In Reginald M. J. Oduor, Oriare Nyarwath & Francis E. A. Owakah (eds.), Odera Oruka in the Twenty-first Century. Washington, DC, USA: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy. pp. 99-118 (2018)
AbstractThis paper focuses on evaluating Odera Oruka’s role as an expert witness in customary law for the Luo community during the Nairobi, Kenya-based trial in 1987 to decide on the place of the burial of S.M. Otieno. During that trial, an understanding of Luo burial and widow guardianship (ter) practices was essential. Odera Oruka described the practices carefully and defended them against misunderstanding and stereotype. He revisited related topics in several delivered papers, published articles, and even interviews and columns in the Kenyan newspapers. The paper will raise the questions: How does Odera Oruka’s role as expert on Luo customs fit in with his sage philosophy project? In his testimony at the trial and subsequent public addresses and published work, does he accomplish two important goals, the first being defending African traditions against prejudice and anti-African bias, and secondly, does he champion reform of traditions when reform is needed? And, can Odera Oruka’s participation in the famous trial avoid seeming ethnic chauvinism and marginalization of women? My conclusion is that he achieves the first goal, but some problems remain in the achievement of the other goals. While he often asserted the need to evaluate traditions and to jettison those that have become unhelpful, in this context he evaluated traditions so strongly that the need for evaluation and possible change was muted.
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