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Luhya people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Total population
Kenya: 6,823,482 (2019)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Masaba people and other Great Lakes Bantu People

The Luhya (also known as Abaluyia or Luyia) are a Bantu people and the second largest ethnic group in Kenya. The Luhya belong to the larger linguistic stock known as the Bantu. The Luhya are located in western Kenya and Uganda. They are divided into 20 (or 21, when the Suba are included) culturally and linguistically united clans. Once known as the Kavirondo, multiple small tribes in North Nyanza came together under the new name Baluhya between 1950 and 1960. The Bukusu are the largest Luhya subtribe and account for almost 50% of the entire Luhya population, dominating other Luhya subtribes. They live in both Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia counties.[2]

The Luhya culture is similar to the Great Lakes region Bantu speakers. During a wave of expansion that began 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking populations – as of 2023, some 310 million people – gradually left their original homeland of West-Central Africa and traveled to the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Using data from a vast genomic analysis of more than 2,000 samples taken from individuals in 57 populations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, scientists from the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS, together with a broad international consortium, have retraced the migratory routes of these populations, previously a source of debate.[3]

Luhya today refers to both the 20 Luhya clans and their respective Luhya dialects. There are 20 clans that make up the Luhya. The Luhya belong to the larger linguistic stock known as the Bantu. The Luhya comprise several subgroups with different but mutually understood linguistic dialects.[4] The word “Luhya" or “Luyia" in some of the dialects means "the north.” There is no single Luhya language. Rather, there are several mutually understood dialects that are principally Bantu. Perhaps the most identifying linguistic feature of the various Luhya dialects is the use of the prefix aba- or ava-, meaning "of" or "belonging to." Thus, for example, "Abaluhya (Abaluyia)" means "people from the north." Other translations are "those of the same hearth.”[5]

The 21 clans are the Bukusu (Aba-Bukusu), Idakho (Av-Idakho), Isukha (Av-Isukha), Kabras (Aba-Kabras), Khayo (Aba-Khayo), Kisa (Aba-Kisa), Marachi (Aba-Marachi), Maragoli (Aba-Logoli), Marama (Aba-Marama), Nyala (Aba-Nyala), Nyole (Aba-Nyole), Samia (Aba-Samia), Tiriki (Aba-Tiriki), Tsotso (Abatsotso), Wanga (Aba-Wanga), and Batura (Abatura) and the Abasiaya. They are closely related to the Masaba (or Gisu), Basamia and Banyole of Uganda, whose language is mutually intelligible with Luhya.

A traditional house built in rural Western Kenya famous by the Luyha community

The principal traditional settlement area of the Luhya is in what was formerly the Western province. A substantial number of them permanently settled in the Kitale and Kapsabet areas of the former Rift Valley province. The Luhya people make their home mainly in the western part of Kenya. Administratively, they occupy mostly Western province, and the west-central part of Rift Valley province. Luhya migration into the Rift Valley is relatively recent, only dating back to the first few years after independence in 1963, when farms formerly occupied by colonial white settlers were bought by, or given to Africans.[6] Western Kenya is one of the most densely populated parts of Kenya.[7] Migration to their present Luhyaland (a term of endearment referring to the Luhya's primary place of settlement in Kenya after the Bantu expansion) dates back to as early as the 7 BC.

Immigrants into present-day Luhyaland came mainly from eastern and western Uganda and trace their ancestry mainly to several Bantu groups, and to other non-Bantu groups such as the Kalenjin, Luo, and Maasai.[8] By 1850, migration into Luhyaland was largely complete, and only minor internal movements occurred after that due to disease, droughts, domestic conflicts and the effects of British colonialism.

Multiple West African populations, including the Luhya, inherited genes from an archaic human ancestor population that diverged before modern humans and Neanderthals, split. Researchers found that a lineage splitting 624,000 years ago and introgressing into the African population 50,000 years ago is able to explain the genes present in the modern Luhya population. [9]

Origins and history

Location of Western Province in Kenya.



Anthropologists, geneticists, and linguists have evidenced that the progenitors of the Luhya were part of the great Bantu expansion out of Central Africa. During a wave of expansion that began 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking populations – as of 2023, some 310 million people – gradually left their original homeland of West-Central Africa and traveled to the eastern and southern regions of the continent.[3] However, the majority of the other Luhya tribe are mostly from present-day Uganda.[10][11]

The most powerful centralized kingdom in what is now Kenya was founded by the Wanga. [original research?] [citation needed] The Wanga would sometimes hire Maasai and Kalenjin mercenaries to fight for them.[12] The Wanga incorporated most of the Luhya tribe as well as territories to the east, southeast, west and southwest occupied by the Luo, Kipsigis, Nandi, and Masai.[original research?] [citation needed]

Pre-colonial period


Early migration was probably motivated by a search for more and better land, and to escape local conflicts, tsetse flies, and mosquitoes. By about 1850, migration into Luhyaland was largely complete, and only minor internal movements took place after that due to food shortages, disease, and violent domestic conflicts. [13] Luhya migration into the Rift Valley is relatively recent, only dating back to the first few years after independence in 1963, when farms formerly occupied by colonial white settlers were bought by, or given to Africans.[14] [15] [conflicted source?]

Their pre-colonial identity and boundaries were imagined [by whom?][citation needed] making reference to a purported common territory once occupied by a community of peoples, speaking a similar language (although the language and the name only came into existence with work of the Luyia Language Committee, founded in 1941),[original research?] to cultural traditions now presented as shared, and to the supposed leadership of a particular ruler or king.[original research?] [citation needed]

One of the oldest maps of Western Kenya indicate Luyialand as Usaba region,[citation needed] meaning: area occupied by masaba speaking people, this name is still used by Gisu of Uganda. The name Masaba, means North in Luluyia language. [citation needed] This territory neighboured the Baganda, Basoga and Bagisu of present-day Uganda, and the Luo, Teso, and Nandi of present-day Kenya.[citation needed] The territory occupied by the Bantu around Lake Victoria and to the north of Lake Victoria was known as Kavirondo [citation needed] "Bantu Kavirondo" [citation needed] previously used to refer to the Luhya and other Bantu communities in the area.[citation needed]

The Wanga are a tribe of the Luhya people of Kenya. They mainly occupy Butere-Mumias and Kakamega Districts, two of the 8 districts of Kenya's Western Province. The Wanga ancestors were part of the migration that settled in the Kampala area and formed the Buganda or Baganda Kingdom. The Wanga were ruled by Nabongo Mumia. Other leaders among the Luhya were known as Baami (singular Mwami), a title translating to 'Kings' or 'Lords.'[citation needed][original research?]

The British explorer Henry Morton Stanley made a voyage around Lake Victoria, and Joseph Thomson, the Scottish geologist, passed through Luhya territory around 1883. Thomson met Nabongo Mumia and influenced British relations with the Wanga Kingdom in the region. [citation needed] The construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway began in 1898 and further opened opportunities for European interaction with the Luhya and other communities in the western part of Kenya. Nabongo Mumia's dominion extended to other Luhya subgroups such as the Kabras and the Tsotso. [original research?]

In the late 1800s, when European nations began their Scramble for Africa, they mapped African boundaries to suit their interests in the continent. [original research?] [citation needed] With the lion's share of colonies going to the British, in 1895, the region of East Africa was declared to be a British Protectorate. It was further divided into British East Africa, (present-day Kenya) and the Uganda Protectorate (present-day Uganda).

As all the land in Kenya, west of Naivasha was mapped within the Uganda Protectorate, the Luhya people and other Kenyan communities were included in the Ugandan territory. In 1902, the boundaries were remapped and the Luhya peoples including the Wanga kingdom and their neighbouring communities which were on the eastern part of Uganda, were annexed to Kenya.

Colonial period


The first European the Luhya had contact with was probably Henry Morton Stanley as he voyaged around Lake Victoria. [citation needed][dubiousdiscuss] In 1883, Joseph Thomson was the first European known to pass through Luhya territory on foot, and was influential in opening the region to Europeans after his meeting with King Mumia of the Wanga Kingdom.

The Wanga Kingdom was very similar to the Baganda kingdom [who?]and other monarchies in Uganda,[original research?] [citation needed] Mumia [who?] was the last sovereign king of the Wanga, [original research?] [citation needed] and was called a chief.

The Bukusu[who?] strongly resisted British incursions into their territory in the 1890s. In 1895, they fought the British from a stronghold near Bungoma on the lower slopes of Mount Elgon called "Chetambe's Fort". [original research?] [citation needed]

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Bukusu resisted the British under the leadership of Elijah Masinde, a religious sect leader and prophet who demanded the return of their lands. Masinde was imprisoned during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, but was released to his home area at independence in 1963.[original research?] [citation needed]

The Kabras [who?] and the Wanga collaborated peacefully with the British. Most Luhyas from the Kabras clan joined the colonial-era police forces. Nabongo Mumia, was forced to sign treaties with the British after being defeated. [original research?] [citation needed]

Significant numbers of the Luhya fought for the British in the Second World War, many as volunteers in the Kenya African Rifles (KAR). As with many African societies, the Luhya also named their children after significant events. Consequently, many Luhya people born around the time of the Second World War were named "Keyah", a transliteration of "KAR", the acronym for the King's African Rifles. [citation needed]

Other famous chiefs during the colonial time included Ndombi wa Namusia, Sudi Namachanja, Namutala and Ongoma Laurende. [citation needed]

Luhya Clans and Sub-clans

The four traditional districts of Western Province, Kenya.
Luhya tribe Population 1999 Luhya variety[16] Region
Luhya 3,944,257 Busia (Kenya)
Bukusu 1,188,968 Lubukusu Bungoma (Kenya)
Idakho 54,661 Lwidakho Kakamega (Kenya)
Bullfighter Kakamega (Kenya)
Isukha 101,789 Lwisukha Kakamega (Kenya)
Kabras 136,546 Lukabarasi Kakamega (Kenya)
Khayo 68,703 Olukhayo Busia (Kenya)
Kisa 45,135 Olushisa Kakamega (Kenya)


Lulogooli Maragoli, Vihiga (Kenya)
Marachi 65,633 Olumarachi/Bumarachi Busia (Kenya)
Marama 43,075 Olumarama Kakamega (Kenya)
Nyala 227,165 Lunyala (east),
Lunyala (west)
Busia (Kenya)
Nyole Lonyole (Uganda),
Olunyore (Kenya)
Vihiga (Kenya), Tororo (Uganda)
Samia 84,828 Lusamia Busia (Kenya)
Tachoni 85,597 Lutachoni Lugari, Malava (Kenya)
Tiriki 93,393 Lutirichi Vihiga (Kenya)
Tsotso 92,687 Olutsotso Kakamega (Kenya)
Wanga 94,190 Oluwanga Kakamega District (Kenya)

1. The Bukusu speak Lubukusu and occupy Bungoma, Mount Elgon district and Trans Nzoia. The sub-clans of the Bukusu include the Bamutilu, Babuya, Batura, Bamalaba, Bamwale, Bakikayi, Basirikwa, Baechale, Baechalo, Bakibeti, Bakhisa, Bamwayi Bamwaya, Bang'oma, Basakali, Bakiabi, Baliuli, Bamuki, Bakhona, Bakoi, Bameme, Basombi, Bakwangwa, Babutu (descendants of Mubutu also found in Congo), Bakhoone, Baengele (originally Banyala), Balonja, Batukwika, Baboya, Baala, Balako, Basaba, Babuya, Barefu, Bamusomi, Batecho, Baafu, Babichachi, Bamula, Balunda, Babulo, Bafumo, Bayemba, Baemba, Bayaya, Baleyi, Baembo, Bamukongi, Babeti, Baunga, Bakuta, Balisa, Balukulu, Balwonja, Bamalicha, Bamukoya, Bamuna, Bamutiru, Bayonga, Bamang'ali, Basefu, Basekese, Basenya, Basime, Basimisi, Basibanjo, Basonge, Batakhwe, Batecho, Bachemayi, Bachemwile, Bauma, Baumbu, Bakhoma, Bakhonjo, Bakhwami, Bakhulaluwa, Baundo, Bachemuluku, Bafisi, Bakobolo, Bamatiri, Bamakhuli, Bameywa, Bahongo, Basamo, Basang'alo, Basianaga, Basioya, Bachambayi, Bangachi, Babiya, Baande, Bakhone, Bakimwei, Batilu, Bakhurarwa, Bakamukong'i, Baluleti, Babasaba, Bakikai, Bhakitang'a, Bhatemlani, Bhasakha, Bhatasama, Bhakiyabi, Banywaka, Banyangali, etc. ISBN 978-1-4669-7837-9[17]

2. The Samia speak Lusamia and occupy Southern Region of Busia District (Busia county), Kenya. The sub-clans of the Samia of include the Abatabona, Abadongo, Abakhino, Abakhulo, Abakangala, Abasonga, Ababukaki, Ababuri, Abalala, Abanyiremi, Abakweri, Abajabi, Abakhoba, Abakhwi, Abadulu, Ababiang'u

3. The Khayo speak Lukhayo and occupy Nambale District and Matayos Division of Busia County, Kenya. Khayo sub-clans include the Abaguuri, Abasota, Abakhabi.

4. The Marachi speak Lumarachi and occupy Butula District in Busia county. Marachi sub-clans include Ababere, Abafofoyo, Abamuchama, Abatula, Abamurono, Abang'ayo, Ababule, Abamulembo, Abatelia, Abapwati, Abasumia, Abarano, Abasimalwa, Abakwera, Abamutu, Abamalele, Abakolwe, Ababonwe, Abamucheka, Abaliba, Ababirang'u, Abakolwe, Abade. Abasubo. The name Marachi is derived from Ng'ono Mwami's father who was called Marachi son of Musebe, the son of Sirikwa. So all the Marachi sub-clans owed their allegiance to Ng'ono Mwami from whose lineage of Ababere sub-clan they were founded. The name Marachi was given further impetus by the war-like lifestyle of the descendants of Ng'ono who ruthlessly fought off the Luo expansion of the Jok Omollo a Nilotic group that sought to control the Nzoia and Sio Rivers in the area and the fishing grounds around the gulf of Erukala and Ebusijo-modern Port Victoria and Sio Port respectively.

5. The Nyala speak Lunyala and occupy Busia District. Other Nyala (Abanyala ba Kakamega) occupy the northwestern part of Kakamega District. The Banyala of Kakamega are said to have migrated from Busia with a leader known as Mukhamba. They speak the same dialect as the Banyala of Busia, save for minor differences in pronunciation. The Abanyala ba Kakamega are also known as Abanyala ba Ndombi. They reside in Navakholo Division North of Kakamega forest. Their one-time powerful colonial chief was Ndombi wa Namusia. [citation needed] Chief Ndombi was succeeded by his son, Andrea.[citation needed]

Andrea was succeeded by Paulo Udoto, Mukopi, Wanjala, Barasa Ongeti, Matayo Oyalo and Muterwa in that order.[citation needed]

The sub-clans of the Banyala include Abahafu, Ababenge, Abachimba, Abadavani, Abaengere, Abakangala, Abakhubichi, Abakoye, Abakwangwachi, Abalanda, Abalecha, Abalindo, Abamani, Abalindavyoki, Abamisoho, Abamuchuu, Abamugi, Abamulembo, Abasinyama, Abamwaya, Abanyekera, Abaokho, Abasaacha, Abasakwa, Abasaya, Abasenya, Abasia, Abasiloli, Abasonge (also found among Kabras), Abasumba, Abasuu, Abatecho (also found among Bukusu), Abaucha, Abauma, Abaumwo, Abacharia, Abayaya, Abayirifuma (also found among Tachoni), Abayisa, Abayundo and Abasiondo, Abachende.

The Banyala do not intermarry with someone from the same sub-clan.[citation needed]

6. The Kabras speak Lukabarasi and occupy the northern part of Kakamega district. The Kabras were originally Banyala.[citation needed] They reside principally in Malava, in Kabras Division of Kakamega district. The Kabras (or Kabarasi, Kavalasi and Kabalasi) are sandwiched by the Isukha, Banyala and the Tachoni.

The name "Kabras" comes from Avalasi which means 'Warriors' or 'Mighty Hunters.' They were fierce warriors who fought with the neighbouring Nandi for cattle and were known to be fearless. This explains why they are generally fewer in number compared to other Luhya clans such as the Maragoli and Bukusu.[citation needed]

The Kabras dialect sounds like the Tachoni dialect. Kabras sub-clans include the Abamutama, Basonje, Abakhusia, Bamachina, Abashu, Abamutsembi, Baluu, Batobo, Bachetsi and Bamakangala. They were named after the heads of the families. [citation needed]

The Kabras were under the rulership of Nabongo Mumia of the Wanga and were represented by an elder in his Council of Elders. [citation needed] The last known elder was Soita Libukana Samaramarami of Lwichi village, Central Kabras, near Chegulo market. When the Quaker missionaries spread to Kabras they established the Friends Church (Quakers) through a missionary by the name of Arthur Chilson, who had started the church in Kaimosi, in Tiriki. He earned a local name, Shikanga, and his children learned to speak Kabras as they lived and interacted with the local children.

7. The Tsotso speak Olutsotso and occupy the western part of Kakamega district. Tsotso sub-clans include the Abangonya, Abashisiru, Abamweche, Abashibo,

8. The Idakho speak Lwidakho and occupy the southern part of Kakamega district. Their sub-clans include the Abashimuli, Abashikulu, Abamasaba, Abashiangala, Abamusali, Abangolori, Abamahani, Abamuhali.

9. The Isukha speak Lwisukha and occupy the eastern part of Kakamega district. Isukha sub-clans include the Abarimbuli, Abasaka- Ia, Abamakhaya, Abitsende, Abamironje, Abayokho, Abakusi, Abamahalia, Abimalia, Abasuiwa, Abatsunga, Abichina, Abashilukha, Bakhumbwa, Baruli, Abatura, Abashimutu, Abashitaho, Abakhulunya, Abasiritsa, Abakhaywa, Abasaiwa, Abakhonyi, Abatecheri, Abayonga, Abakondi, Abaterema, and Abasikhobu.

10. The Maragoli speak Lulogooli and occupy Vihiga district. Maragoli sub-clans include Avamumbaya, Avamuzuzu, Avasaali, Avakizungu, Avavurugi, Avakirima, Avamaabi, Avanoondi, Avalogovo, Avagonda, Avamutembe, Avasweta, Avamageza, Avagizenbwa, Avaliero, Avasaniaga, Avakebembe, Avayonga, Avagamuguywa, Avasaki, Avamasingira, Avamaseero, Avasanga, Avagitsunda.

11. The Nyole speak Olunyole and occupy Bunyore in Vihiga district. Nyole sub-clans include Abakanga, Abayangu, Abasiekwe, Abatongoi, Abasikhale, Aberranyi, Abasakami, Abamuli, Abasubi (Abasyubi), Abasiralo, Abalonga, Abasiratsi. Abamang’ali, Abanangwe, Abasiloli, Ab’bayi, Abakhaya, Abamukunzi and Abamutete.

12. The Tiriki speak Ludiliji and occupy Tiriki in Vihiga district. Tiriki sub-clans include Balukhoba, Bajisinde, Bam'mbo, Bashisungu, Bamabi, Bamiluha, Balukhombe, Badura, Bamuli, Barimuli, Baguga, Basianiga and Basuba.

13. The Wanga speak Oluwanga and occupy Mumias and Matungu Districts. The 22 Wanga sub-clans are Abashitsetse, Abakolwe, Abaleka, Abachero, Abashikawa, Abamurono, Abashieni, Abamwima, Abamuniafu, Abambatsa, Abashibe, Ababere, Abamwende, Abakhami, Abakulubi, Abang’ale, Ababonwe, Abatsoye, Abalibo, Abang’ayo, Ababule and Abamulembwa.

14. The [[Marama Sub-tribe}](Luhya)|Marama]] speak Lumarama and occupy Butere Sub-county. Marama sub-clans include Abamukhula, Abatere, Abashirotsa, Abatsotse, Aberecheya, Abamumbia, Abakhuli, Abakokho, Abakara, Abamatundu, Abamani, Abashieni, Abanyukhu, Abashikalie, Abashitsaha, Abacheya, Abatayi, Abasete, Abamachina, Abakolwe (origin from Wanga), Abebokolo, Abalukokho, Abageri (Luo origin), Abamatioli (origin from Butsotso), Abang'onya (origin from Butsotso), Abashitsetse (origin from Wanga) etc. [18] (History of Abaluyia-Gideon Were)

15. The Kisa speak Olushisa and occupy Khwisero district. Kisa sub-clans include Ababoli, Abakambuli, Abachero, abalakayi, Abakhobole, Abakwabi, Abamurono, Abamanyulia, Abaruli, Abashirandu, Abamatundu, Abashirotsa, Abalukulu etc.

16. The Tachoni speak Lutachoni and occupy Lugari, Trans-Nzoia, Likuyani, Bungoma and Malava districts.[19] Tachoni sub-clans include Abachikha-Abakobolo, Abachambai, Abakabini, Abacharia, and Abamuhonngo-, Abakamutebi, Abamarakalu, Abasang'alo, Abangachi, Abasioya, Abaabiya, Abatecho, Abaengele, Abaabichwa, Abamarakalu, Abamakhanga, Abamakhuli, Abalugulu, Abakubwayi, Abakuusi, Abakamlevi, Abachewa, Abameywa,Abamurundi, Abamua,Abachimuluk, Abachivino, Abanyang'ali, Abarefu, Abasamba, Abasamo, Abaluu, Abayumbu, Abawande, Abaabichu, Abasonge/Abasonje, Abasaniaka, Abamweya, and Abamalicha.[19] The Saniaga sub-clan found among the Maragoli in Kenya and the Saniak in Tanzania are said to have originally been Tachoni.

Other sub-clans said to have been Tachoni are the Bangachi found among Bagisu of Uganda, and Balugulu, also found in Uganda and the Bailifuma, found among the Banyala. [citation needed]

Although Trans Nzoia is in the Rift Valley province, substantial Luhya populations have settled in the Kitale area.

Population and politics


In Kenyan politics, the Luhya population, commonly referred to as the Luhya vote in an election year, was usually a deciding factor in the outcome of an election. The community was known to unite and vote as a block usually for a specific political candidate without division of mind and regardless of political differences. However, since the March 2013 general elections, this was proved wrong. [citation needed] They are now known to accept different ideologies. Politicians scramble for the Luhya vote since it is the most democratic voter in Kenya. [citation needed] Given their high population numbers, a political candidate who enjoys Luhya support is almost always poised to win the country's general elections, barring incidents of fraud. The community is thereafter "rewarded" politically, by one of their own being appointed vice president or to a high-profile political office by the winning candidate. In the 2002 general elections of Kenya, the Luhya proved this point when outgoing president Daniel Arap Moi appointed Musalia Mudavadi as vice president in an attempt to lure Luhyas to vote for Uhuru Kenyatta, his choice of successor with Musalia as running mate. The Luhyas remained adamant in their support for the opposition then led by Mwai Kibaki who also had a Luhya, Michael Kijana Wamalwa as running mate. [citation needed] The Luhyas dealt a severe blow to Moi's candidate by voting en masse for Kibaki who thereafter won the election with Wamalwa as his vice president. Of the eleven vice presidents of Kenya since independence, three have been Luhyas. [citation needed]

Others who have held high-profile political offices include, Musalia Mudavadi, current deputy Prime Minister formerly 7th Vice President (Sept. 2002 – Dec 2002), Michael Wamalwa Kijana, 8th Vice President of Kenya (January 2003 – August 2003), Moody Awori, 9th Vice President of Kenya (September 2003 – January 2008), Amos Wako, longest-serving Attorney General of Kenya - 19 years in office, Kenneth Marende, Speaker of the National Assembly and Zachaias Chesoni, late former Chief Justice of Kenya.


Luhya children

Luhya culture is comparable to most Bantu cultural practices. Polygamy was a common practice in the past. Today, with the influence of Christianity, it is practiced by only a few people,[citation needed] usually, if the man marries under traditional African law or Muslim law. Civil marriages (conducted by government authorities) and Christian marriages preclude the possibility of polygamy.

About 10 to 15 families traditionally made up a village, headed by a village headman (Omukasa). [citation needed] Oweliguru is a title for a village leader coined from the English word "Crew." [citation needed] Within a family, the man of the home was the ultimate authority, followed by his first-born son. In a polygamous family, the first wife held the most prestigious position among women.

The first-born son of the first wife was usually the main heir to his father, even if he happened to be younger than his half-brothers from his father's other wives. Daughters had no permanent position in Luhya families as they would eventually become other men's wives. They did not inherit property and were excluded from decision-making meetings within the family. Today, girls are allowed to inherit property, in accordance with Kenyan law.

Children are named after the sub-clan's ancestors, that is, after their grandparents and after the events, or the weather. The paternal grandparents take precedence so that the first-born son will usually be named after his paternal grandfather (Kuka or 'Guga' in Maragoli) while the first-born daughter will be named after her paternal grandmother ('Kukhu' or 'Guku' in Maragoli.) [citation needed]

Subsequent children may be named after maternal grandparents, after significant events, such as weather, seasons, etc. The name Wafula, for example, is given to a boy born during the rainy season (ifula). Wanjala is given to one born during famine (injala). [citation needed]

Traditionally, they practiced arranged marriages. The parents of a boy would approach the parents of a girl to ask for her hand in marriage. If the girl agreed, negotiations for dowry would begin. Typically, this would be 12 cattle and similar numbers of sheep or goats, to be paid by the groom's parents to the bride's family. Once the dowry was delivered, the girl was fetched by the groom's sisters to begin her new life as a wife. [citation needed]

Instances of eloping were and are still common. Young men would elope with willing girls, with negotiations for a dowry to be conducted later. In such cases, the young man would also pay a fine to the parents of the girl. Abductions are normal. From December 2019 through June 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed 37 people about the kidnappings, including 28 female survivors of sexual violence, 5 of whom were children at the time of the abuse. As polygamy is allowed, a middle-aged man will typically have two to three wives.

When a man got very old and handed over the running of his homestead to his sons, the sons would sometimes find a young woman for the old man to marry. Such girls were normally those who could not find men to marry them, usually because they had children out of wedlock. Wife inheritance was and is also practiced.

A widow would normally be inherited by her husband's brother or cousin. In some cases, the eldest son would inherit his father's widows (though not his own mother). Modern-day Luhyas do not practice some of the traditional customs as most have adopted a Christian way of life. Many Luhyas live in towns and cities for most of their lives and only return to settle in the rural areas after retirement or the death of parents there.

They had extensive customs surrounding death. There would be a great celebration at the home of the deceased, with mourning lasting up to forty days. If the deceased was a wealthy or influential man, a big tree would be uprooted and the deceased would be buried there. After the burial, another tree Mutoto, Mukhuyu or Mukumu would be planted. (This was a sacred tree and is found along most Luhya migration paths it could only be planted by a righteous lady mostly a virgin or a very old lady.)

Nowadays, mourning takes less time (about one week) and the celebrations are held at the time of burial. "Obukoko" and "Lisabo" are post-burial ceremonies held to complete mourning rites.

Animal sacrifices were traditionally practiced. There was great fear of the "Abalosi" or "Avaloji" (witches) and "Babini" (wizards). These were "night-runners" who prowled in the nude running from one house to another casting spells.

Religious Conversion


Most modern-day Luhyas are Christians; for some (if not all) the word for God is Nyasaye or Nyasae (Were Khakaba).

The word Nyasae when translated into English roughly corresponds with Nya (of) and Asae/ Asaye/ Sae/ Saye (Prayer). The Luhya traditionally worshiped an ancient 'god' of the same name (commonly known as Isis, or Were Khakaba. When Christianity was re-introduced to the Luhya in the early 1900s by Christian missionaries from Europe and America, the Luhya peoples took the name of their traditional god, Nyasae, and gave that name to the Living Abrahamic God.

The first Luhyas who were converted to Christianity took words, names, their perceptions of what Christian missionaries told them about the Christian God, and other aspects of their indigenous religious traditions, and applied them to their interpretations of Christ and God.

The Friends Church (Quakers) opened a mission at Kaimosi and the Church of God took over the mission in Bunyore. During the same period, the Catholic order Mill Hill Brothers came to the area of Mumias. The Church of God of Anderson, Indiana, US, arrived in 1905 and began work at Kima in Bunyore. Other Christian groups such as the Anglicans (CMS) came in 1906. In 1924 the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada began their work in Nyan'gori. The Salvation Army came to Malakisi in 1936. The Baptists came to western Kenya in the early 1960s.

The first Bible translation in a Luyia language was produced by Nicholas Stamp in the Wanga language. Osundwa says he did this translation in Mumias, the former capital of the Wanga kingdom of Mumia.

A religious sect known as Dini ya Msambwa was founded by Elijah Masinde in 1948. They worship "Were," the Bukusu god of Mt. Elgon, while at the same time using portions of the Bible to teach their converts. They also practice traditional arts referred to by some as witchcraft.[20] This movement originally arose as part of an anti-colonial resistance.

Various sources estimate that 75%-90% profess Christianity.[21]



With the smugglers of the Marama and Saamia, male circumcision was practised. A few sub-ethnic groups practiced clitoridectomy but, even in those, it was limited to a few instances and was not as widespread as it was among the Agikuyu. The Maragoli did not practice it at all. Outlawing of the practice by the government led to its end, even though it can occur among the Tachoni.

Traditionally, circumcision was part of a period of training for adult responsibilities for the youth. Among those in Kakamega, the initiation was carried out every four or five years, depending on the clan. This resulted in various age sets notably, Kolongolo, Kananachi, Kikwameti, Kinyikeu, Nyange, Maina, and Sawa in that order.

The Abanyala in Navakholo initiate boys every other year and notably on even years. The initiates are about 8 to 13 years old, and the ceremony was followed by a period of seclusion for the initiates. On their coming out of seclusion, there would be a feast in the village, followed by a period of counselling by a group of elders.

The newly initiated youths would then build bachelor-huts for each other, where they would stay until they were old enough to become warriors. This kind of initiation is no longer practiced among the Kakamega Luhya, with the exception of the Tiriki.

Nowadays, the initiates are usually circumcised in hospital, and there is no seclusion period. On healing, a party is held for the initiate — who then usually goes back to school to continue with his studies.

Among the Bukusu, the Tachoni and (to a much lesser extent) the Nyala and the Kabras, the traditional methods of initiation persist. Circumcision is held every even year in August and December (the latter only among the Tachoni and the Kabras), and the initiates are typically 11 to 15 years old.


  • Maina wa Nalukale,
  • Mutonyi wa Nabukelembe (Died among the kabras in the Machina sub-clan)
  • Wachiye Wa Naumbwa
  • Elija Masinde wa Nameme

Economic activities


Food and agriculture


The main food for the Luhya people like most Kenyans is ugali (made from maize flour/cornmeal) served with vegetables and meat of cattle, goat, fish or chicken; hence food production in the region is targeted to meet this need. The lower counties of Vihiga, Kakamega and Busia grow substance crops of maize on their low acreage plots, they raise chicken and keep cattle. The Upper parts of Bungoma and the Kitale grow large scale maize and produce milk from dairy cows. Fish farming is becoming very prevalent thus producing farm-raised tilapia for consumption. Busia, Mumias and lower Bungoma produce cassava and millet. There is normally a maize supply deficit in the production seasons of the year and a surplus supply during the harvest months resulting in much lower prices to producers during harvest and very high prices to consumers during production months. The producer and consumer may be the same person in different months. The largest sugar production facilities in Kenya are located in the western region where the Luhya people predominantly live. Mumias Sugar Company, Kabras Sugar Company and Nzoia Sugar Company have their contract production zones in the Luhya peoples region, hence sugarcane production is a key commercial enterprise. In Vihiga and some areas of Kakamega, tea bushes are very visible, making tea another key commercial crop grown in this region.

Chicken is a delicacy among the Luhya people, and it is a small leap from raising subsistence chickens to commercial chicken.

While everyone speaks their language, food and commercial farming are very unifying endeavors, the language or dialect people speak do not define what they grow or raise – economics and proximity to market determine that.



The Luhya people mainly live in the following districts;

In Kenya,

Kakamega- HQ Kakamega town, sugarcane is the main farming activity.

Bungoma- HQ Bungoma town, the main economy is dependent on grains and sugar.

Vihiga- HQ Mbale town Tea farming and grain farming is the main income for locals.

Busia- HQ Busia Town, Fishing and grain farming is the main local activity.

Trans Nzoia- HQ Kitale, Maize farming is the most economic activity.

Busia- HQ Busia town, just like Kenya Samia people are. Both farmers and Fishermen.

Mbale- HQ Mbale town, The Masaba or Gishu people are predominantly Coffee and tea farmers. As they occupy the slopes of My.Elgon. Mbale district of Uganda is considered the most populous rural district with 257 persons per KM square. Mbale town is in the process of being made the second city in Uganda second to Kampala city.[22]

Luhya peoples also live in Southern and Eastern Uganda, as well as northern Tanzania.

List of Notable Luhya people and People of Luhya Descent


Academics, Medicine and science


Politics, activism, trade unionism, diplomacy and law


Edwin Sifuna, Current Nairobi County Senator.

Business and Economics


Arts, music and media




Mark Kadima, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Bungoma from 2021 to present




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  16. ^ Luhya languages according to Ethnologue
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  21. ^ Abeingo Community Network
  22. ^ ElgonAtlas_11Oct2015_lowres.pdf
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