The River-Lake and fishing tribe of Kenya
The Kenyan Luo tribe is a subgroup of the larger Luo community that spans across Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Congo and Ethiopia.
The people of Kenya are comprised of 42 ethnic groups or tribes, each with its own unique values, skills, language and cultural practices. The luo tribe is the third largest community in Kenya and makes up close to 13% of the entire population. History suggests that the Luo travelled along the River Nile from Sudan. They made entry into Kenya around 500 years ago and established settlements in the lands surrounding Lake Victoria- Africa’s biggest fresh water lake. Their arrival took place in phases. The first groups to arrive were:
- The Joka-jok who were closely followed by Jo-k'Owiny.
- Jok’ Omolo came in third and the Luo Abasuba made the final arrival.
Did you know?
- The Luo Abasuba are as a result of intermarriage between the Luo and Ugandan Bantu. Currently, the Luo community has 26 sub groups.
- Luos, a Nilotic people, also live in smaller numbers in Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya, the Luo reside in the regions around Lake Victoria. The Lango and Acholi tribes of Uganda are considered to be clans of the Luo tribe since their language is similar to the Luo language, Dholuo.
Luo Culture, Lifestyle & Religion
Luo people are among the few Kenyan tribes that do not traditionally circumcise their males as an initiation to manhood. Instead, in Luo traditions, initiation involves the removal of six teeth from the lower jaw.
Another unique Luo custom is wife inheritance whereby, if a man dies, one of his brothers or close relatives inherits his widow and must meet all of her marital requirements. The Luo mourning ceremony, tero buru, is still widely practiced. This is a unique, elaborate and dramatic ceremony that symbolizes the departure of a loved one.
While most Luos are now Christians, many still uphold most of their traditional cultural customs. This is especially true for those living in the rural areas. However, some of the Luo cultural practices now regarded as retrogressive are slowly fading away, such as wife inheritance. As well, recent efforts have been made to promote male circumcision among the Luo, Teso and Turkana people, to help curb the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and noticeable attributes common among the elite, educated or urban Luo people is their flamboyant character and sense of style, in addition to their polished and eloquent command of the English language, otherwise known as The Queen's English.
Political History of the Luo
Under British colonial rule, the Luo people did not have their land taken from them, unlike some other Kenyan tribes. The Luo community has been a key player in the Kenyan political scene since the pre-colonial times. Some of its favored sons in the pre-colonial and post-colonial period include.
- Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
- Ochieng Aneko
- Tom Mboya
- Robert Ouko
- Raila Odinga
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
Being the first vice president of Kenya, he arguably was the biggest force in the Luo political landscape at the time. He was deemed to follow a communist approach and was an exact foil of the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. His differences with the president later led him to pioneer the birth of opposition politics in Kenya. Interestingly, the Luo community still continues to stage opposition politics today. He died in 1994.
He was a trade unionist and active minister during the post-colonial period. His short political career saw him accomplish many feats. He not only had links with Obama [Senior], father to renowned U.S president, but also had an overwhelming support across the country. He was however assassinated in 1963.
Son to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, he is one of the current big wigs in the Kenyan political scene. Apart from being a prime minister of Kenya under the current grand coalition government, he is one of the core contenders for the presidential position in 2013.
Foto: Raila Amolo Odinga - The Prime Minister of The Republic of Kenya
Kenya's other famous People from the Luo Tribe
Other well-known Luo people include Washington Jalang'o Okumu, James Orengo, Obama [Senior] - the late father of Barack Obama, the current president of the United States of America, was from the Luo tribe. The Luo tribe has traditionally produced many scholars and other educated persons, including some who have graduated from very prestigious colleges around the world. As a result, Luo professionals are dominant in nearly every area of the Kenyan economy, business and government, serving as university professors, doctors, engineers and lawyers.
Luo economic activity and Food
For Luos living in rural areas, freshwater fishing in Lake Victoria is the most important economic activity. The fish are consumed locally while some, especially the Nile perch, are exported to Europe and other countries. Fish and ugali (Kuon) are the staple foods of the Luo tribe. Agriculture, especially sugarcane and cotton farming, is also practiced in other areas where Luos live.
Where Luo people live today
Although many Luos are found in big cities and towns like Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru where they live and work, majority are still concentrated in the rural areas and in:
- Kisumu city and surrounding areas of Kisumu County
- Bondo town and surrounding areas of Siaya County
- the fishing towns along Homa Bay beach in Homa Bay County
- the Southern Migori County