Omieri snake is the biggest snakes ever seen in Nyanza was ‘worshipped’ by traditionalists who believed it had mysterious powers especially on the well being of the Luo Community.
This revered python among the Luo people became a national sensation 30 years ago. It was debated in Parliament and when it died, a condolence book was opened at the Kaloleni Social Hall and the Kisumu National Museum. Its death made national headlines.
Omieri appeared when Kenya was having a landmark legal battle, the SM Otieno burial dispute in 1987 pitting Wambui Otieno, a Kikuyu, and her late Luo hubby’s Umira Kager clan.
It lasted five months, with ethnic rivalry, customary law, inter-marriages, women’s rights, class relations and death selling newspapers by truckloads before the 10am tea.
The Kikuyu and the Luo have stark cultural divergence and at no time has this been more prominent than during the SM Otieno case in which Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the voice of the Luo, but then consigned to political Siberia, supported Wambui.
Kisumu Town MP Wilson Ndolo Ayah said the Luo had three goals in 1987: The Umira Kager clan to win the SM Otieno case and bury him in Nyalgunga, his shags, Gor Mahia to win the Mandela Cup, and for Omieri to be returned to Kisumu.
In his 2008 book, Bewitching Development: Witchcraft and the Reinvention of Development in Neoliberal Kenya, American historian, James Howard Smith, notes that the Luo believe the python is a reincarnation of a woman named Omieri “who now returns as a serpent, bringing fertility to communities and to individual women to whom she appears.”
Omieri was thus said to bring blessings, like rain during drought. And so when it appeared in a Nyakach village, residents gifted it their goats, chicken and ugali, as pythons rarely move when hatching.
The spectacle attracted local and international tourists, forcing villagers to clear bushes to show if off, and burning Omieri in the process. It was transported to the Nairobi National Park for treatment.
Ndolo Ayah’s predictions came to pass: Wambui Otieno lost the SM Otieno case, Gor Mahia became the first Kenyan club to lift the Mandela Cup after defeating Tunisia’s Esperence at Kasarani Sports Complex in Nairobi. Consequently, the club’s anthem, Gor Biro, Yawne Yo! was tweaked to Gor Biro, Nyalgunga! And after a spirited campaign in Parliament by Nyakach MP Ojwang K’Ombudo who charged that “the Nyakach water supply and a local road have had serious problems since Omieri went to an orphanage in Nairobi,” the government transferred Omieri to the Kisumu National Museum for recuperation.
Omieri’s death in 1989 was blamed on its three-month stint in Nairobi, where he missed the ancestral drinking water from River Asawo and the Oduoro stream!
The arrival of Omieri, a serpent at a homestead in Luo land in Nyanza region sparked heated debate among members of the community. Some residents especially those of religious faith called for the destruction of the snake through burning while adherents of traditional African beliefs drew machetes to protect the serpent. For long, this latter group fed the serpent with delicacies meant for human beings and not reptiles.
The elder says the snake had powers to turn minerals into loose sand, dry up water sources or even prevent outsiders from accessing local catchment areas. He says: “When some members of the society began wrangling over resources, Sadu had various ways of expressing displeasure over the same.” “In the case of wrangling over water, the snake had powers to dry up water sources as a punishment to the wrangling members.
This would bring suffering to these people until they resolved their differences upon which normal water supply resumed,” he adds. In other cases Sadu would move into a water source (embelo) coil itself up and make all the water dirty so that it would be unfit for human consumption. The elders would get the cue and immediately seek to unravel the cause of Sadu’s anger and the same led to the ancestors punishing anyone offending Sadu.
In the case of firewood, where one person was thought to overexploit the resources, it was alleged that Sadu could turn the dry firewood into raw wood that would not light up a fire. Stories are told that border on myths about Sadu. For instance it is alleged that the snake moved at night with the aid of a huge powerful egg-shaped precious stone that shone powerful light along its way.
When did omieri die and how did it die ?
OMIERI LENGTH AND WEIGHT
HISTORY OF SNAKES IN LUO COMMUNITY
In 2003, a 16 foot long python appeared in Wasare, Nyakach. The snake had come to the marshes to lay eggs. Residents gave it all manner or food to eat including ugali (maize meal), bread and goats. Although the snake rarely ate, the residents continued to revere it.
The snake had security from the Kenya Wildlife Service and local youth, to ensure that no harm came to it. It is not clear what happened to the snake, it probably moved away from the area after some time.
In February 2006, a python appeared in Kano, another area of Nyakach. Residents of the area celebrated its sighting as a sign of good luck as there had been a long spell of drought. It is unclear whether there was any rainfall or good luck that was associated with the sighting of the snake.