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The rich history of the Migori-Maragoli diaspora community

The migration of the Maragoli community, the second largest Luhya Sub tribe, to Migori County is one outstanding migratory phenomenon that largely remains a mystery.

According to the International Journal of Innovate Research and Development (2019) Vol.3, the Maragoli also known as Avalogooli migrated from the current Vihiga County in the late 1930s, passing through Kisii Hills and later settled in Migori County in 1943/44.

It is believed that even before the 1940s, there were Margolis already living in Migori, a small community that is believed to have been excommunicated from Vihiga due to social peculiarities like incest and other social evils like witchcraft, murder, and rape.

According to 75-year-old Herzon Otiende, his grandfather was among the first original group that resettled in Migori County in the 1940s, in present-day Kanyamkago.

Otiende, a resident of Kawa village in Suna Central Ward-Suna East Sub County, acknowledges that his grandfather traveled all the way from Kaimosi-Vihiga County to visit his married sister in Mugumu village Mara region in Tanzania in the early 40s.

The family ended up resettling in Suna Migori because of the vast virgin land and subsequently called his relatives from Vihiga County to join him in the newly acquired Suna-Migori property.

Otiende says that the major reason for the migration of the Maragoli people was land scarcity.

The introduction of Western education during the colonial era combined with speedy population increase and the start of an individual land tenure system in post-independence Kenya saw the Maragolis adopt the importance of land for their future generation’s survival.

Otiende’s tribesmen are among the most migrated Luhya sub-tribes occupying parts of Transnzoia, Kakamega, Nandi, and Migori Counties and Mugumu in Tanzania.

There is a great relationship between different Maragolis who live in different parts of the named counties.

“Each section of the community used to call up their relatives and close friends to occupy the land on which they were domiciled,” Otiende explains.

The population of the Maragoli has kept increasing in Migori County with more communities residing in parts of Suna Central and Kakrao wards in Suna East Sub County and South Kanyamkago in Uriri Sub County.

However, the community faced aggravated ethnic exclusiveness and isolation during their first entrance in the 1940s.

Otiende reveals that living together in designated areas helped them to employ the concept of consciousness that made them borrow certain cultural ideas and practices from the Luo societies with whom they have interacted.

He says that cultural borrowing was the only way to beat exclusiveness and isolation from the surrounding Luo community in order to be accepted in the region.

“We had to adopt some of the Luo cultures, for example, their language for our practical usefulness and relevance for the community survival,” noted Otiende.

Almost all the Maragoli in Migori speak fluent Dhulo but they have maintained links with their ancestral homeland in terms of language, customs, and practices.

For example, the community ensured that their religious customs that were imported from Kaimosi-Vihiga County remained relevant, a key building block for their identity as a people.

Churches like Friends and Salvation Army are predominantly in Kanyamkago, Kakrao, and Suna Central wards where there is a huge population of the Maragolis.

The religious culture has made the community feel as if they were in the ancestor home, little wonder that these areas appear like cultural isles in the host counties.

The migration of the Maragoli was not a one-off activity but throughout the years, the community has kept coming to Migori in search of work and land while others to reunite with their relatives who had migrated earlier as well as marriage.

The migratory effect has kept on increasing the Maragoli population in recent years enabling them to elect a Member of the County Assembly (South Kanyamkago) both in the 2017 and 2022 general elections.

Although they are still one of the minority communities in Migori County, their presence has started to be felt both in governance and business.

With the Migori County population estimated to be around 1.2 million in 2023, the community forms the third largest tribe in the County just behind the native Luos and Kurians.

In the administration of Governor Ochilo Ayacko, the community got its share in terms of a Chief Officer showing how politically relevant the community has become.

The community joins other minority groups like the Somalis, Kisiis, and Subas making Migori County one of the few cosmopolitan counties in Kenya.

In recognition of this turn of events, the Maragoli elders from the Vihiga County community for the first time nominated a Migori-Maragoli Culture Chairperson.

Maragoli Cultural Society Chairperson John Lubanga, in an exclusive interview, said that it was time to crown a chairperson from Migori to represent the interest of the Maragoli culture, traditions, and religious matters.

The community crowned Moses Ronga as the first Chairperson of Culture in Migori County during the Cultural Day celebrated in October this year as a reminder of the 83 years of their first entry in Migori County.

The recognition of the community by elders from Vihiga County signified the huge contribution, influence, and population growth that the community has been able to achieve outside their ancestry Vihiga land.

The rich diversity of the Maragoli in the county administration management has become a key factor in cultural development and social integration of the community demonstrating how they have survived the cultural ideology by preserving their ancestral roots.

Every year in December, the Maragoli Cultural Festival is held in Vihiga County to educate the community on issues of religion, culture, and traditions of the Maragoli people as well as other communities residing in the county including the Bunyore and the Tiriki.

In this year’s celebrations, the community will be represented for the first time by their newly crowned Migori-Maragoli cultural Chairperson Moses Ronga signifying a new dawn to the diaspora community that lives more than 215 kilometers away.

By Geoffrey Makokha and George Agimba



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