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  • Writer's pictureOjok Okello

Olelo, the Lion Slayer

Updated: Oct 29

Allow me to share a heartwarming tale of Olelo Coo-roc, a beloved figure in Okere whose remarkable journey came to a peaceful close in 2022, having gracefully traversed 82 fruitful years. It's stories like these that enable us to honor and cherish the indelible contributions of those who have left an enduring mark on the cultural, artistic, political, economic, and spiritual life of Okere. Their legacies live on, shaping the very essence of this vibrant community.

A trio of untamed wild cats, consisting of a majestic lion, a fierce lioness, and their tender cub once embarked on an unforeseen journey that led them out of the jungle into the heart of Okere and its neighboring villages. However, their presence quickly became a big problem for the entire community. The cats devoured dozens of cows and goats and tragically even claimed the life of a young boy who had gone to the swamp to fetch water.

For weeks, these wild beasts cast fears over every corner of the village. Warnings about their presence echoed through the marketplaces, churches, classrooms, and even in the grass-thatched huts of the village. The village chief, during an extraordinary community gathering convened to devise strategies for safeguarding the community warned residents about walking alone at sundown.

"If you find yourself walking in the dark, ensure you carry a burning stick," the chief urged. "Why should we bother with a burning stick?" questioned a curious village youth. "Lions harbor an instinctual dread of fire" replied the chief.

Henceforth, the chief issued a resolute directive, stating, "every able-bodied man shall convene in my compound at daybreak, prepared to track down and vanquish this looming threat."

He continued, his voice resonating with authority,

"Sharpen your arrows and spears, for their significance in this endeavor cannot be overstated."

Amidst this call to arms, Olelo, in a moment of insight, suggested an ingenious tactic. "I propose that we blow the bilo, our local flute, as we set out to trace the lions," he proposed.

The chief, intrigued by this novel idea, inquired, "Why, Olelo?" With unwavering confidence, Olelo explained, "lions loves the strident sound of bilo. When they hear its lingering sound, they become curious, drawing them out of the wilderness and towards the source of the sound. This, in turn, shall facilitate our mission to locate and conquer them."

The chief declared, "very well, I shall bring my bilo, and together, we shall employ its enchanting tune in our pursuit to track and subdue these wildcats."

The presence of the marauding lions ushered in an unexpected era of voluntary curfew and an unusual but vital semblance of order within the village. Notably, the consumption of alcohol diminished significantly, for to be drunk was to put oneself on harm’s way. To be drunk was to blind oneself to become a delicious flesh for the wildcats. Even if one did manage to recognize the threat, the weakened state from intoxication rendered the chance of a swift escape an impossibility.

For the habitual village revelers who often staggered home late into the night, returning at an earlier hour swiftly became the new routine. This shift, albeit temporary, brought an unexpected delight to the village women, who were no longer left anxiously awaiting the belated and often intoxicated return of their husbands.

The children, too, found reason to rejoice, as their fathers and grandfathers now returned home early enough to entertain them with verses, riddles, and captivating folktales by their bedsides before they drifted off to sleep.

The presence of the roaming lions brought an unusual tranquility to the village. In contrast to bygone days when the rhythmic pulse of drumbeats would animate the village as people danced through the night, now, silence reigned. Okere basked in a serene calm, untouched by the harsh sounds that might rouse not only the monarchs of the jungle but also the newfound royalty of Okere from their slumber. It was a common adage in the village that you could wake a dog from a deep slumber, but disturbing the rest of a lion would render your flesh a special feast.

On one early morning, as the village had commenced its daily lion-hunting endeavors and the piercing notes of the bilo resonated throughout the land, the lions, acknowledging the challenge, unleashed a mighty roar. Their collective voice reverberated, echoing across the expanse:

"Rrrrrr Rrrrrr Rrrrrr."

"Cease playing the bilo!" Olelo shouted. His words carried a weight of concern as he recognized the distant roars of the lions echoing across the swamp. With determination and armed with machetes, spears, and arrows, the village's brave youth embarked on an unwavering march toward the swamp, resolute in their pursuit of the elusive predators. After a strenuous journey, they finally reached the swamp's edge, where the lion and the lioness stood alongside their little cub.

"There they are! There they are!" a young man's voice rang out in excitement, rallying the group. All eyes converged on the majestic lions, who seemed undisturbed by the villagers' arrival. They roamed with an air of gentle indifference, as if to declare that the jungle of Okere had undeniably become their newfound kingdom.

The lions swiftly climbed a nearby tree, seemingly seeking a vantage point to observe the people who pursued them. Meanwhile, the cub and lioness remained on the ground, undisturbed by the presence of the villagers.

Olelo, his spear at the ready, also clambered up a sturdy tree, positioning himself for a precise shot at the lion. Yet, the challenge lay in the lion's obscured visibility. In a daring move, Olelo dangled his left foot as bait, an attempt to entice the lion and secure a clearer line of sight.

The lion locked its gaze onto Olelo's suspended foot, prepared for a potentially deadly leap. Yet, in the very act of readiness, the lion's movements unwittingly afforded Olelo the opportunity he sought. With a firm resolve, Olelo refined his focus, closing one eye and drawing a deep breath, as though summoning a wellspring of inner strength. In a seamless, unhesitating motion, he threw the sharpened spear toward the lion, in an instant sealing their fateful encounter.

The spear penetrated the lion’ stomach and like a wounded and helpless king who is about to be dethroned by a stronger enemy army, he fell down with the spear stuck in his stomach and the intestines exploding out.

In that fateful moment, the lioness and her cub scattered in opposite directions, bolting away in a desperate bid to secure their own lives. Meanwhile, the colossal lion, his majestic form now yielding to the earth, found no pardon from the onslaught of spears and arrows that rained down upon him from every conceivable direction. Alas, the once-proud king of the jungle now lay lifeless on the ground.

Olelo, his heart still pounding with the adrenaline of what had just transpired, clung to the tree branch where he had taken that fruitful shot. He seemed almost frozen in disbelief, unable to fully comprehend the incredible turn of events. It was as though the reality of the lion's demise, at his own hand, hung before him like a surreal dream. The village's spirited youth rushed to the tree and with great exuberance, pulled Olelo down from the branch he still clung to.

The entire village, alive with newfound hope and euphoria, reverberated with joyous songs and exultant ululations. One woman, her face radiant with excitement, sought confirmation from her friends, needing to ascertain if the news of Olelo's incredible feat was indeed true. "Is it true that Olelo has vanquished the lion?" she inquired, her voice eager and filled with anticipation.

In a jubilant chorus, her friends confirmed the remarkable news, their voices ringing out in harmony to affirm the astonishing truth. The women, electrified by this momentous victory, sprang into action. Drums and gourds were quickly retrieved, and in the blink of an eye, the village was filled with the resounding beats of celebratory rhythms. Accompanied by exultant Luo war songs and spirited traditional dances, the village burst into euphoric revelry, paying tribute to Olelo's bravery and the collective triumph of the community over wildcats.

Olelo tin oneko ingato ame yelo waa (Olelo has slain that ferocious lion that terrorized our village)

Olelo tin oneko ingato Teget (Today, Olelo has vanquished the lion at the swamp)

Ingatu pe (No more lions)

Ingato pe apea (Absolutely none at all)

Ping aru man (As the dawn breaks)

Bul okok (A drum resounds)

Aling aling aling (The rhythmic beat of the drum)

Olelo tin oneko ingato I Teget (Olelo has triumphed over the lion at the swamp)

The jubilant rhythm of the women's dance soon drew men and children into its lively embrace. As the spirited celebration unfolded, the sky was veiled in a whirl of dust, mingling with the morning dew.

Amidst the jubilation echoing throughout the village, a wave of curious onlookers steadily gravitated towards the remarkable scene, drawn by the anticipation of bearing witness to the collective triumph achieved through Olelo's unwavering courage. As the merriment unfolded, the village chief, cognizant of the exceptional moment at hand, raised his voice to make a momentous announcement. He summoned forth five young, robust village youths, calling upon them to step forward and undertake the formidable task of extracting the lion's lifeless form from the murky swamp.

However, as the moment hung in the air, an aura of fear began to ripple through the assembled crowd. One by one, many of the village's young and able-bodied individuals, who had eagerly gathered to partake in this historic moment, seemed to vanish into the shadows. The prospect of even touching, let alone bearing the weight of a lion, was undeniably one of the most daunting experiences they could fathom.

Olelo, now infused with a revived spirit and unyielding courage, rushed to the fateful site where the lion met his demise. There, he summoned his friend Ereng to lend his strength and share in the historic task of transporting the lifeless lion from the swamp to the elevated platform nestled in the valley.

Ereng, without a moment's hesitation, joined Olelo's side. Together, these two valiant men bore the weight of the bleeding lion, defying his once-terrifying presence as they carried him from the depths of the swamp. Their procession was a grand spectacle, leading a jubilant mass of villagers who raised their voices in jubilant ululations, while the women of Okere filled the air with ajira, a joyful chant of celebration.

Upon arriving at the village chief's compound, the chief requested his wife to retrieve his ceremonial dagger. With precision, he carefully extracted the lion's skin and its claws.

In a moment of profound significance, the village chief, his voice echoing with authority and gratitude, proclaimed to the elated assembly, "by the sacred authority vested in me as the village chief, I take this solemn honor and privilege to bestow upon Olelo this prized skin and these formidable claws, in recognition of his steadfast bravery and strength in piercing the very stomach of the lion that once cast a frightening shadow over our village”.

"You ought to safeguard these skin and claws, preserving them as illustrious relics, a testament to your heroic deeds. May your name be imprinted indelibly in the annals of our village's memory, a monument to your extraordinary valor and unyielding courage," the chief intoned, bestowing upon Olelo the tangible symbols of his triumph.

"I have heard your words, clear and resounding. My heartfelt gratitude extends to you, as well as to every soul among us. This victory is a shared triumph, one that belongs to the entire village," Olelo declared, his voice definite with pride and gratitude.

The village chief, recognizing the significance of the occasion, summoned the women of the village to gather firewood and prepare a special culinary delight infused with local spices. On this extraordinary day, the entire village partook in a lavish feast, an occasion mirroring the lions' earlier feasting on the village's livestock.

"Now, the wheel has turned, and it is our time for repayment," one villager remarked, his words tinged with poetic justice. "Not even your very bones shall be spared," another man declared, as the village enjoyed the feast of retribution.

Olelo returned to his humble hut, holding his precious rewards that spoke of his fearlessness. The lion's skin, after being dried and smoked, was carefully preserved. He thoughtfully pierced the lion's formidable claws and used a string crafted from the same skin to securely bind them together. These enduring gifts found their place of honor upon the earthen walls of Olelo's mud hut, where they told a silent tale of his remarkable triumph.

Half a decade later, a band of cattle rustlers descended upon the village from the East, stealing not only Olelo's prized herd of 50 cattle but also the lion's skin and its claws. In the blink of an eye, the hard-earned victory of a resilient people over the fierce predator that once created havoc among them was erased from history. Yet, it lived on vividly within Olelo's recollections until his ripe age of 82 when he passed away in November 2022.

Even now, Olelo remains an enduring icon, his tale a source of inspiration that should be passed down through the generations. His story serves as a reminder, always teaching and motivating children and the younger generation, instilling in them the determination to be the torchbearers of innovative solutions to the unique challenges that confront their own communities. The song, "Ingato pe" (no lion remains), persists as a cherished melody echoing throughout the village, a sweet tribute to honor the memory of Olelo.

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