Luo peoples

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A map of some of the Luo peoples

The Luo (also spelled Lwo) are several ethnically and linguistically related Nilotic ethnic groups in Africa that inhabit an area ranging from South Sudan and Ethiopia, through northern Uganda and eastern Congo (DRC), into western Kenya, and the Mara Region of Tanzania. Their Luo languages belong to the Nilotic group and as such form part of the larger Eastern Sudanic family.

Within the Nilotic languages, the Luo together with the Dinka–Nuer form the Western Nilotic branch. Groups within the Luo nation include the Shilluk, Anuak, Acholi, Alur, Padhola, Joluo (Kenyan and Tanzanian Luo), Bor, Luwo

The Joluo and their language Dholuo are also known as the "Luo proper", being eponymous of the larger group. The level of historical separation between these groups is estimated at about eight centuries. Dispersion from the Nilotic homeland in South Sudan was presumably triggered by the turmoils of the Muslim conquest of Sudan. The individual groups over the last few centuries can to some extent be traced in the respective group's oral history.

Origins in South Sudan[edit]

Shilluk men in South Sudan
Shilluk land area in South Sudan

The Luo are part of the Nilotic group of people. The Nilote had separated from the other members of the East Sudanic family by about the 3rd millennium BC.[1] Within Nilotic, Luo forms part of the Western group. The Luo languages forms one branch of this Western Nilotic group, the other being Dinka-Nuer (named for the Dinka people and the Nuer people). The separation of the Luo group from Dinka-Nuer presumably took place in South Sudan at some point in the first millennium AD.[2]

Within Luo, a Northern and a Southern group is distinguished. "Luo proper" or Dholuo is part of the Southern Luo group. Northern Luo is mostly spoken in South Sudan, while Southern Luo groups migrated south from the Bahr el Ghazal area in the early centuries of the second millennium AD (about eight hundred years ago). This migration was presumably triggered by the medieval Muslim conquest of Sudan.

A further division within the Northern Luo is recorded in a "widespread tradition" in Luo oral history:[3] the foundational figure of the Shilluk (or Chollo) nation was a chief named Nyikango, dated to about the mid-15th century. After a quarrel with his brother, he moved northward along the Nile and established a feudal society. The Pari people descend from the group that rejected Nyikango.[4]


[citation needed]

Anuak girls in Dimma, Ethiopia

The Anuak are a Luo people whose villages are scattered along the banks and rivers of the southwestern area of Ethiopia, with others living directly across the border in southern Sudan. The name of this people is also spelled Anyuak, Agnwak, and Anywaa. The Anuak of Sudan live in a grassy region that is flat and virtually treeless. During the rainy season, this area floods, so that much of it becomes swampland with various channels of deep water running through it.

The Anuak who live in the lowlands of Gambela are distinguished by the color of their skin and are considered to be black Africans. The Ethiopian peoples of the highlands are of different ethnicities, and identify by lighter skin color. The Anuak have alleged that the current Ethiopian government and dominant highlands people have discriminated against them. This has affected the Anuak access to education, health care and other basic services, as well as limiting opportunities for development of the area.

The Acholi, another Luo people in South Sudan, occupy what is now called Magwi County in Eastern Equatorial State. They border the Uganda Acholi of Northern Uganda. The South Sudan Acholi numbered about 10,000 on the 2008 population Census.


Acholiland in Uganda
Acholi man in South Sudan

Around 1500, a small group of Luo known as the Biito-Luo, led by Chief Labongo (his full title became Isingoma Labongo Rukidi, also known as Mpuga Rukidi), encountered Bantu-speaking peoples living in the area of Bunyoro. These Luo settled with the Bantu and established the Babiito dynasty, replacing the Bachwezi dynasty of the Empire of Kitara. According to Bunyoro legend, Labongo, the first in the line of the Babiito kings of Bunyoro-Kitara, was the twin brother of Kato Kimera, the first king of Buganda. These Luo were assimilated by the Bantu, and they lost their language and culture.

Later in the 16th century, other Luo-speaking people moved to the area that encompasses present day Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda and North-Eastern Congo (DRC) – forming the Alur, Jonam and Acholi. Conflicts developed when they encountered the Lango, who had been living in the area north of Lake Kyoga. The Lango also speak a Luo language. According to Driberg (1923), the Lango reached the eastern province of Uganda (Otuke Hills), having traveled southeasterly from the Shilluk area. The Lango language is similar to the Shilluk language. There is not consensus as to whether the Lango share ancestry with the Luo (with whom they share a common language), or if they have closer ethnic kinship with their easterly Ateker neighbours, with whom they share many cultural traits.

Between the middle of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, some Luo groups proceeded eastwards. One group called Padhola (or Jopadhola - people of Adhola), led by a chief called Adhola, settled in Budama in Eastern Uganda. They settled in a thickly forested area as a defence against attacks from Bantu neighbours who had already settled there. This self-imposed isolation helped them maintain their language and culture amidst Bantu and Ateker communities.

Those who went further a field were the Joka jok and Joka owiny. The Jok Luo moved deeper into the Kaviirondo Gulf; their descendants are the present-day Jo Kisumo and Jo Rachuonyo amongst others. Jo owiny occupied an area near got ramogi or ramogi hill in alego of siaya district. The Owiny's ruins are still identifiable to this day at Bungu Owiny near Lake Kanyaboli.

The other notable Luo group is the Omolo Luo who inhabited Ugenya and gem areas of Siaya district. The last immigrants were the Jo Kager, who are related to the Omollo Luo. Their leader Ochieng Waljak Ger used his advanced military skill to drive away the Omiya or Bantu groups, who were then living in present-day Ugenya around 1750AD.

Kenya and Tanzania[edit]

Luo dancers in Eldoret, Kenya

Between about 1500 and 1800, other Luo groups crossed into present-day Kenya and eventually into present-day Tanzania. They inhabited the area on the banks of Lake Victoria. According to the Joluo, a warrior chief named Ramogi Ajwang led them into present-day Kenya about 500 years ago.

As in Uganda, some non-Luo people in Kenya have adopted Luo languages. A majority of the Bantu Suba people in Kenya speak Dholuo as a first language and have largely been assimilated.

The Luo in Kenya, who call themselves Joluo (aka Jaluo, "people of Luo"), are the fourth largest community in Kenya after the Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Luhya. In 2010 their population was estimated to be 4.1million. In Tanzania they numbered (in 2001) an estimated 980,000 [1]. The Luo in Kenya and Tanzania call their language Dholuo, which is mutually intelligible (to varying degrees) with the languages of the Lango, Kumam and Padhola of Uganda, Acholi of Uganda and Sudan and Alur of Uganda and Congo.

The Luo (or Joluo) are traditional fishermen and practice fishing as their main economic activity. Other cultural activities included wrestling (yii or dhao) kwath for the young boys aged 13–18 in their age sets. Their main rivals in the 18th century were the Lango, the Highland Nilotes, who were traditionally engaged them in fierce bloody battles, most of which emanated from the stealing of their livestock.

Luo sub-groups[edit]

This includes peoples who share Luo ancestry and/or speak a Luo language.

Jur chol (South Sudan)

Internationally notable Luo people[edit]

  • Major (Rtd) Dr. Okullo Aabuka Jallon Antony (Ugandan), Decorated National Hero, Private Family Medicine Consultant, First Ugandan African National Rugby Captain 1974-1975, Former Chairman, Uganda National Road Safety Council and Kitgum Displaced Person's Committee.
  • Raila Amolo Odinga, Second Prime Minister, The longest serving political detainee in Kenyan History
  • Barack Obama, President of the United States, of partial Luo descent through his father, Barack Obama, Sr.
  • Dr. Washington A. J. Okumu - Broke the stalemate between Mandela, Buthelezi and F.W. de Klerk before South Africa's first post apartheid elections
  • Barack Obama, Sr., Economist, Harvard University Graduate, father of current U.S. President Barack Obama (Kenyan)
  • Dr Apollo Milton Obote, the first prime minister of independent Uganda and two-time president of Uganda(a Lango from Akokoro)
  • Gordon Omollo,Political Activist,social democrat and educationist.
  • Daniel Ojambo Adongo, NFL Player, Special Teams, Indiapolis Colts (Kenya).
  • Dr Stephen Ochiel, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. Chief Medical Officer at the University of Nairobi, University Health Services. Chairman, Nairobi Health Management Board. Chairman, Medical Sciences Advisory Research Committee. Chairman, Kenya Medical Investment Company Limited Board. President, Federation of Medical Association of East Africa. Merit Award by Kenya Medical Association (2012),he was conferred with award and honour of Moran of the Order of Burning Spear (MBS) in recognition of outstanding and distinguished services rendered to the nation by THE PRESIDENT and COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF of the ARMED FORCES of THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA (2008)
  • Tito Okello, Former President of Uganda and Army Commander – Deceased (Ugandan)
  • Bazilio Olara-Okello, Former president of Uganda – Deceased (Ugandan)
  • Joseph Ukello Abang, Current Minister of Education (South Sudan)
  • Janani Luwum, Former Archbishop of the Church of Uganda (Ugandan)
  • Tom Mboya, politician, Pan-Africanist, assassinated in 1969 (Kenyan)
  • George Ramogi, musician (Kenyan)
  • Prof Grace Ogot, Educationist (Kenya)
  • Thomas Diju Owuor, President IOE, New Zealand Consul in Kenya, Long serving Executive Director, Federation of Kenya Employers, Chairman of Kenya's first Anti corruption agency (Kenya)
  • Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Author (Kenya)
  • Effie Owuor, High Court Judge (Kenya)
  • Joyce Oluoch, High Court Judge (Kenya)
  • Amb. Raychelle Omamo, Cabinet Secretary - Department of Defense (Kenya)
  • Gwada Ogot, Political Analyst and International Elections Expert(Kenyan)
  • Ochieng Kenyatta, Engineering and International Contracts Expert(Kenyan)
  • Joseph Kony, Leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, notorious rebel group in Uganda (Ugandan)
  • Jaramogi Oginga Odinga - Independence Fighter, First Vice President of Independent Kenya (Kenyan)
  • Ramogi Achieng' Oneko, Freedom fighter Veteran (Kenyan)
  • Olara Otunnu, Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (Ugandan)
  • Dr. Harrison Olang, Vice Chancellor Mount Meru University Tanzania
  • Robert Oloo Ondere, Former Milken Award Winner. South Carolina
  • Robert Ouko, Kenyan Foreign Minister, murdered in 1990 (Kenyan)
  • Okot p'Bitek, poet and author of the Song of Lawino (Ugandan)
  • Ayub Ogada, singer, composer and performer on the nyatiti, the Nilotic lyre of Kenya (Kenyan)
  • Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the church of Uganda (Uganda)
  • Johnny Oduya, a defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL
  • Prof. Thomas Risley Odhiambo, University of Cambridge trained entomologist and environmental activist (Kenya), and the founder Director Of ICIPE, African Academy of Sciences and RANDFORUM
  • Ramogi Achieng Oneko, Independence Freedom Fighter and Politician (Kenya)
  • Betty Bigombe, Former Ugandan Politician, a senior fellow at the U.S Institute of Peace (Uganda)
  • Matthew Lukwiya, Epidiomologist, Died while fighting to eradicate the ebola pandemic in northern Uganda (Uganda)
  • Adongo Agada Cham, 23rd King of the Anuak Nyiudola Royal Dynasty of Sudan & Ethiopia (Sudan/Ethiopia)
  • Amos Otieno Odenyo, Chairman of Social Sciences, York College (City University of New York), World Education - Board of Trustees (Boston), and co-author of Staring at the Nyanza Sun: A Kenyan-American Memoir
  • Lupita Nyong'o (Kenya), Actress and Filmmaker (Yale School of Drama)[5]
  • Francis Amos Raballa Oke Kagwa nyakwar Ogalo - Civil Engineering Expert - Development Bank of Southern Africa
  • Major General (retired) Pasteur Omudho Awitta - Commander, Kenya Navy
  • General Daniel Opande (retired), Kenya Army and Head of UN Peace Keeping Forces in Liberia
  • John Okello (Uganda/Kenya), started the Zanzibar revolution that ended Arab rule on the Zanzibari Islands
  • Millie Odhiambo (Kenya), human rights activist
  • Grace Ogot (Kenyan), writer and former Member of Parliament
  • Obang Metho (Ethiopian), Human rights activist and Founder of SMNE- Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia
  • Bethwell Ogot (Kenya), African and Luo historian
  • Kevin Ochieng Obura (Kenya), African and Luo Information System Expert
  • N.I Owino-Were (Kenya), Academician and geography author
  • Joseph Oundo, public health, laboratory systems, and clinical microbiology expert
  • Alex Oloya Lurum(Acholi from Patitko,Uganda)Computer information forensic Expert
  • Prof. Alexander Odonga (patiko, Ugnada) The first Acholi Doctor from Oxford of the first in East Central Africa to qualify as a Specialist Surgeon, Professor of Surgery, Dean Makerere Medical School, Dean School of Dentistry, University of Nairobi.
  • Prof. David Peter Simon Wasawo, University of Oxford trained Zoologist and the first African Deputy Principal of Makerere University College and Nairobi University College
  • Prof. Isaiah Omolo Ndiege, University of Cambridge trained Organic Chemist and the Vice Chancellor of Kyambogo University, Kampala
  • CMG Argwings Kodhek, the first African advocate in Kenya
  • Dennis Akumu, a veteran trade unionist
  • Chief Odera Akango, a colonial chief who realized the importance of education and forced the people of Gem to embrace it leading to the current high number of academic giants in the constituency
  • Dr Alphonse John Okidi, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC
  • Norbert Mao, President of Democratic Party, Uganda, East Africa
  • Stacy Aamito, Uganda SuperModel
  • Divock Okoth Origi (born 18 April 1995 in Ostend) is a Belgian footballer who plays as striker for Lille (LOSC) and the Belgian national team as a striker. He is the son of former professional footballer Mike Origi.
  • Edward Were, US Army.
  • Dennis Oliech, Football Player in France Dennis Oliech
  • John Henry Okwanyo, former MP and Minister who contributed a lot to the development of Migori.
  • Kevin Ouma Okullo, Luo Gospel Musician and Philanthropist(Jaluo - Oyugis,Kenya)
  • Okongo Ochieng Wilberforce from Migori, first class Kenyatta University 19 December 2014.
  • Anthony Olanya-Olenge. Former MP and Ministor in Obote 2 Government (Uganda)
  • Eng. Joseph Odhiambo Majiwa. Structural Engineer Kenya.
  • Olanya Jimmy Komakech Olenge. Former chairman of Mortgage Association of Uganda. CEO Institute of Bankers, Active political players in Uganda
  • Daniel Otunge-Renowned Agricultural development Communication specialist. Head of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology In Africa (OFAB) with chapters in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
  • John Okecho Moses Okello, Lawyer, Diplomat and former Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Victor Odhiambo Bollo, a professional teacher (Graduated from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology),musician ( an academic writer.[6]

  • Mzee Arthur Obel Okello-The first african bamburi portland manager(kenya)
  • Geoffrey Oryema, Acoli musician.
  • Dr. Janet Lakareber, author of Acoli accented orthography.
  • Dr. Dennis Obonyo Ndolo, Africa's leading Biosafety specialist, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biosafety, Cape Town South Africa
  • Dr. Aman Bonaveture Omondi, Entomologist working for CGIAR in Burundi, Editor-Chief-African Association of Insect Scientists, with prior experience in Sweden, South Africa, Germany, Kenya and Ghana.
  • Prof Washington Omondi, Ethnomusicologist (Kenya)
  • Prof Thomas Odhiambo, Pre-eminent scientist, founder of International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, exceptional thinker, visionary and influencer (Kenya)


  1. ^ John Desmond Clark, From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa, University of California Press, 1984, p. 31
  2. ^ Bethwell Ogot, History of the Southern Luo: Volume 1 Migration and Settlement.
  3. ^ Conradin Perner, Living on Earth in the Sky, vol. 2 (1994), p. 135.
  4. ^ Simon Simonse, Kings of Disaster: Dualism, Centralism, and the Scapegoat King in Southeastern Sudan, BRILL (1992), p. 53.
  5. ^ Lupita Nyong'o
  6. ^

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ogot, Bethwell A., History of the Southern Luo: Volume I, Migration and Settlement, 1500-1900, (Series: Peoples of East Africa), East African Publishing House, Nairobi, 1967
  • Johnson D., History and Prophecy among the Nuer of Southern Sudan, PhD Thesis, UCLA, 1980
  • Deng F.M. African of Two Worlds; the Dinka in Afro-Arab Sudan, Khartoum, 1978