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People of Kenya: luo


The Luo people live in the west of Kenya on the shore of Lake Victoria. They form the third largest ethnic group in Kenya from Kikuyu and Luhya and dominate Nyanza province in Kenya and also can be found in Eastern Uganda and Northern Tanzania.  Along with the Maasai they migrated from the Nile region a place called Wahu’ south of Sudan around 15th century.

Kenya safaris are not complete without the mention of Kenya tribes.

The Kenya Luo migrated into western Kenya via today’s eastern Uganda, the first wave arriving sometime around 1500 AD. Arrivals came in at least five waves arriving at different times as follows: the Joka-Jok (who migrated from ‘Acholiland’, the first and largest migration); those migrating from Alur (The Alur); the Jok’Owiny’ (who migrated from Padhola); the Jok’Omolo (perhaps from Pawir); and finally The Abasuba (a heterogeneous group in southern Nyanza, with Bantu elements). Although they clashed heavily with the existing Bantu-speaking people in the area, intermarriage and culture mixing occurred. Luo have largely preserved traditions some of which find its traces even to the elite and the civilized.

The Luo are unusual amongst Kenya’s ethnic groups in that circumcision is not practiced in either sex. The tradition was replaced by the extraction of four or six teeth from the bottom jaw. Although it is not a common practice these days, you will see many middle aged and older people in this region without a few bottom teeth. The teeth were believed to play a big role in medication. If any Luo fell sick to a point of not opening the mouth, medicine and liquid food would be administered through this gap.

Originally, Luo were cattle herders but now they have adopted fishing and subsistence agriculture.

The family group consists of the man, his wife (or wives) and their sons and daughters in law. The house compound is enclosed by a fence and includes separate huts for the man and for each wife and son. You will find a real Luo homestead at the Kisumu Museum.

The family group is a member of a larger grouping of families (dhoot) several of which in turn make up a group of geographically related people (ogandi) each led by a chief (ruoth). Collectively, the ogandi constitute the Luo tribe. As is the case with many tribes in Kenya, great importance is placed on the role of the medicine man and the spirits.

The Luo traditionally believed in an afterlife and a supreme creator, whom they called Nyasaye, and had a strong ancestor cult. Today most Kenya Luos are Christians.

The Luo also traditionally practiced polygamy, though this has fallen out of favor with young adults today, though many still practice it (it is undocumented) as it is only the first wife who is recognised by the law (but in the former times, men could marry up to five wives.)

Music was the most widely practiced traditional art in the Luo community. This was done any time of the day or night. Music was functional in all occassions. It was played during during funeral (Tero buru), during cleansing and chasing of the evil spirits (Nyawawa) and during ceremonies like beer parties (Dudu, ohangla dance). It was also done/used to welcome back the worriors from war, during wrestling match (Ramogi), during courtship and wedding to mention but a few.

In Kenya, Luo’s brilliant mind is associted with the fish (samaki) which forms their stable food served with Ugali (cornfloor)