The Legend of Gor Mahia: The Powerful Luo Magician

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His nickname was Gor Mahia ( Mahia being the Luo word for “magic, wonder, or mystery”) but his full name was Gor Wuod Ogada Nyakwar Ogalo, which can be directly translated to Gor son of Ogada grandson of Ogalo.
According to Luo legend, Gor Mahia was born in 1797 at Sigama Village. And at the height of his reign, he was also an exceptional warrior and a paramount chief who ruled with an iron first and had supernatural abilities that left even neighboring communities in shock.
His gift as a traditional medical practitioner and seer allowed him to consult the moon, the stars, and even the movement of wild animals to forecast the future. And whenever he saw that a disaster was about to strike the land, he would lead the Luo community in special ritual and prayer ceremonies to appease the one true God they call Nyasaye.

That said, besides his gifts of healing and prophecy, he also had the ability to transform himself into anything he wanted, including a wild animal, tree, old woman, or even a cow. And this ability would come in handy when dealing with adversaries as he would hang out around them without them ever noticing.
He would also use this ability to infiltrate his neighboring communities during times of war, and according to the Luo council of elders, he also had the ability to shapeshift his fellow tribesmen that had been captured during the war, therefore giving them a chance to escape.

The main enemy of the Luo community at the time was the Nandi tribe. And a story shared in the Nandi community even mentions that whenever Nandi warriors would try ambushing Gor Mahia, bees would come out of nowhere to his defense and foil the plans.
With that in mind, to explain how Gor Mahia got hold of his gift, let’s turn to his childhood.

Born in 1792 to Ogada and Atoka Nyokado. He was named Gor Obunga after his ancestors in line with Luo traditions. He was also Ogada’s only son from his polygamous family.
And alongside his sisters, he was raised as a normal child, which means that his role as a young boy was the same as every other young boy’s in the Luo community, i.e. looking after his father’s cattle alongside his age mates and occasionally going to the river to fetch some water for his mother.

Now, according to Luo traditions, when an elder realizes that he or she is about to pass away of old age, then they’re supposed to summon their families and pour their last blessings and best wishes. So when Gor was only five years old, his grandfather, Ogallo, sent for all his grandchildren so he could bless them before his time came.
A large bull was slaughtered at the occasion, and before the sunset, his grandfather started the blessing ritual.
The children had formed a line to receive the anointment from their grandfather, but when it was Gor’s turn, Ogallo hesitated for several seconds before leaving the room and coming back with a traditional bowl filled with ash.
He scooped a small amount of the ashes and sprinkled it around Gor’s head, after which he gave him the remaining ash in the bowl and instructed him to go and bury it under the “Olam.”

Olam is the Luo word for the sycamore tree, which was also the sacred tree used by Luo tribesmen during community rituals and sacrifice offerings.

In fact, the tree was also considered sacred by other Kenyan communities including the Ameru, Gikuyu, Kamba, Tharaka, Mbeere, and Boran.

The Luo community believes that this interaction with his grandfather is the origin of Gor’s supernatural abilities because after returning to his father’s home, he started exhibiting strange behavior such as recommending weird herbal medications to sick individuals and accurately predicting if something bad was about to befall the community.

This behavior is also what earned him the name “Mahia”, which as I mentioned at the beginning of the post means magic, wonder, or mystery.

Gor Mahia was also a skilled fighter at a young age, but he wouldn’t join the Warriors’ team until after his initiation alongside other young adults of his age set. Initiation in the Luo community was done by removing six teeth from the lower jaw. The significance of this custom was to test the endurance and courage of everyone involved.

These gaps between the teeth also allowed Luo medicine-men to administer medicine easily in case of diseases like lockjaw.

Shortly after his initiation as a young adult and warrior, Gor’s most notable prophecy manifested to him in the form of a vision. In the vision, he saw ‘baby-like” creatures that were unstoppable like the locusts. And so the following day, he traveled all the way to Karungu to caution the courageous warriors against confronting these locusts.

Luo legend states that Karungu warriors were the deadliest in the region and were known for conquering all the adversaries. But Gor warned them not to fight these baby-like creatures as it would result in defeat because they were carrying sticks that could spitfire.
The baby-like creatures he was talking about turned out to be the white men and the sticks that could spit fire turned out to be guns. While on the subject of the white man invading Africa.

Gor Mahia had 22 wives and 19 children. And his number of children would have been higher being if not for four of his wives not being able to give birth.
In addition to that, the traditional Luo way of marriage is nothing short of interesting. So I thought it was worth a mention.

Traditional Luo marriage processes happen in several phases. When a gentleman spots a lady he wants to marry, he sends a few elders from his clan to the girl’s parents to express his interest.
And if the parents and the lady in question agree to the proposal, then the second step is investigating the lineage of the two families to make sure there are no ancestral connections or blood relations between the two households. An unwritten Luo law states that a man and lady from the same clan shouldn’t marry.

After that, the third step involves the two families investigating each other to see if any evil tendencies are deep-rooted in the families. If anyone from one of the families practices witchcraft and sorcery or has had cases of serious diseases, murder, or madness, then they were considered valid grounds to stop a union.
Serious diseases at the time included sleeping sickness, epilepsy, and leprosy because they were considered hereditary.

But if no problems have arisen up to this stage, then the groom’s family will go on to pay the initial bride price payment the Luo call Angea. And this was usually any type of gift except cattle. Angea was also paid to the girl’s mother, and in return, she would cook a special chicken meal for the guests.
The second, and actual bride price would then be paid a short while later and this is the one that included an agreed number of cattle.

After the full bride price has been paid, the man then has to come up with a plan to abduct the girl at an unknown time, either as the girl goes to fetch water or as she comes from the market. The abduction was taken as a symbol of courage in the Luo community.
Gor Mahia died in 1922, at the age of 126, but that still couldn’t bring an end to his powers. Luo legend states that traditional herbalists that came after him would visit his grave and pick leaves off the plants growing around Gor’s grave. They then used the leaves to heal different diseases around the community.
That said, normal people aren’t allowed to pick anything from the grave area without undergoing the required ritual. Not even stones.

Luo tribesmen believe that ignoring this warning can result in curses and sometimes even death.

Source : Luo Community East Africa

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