The Luo people emerged from the Semitic-speaking, Nilo-Saharan-speaking, Cushitic-speaking people. The Luo were originally a light-skinned community with the culture of Egypt (Tekidi), Kush and Meroe.
They migrated to Kar Thum (Khartoum) to Wau in the Bar-el Ghazal region in South Sudan. It was here that they met a dark-skinned people who referred to them as Jur Chol (the aliens passing through the blacks).
Between 990-1125, the Luos were in Sudan and then a series of calamities, including a serious outbreak of anthrax (‘opere’) and population explosion whipped out the entire livestock that were owned by the tribe of the Anu which was darker, and preferred both livestock and crop production.
Following this incident, the community resorted to fishing along the Aora Nalo (the River Nile) for survival and this is how the Luo earned the name Jo-Oluo-Aora (people who follow the river) which, in the course of time came to be shortened to Luwo or Luo.
South Sudan is hence the first place that the Jo-Luo were first referred as such, the subsequent birthplace of the Luo nation. This explains why most tales of the origin of the Luo nation start from South Sudan at Dog nam (the Acholi equivalent of dhowath/ dho nam which is the Dholuo for the mouth of the lake – that is, a lake shore).
Whereas there is no agreement on which lake it is, most historians identify it as Lake No or River Palugo, or what the Arabs called the ; Sea of Gazelle (Bar-el Ghazal). The three are the same thing.
According to oral tradition, the Luo lived in Eastern Bar-el-Ghazal until the year 1300 when they dispersed because of quarrel among the three brothers: Nyikang’o, Dimo and Gilo. Feuds within the homestead triggered by a power struggle led to a split and subsequently, separate history of the three groups.
It was also during this period that the Luo started separating as a nation, into different sub-groups and going different directions, while also intermarrying with the various groups they met and assimilating their culture, or being assimilated into their cultures.
The Luo-speaking peoples include the following sub-groups:
- Shilluk/ Ochollo – South Sudan / Ethiopia
- Anuang’/ Anywaa – Ethiopia / South Sudan
- Maban – South Sudan / Chad
- Thuri / Shatt – South Sudan
- Blanda Bor – South Sudan
- Funj – South Sudan
- Pari – South Sudan
- Bari – South Sudan
- Jumjum – South Sudan
- Joluo / Jur Chol – South Sudan
- Acholi – Uganda / South Sudan
- Kumam – Uganda
- Chope – Uganda
- Tooro – Uganda
- Lang’i – Uganda
- Jonam – Uganda
- Jo-Padhola – Uganda
- Alur – Uganda / DRC / Cameroon
- Suba Luo – Kenya
- Joluo – Kenya / Tanzania
The Luo-speakers alongside the Dinka (Jieng’) and the Nuer (Naath) form part of the Jii-speakers. Oral traditions reveal that the Southern Luo (the Luo of Kenya and Tanzania) descended from early fishing, agricultural and herding communities from western Kenya’s early pre-colonial history and dialects of their language have historic roots across the inter-lacustrine region.
Besides their language has incorporated Bantu words making it different from the Ugandan Luo dialects, Dholuo is the mother tongue of the Luo community. There is only one major Luo dialect in Kenya, with minor variations of Luo language especially between the Alego / Ugenya / Gem locality, known as Trans Yala dialect by socio-linguist, and the standard Dholuo dialect which is largely spoken by the rest of the Luo people in Kenya and the neighboring Tanzania.
The Nilotic and Bantu populations now form one strong Luo community ethnic group. And despite of diverse ancestry of the Luo people, they havealways remained united as one entity.
The Luo ethnic group in Kenya has maintained its culture, language and sustained the political unity and prevented further separation, thus, becoming a politico-cultural bloc in Kenya. The early intrusion of the Luo in Nyanza basin was not, strictly-speaking, a conquest.
Rather, it was a slow and peaceful penetration, and for a short while they lived with the original inhabitants.
But when their numbers increased, friction developed between the newcomers and the aboriginals, forcing the former to use military and spiritual powers to take control of the land.
Many of the indigenous people were forcefully expelled or assimilated and the Luo-speakers became the owners of a very large proportion of the land they settled. After their last migrations, the Luo people settled on the North Eastern shores of Lake Victoria, that is Nyanza and North Mara Regions.
The Luo tribe can be broken down into seven major sections based on origins.
These sections are as follows:
- Ramogi Luos (or commonly Luo proper)
- Kawango Luos (Luo-Abasuba
- Kiseru Luo
- Girango Luos
- Sirati Luos
- Imbo Luos
- Other Luos
- RAMOGI LUOS
The Luo proper are a Nilotic group of people who migrated from Bahr El -Ghazel region in South Sudan and settled in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Luo oral traditions, a warrior elder named Ramogi Ajwang’ led the Luo ethnic group into present day Kenya, about 500 years ago.
The Luo people migrated into Nyanza in four major waves and they first settled at what is now called Got Ramogi (Ramogi Hills) in Yimbo.
They later crossed in present day South Nyanza and eventually into North Mara Region, Tanzania.
The four waves include the Jo-Kajok, Jo-Kowiny Jo-Komolo and Jo-Kawango (Luo-Abasuba), with the first wave arriving sometime around AD1490.
- THE JOK-KAWANGO
The Jo-Kawango or Joka-Wanga sub-group came about after interaction between the Luhyas and the Luo clans who arrived from western Kenya as the fourth wave of Luo migration to enter Nyanza. The Jo-Kawango separated from the second phase of the Jok-Kajok migration, that is, the migration from Alur and migrated to the western region where they established the Tiriki ethnic group, then to Madungu in Wanga, before entering Siaya.
The other Luos also referred to them as Joka Suba because they migrated together with the Girango people. The term Luo-Abasuba was later coined by pioneer historians who erroneously included other ethnic groups called Rieny and Abakunta into this group of the Joka Suba.
Sakwa is the prominent clan in the Jo-Kawango sub-group and generally, the Sakwa Luos are a broad clan comprising of the Kagwa, Kamgwenya/ Waganjo, Waumi, Kanyamwanda, Kaler/ Kamageta, Kamiyawa, Kamnaria (Surwa), Kakmasia, Nyasmwa. However, these people intermarry among themselves, a clear indication that the broad clan of Sakwa is made up of descendants who cannot trace their lineage to a single ancestor.
- THE GIRANGO
The Bagirango, was a Bantu ethnic group with their own language. They were assimilated by the Luo and adopted many aspects of the Ramogi Luo culture and language, though they have managed to maintain some aspects of Bantu and often use ‘Suba’ as an identifier to distinguish themselves as a separate group.
The Suba or Girango people are not to be confused by the Homa Bay Luo Abasuba or Abasuba community who are Bantu of different ethnic backgrounds that reside within the borders of Suba sub-county. Moreover, their language, Ekisuba/ Ekingoe was also distinct and very different from the Olusuba (Luganda) language spoken by the Luo Abasuba, particularly the Abakunta ethnic community.
The name ‘Suba’ is derived from Girango’s father who was called Suba. So all the Girango people owed their allegiance to Sub fro whose lineage they were founded. The majority of the Girango clans migrated alongside the Jo-Kawango, the fourth phase of the Luo migration into Nyanza.
They came from Uganda and settled first in western Kenya at Emanyulia, where the Kawango people claim their ancestral root came from. Some of the Girango people remained behind in Western, for instance, the Bamiluha and Basuba of Tiriki, as well as the Mungoe in Bunyore.
The Girango people are culturally related to the Kiseru Luos and spoke closely related dialects of the same language. A few remnants of Girango today speak Ekingoe language which has lexical similarities to the Kuria and the Kisii languages and share names with the Kuria. However, since Ekingoe is mostly spoken by few older generation members, it is critically endangered.
- KISERU LUOS
The Bakiseruwere originally a Bantu ethnic group, and outer relatives of the Abagusii community. Most of the Kiseru customs and names are very similar to those of the Gusii people. That is why many Kiseru clans have been continually referred to as Jo-Kisii by their fellow Luos and some historians, although Kiseru and Gusii were different ethnic groups. Nevertheless, the Kiseru have lost most of their cultural aspects including language.
The Kiseru people today speak Dholuo and have become largely part of the Luo through intermarriage and other forms of socialization. The Kiseru people have maintained intimate cultural and political relations with the Ramogi Luos – they share clan affiliations like the Karachuonyo/ Wanjare and Konyango/ Rabala.
The Kiseru remnants today speak Ekegusii (in Nyanza) or Bonchari in North Mara and their language is in danger of disappearing. Kiseru remnants in Gwasi and those in Mfang’ ano island are comfortable with being lumped together with the Suba. At the same time some of the Kiseru clans like the Karachuonyo, Kowidi (Kisumo), Wanjare and Wawaria are taken to be Jo-Kajok by historians.
Nevertheless, the fact that some Kiseru people have been assimilated and adopted the Abakuria and Dholuo languages do not make them non-Kiseru in origin. Those who went to Kisii highlands call themselves Bagusero or Wanchari, and moreover, some can also be traced in Kericho.
- SIRATI LUOS
Originally, the Basirati spoke a different language and had different customs from the Luo, and are somehow related to the Banyore section of the Abaluhya community. They were the first to come to North Mara and Nyanza long before all the Luo clans.
The few Sirati remnants today speak Olumuulu (in Nyanza) and Olusurwa (in North Mara). Surwa (Based in Nyancha locality and include the Kamsuru in Suna Migori, Kamnara among the Sakwa and Maragoli, Sanua (later corrupted to Suna) in Suna Migori and Nyore in Yimbo).
- IMBO LUOS
These are the people who originally inhabited the Luo dispersal point of Yimbo and all of whom now speak Dholuo, the Luo language. The Imbo were not Luo by custom . They were a minority Bantu-speaking ethnic group.
They had settled in Yimbo by as early as 14th century. Some of them were displaced but those who remained in Yimbo formed 53 different groups that came to be known together as Ojwando.
- OTHER LUOS
The other Luos, also known as Nyokal, are generally a minority Luo adoptees. They were non-Luo clans who were both absorbed by the several streams of the infiltrating Luo.
A well Detailed Article By Charles Rowushana