At about the same time Wilson Oluoch was staggering across a bar in Migori County, his distraught family was busy planning his burial.
They had presumed him dead after a futile search and were relieved when a body with clothes resembling his was discovered in a sugar plantation.
But as they put the final touches to the funeral programme, his mother received a strange call. The caller had an urgent message. “Are you still panning to bury your son Wilson? Please stop it. He is here at a bar and is very drunk,” the caller said curtly.
The family had picked a wrong body. Their son, Oluoch, 30, whom they presumed dead, was alive and had been out drinking the money he had made from his boda boda business.
The family had even prepared a grave for Oluoch, when news filtered in that he was still alive. “We could not believe our ears. It was not until he staggered home the following morning that we confirmed he was still alive,” said his wife, Violet Awuor, 22.
The family quickly abandoned the burial plans and dropped plans to collect the body presumed to be Oluoch’s from the mortuary. The grave already prepared for him had to be covered.
But the family was in agony once again last week after Oluoch disappeared again from home without stating his destination. They are now on a search mission not knowing whether this time he is truly dead or is back to his drinking dens.
When The Standard visited the family at their home in Quarry area, Awendo sub-county, Oluoch’s mother, Martha Adhiambo – a widow was out searching for her son.
Oluoch’s latest disappearance has stunned the village since he had not been “cleansed” from the previous incident as demanded by Luo traditions.
Culture dictates that a person presumed dead and mourned while still alive must be cleansed in an elaborate ceremony lest his spirit haunts his kith and kin in their dreams.
At the home, Oluoch’s wife cuddled their two young children aged three and two years, wondering where her husband and father of her children could have disappeared to days after he returned. He had given them the scare of their lives.
She narrated how in the first incident a month ago, Oluoch, a boda boda rider in Awendo, left home for work one morning and went to a bar in Awendo the same evening. He did not come back home that night.
“The events started a month ago. He took a friend’s motorbike since he is a trained rider but does not have his own bike and left for work,” she said, noting that on that same evening, Oluoch went to a bar and left the friend’s motorcycle at the entrance.
He reportedly drank himself into a stupor. Police on night patrol took the motorbike to Sony Police Station and when Oluoch regained consciousness and found the bike missing, he panicked and vanished.
“In Awendo, if you lose a motorbike, you become the first and prime suspect and the boda boda group can easily lynch you. This is why he went missing because he thought he had lost the motorcycle,” she said.
Oluoch did not reach out to anyone at home, prompting his family to launch a search and even report his disappearance at Sony Police Station.
Daisy Achieng, his 23-year-old sister said one morning, while the family was in the shamba, a man came and told them that a body that resembled that of Oluoch had been found in a nearby sugar-cane plantation.
“My mother and I went and found the body was rotting. We could hardly identify it but since it had shorts that resembled the ones my brother wore the day he left, we took it,” she said.
Achieng said family, friends and well-wishers were able to raise Sh20,000 to cater for burial expenses and everything was on track until the call came from Rongo bar that brought everything to a screeching halt.
Since it was late in the night, the family asked the man who had seen Oluoch to keep an eye on him until the following morning when some relatives, who had assembled for his burial, went and picked him from Rongo.
On reaching home, a haggard Oluoch said in dholuo: “I hear you people are mourning me that I am dead.” When asked if indeed it was him, he replied: “Were you expecting it to be otherwise?”
The funeral was cancelled but the mourners insisted the animal that had been bought for the ceremony be slaughtered.
Earlier before Oluoch entered the home, everyone in the compound poured at least a cup of water on him to ward off spirits as elders insisted he must be cleansed. That was, however, not to be since he vanished two days after coming home.
His family is now living in fear that the curses which come with being mourned while alive may have caught up with him.
Chief John Odero explained that in the Luo culture, it was taboo for one to be mourned while still alive and rituals had to be conducted to cleanse the person and their family.
“Elders who know how to administer a concoction of herbs known as Manyasi have to do the same and an animal must be slaughtered before the man can now stay in the village,” he said.
Odero said it is believed failure to do so could cause spirits of the dead, which had been invoked during mourning and the burial ceremony, might just come for the said soul.
Now, Oluoch’s family are crossing their fingers hoping he returns home alive because they are not ready for another mock burial ceremony.