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People of Kenya: Luhya


The Luhya (also Luyia, Luhia, Abaluhya) are the second largest ethnic group in Kenya, numbering about 5.3 million people. The Luhya are made up of about 16 sub-ethnic groups in Kenya, the most dominant groups being the: Bukhusu, Maragoli, Wanga, Ava-Nyore (who ruled the Bunyoro Kingdom in present day Uganda), Marama, Idakho, Khisa, Isukha, Tsotso, Tiriki, Khabras, Ava-Nyala, Tachoni, Khayo, Marachi and Samia. One sub-ethnic group is in northern Tanzania and four are in Uganda.

The languages of the Luhya are similar in structure but are different from one another to the extent that none of them has been designated as the central dialect. The Luhya are, traditionally, agriculturalists, and they grow different crops depending on the region where they live having varieties like wheat, tea, cassava, sugarcanes fishing and more. Bull fighting is an old age tradition which forms a crucial aspect of luhya culture happening several times a year.

The event happens in sigalagala a luhya local name for a home. The fight lasts from 5 to 30 minutes with the owner of winning bull taking home the prize money. The fight is so significant that it reinforces the clans’ loyalty and the communal pride home. The Luhya, with the exception of the Marama and Saamia, practiced male circumcision while other sub-tribes practiced female clitoridectomy. Luhya culture revolves around the extended family. Polygamy is allowed and, traditionally, was actually normal. Traditionally about 10 to 15 families made up a village which was headed by a village headman (‘Omukasa’ or Oweliguru) and was elected by the male population in the village.

In many cases, the village headman was also a shaman and healer. Within a family, hierarchy was strictly enforced. Among the men, the man of the home was the ultimate authority, followed by his first-born son. Children are named after the clan’s ancestors, or after their grandparents, or after events or the weather. The traditional religion practiced is animism and spiritism. Witch-doctors and wizards commonly referred to as night runners are common. Christianity has been witness among the Luhya in the recent past, yet many mix Christianity with traditional religion.