The Oginga Odinga House at Maseno National School

A Symbol of Protest in Colonial Kenya

The Oginga Odinga House is much more than it appears. Built by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga during his time as a teacher at Maseno National School in Kenya, it now represents the Kenyan battle against oppressive and unjust British colonial rule. The hut is a symbol of Kenyan nationalism and African dignity, two concepts that political leader Oginga Odinga promoted throughout his entire life.

Born in 1911, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga was a member of the Luo community whose drive, vision, selflessness, and commitment strongly influenced the trajectory of Kenya's history. Born under British colonial rule, Odinga was inspired to lead the fight against the oppressive colonial system, and had an indelible influence on the Kenyan independence movement. He became part of various political organizations such as the KAU, KANU, and KPU fighting for the social, economic, and political advancement of his people.

While teaching at Maseno School, Odinga took action against the oppressive and discriminatory colonial policy of institutionalized segregation, which required Africans to live separately from whites. He deliberately built a house in a section of Maseno School’s campus that violated state housing segregation practices: it did not merely represent a place to live but also stood as a symbol of African nationalism and resistance to colonial oppression.

Jaramogi Odinga’s resentment of British colonial rulers can be explained through his childhood experiences. At a very young age, Odinga was aware of the unjust laws of the land that oppressed him and his people. “Among the Luo of Central Nyanza," Odinga says in his book, Not Yet Uhuru, "the forecasters had said of the white people, ‘If you touch them the skin will remain in your hand because they are very soft. But they will come with thunderstorms and burn the people.’” This reference to colonial oppression was all too relatable to many African Kenyans marginalized under the British.

Even as a young child, Odinga was able to grasp who the colonial authorities were and what they represented. To Odinga, they were tax collectors, labor overseers, and Western pedagogues. Schools, which educated African youth and greatly influenced their perception, were under colonial control. This was an injustice to Odinga, since he believed that they were guilty of lying and also of attempting to destroy Luo and Kenyan culture. The colonial educators reinforced the idea that Luo culture was bad and European culture was good. This was exceptionally disturbing to Odinga, since he knew that the corruption of young people’s minds equated to the destruction of their culture. “The government was feared rather than respected.” A government that is feared rather than supported or acknowledged as helpful is an obvious sign of oppression.

Odinga attended Maseno School as a young man. The school, located in northwestern Kisumu County, was a place of self-development for Odinga. At first, Odinga was not set on attending, though he eventually grew into an intelligent and successful student, and was assigned many difficult tasks during his time there. The Coast Boys Association, formed by Odinga and his fellow schoolboys in 1932, foreshadowed Odinga’s future political involvement. The Coast Boys Association was designed to assist those who needed help farming and performing physical labor. It also endeavored to provide support to educationally inadequate schools in rural areas where some of the schoolboys had come from. Odinga was also the chairman of this association, showing that he possessed the natural qualities of a leader.

While teaching at Maseno School, Odinga soon realized that, even as a professional Kenyan educator, he was treated unequally compared to his white counterparts. African teachers were supervised by a white staff member, disallowing African teachers any situation of complete control. The control that European educators attempted to maintain within their schools was rooted in colonial public policy. The British promoted education, but in fact, they maintained an apparatus of control through their schools. This was done in subtle ways, including controlling language and forcing African students to be called by their Christian names.

One of Odinga’s first acts of resistance at Maseno School was his renouncement of his Christian name. “The rebel in Odinga showed early. When he taught at Maseno, he took issue with the use of Christian names, and dropped his biblical name Adonijah in favour of Ajuma.” This angered his longtime instructor, Carey Francis, who had once admired Odinga’s intelligence and potential, now claimed that Odinga was “discontented with life and grumbled at everything”. Francis, however, misinterpreted Odinga’s resistance and willingness to challenge authority as a sign of stubbornness and unnecessary anger.

In opposition to the segregation of African and European teachers at Maseno School, Odinga built his symbolic house. At the time, Odinga was forced to live on the northern side of the school. After his request to move to the white-sanctioned housing area was denied, he took action. He built a house in the area designated as the European compound within the school. It was circular house in shape, mimicking and representing the architecture of a traditional Luo hut. The house is not very isolated and is next to a fenced-in staff quarters. It was constructed with mud and grass but currently has been renovated with the addition of iron sheets and bricks. It still has three wooden windows and one wooden door.

Both the windows and the door can be locked from one main entrance which ensures security and keeps unwanted people away. Odinga feared British intrusion, motivating him to take small precautionary measures. Inside the house, the support post in the middle suggests the union of Africans to eliminate the white man. This central support beam is an appropriate representation of African unity, as it supports the entire house and is the central source of strength. Currently, there is an electric bulb that has been added to the House. Also, physical security is provided by Maseno School to protect the symbolic structure. The doors and windows have been given extra locks to ensure the structure is well protected and maintained.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga led a life that revolved around the improvement of the Luo community, the education system, and the state of his own independent government. The Hut represents his legacy. With a willingness to help others, fight corruption, and promote Kenyan unity, Odinga proved himself a capable leader and representative of the people of Kenya.

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Kisumu-Busia Highway