KOGELO, KENYA—Sen. Barack Obama's presidential election victory reverberated into his ancestral home village in western Kenya at dawn local time, heralded by crowing roosters and then declared in chorus by members of his extended family who danced around their modest homestead, chanting in the Luo tongue: "Our son / has won! Our son / has won!"
The moment concluded what had been a cool and drizzly night that many in Kogelo spent huddled around fuzzy television sets or waiting anxiously in plastic lawn chairs before a large projection screen that a Kenyan television network set up for villagers to watch the historic event unfolding half a world away.
George Omondi, 42, kept a close electoral vote count on a used envelope. "I will carry this around and discuss with my friends if your procedure is better than ours or if we can improve our standards," he said. "This system is wonderful!"
Even as Obama's tally approached an inevitable victory, most locals—unfamiliar with U.S. electoral politics—remained unmoved. But as day broke, CNN declared the outcome for Obama, instantly transforming the widely held hope—and disbelief—here that a man whose roots touch African ground could reach the world's most powerful post.
"We were very concerned about the 'Bradley effect,' " Barack's uncle, Said Obama, later confessed, referring to race-related discrepancies between polling data and election returns in a 1982 Los Angeles mayoral contest that incumbent Tom Bradley lost after polls showed him winning. "But when the results came from Ohio and New Hampshire, we knew that this wouldn't be a factor. It wasn't until the acceptance speech, however, that I came to terms with what we knew was possible all along. There I saw a man who could call the attention of the world, and became deeply moved."
The handful of Barack's sisters, brothers, and numerous other relatives who had remained awake to watch returns from adjoining family compounds roused the sleeping ones, including 86-year-old paternal grandmother Mama Sarah Obama.
With joyful tears, they circled around the gravestones of Barack Obama Sr. and grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama. "We are sure he would have been elated," said Paul Francis Oruo, 68, a village elder who knew Barack's father well. "He would have said, as he always said about anyone from Kogelo who did well for mankind: 'Like father, like son.' "
Family members erupted in song and dance, exclaiming in Luo: "Obama! / Is coming! / Clear out the way!" Bands of neighbors flooded into the family compounds, beating drums, shaking hips and tree branches. "We are going / to the White House / to Obama's new home!"
The Kenyan government declared tomorrow a national holiday, and Mama Sarah announced the commencement of her own celebration. "We're going to have a feast," said the gregarious matriarch of the Obama family. "We're going to eat every single dish we have in our country!"
Throughout the day, delegations of visitors arrived to the homestead: schoolchildren to shake her hand, local politicians and dignitaries to pay respects. Elder women sashayed to African beats. A goat and lamb were slaughtered; a team of women sat behind the home, chopping carrots, mixing stews.
"It's not every day you have someone who comes along with this set of qualities," said Barack's sister Auma Obama. "I'm so grateful to the Americans for having realized for themselves that this is someone who could help them and, by extension, help the world."
In Kenya, Obama's message of change feeds a deep hunger for youthful leadership and a political landscape uncrippled by tribalism, corruption, cronyism—and stifled ambition.
"Obama will affect Kenyan politics," said Solomon Ochieng, 27, an electrician. "He represents unity and solving problems as a whole. They say the young are the leaders of tomorrow, but here that tomorrow never comes. He gives us hope."