I spent two days at my father’s ancestral lands in Manyatta, Awendo--no Internet--on which his permanent house is being built. Judging from the time it takes to get back and forth from Nairobi by car, I had originally though this land was 400-500 miles away from the capital, but I’m used to interstate highways. Slightly less than 300 miles takes longer on two-lane paved roads and the occasional bumpy, dirt road. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Father and his wife live in Rongai, but Manyatta is his birthplace and the place to which he will eventually retire and be buried, like his parents and several other relatives. We went to Manyatta because also on the land is the home of my only blood brother, Charles, and his wife, Lillian. Surrounding that parcel of land are other parcels belonging to various members of the Otani-Ochieng clan. The land originally belonged to my father’s father, Nicanor Otani, and his brothers.
It’s weird for this American to know that there are ancestral lands for my family. But my life has been a half-century of weirdness.
There are two large gates to the land, one for Father and one for my brother. There is electricity in but it’s spotty; we spent several long time periods having our faces lit by oil lamps and flashlights. There is no central plumbing or gas yet, but there is a well and family cooking is done the old-fashioned way.
I think my bro could teach American preppers a thing or two. He also has chickens and cows, but it seems to me that no self-respecting Kenyan man-of-the-land is without at least four cows. I saw so many herds while on the road that I will be thinking about steaks for a month.
Aside from a night during which my intestinal tract reminded me that, no, Toto, we are not in California anymore, the time was fascinating and heart-warming, if a bit bewildering. The day before I returned to Nairobi, all local family and friends gathered to meet me, honor me, and welcome me home.
 Among the Luo, it’s not customary to take the last name of one’s father. Each kid gets his/her own last name. The name is determined by the conditions under which the child is born, i.e. morning, noon, night, raining, etc. The last name also varies in the spelling with regard to gender: girls’ last names begin with A, boys’ with O. With Western and Islamic influences, many Kenyans use their fathers’ last names, but some still don’t. However, even those who use the European/Islamic system of naming still have a “middle” name; more accurately, a surname and a patronymic.
Since I was born in the USA, I was given my father’s last name, but I have my own surname: Akinyi. It’s permissible to call me by this name alone, but in my family, it can get confusing. One of my sisters has the same surname.
And the Luo have taken their own spin on the name game. My brother’s name is Charles Otieno Ochieng and his oldest son is named after his grandfather: Philip Ochieng Otieno, Jr. Of course, everyone calls him Junior. Between the surname and the patronymic is the unspoken “son of/daughter of."
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