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Luo (family of ethnic groups)

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Title: Luo (family of ethnic groups)  
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Subject: List of ethnic groups, Demographics of Kenya, Louis Leakey, Uganda, History of Uganda, Kenya, Adhola people, Soga language, Kisii people, Tom Mboya
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Luo (family of ethnic groups)

The Luo (also spelled Lwo) are several ethnically and linguistically related 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. Tribes within the Luo nation include the Shilluk, Anuak, Acholi, Lango, Alur, Padhola, Joluo (Kenyan and Tanzanian Luo), Bor, Luwo and Kumam.

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, and the migration of the individual groups over the last few centuries can to some extent be traced in the respective tribes' oral history.

Origins in South Sudan

The Luo are part of the Nilotic group of tribes. The Nilotes themselves 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, who after a quarrel with his brother moved northward along the Nile and established a feudal society, while the Pari people descend from the group which rejected Nyikango.[4]


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 who live in the lowlands of Gambela are distinguished by the color of their skin and considered to be black Africans. The Ethiopian peoples of the highlands are of different ethnicities, and distinguish themselves most simply 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 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 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 ten thousand on the 2008 population Census.


Around 1500, a small group of Luo known as the Biito-Luo led by a Chief called Labongo whose full title became Isingoma Labongo Rukidi (sometimes named 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. Labongo, the first in the line of the Babiito kings of Bunyoro-Kitara, was according to Bunyoro legend 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. Lango also speak a Luo language. According to Driberg (1923), Lango reached eastern province of Uganda (Otuke Hills) having traveled southeasterly from the Shilluk area, and that Lango language is similar with that of the Shilluk language. It is however in some dispute whether the Lango share ancestry with the luo (with whom they share a common language), or if they have closer 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 and 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 and their leader was ochieng waljak ger a formidable leader who with advanced military skill drove a way the omiya or bantu tribes who were then living in present day ugenya around 1750AD

Kenya and Tanzania

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 (albeit mostly as a second language).

The Luo in [2]. 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.

Luo sub-groups

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

Internationally notable Luo people

  • Barack Obama, Sr., Economist, Harvard University Graduate, father of current U.S. President Barack Obama (Kenyan)
  • Raila Amolo Odinga - Former Prime Minister of Kenya (Feb. 2008- Apr. 2013), Leader of the Orange Democratic Movement Party (Kenyan)
  • Milton Obote, Former Ugandan Prime Minister and President of Uganda (Ugandan)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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 Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL
  • Thomas Risley Odhiambo, entomologist and environmental activist (Kenya)
  • 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
  • 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
  • Bethwell Ogot (Kenya), African and Luo historian


  • Re-introducing the "People Without History"
  • Towards a Human Rights Approach to Citizenship and Nationallity Struggles in Africa
  • The making of the Shilluk kingdom, A socio-political synopsis
  • About Kenya
  • The Luo
  • 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
  • History of the Anuak to 1956, by Professor Emeritus - Robert O. Collins.
  • Nation Media Group, January, 2009.
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