Luo

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The Luo are a people of Western Kenya, Central-Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and Tanzania. The third largest ethnic group in Kenya (after the Kikuyu and Luhya), they live on the shores and hinterland of Lake Victoria. They speak the Dholuo language, which belongs to the Western Nilotic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. They are famous for, and proud of, their own egalitarian ideology. The Luo are one of the few tribes in Kenya that do not practice ritual circumcision of males as initiation. Traditionally, children had their six front teeth knocked out at initiation. This ritual is rare these days.

The ancestors of the Luo were pastoral nomads who migrated south from Sudan towards the end of the 15th Century. The Luo first settled in central Uganda, but were gradually pushed southwards and eastwards by encroaching Bantu migrants. Remnants of this are evident in the Jopadhola, Langi and Acholi populations of Uganda, who speak Luo languages. Intermarriage was common and the Luo were influenced by the Bantu-speaking tribes they came in contact with.

By the 1840's, the Luo had a tight-knit society with ruoths or regional chiefs. In 1915 the Colonial Government sent Odera Akang'o, the ruoth of Gem, to Kampala, Uganda. He was impressed by the British settlement there and upon his return home he initiated a forced process of adopting western style of "schooling, dress and hygiene". This resulted in the rapid education of the Luo in the English language and ways. The Luo tribe was instrumental in the fight for Kenya's independence, with Oginga Odinga, a Luo leader, becoming the first Vice President of independent Kenya. Barack Obama - an African-American Senator in the United States - traces his lineage through his father to the Luo.

Traditional and Contemporary Luo Music

Traditionally the Luo music revolved around the nyatiti - a lyre with eight strings. Accompanying the nyatiti lead were songs about society, politics, history and change. Other traditional instruments include onand (an accordian) and orutu (a fiddle).

The Luo are most famous for the benga style of music. It is a lively style in which songs in Swahili are sung to a lively guitar riff. It originated in the 1950s with Luo musicians trying to adapt their traditional tribal dance rhythms to western instruments. The guitar (acoustic, later electric) replaced the nyatiti as the string instrument. Benga has become so popular that it is played by musicians of all tribes and is no longer considered a purely Luo style. It has become Kenyas characteristic pop sound.

Also see Luo Section of Folk Music of Kenya

Contemporary Status

The Luo are currently one of the poorest ethnic groups in Kenya. Many years in the opposition, especially during the administration of the KANU party has resulted in them being systematically neglected. Ravaged by AIDS and with little or no infrastructure in most parts, the area - with high economic potential due to the presence of Lake Victoria - remains poor and undeveloped.de:Luo fr:Luo

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