Sunset on Polygamy: A Tragedy: Cultural practices and Disease Epidemics


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In Joseph R. Alila’s first novel, Sunset on Polygamy (ISBN 13: 9781495402135) , marital cultural lore and spirituality combine to breed a tragic confusion in a land faced with a deadly new disease epidemic, with public debates raging as to whether the killer is ancestral chira (curse) or Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

I this work of fiction, Joe Ochom, a young man testing his verbal skills in the art of seduction, soon realizes that corralling an educated girl (Megan) requires more than adorning his high school blazer in the marketplace. He proves indecisive and cowardly in the battlefield—a weakness his principal competitor, polygamist Jim Kokech, exploits to the fullest.

Having crushed the young bookish competitor for the attention of Megan, suddenly faces a revolt from his four wives. Felicia, the first wife—exploits the situation to punish her “wayward husband”; she locks him out of her bedroom just when they must celebrate the planting season as the principal “spiritual co-owners” of the home. Jim’s pastoral calendar comes to a sudden halt—reminding him that Luo marital life indeed is a complex “religious journey” with the first wife as the center of worship. Suddenly, the spiritual battle among the women, symbolized by the clearly demarcated hallowed boundaries between their farms,  reaches their bedrooms. The home enters a conjugal lockdown that Jim and any of his junior wives could only breach at the risk of dire spiritual consequences. The crafty second wife, Milka, engages Jim in a believable romantic ruse that fools even Felicia. Wrought with jealousy at her archenemy, Milka, Felicia yields to Jim—prompting a stampede among the women for access to him. Jim’s male folly still thinks he’s having fun.

Baby boom! A year later, Felicia looks from the sidelines as the home welcomes three newborns, with Maria, Milka and Nyapora presenting a child each to their shared husband. Felicia has reached menopause, but instead of embracing her new physiological reality, and aging gracefully as the matriarch of her home, she becomes angry at Jim and her co-wives for “breeding like rats.” Struggling with a broiling bout of jealousy at her co-wives and nursing unpredictable desires of her husband, Felicia brews one immoral “romantic” mischief after another and nearly kills her husband while trying a cultic solution to her marital problems. Depressed, Felicia flees to the Big City to escape the shameful spectacle she is among the women of Korondo Ridge.

But Korondo Ridge has no rest; Exit Felicia, and tragedy brings home Gina—a beautiful young widow who has just returned from the Big City with the body of her late husband, George Amolo. Now, to the utter dismay of elders, Gina refuses to receive any man into her bed, arguing that her husband died of “a strange new disease”. The elders refuse to listen, asserting that George died of his father’s “chira” (curse), which only the very wise among them could cleanse. Amolo protests, saying that Malaria killed George. Concerned for the spiritual health of their Korondo House, the elders eventually convince Gina to enter a one-night “marriage” with a “Jakowiny” (a vagabond) “to settle George’s restless spirit.”  Reacting to the “technical marriage,” men troop to Gina’s house to proffer their applications, believing the vagabond (like the Biblical scapegoat), has wandered off with “chira” that killed their fellow warrior.

Tragedy! The killer malady the elders call “Chira” is AIDS—the killer the Luo aptly nickname “Ayaki”—I loot you. Gina soon develops loose morals and dispatches one man after another to his grave, their wives in tow. Tragic: Ayaki kills people and “chira,” with which it shares symptoms, gets the credit. Gina’s misleadingly healthy look, beauty, and longevity only add to the tragedy.

Felicia returns to Korondo Ridge amid the Ayaki epidemic in the land, but even the epidemic has not changed people‘s ways:, men still embrace polygamy; men still inherit sick widows, and sure, her Jim has married young Megan, capping his conquest over Joe Ochom the narrator. But as the Luo of old said, the ferocious buffalo provides the hide for a brave warrior’s shield—Jim dies holding a toxic jewel in his hands; leaving teaching lessons in vanity and immoderation.

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