A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim. -Maya Angelou
For all the years that I have developed a consciousness like mine, I was constantly slapped in the face by the incandescent standards of the universe and its littlest portion on how women should be. A woman is always portrayed as a gift from the skies, pretty and elegant, or a royalty in distress saved by a hero who makes her swoon, or an evil witch behind every man’s failure. But a woman is not a gift, she is not a possession, she is not an asset. A woman is not someone to be saved, if she is to be protected, then from what? And yes, this paragraph is always present on my feminist articles. The most tiring thing about being a woman is the fact that we should still have to battle for our image as individuals, which is an inflection of how I came into the idea that the purpose of human kind is to breakout from the chains of the stereotypical. Humans try to debunk and destroy what exists, from beliefs to lifestyles and even to the right color of pants to match your socks. This urge to be free is the reason why Jose was shot in a park, why Romeo and Juliet died, and why all the revolutions and wars occurred.
Grace Ogot or Grace Emily Akinyi, the Kenyan writer who happens to be the author of the story ‘The Rain Came’ and many other stories, presented the “Breaking-out” moment through the characters’ struggle against the binding chains of traditions and culture. Many of her stories are set against the scenic background of Lake Victoria and the traditions of the Luo people. Luo people are interesting, in fact too interesting, specifically their traditions. They don’t practice the common ritual of circumcision for males; instead they pull out 6 frontal teeth as a sign of initiation towards manhood. And these traditions are the common theme of Ogot’s stories, including folklore, mythologies and sometimes, oral traditions.
This theme is actually the center of “The Rain Came”, a story about a chief’s daughter who was chosen by the gods to be sacrificed in order for the rain to come. The story was originally entitled “A Year of Sacrifice” but changed into how it is now because of reasons I didn’t really get into. Ogot’s inspirations on writing were mostly form her grandmother’s stories to her when she was still young and her perception of conflicts of tradition in the society was further fed when she worked as a nurse and midwife in both Uganda and England. She also represented her people in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).
In the story “The Rain Came” a myriad of traditional beliefs and societal rules were presented. The element of sacrifice, suppression of women’s rights, gender inequality, and the power of traditions was established. That statement will be explicated through the following analyses.
The story depicts Labong’o as a chief who, for the whole course of his life, tried to accept the order of the Luo ancestors. He married five women so he can get a daughter, and there came Oganda, but the confusion kicked in as the ancestors came into the medicine man, Ndithi’s dreams, that Oganda was chosen to be the sacrificial piece to the lake monster in order to end the drought and lure the rain in.
There are two implications of sacrifice in Labong’o’s character. First was when he didn’t have the choice but marry and marry again until he finally has a daughter, which was, as said, ironically taken away from him, making his efforts irrelevant, if I may say.
The second sacrifice is his daughter. As the people’s chief, he is obliged to always choose the betterment of the town over anything or anyone, even if it is his family, or himself. That is when the conflict of his role as a chief and as a father started.
”Never in his life had he been faced with such an impossible decision. Refusing to yield to the rainmaker’s request would mean sacrificing the whole tribe, putting the interests of the individual above those of the society. More than that. It would mean disobeying the ancestors, and most probably wiping the Luo people from the surface of the earth. On the other hand, to let Oganda die as a ransom for the people would permanently cripple Labong’o spiritually. He knew he would never be the same chief again.”
He was torn between tradition and family, but as how all contradictions in the world end, one of the opposing aspects prevails, and it is his role as a great chief. He chose to let Oganda go to the lake and die for the rain to come, for the people to live,to remain as the great chief who always puts the town first.
“The ancestors have chosen her as a sacrifice to the lake monster in order that we may have rain.”
That is the line Labong’o said in front of the people as a declaration of Oganda’s fate. Oganda is the chief of the Luo people’s daughter, and yet, her status didn’t help to change her fate. She was chosen by the ancestors and there was nothing neither she nor her father can do against it.
Oganda is a name which literally means ‘beans’ because of her white skin, which is a rarity in Luo people which are a native of ebony people.
When her family sat inside the room with her outside, she thought that maybe they were just planning her wedding, and that alone signifies the inability of women in their society to make a stand on her own marriage. But the fact is, Oganda, and all the other women in their society just accept that as part of their life, and no trace of resistance from any female species was presented. They just accept things the society has to offer, it doesn’t matter if they deserve it, whatever they dictate, and that alone is sacrifice.
She was afraid at first, which is a natural reaction if you knew your life has to end for the security of the majority, but she still bravely walked alone to the lake and succumbs into her own death. Her courage was already established, putting honor to the women’s team, but Ogot made a twist. The man Oganda loves, and obviously loves her back, came behind her in the middle of her journey to the lake, and saves her.
“We must escape quickly to the unknown land,” Osinda said urgently. “We must run away from the wrath of the ancestors and the retaliation of the monster.”
Just when the going gets tough, when she’s all dried up without any water to drink, a man comes and saves her. Osinda, the great and the wonderful, comes to her aide. It is so cliché in so many levels like how Superman always saves Lois Lane, like Spiderman to Mary Jane. Men behind the hero masks, which reminds me of how female superhero characters are presented with minimal costume and perfect hair amidst all the battles and stunts. The way media portray beauty makes me want to vomit.
What does it really mean to be a woman? In this story there are a lot of mirrors that reflects women. Oganda is the woman who makes sacrifices. Even in Greek mythology, women makes sacrifices, even Gods. Hestia sacrificed her throne for Dionysus. Oganda’s mother is also one reflection. Her mother was sad, in fact mortified, that her only daughter has to die to make others live, but the only thing she could do is cry. Women are sometimes powerless. They are always under husbands and under societal rules, and I don’t mean it literally.
In the end, Oganda ran away with Osinda from the town and its entire people. She gave in to Osinda’s offer to run away and live happily ever after, away from the lake monster, away from the eyes of the ancestors, and away from her family. And just when they turned their backs, the sky turned dark and bore droplets of water. It rained. Everybody got their happiness.
Rain is one of the most emotional symbols used in literature, and in this story, all the characters’ actions is connected to this rain. The townspeople were beginning to panic for it’s been so long since it last rained and their resources are running out, and the fear of death among them started to rise as the coming of the drought. And as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, so the people came into the decision of sacrificing a woman who has not yet met a man, which means a ‘virgin’, to yield rain, which is a very barbaric thing to do. All this sacrifice thing happening in the story makes me think that in all the stories I have read, it is a ‘must’ that the person to be sacrificed is always a virgin woman, even in the bible (Jephtha’s daughter). Why not a virgin man?
Anyway, at the end of the story, even if Oganda wasn’t actually offered to and devoured by the lake monster, the skies still shed rain. It can mean that, Oganda’s acceptance of her fate as a sacrificial lamb is enough to please the ancestors and give them the rain they want.
This story is a proof on how traditions influence a human’s decisions and acts. What we are today as individuals and as the human race in general, is a result of centuries and centuries of conditioning. Who’s to say that one’s tradition and beliefs is wrong? Who’s to say that we belong to a generation of idiots having our brains replaced by a virtual world we developed and coexist with, called the internet? What does it really mean to be a woman? Who sets the norms? I don’t know the answers to my own questions, all I know is we all have our own mind and it is a responsibility to actually use it.