Originally composed in Ogot’s Dhaluo language as Miaha (1983), the English edition of The Strange Bride – translated by Okoth Okombo – was first published in 1989 by East African Educational Publishers. As with her various works, The Strange Bride expresses the discrimination against the African woman in traditional society. It revokes the traditional myth that criticizes women as the source of suffering in the world.
The story starts with the communal narrator describing the placid, almost tranquil life of Got Owanga. Their god, Were Nyakalaga has been taking care of these people for centuries as long as they didn’t disappoint him- they don’t do any work – for their god has given them one special hoe and axe that do all the digging and cutting. For centuries things remain the same, until the day Nyawir disappears and reappears many harvests later as an adult. She comes back as an extra ordinary human being- very beautiful, with a skin that glows like fire and long hair. In short, she is everything that the people of Got Owanga are not used to, or what is taboo to them.
The beautiful Nyawir (the strange bride) marries Owiny, the chief’s son. As soon as she settles in the household she is keen on learning all about the magical hoe. And she angers the god by using the same hoe to dig, which was against the convention the people had with their god. Here the traditional myth is logical in that it tries to explain why the Luo people have to work to earn a living, while in the past work was unnecessary. What Nyawir does brings about a lot of change in Got Owanga.
In The Strange Bride, the author demonstrates how myths continue to elucidate the past and the present power relations. She uses myths to attack the patriarchal privileges of the traditional African setting. She departs from the foundational myth in this book that condemns women as villains who provoked god to force people to labor for a living. Instead she uses Nyawir’s provocative demeanor to portray the power of a woman to transform society- Nyawir is able to steer Got Awago from a village highly dependent on natural powers into an agricultural community.
It is an interesting read – especially for readers that enjoy traditional folklore with its often hidden meanings.
Grace Ogot is a prolific writer and has had a fruitful career life not only as a writer, but also as a politician, a teacher and a nurse.