Why Luos cannot dare touch their mother’s underwear even if it’s on fire

They are a taboo [Photo: Courtesy]

So you thought a panty is just a panty, that it’s just a meaningless piece of cloth? Well, think again because, elsewhere, it’s treated with a lot of respect. In fact, it’s shrouded in mystery. 

“Siruach meru kata ka koth goyo e tol to ok ifual (Even if your mother’s inner wear is being rained on, you cannot pick it from the clothesline)”. This is one of the Luo sayings that warns children against coming into contact with their mother’s underwear, regardless of the circumstances.

This was viewed as respect to the parent. It is also said that even mentioning the name ‘panty’ in reference to one worn by your mother is not only considered disrespectful but immoral.

Put differently, coming into contact with one’s mother’s underwear or even mentioning it in vain is taboo, at least among the Luo. In some instances, a child can only alert his mother that ‘some clothes’, without specifying, are being rained on.

Maria Nyandhala, from Yimbo West in Siaya County says: “A child, especially a boy, is not allowed to touch his mother’s undergarments since it is taboo.”

Mrs Nyandhala adds that when this happens, the son has to take “manyasi”, a concoction that would break the resultant spell. She says a son is also not allowed to share a bed with his mother once he has passed the adolescent stage. The 85-year-old grandmother, however, states that a son can sleep in his grandmother’s bed, as that would in no way raise eyebrows.

Respect purposes

“In the Luo customs, and elderly woman refers to her grandsons as chuora meaning ‘my husband’,” said Nyandhala. However, other Luos hold different views. “I do not think there is any taboo in doing that, it is just an undergarment, and the myth behind it is just for purposes of respect,” said Bill Ouma, a teacher, adding that nothing would happen to anyone who touches his mother’s underwear.

Ouma said it is also aimed at making women not to air their underwear where their children can see it as that would be embarrassing. Martin Otieno, who sells second-hand clothes at Oile Market, said in the first place he cannot even share a bathroom with his mother since it is one of the places where panties are aired.
“At home, I have my bathroom near my simba (a man’s small hut) where I bathe to avoid seeing my mother’s undergarments,” said Otieno.

Winnie Olwanda, who works at a water company in Kisumu, has no problem touching her mother’s underwear, claiming this is the digital era.

Society today

Tom Brian Oduor sticks to the fact that the act is ‘Unafrican’.

“It is a big no for me. I am an African,” he says.
Luo council of elders chair Ker Riaga Ogallo holds the opinion that some beliefs are exaggerated. Ker Ogallo however states that all these customs were meant to foster respect between children and their parents.

Ker says even fathers are not allowed to touch their daughters’ undergarments. “All this was being done purely out of respect, nothing more,” says Ker Ogallo. In the current society, some differ, claiming it is not wrong to do so as customs have been overtaken by events.

Today, some women have even gone to an extent of leaving their clothes, including underpants for house helps to wash and air on the clothesline.

Society today has seen many break the norm to the extent that fathers buy all types of clothes for their daughters and boys have gone to the extent of washing their sisters’ and mothers’ clothes, including underwear.

However, among the Luo, the jury is still out on the sensitivity of this tiny piece of cloth.