I had an interesting conversation with Winnie when I asked her what tribe she was. She told me that she did not know much about the Luos (her people) but she will do all she can to acquire more information and she did.
LUO TRIBE written by Winnie Odande
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So when I got an inbox from Vuyiso asking me what tribe I am, I was curious to know why. She is South African so that was a bit out of the blues. Then she tells she’s doing this African series on her blog and after a few chit-chats we decide I’m going to guest post about my culture.
Exciting as it was, it was also daunting because as much as I’m Luo, I’m your typical town girl having visited my rural area less than 5 times in my entire lifetime, (yea, I know). Meaning I basically know little to nothing about my culture save for what I learnt in school, which I don’t completely remember, and the few things I pick up along the way. Anyway, it was a nice opportunity for me to reconnect with my tribe hence I couldn’t let it pass.
My name is Winnie Odande and I am Luo, 100% Luo. I always get inboxes of people asking me whether I’m Nigerian because apparently Odande is a Nigerian name. I was told the other day by a Nigerian pal that it is a Yoruba name. What do I know? Ask my parents.
My tribe is one of the 42 ethnic groups in Kenya with its own unique values, skills, languages and cultural practices. We mainly inhabit the Nyanza County of Western Kenya. If I remember my History well, we are believed to have originated from Southern Sudan, travelling along the River Nile. I think after years of walking along the river we were probably drawn to the water features because we ended up establishing our settlements in the lands surrounding Lake Victoria. I must tell you that Lake Victoria is quite beautiful. Over the years though its beauty has been marred by the effects of the hyacinth and we only hope that the government will do something to clear the problem because it is also affecting the existing water life. My home, read ‘shagz’ Kenyan slang for rural home, is a just a few metres from the lake and I remember us walking down to the lake and seeing people doing their house chores like washing clothes, bathing, and economic activities all at the same place. Trust me, there was order.
The Joka-jok who were closely followed by Jo-k’Owiny.The Luo tribe is the third largest community in Kenya .Our arrival took place in phases. The first groups to arrive were:
- Jok’ Omolo came in third and the Luo Abasuba made the final arrival; The Luo Abasuba are as a result of intermarriage between the Luo and Ugandan Bantu.
What we are famously known for as a tribe is our traditional practices and our mastery of the English dialect. We are also known to be quite intelligent persons and we also boast of raising serious scholars and intellectuals like Tom Mboya, Prof.Anyan’g Nyong, James Orengo, PLO Lumumba and the former Deputy Prime Minister, Raila Odinga to name but a few.
When it comes to the cultural practices, we have the most obvious ones which are known countrywide like; Luos don’t circumcise their men. The traditional Luo man was initiated by removal of the lower six teeth. Don’t ask me whoever came up with that and why they thought it wise. Although with time government initiatives and sensitization has seen the modern Luo man getting circumcised in the quest to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Another cultural practice we are highly acclaimed for which I find quite retrogressive is the wife inheritance. If a man dies and leaves behind a widow, his brother or close relatives inherit the widow, she becomes his wife and he in turn must meet all her marital requirements. This tradition is also slowly fading away especially with the rebellious and learned crop of the urban generation and the entry of Christianity. In addition to this, we have the mourning ceremony, tero buru, which is still widely practiced. This is a unique, elaborate and dramatic ceremony that symbolizes the departure of a loved one.
Marriage is considered a vital rite of passage among the Luo. Traditionally, a marriage ceremony was conducted in two phases, which involved the payment of a bride price by the groom. The first phase is the Ayie involving a payment of money to the mother of the bride; the second phase involving giving cattle to her father. Usually, these two steps are carried out simultaneously, and as many modern day Luos are into Christianity, a church ceremony then follows.
In the Luo Culture the birth of a baby in the family was and still is a big celebration among the members of that family and friends. In the olden days, the celebrations included some rituals which were done. Among the rituals were:
- Naming the child – This was done a few days after birth, by the parents of the child. Luos were naming their children after their dead relatives, the time and the season the child was born, and if a mother conceived without seeing her periods.
- Shaving – In olden days shaving of a new born was a ritual of its kind. The shaving was done by a grandmother or an aged lady from the some clan, if the grandmother was not around or was dead. The person shaving was required to have a calabash (Agwata) full of water, a traditional razor and traditional Herb. A calabash full of water was used to prevent the baby from being obese, the traditional Herb was used as soup.
- Taking the child outside for the first time – Boys were taken out after 4 days and girls after 3 days. This was usually done in the morning hours between 9:00 am – 10:00 am to avoid the heat.
- Visiting the mother and her new born baby – According to Luo culture when a baby is born in a family, the relatives and friends must pay a special visit. In the olden days, many rituals were also performed during this visitation. The first visitation was done by the lady’s young sisters to represent their mother. The sisters were sent with cooked food and food which was not cooked. The cooked food included Meat (Sun dried) ,Ugali made from Millet flour, Indigenous Vegetables i.e. African Nightshades (Osuga), Spiderplant (Dek), Crotalaria (Mitoo). The cooked food was eaten cold and served in a small basket called (Adita). After this, one sister was usually left behind to help the sister until she was strong.
For Luos living in rural areas, fresh-water 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 are our staple foods. Agriculture, especially sugarcane and cotton farming, is also practiced in other areas where we live.
Luos have immensely contributed in the political development of the country. The Luo community has been a key player in the Kenyan political scene since the pre-colonial times. Under British colonial rule, the Luo people did not have their land taken from them, unlike some other Kenyan tribes. 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
We have very enriched traditional dance costumes; skirts made from sisal and colored beads worn around the neck and waist. Ladies usually use red and white clay to decorate them. All these costumes and ornaments are made from local materials.