Luo Tribe of Kenya and Tanzania – Facts about the People, Culture & Festival

Luo community is an ethnic group based in western Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The largest percentage of this ethnic group dwells in Kenya, coming third in the list of the largest ethnic groups countrywide, after Kikuyu and Luhya communities. They speak Dholuo as their mother tongue.

The community is known to be one of the political superpowers in Kenya, with renown political leaders being Luo natives. The likes of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya were the pioneers of Kenyan politics alongside the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta. These political lords remain in the books of Kenyan history for their full engagement in politics especially during the struggle for independence. Even after independence, politicians from the community have still maintained their vigour. The community recently made history by producing the second Kenyan prime minister in 2007 after Jomo Kenyatta.

Facts About Luo People of East Africa

Statistics reveal that the community population has grown tremendously in the recent past. The current population of the people is approximately 4.6 million. This is a decent growth as compared to the population in the 90s which was approximately 3 million. The same case applies to Tanzanian Luo whereby their population has increased by approximately 600,000 people as at 2010.

The Luo community depends on fishing as its main source of livelihood. The shores of Lake Victoria have always been a beehive of activities with residents of the area flocking the shores each day in search of their daily bread. However, not all Luos depend on fishing. Others are scattered everywhere inside and outside the country occupying different professions.

History reveals that the settlement of the Luo community in Kenya came as a result of their migration from Sudan where they moved along river Nile which drains to Lake Victoria. The migration took place 5 centuries ago. The migration occurred in three different phases;

• Joka-jok and Jok-owiny
• Jok’ Omolo
• Abasuba

The Luo community is believed to have grown from intermarriages between Luo and Bantus from Uganda. The current number of Luo sub-groups is 26. Lango and Acholi ethnic groups in Uganda are regarded part of the larger Luo clans as they speak the same language as Luos in Kenya and Tanzania.They belong to the Nilotic language group.

Culture and Festival

Just as it is with every other tribe and community in Africa and beyond, this tribe also has its own culture, traditions, and festivals that guide the lifestyle of the people. The culture and traditions guide their initiation rites, marriages, childbirth, circumcision, funeral, and a lot of other things.

The Luo community is one of the least known communities who carry out their initiation rites in their own unique way. The common way of circumcision in most tribes across the world is by removing the foreskin of male manhood, but in the Luo community, circumcision marked by the removal of 6 lower teeth for a man to be regarded an adult.

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Another unique Luo cultural practice is wife inheritance. In case of a husband’s death, the deceased wife is remarried to the late husband’s brothers or close relatives. The wife inheritor is expected to fully assume the position of the late husband including meeting all marriage rites.

Mourning in the Luo land is also done in a unique way. During Tero Buru- mourning event- members of the deceased family and the community at large walk around the villages in their neighbourhood whereby they dramatically mourn as a sign of departure of their loved one. A big feast follows thereafter to symbolize a life well lived.

Upon the death of a father, the elder son in the family takes over the responsibility of all the family activities. He will ensure that everything is done in accordance with the late father’s will. This includes division of family wealth among the rightful inheritors.

Most modern Luo natives have converted to Christians while others still hold on to their traditional religious practices. With the current hiking levels of civilization globally, Luo people in the urban areas tend to stray from their root culture and are adopting the urban culture. Luo culture is not valued much in urban areas as in rural areas. The culture of wife inheritance, for instance, has been dwindling by the day. Removal of male manhood’s foreskin as a way of circumcision is being put in practice today as a way of HIV/AIDS control. This is a clear indication of how modern culture is slowly absorbing the native Luo culture.

Each year, the people celebrate their culture with a cultural festival which is tagged the Luo Festival. Attended by people from the tribe, the festival is highly regarded and it features a cultural carnival and various musical presentations.

Interestingly enough though, the event is hardly completely a cultural event as one would have in the traditional sense. This is because the festival is highly influenced by modernization. Still, the event doesn’t fail to celebrate the tribe’s fashion, food, music, and culture.

The People of Luo Tribe

Also referred to as the Joluo, Jonagi, or Onagi, the Luo people are a very wide group of people that are also found in Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Nevertheless, they are more popular in Kenya and Tanzania.

Claiming to be the black Jews of Africa, literature has provided linguistic similarities to assert that the Luo people have a link to the Hebrews. The link has been claimed to be during the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt.

The people are known to lead stylish lives with their intense sense of pride. Some term Luos as ‘Queens of English’ due to their polished and commanding manner of speaking English. Natives of the tribe, especially those who are highly educated tend to possess flamboyant character traits full of modern living styles.

Apart from the Odingas and Tom Mboya, there are many other Luo people that are very popular including Barack Obama Sr., D.O. Misiani, David Wasawo, and popular actress, Lupita Nyong’o.

Fadamana U
Fadamana U
Fadamana has built up professional writing and editing experience over the years in report and technical articles, informational and creative content across various topic specialties. Outside work, I like to binge on new movies.


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