got Regea? Do the current generation know Achieng’ Oneko, the freedom fighter who hailed from Uyoma in Siaya who was among the Kapenguria Six? There is S.M. Otieno, the top-tier city lawyer from Alego-Nyalgunga in Siaya, whose death ruled the media stations for close to three months.
We cannot forget about the two great writers from the lush land of Asembo in Siaya – Grace Akinyi Ogot and Margaret Atieno Ogola – who straddled the Kenyan literary landscape like colossi. Siaya has given birth to excellent and exceptional musical maestros like Musa Juma and Okach Biggy Ja Ujimbe. What have we done to honour a great academic giant like Professor Ongayo Kokwaro, a departed distinguished professor of Botany who published over 70 books, including 70 titles that were recognised and read globally?
What happened when these legends faded like a festoon of flowers and withered like blades of green grass? What have we done to make them true ancestors? For around the large lake we believe in the living dead. At least, when you visit the home of Professor B.A. Ogot, you will realise that this polymath has tried to immortalise her wife Grace Akinyi Ogot by building a big mausoleum.
At Kang’o Kajaramogi in Bondo, they have also done a commendable job. In Gem Got Regea, we have B.A. Ohanga Secondary School to remember this great politician. At Gem Malanga, there is Argwings Kodhek Secondary School.
But again, what great thing have we done to honour Jaramogi Oginga Odinga apart from changing the name of Bondo Teachers Training College to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology? In Yala town, there is Odera Akang’o, a constituent college of Moi University alhough it’s on its deathbed.
Maybe, the Siaya County government should come up with creative and innovative ways to recognise these fallen legends. For instance, at Yala, opposite the police station, there are vestiges of the office of Chief Odera Akang’o, now looking old like Ramogi hills. This office can be renovated to serve as a museum. Photos of this legendary leader can be stashed there, and other useful relics, to seduce tourists from far and wide.
This will be a good source of history to the young generation. In the words of Chinua Achebe, “Whoever pays respect to the great, paves his way to greatness.”