On 1st of January 2009-the patriarchs struck-to teach her a lesson-that women have no voice-they cannot prove to be smarter than men. She must come to them and submit. Humble herself. As the celebrations went on to mark the New Year all over the country-Aoko was sick with malaria and could not go to the site where she normally operates from. The patriarchs burnt the sugarcane plantation. All of it. She received the news while in bed-sick.
After burning it, they vandalized the big diesel engine that she was using to crush the sugarcane. Then stole everything including her gumboots and wheelbarrow at the site. Another income generating activity to fight poverty destroyed by people afraid of change brought by a woman.She said it- ‘ Life must go on.’ One cannot weep over spilt milk. She moved to the next sugarcane plantation that she had rented and once again started from scratch.
''When i got the news-i was sick but did not panick.Being here has made me expect the unexpected from these people.
Though sick-i only came to the burnt plantation in the evening to see for my self the extent of the destruction.''She said.
Migori is located in Nyanza Province-Western Region-Some 40km away from Tanzania. It is here that you see, yet another world of women in the rural area of Kenya.Migori is a Sugar Belt Zone-sugarcane is planted in the region and harvested then processed-and the end product is sugar.
Sony Sugar Factory is the main consumer of the sugarcane planted. Then there are other products that are also got from the sugarcane-Jaggery. This dark unrefined sugar is made from sugar-cane juice. Jaggery is used in Kenya to make confections while the solid version serves to make sweets and is used by the domestic consumers as sugar in tea and porridge since it’s much cheaper. This is the business women like Aoko are engaged in.Making Jaggery.
Aoko has lived here with her father since 2007 when she came to take care of him. Her father is over 90 years old. The state as it is does not take of people like him. The homes for the elderly that exist are mostly private run and charge expensive rates per month.
She spent most of her adult life in the urban centres and coming back home was not as easy as it was before. She left when she was a girl and came back a woman-a mother-a widow. It is here that she heard the term-MIGOGO- again-a derogatory word in Luo that has no meaning in English.
Luo-From the word ABALUO-An ethnic group who trace their origin to Bahr al Ghazal in Sudan. It is one of the dominant tribes after Kikuyu in Kenya. The two were on the spotlight during the post election violence in 2007-2008 since the president is Kikuyu and the Prime Minister a Luo.
Aoko-literally means she was born outside and so named from the word OKO-which means outside.Aoko heard the word-MIGOGO- when she was younger but then it was used in a good way. Now 40 years later and things have taken a turn for the worse. One would think that with all the developments taking place, things would be for the better but it is not the case.
In ancient times, it was a good word used to refer to the daughters of the home when they come back-but now-it is a word used in a negative context, to denote women as outcasts-that they have failed and have no voice or a place in the paternal homes. It goes to extreme cases where some women are forced to sleep in the traditional kitchen-in a room designated for the chicken. Such is the situation a MIGOGO faces.
It’s often worse for a woman if she is married in the traditional Luo community and her husband dies. She is supposed to be inherited - a process called TERO.Which means to inherit. The fight against HIV/AIDS has been deeply curtailed by TERO MON-wife inheritance. A tradition so old as it’s sibling MIGOGO.
For AOKO-they don’t like the trousers she wears and her trade mark earrings-It’s all the village can talk about. All the obscenities hurled her way. From being called a prostitute to a thief. At a time it was so bad that her ailing father had to call the local administrator-A CHIEF –To intervene. But nothing much came out of it.
"One of them told me he would cut my trousers since i am dressing like a man and not a woman."She explained.
Her relatives and other people in the village were not so happy with her developmental attitude. For them-A MIGOGO-has no voice and it itched the men to see her go on without paying attention to their talks and threats.
Most of the people who left the village-never went back -they all ran away-or only come back during funerals. Perhaps running away from these cultural traditions and norms that tend to persecute them.Let us not forget that when the man leaves the home–marries elsewhere and settles there-when calamity strikes or are forced to come back to their paternal homes-There is no word like MIGOGO in reference to them. Such is the norm in patriarchy.
Aoko initiated the Jaggery project in 2007 in order to create jobs for the women and also have some income for her self –to maintain the home and to take care of her ailing father. Her idea was to help the women so that they don’t depend on their husbands who sometimes do not provide for them. This was to make them be able to support their families with basic needs.
At first-it was with the women workers-their husbands told them not to go.A show of might for the rural man.And this being a traditional patriarchal society-they never went back.The man has dominion over the wife.Rates of early marriages in the region are so high-some girls not yet even 15 are married off to old men-old enough to be their grandfathers or great grandparents. But the parents arrange all this and no one is raising a finger.
Shockingly the women in the village too are so subdued with this oppression to an extent that they participate in it. They have been in it for so long that they think it is justified –that it is normal.So they have become the oppressors. Tormenting fellow women who are seen not to be conforming to their ‘ideal’ village life.
"Some of the women without shame came here to tell me how i should behave-and i asked them how many of them put food on my table-they were silent.I showed them the door."Aoko said.
She now has to use donkeys to crush the sugarcane –a process that takes so long –wastes so much time and is laborious since the diesel engine was vandalized by her detractors-people who are hell bent on seeing that she doesn’t succeed.Women in most villages are beaten by their husbands or relatives and most of them never report them-they in some cases, think that they deserved it. The police often are of no help in places like this. Most of them promote this culture of impunity.
Culture of Dowry
It all begins with the cultural tradition of payment of dowry. Where the clan of the girl will ask for a herd of cattle-Money and even more.And it has become worse nowadays. If the girl is more educated-the more the dowry-which means a lot of money-Once the men have paid this dowry (to them-they have bought the woman)-they own her.The owner ship begins here. The same applies to meetings where women are to speak after the men have spoken-and that is if they are allowed to speak.
And among other communities when the elders(men)are with women during funerals-they are not allowed to sit on chairs as men-they sit down on the mat with the legs straight in a show of submission.In an interesting twist-as the men and women of the village throw scorn at her-their children are looking at her as the only person brazen and educated enough in the area who can save them-many of them come to seek her advice on what schools to go to-or what to do with their lives. And she keeps on reminding the girls to seek their dreams and not to let the cultural traditions of the society dictate their lives.
Earlier-the village elements had released cattle to go and eat the sugarcane in one of the plantations-she only realized when it was too late. Whatever she plants on the land-be it maize or beans -they harvest it for her-they reap where they never sowed. Sabotage from all corners.
While at the burnt sugarcane plantation-We are accosted by one of the men as we stand-and he wants me to stop taking photos and threatens to beat me. He also wants to be told who I am. Though he leaves-I am confronted with the kind of life she faces in this patriarchal society.
In the year 2000 she was among the thousands of government workers that were retrenched in a bid to have a leaner but efficient public service system. She was an accountant with the District Commissioners Office in Kakamega- Western Province.
It is midday and the work is going on at the site-but then she has to walk 3km back home to prepare food for her father and make sure he is fine. At times when the donkeys are tired-and it is sunny-she has to be at the site at night to work with the people then leave in the morning to prepare breakfast for her father then get some sleep.
Again-just another day for AOKO in the village.All the people she employs to help her with the house work as she coordinates the activities at the site are either threatened by the villagers or given false gruesome stories about her that they live. The longest one stayed only three months. And when he left-he stole money and other things from the house.
Rumour and falsehoods are the only things that the villagers seem to be doing there most of the time. It has been a long journey-and for her-the Word MIGOGO does not shake her as the people want it to-she cares less about the word. She just wonders how people have nothing else to do but call people names.
Her story is now being turned into a documentary film by a Kenyan Film Maker to create awareness on cultural traditions hindering the growth of the girl child.
"Sometimes i feel so tired of all these issues-but i remind my self that i must become the change that i want to see.So i go on-I fight back!"She said.
As they call her MIGOGO she goes on with the development iniatives hoping that the mindset will change and the word will become a myth of the past. That after her, other women will not have to go through all these. And she wears her trousers as a sign of defiance-a sign of struggle for the girl child. To empower her-and that empowerment never be taken away from her.