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LIFE IN A TRADITIONAL LUHYA VILLAGE

John Osogo

By John Osogo
A long time ago, the Luhya used to live in small communities. For administrative purposes the smallest unit was the village (litala) and several villages formed olukongo which had about 500 people in it with some more populated than others.
           
A village (litala) was often surrounded by a fence of euphorbia trees. In some parts of Luhyaland where enemy raids were common, the villages were surrounded by a wall of clay and a ditch (olukoba) running all round.

This made it difficult for the enemies to attack a village, and easy for the inmates to defend themselves. Naturally, walled villages were very large because building the wall and digging the ditch was difficult work and needed many men to work together on it. All the men who cooperated in the work got a space inside the wall to build a hut or huts for their families. Those who did not help were not allowed in.

litala or village
A traditional Luhya homestead (litala) consisted of several huts.

Village leadership: The leader of each olukongo, the Omwami, was usually a man of influence. He was expected to make sure that there was sufficient rain to nourish the crops grown on that olukongo each year. Very often such a leader was either a rainmaker (omukimba) or someone who had influence over another rainmaker.

Great Community Spirit: Community spirit was great in each olukongo. All the families knew one another, so that a stranger was always noticeable. The people helped each other in most things for example if someone had a hut or a granary to build, all the other men came to help; if he could, he made some food and possibly some beer for them. If someone's son or daughter was going to be married, all members of olukongo brought fitting presents - usually food - to his or her parents to be used in the celebration. Each death was mourned by all villagers.

People helped each other in sickness and suffering and celebrated happy occasions like marriage together. This communal feeling is still prevalent to some extent although urbanisation is slowly clipping away what was orthodoxy traditional.

Activities of each season were started officially, and with a little ceremony, by the chief landowner of the olukongo. This was a man recognized by everyone as the heir to the original owners of that part of the land. He started the cultivation, the sowing, the weeding and the harvesting.


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