Maggero Debate Should Continue

The late James Wuod Maggero, the great story-teller, has left behind him a legacy (albeit a sad one to some) which will be used as a point of reference in the future by Kenyans in Sweden and elsewhere in the Diaspora. His passing on has whipped up emotions from a cross section of Kenyans, Africans and Swedes, exhibiting both support and distaste for matters concerning death, taboos, customs, interracial marriages/relationships, gender and so forth.

It is normal that when a Luo passes on (especially a male elder), people sing praises and air criticisms during the funeral and burial. The anticlimax of Wuod Maggero’s saga came when KSB moved its readers to “THE CENTRE” of the debate. Suddenly all the critical voices, especially those that have been supporting the exclusion of Maggero’s Kenyan family from funeral arrangements went mute. The fangs of these wannabe writers stopped spitting venom waiting to refill again, probably if rattled.

Revelations from KSB’s now famous “Moving the Centre” articles dealt a shuddering blow to “Unilateral cremationists”, because it raised some hidden cultural perspectives which they had never anticipated.

For example, those supporting what Dagmar did, never knew Wuod Maggero’s real marital background, yet they insisted blindly that his immediate Swedish family should have remained the sole decision takers during his funeral arrangements. Instead of changing tactics to address the new reality after the facts were laid on the table by KSB, they simply fled from the battle ground with a few side-kicks from one or two distant sympathizers, who have mainly specialized in personal attacks against me and Mr. Okoth Osewe, while avoiding the heavier cultural issues raised in this debate.

Wuod Maggero, the polygamist, never divorced his first African wife (Nyar Ugenya), yet had legally married Dagmar (his Swedish wife) and built a family with her. Who else could have done this, but a “Guru” of Luo customs and traditions as Mrs. Hellen Opwapo wisely dubbed him. As Maggero’s legacy lives on with hard and sensational facts filling cyberspace, loud-mouthed critics who rushed to the front lines with machetes have been demobilized after being disarmed. They are probably wondering whether they will be haunted by Maggero’s ghost due to their overt cultural insensitivity during his controversial funeral which saw his body reduced to ashes by a section of his family.

Mr. Osore Ondusye stated in a recent video interview uploaded by KSB, that Wuod Maggero was the most sophisticated Kenyan in Stockholm. This could be correct given the developments being experienced since his departure. Because of him, a minority group has called for the rejection of Luo funeral customs which they claim, are repugnant.

It is also because of the immature sentiments expressed by the anti-traditionalists that some of us have been tagged sexists and racists. I have been told anonymously that I belong to Kenya and not to Sweden which, according to the threat, is famous for its fairness and tolerance. Ironically, the threatening SMS sent to me was signed “AMEN”, leaving a lot to be desired on who is actually the intolerant person in this case.

Because of Wuod Maggero, some people have written notes in cyberspace about death and confessed for not having been present during his last days. During this period of reflections, Mr. Clay Onyango has written to KSB asking for forgiveness from all those he had ever wronged. I could not help laughing about this, so I called Clay to ask whether he had become religious. He answered that life is too short and we all need to show love to each other.

I recall Mr. Maggero’s rib-cracking story of how his mother cooked and packed him chicken and “ugali” (maize flour meal) to eat during his flight to Europe in the 1950s. He was quite an unassuming and astute businessman, who welcomed people at his former travel agency (Recemarknadcenter) in Stockholm city. I bought a few tickets from him, thereby getting a chance to listen to some of his numerous stories. Maggero also never minced words about his dislike for certain politicians in Kenya, a fact that made me respect his own struggle for democratic space in Luoland.

I also attended a few funeral functions presided over by this cultural guru and recall that he was a generous donor (always giving between 500-1000 kronor). He once invited me to a function organized by KESFA (the Kenya Sweden Friendship Association) and he introduced me to Dagmar and one of his daughters. They may not remember me now because of the on-going war of words, but we chatted briefly.

I would like to ask the anti-traditionalists and their supporters that if Maggero detested many African habits as they allege, why was he the leader of KESFA for many years, an organization which, among others, was trying to unite Kenyans and Swedes along cultural lines? Why did Maggero move back to Kenya after attaining his retirement age? It has even been whispered by some people that he had intended to travel back to Kenya if he ever regained his health.

As indicated in my earlier article, Mr. Maggero belonged to the first generation of Kenyans in Scandinavia. It has been proven that he practiced traditions that are unknown to many Luos and even his mastery of the Luo language was exceptional, despite having lived in Sweden for so many years. His now famously quoted duoko nyako (returning the girl) events, have left veterans like Mrs. Opwapo wondering whether he could have really shunned his Luo traditions during his last days to an extent that he could have recommended cremation.

Those pushing for African cultures to be discarded have left me pondering upon their imagination of how some Luos in Stockholm might have conducted Maggero’s funeral. In their small brains, they probably imagine Luos running amok, rolling on the ground (sometimes with crocodile tears) screaming “uuuuwiiii”, storming Dagmar’s apartment at Hellenelund with spears (if they are available in Sweden), ransacking and grabbing Wuod Maggero’s clothes and furniture, while demanding that the Maggero family purchase bulls to be slaughtered for them to eat. Or do they imagine the horrendous and unthinkable wife-inheritance?

I have read through the words of the anti-traditionalists in cyberspace and concluded that they have a personal ambition in this story but want to discredit Luos, whom they see as “backward”. I feel for them because some of us are not yet in the era of disbanding our cultural identities because of new life-styles adopted in Sweden. Some of us have succeeded (after many years in Sweden) as Africans, by building our personalities to remain just Africans, yet integrating to fit into the Swedish society. Some of us will maintain this and will never borrow the catchphrase “Coconut”, which describes black South Africans who think they are white because of moving into white neighborhoods. It is important to observe that many Europeans living in Africa have never disbanded their original identities, but strengthened them to fit realities there.

Many Kenyans have echoed that culture is dynamic and therefore, unnecessary traditions are abandoned as communities progress. There will be no speedy and radical shift in the socio-cultural settings of the Kenyan community in Sweden, but a gradual one, as its population grows and people become less attached to their original Motherland. When that time comes, it will be normal to bury or even cremate dead Kenyans in Sweden, without a word being raised by anybody. The Maggero debate is not just healthy. It is also interesting and should therefore continue. 

Jared Odero

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