By Susan Kogi and Mary Goretty Juma
ODM leader Raila Odinga chose a popular Luo dirge to mourn colossal fallen figure Daniel Moi at the Late ex-president’s burial service held at Kabarak University Grounds on Wednesday, February 12.
Jowi, Jowi, which is now a popular phrase on social media, is new to non-Luo speaking Kenyans, but not among members of the ethnic community that is largely based in Nyanza region.
The chant — according to a Luo elder who spoke to K24 Digital on Thursday — February 13, is a preserve for fallen greats, including political leaders, coveted industrialists, decorated sportspeople, religious leaders, among other respected members of the society.
“It is a very special phrase, which is only used on highly-respected people,” Willis Otondi, the Chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, told K24 Digital at his Nyahera home in Kisumu County.
Jowi is a Luo word that refers to a buffalo. It is often used to describe the deceased as one whose influence was too large and strong to go unnoticed.
And because Daniel Moi was such a gigantic political figure to ignore, Raila Odinga had no other phrase he could use in mourning Moi — according to Luo customs — than chant the popular Jowi, Jowi phrase.
“As we celebrate Moi’s life, we should send him [off] as a hero in Kenya. He was a Christian, who has been mourned as per Christian customs. As we say goodbye to Nyayo, I will [chant a dirge]. I must send him off as a true African,” said Odinga as he reached out for a black fly-whisk which was passed on to him by his supposed personal assistant.
The ODM leader, thereafter, broke into a Luo song that precedes the Jowi chant.
“Yawa, par uru loo, loo wang’e tek. Yawa, par uru loo, loo wang’e tek. Eeee, wuoyi, gimichamo e mari, gimodong’ to kik igen. Eeee, wuoyi, gimichamo e mari, gimodong’ to kik igen. Jowi! Jowi! Jowi! Jowi! Jowi! (Translation: Please, remember the soil, what comes out of the soil is unpredictable. Only consider what you have eaten or what you have, forget about whatever remains or that which you don’t have).”
‘Tomorrow is unpredictable’
“Moi was very powerful and respected in Kenya. That is why Raila Odinga performed the Jowi dirge,” said Otondi, the Luo Council of Elders chief.
“In the song preceding the Jowi chant, Raila observed that the world is not a permanent home for the living, advising that if one is still alive, he or she should enjoy what he or she owns because no one is sure of tomorrow’s events,” added Otondi.
The Jowi dirge has spanned generations, and 41 years ago, Raila’s Late father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, used it while mourning Kenya’s founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who died on August 22, 1978.
So popular is the dirge, that should you attend the burial of a highly-influential member of the Luo community, chances are extremely high you would hear it being chanted from different corners at the burial venue.