How the Maragoli Clashed With Neighbouring Bunyore Rainmakers Over ‘‘Selective’’ Hailstorm

The Maragoli Hills. PHOTO: National Education Network.

My ancestors emigrated from the then Vihiga district (present day Vihiga County) in the 1940s to take up land in Kisii. This move from the area which was part of the North Kavirondo (with headquarters in Kakamega) during the colonial period was a consequential one.

Vihiga County is inhabited by three major communities, the populous Maragoli (Ava-Logooli), the Bunyore (Aba-Nyole) and the Tiriki (Aba-Tiriki).

For a long time, I agonized why on earth they decided to leave the peaceful Tsimbalo village, and took the long, ardous journey in search for happiness, over 130 kilometres away. But as the former UK Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow reminds us, ‘‘history is more than the path left by the past. It influences the present and can shape the future.’’

Anyway, from information I have gathered, in the ruins of what used to be their home, now stands a primary school. I intend to go there one day for a final salute to my cradle.

Since that great migration down south, in my family, we always call ourselves, Avang’anyi which is a Maragoli (Logoli) word which denotes  ‘‘migrants.’’ The  moment we settle in a place, we are almost scouting for the next better place. Not sure why we aren’t pastoralists because the trend hasn’t stopped yet. We probably need some DNA test to establish our proper lineage, uh?

This is precisely because from the time my ancestors left their humble and peaceful Tsimbalo abode to Kisii, they set future generations on a path of perpetual movement. Their scions have made almost three or four other moves from then. And I greatly suspect, that my generation too is  the way in that great tradition. And we may never be the last.

One most striking pattern in the movement which I have personally discovered, is that we never live far from the road. At bare minimum, we always pitch tent near a main road, probably to make the next flight a convenient one.

It also explains why whenever I am asked where I come from, I have to  request the enquirer if they have time for a long story about where I come from. And most people have always fallen the simple test when they profile me.

I have always wondered what led my great-grandfather and his brother to leave their ancestral land in Maragoli and go away, for good. In digging for information and through interviews with my late grandmother, and other knowledgeable people on the subject, I have been able to tie some lose ends in this grand story of adventure.

The Pioneers

People transporting granite in Vihiga County. Granite is in abundance in the area blessed with rocky environment. PHOTO: Maragoli Community Development Foundation (MACODEF).

We owe our story of that migration to one Enoka Obwoyere Muyonga, a veteran brick layer from Vihiga who shone the bright light which illuminated the path of migration for the others. I am informed that Mr. Muyonga was among the team that built the Kisii GK Prison and the then Government African School (now the Kisii School).

It was the venerable Muyonga who in the course of his work, would meet Senior Chief Musa Nyandusi (the father to the late veteran politician Simeon Nyachae). That fateful meeting would change the story of a whole generation of people, back in his Maragoli backyard.

During the time, so the story goes, Senior Chief Nyandusi told Mr. Muyonga that there were vast lands in Kisii with no one to cultivate and that he should consider getting people to go till the land.

Then there was another gentlemen, the wandering preacher man Shradrak Amugo too, who brought back the moving tales of the land of milk and honey in Kisii. Mr. Amugo, who occasionally went back to his home in Vihiga, came back with riveting stories that captivated his listeners. That’s how sections of the Maragoli community took up the challenge to set forth to the adventurous journey to Kisii.

My great grandparents, would not be left behind. So they too, followed this shining star to Kisii. On arrival, they were both given many acres of land, for free, to till and live in. One of my great grandparents was a preacher too, so he easily fit in at a time when natives really yearned to hear the word of God, from their own people.

Other than this great story of adventure, Vihiga witnessed severe drought and famine for a long time. In 1942  there was rain failure which set the stage for a great famine and drought in the following year. But rain alone was not the genesis of the calamity that befell my people. According to Robert Maxon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who studied the phenomenon, there were also market dynamics, the environment, and state polices.

Information available shows that during the year, Asian traders bought up all the grain they could in Vihiga, creating shortages that in turn led to higher prices for foodstuff.

1943 was the thick of World War II and colonial Government mopped up food to support those on the front line. This, and the increased demand for foodstuffs which brought high prices in its wake, heightened the famine conditions as the market worked against those without the resources to purchase grain.

I now highly suspect my great  grandparents could not stand this ravaging famine for an extra day. Those who could not afford to buy food, faced starvation head on. This is how maize became a staple food in the area.

But the 1943 famine was not the only famine. Since the turn of the 20th Century, the area had faced significant challenges of depressed rainfall and drought in 1906, 1907, 1910, 1914 and 1918. With 1918 being the final year of the World War I, the were greater demands  for manpower, with able bodied men conscripted to support the global war. This effectively compromised the labour available for food crop production. This is the generation which kept referring to how they fought in Tanganyika and Burma, among others.

Clash Over Hailstorms

Crops damaged by a hailstorm: PHOTO:Manoj Shembde

But it is the 1907 famine that remains etched in the memories of the people in this region. In that year, rains did not show up until March. And when they did, they were accompanied by heavy and destructive hailstorms that decimated the sorghum and banana trees. This destruction was more pronounced in the are occupied by the Maragoli people.

However, this wasn’t the case with the neighbouring Bunyore, which seemed to have been spared this natural calamity. With the Buyore having the distinction of being the home of the feared rainmakers, their Maragoli neighbours suspected that the rain makers may have had  a hand in the ‘‘selective’’ falling of the hailstorm which seemed to have spared the Bunyore area.

I can visualize the Bunyore rain makers struggling to explain the ‘‘science’’ of rain making, to an impatient group, and how it possible for hailstorm to only hit a particular area and not the other. The Maragoli, hearing none of the abracadabra of the rain makers, attacked their Bunyore neighbours, what the colonial District Commissioner (DC) called a “riot.”

The hailstorms of 1907 worsened the food shortage in the in Maragoli, as it was the tradition for people to cultivate food crops such as bananas for consumption and sorghum for sale in exchange for money to pay taxes to the colonial Government.

There are significant  populations of the Maragoli in Kisii County, and other areas of Nyanza, particularly in Migori County, but predominantly in Uriri Constituency. Their  stories may be different, but their inspiration for migration was the same.

And by the way, have you ever wondered why the place is called Vihiga (but pronounced Vi-shi-ga?

Well, much of the Vihiga county is punctuated by rocky hills, that dot the general landscape  of Bunyore and the southern portion of Maragoli. The name Vihiga comes from the local name for ‘‘rock outcrops.’’

Beyond Kenya, the World Dictionary of Ethnic Minorities also documents the existence of the Maragoli as a minority community in Uganda. It is estimated that between 25,000 to 30,000. Maragoli people live in  Kiryandongo District, in Bunyoro sub-region, Midwestern Uganda, some 233 kilometres northwest of the capital, Kampala..

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