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Loss and Suffering as presented in ‘The River and the Source’

In My Literature Lesson, today, I want to focus on a very dominant thematic concern in Ogola’s novel, The River and the Source – Loss and Suffering.

First, Loss and suffering co-exist alongside each other in The River and the Source. Major characters such as Akoko, Nyabera, Owuor Kembo, Elizabeth Awiti, Vera, Becky, Aoro and Wandia all experience happy moments as well as sad times.

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Akoko’s marriage to Owuor Kembo is happy at first; however, things turn for the worst when she is does not conceives as often as her mother-in- law wants. The mother-in-law accuses her of bewitching her son. Akoko feels insulted and abandons her matrimonial home to go back to Yimbo.

Akoko suffers more misery when she loses her first born son – Obura in the First World War (ref. p.52-62). She cries for months and still remembers that loss many years later. To make matters worse, Owang’ Sino, the young Chief and last born to Akoko also dies. His death creates a vacuum on the Chiefdom that is temporarily filled by Otieno – Owuor’s younger brother.

Akoko’s suffering takes a different turn when Otieno becomes Caretaker-Chief and decides to plunder his late brother’s wealth. When the situation becomes unbearable, Akoko resolves to seek help from the white man in Kisumu. She eventually manages to save some of her cattle and decides to go back to Yimbo to live as a ‘migogo’.

Nyabera’s suffering starts when she is a teenager after the loss of her elder brother – Obura (p.63). When her younger brother, Owang’ Sino also dies, Nyabera wonders, “what has mother ever done to deserve this?” (p.71)

Nyabera’s losses come in droves. She loses her first, second and third pregnancy and then, “real disaster struck. Her husband went down with fever… dies within three days of onset of illness (p.98). Akoko consoles her daughter after each loss and Nyabera gathers the strength to go on, “I must fight. I cannot give up! I must! I must!” (p.99)

Nyabera’s losses and suffering continue even in her second marriage to Ogoma Kwach. She loses her first two children and the jodongo orders Kwach to go back to his first wife and children whom he had neglected. This leaves Nyabera sad and extremely bitter, “for there was…not the comfort of a husband and children around her knees.” (p.100)

It is because of the losses and suffering that Nyabera undergoes that she eventually turns to the church for comfort and healing. She goes to Aluor Mission, where she finds peace and solace in her heart. Later, she takes her mother, daughter and nephew to the mission to live with her.

After a short while, Nyabera leaves the mission to go back to live with Ogoma Kwach, whose wife had recently died.  Tragedy befalls their relationship as they lose another child – a son. Things become worse when it is clear that Kwach is only interested in Nyabera’s wealth and he starts courtship to marry another wife. Nyabera undergoes mental and spiritual torture and when she returns to Aluor, she asks for forgiveness from her mother and from God.

Nyabera also suffers emotionally when Awiti passes her exams and is admitted to the Teacher Training College. She felt, “her heart thumping away in her chest…she knew she would die.” (p.130-131)

Both Nyabera and Awiti suffer greatly after the loss of Akoko. Nyabera consoles her daughter the same way Akoko had done to her many times before. Awiti finds it difficult to accept Akoko’s death. Nyabera, on the other hand, is used to suffering and finds Akoko’s death painful but bearable.

Later generations also undergo the pain of suffering and losses. For instance, Elizabeth and Mark are greatly disturbed by Becky’s behaviour. Even as a young girl, Elizabeth is worried about her selfishness and vanity. Her immoral behaviour and painful death causes a lot of pain in her parents and siblings, especially, Vera.

Jonny and Alicia undergo emotional torture when their parents divorce. Jonny withdraws and stays in his room all the time while Alicia remains confused and feeling unloved. The situation is compounded by the loss of their mother. Luckily, they are adopted by Wandia and Aoro where they find love and develop into normal children.

Other characters like Owuor Kembo, Peter Kembo, Aoro and Wandia also have their fare share of losses and suffering. This serves as a reminder to the reader that pain, loss and suffering are part and parcel of life. While some characters like Obura and Becky seem to cause their own suffering, tragedy befalls many others out of fate rather than their own actions.

If you have not read this novel, you can get the full summary here

John Nyakoyo

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