Luo or Lwoo (also called Joluo, singular Jaluo) are an amalgamated agro-fishery and Nilotic Dholuo ethnolinguistic 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 western Kenya, eastern Uganda, and in Mara Region in northern Tanzania. The name Luo or Lwo means "God’s life bearing exhalation.’
Orawo Luo tribal warrior dancer from Kenya
The amalgamated Luo-speaking people consist of many sub-groups or tribes which includes: Acholi people of South Sudan and Uganda, Anuak people of Ethiopia and Sudan, Jo Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania and Alur people of Uganda and DRC. The rest are Lango, Jopadhola, Kumam and Jonam people of Uganda; Shilluk, Mabaan, Thuri, Pari, Funj, Jumjum, Jur Bel, Blanda Boore and Luwo people of South Sudan; Luo Suba and Jokanywa people of Kenya; and Gambella people of Ethiopia.
Luo (Acholi) women
As one of the Largest Eastern African Nilotic groups, Luo people who are also known to historians and anthropologists as Kavirondo are said to be one of the ancient people of Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan, i.e Anu people, the tribe of Osiris, by celebrated Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop and renowned British pro-Africanist anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard.
In identifying Anu people with the Luos, Diop (1991) wrote "The Anuak (sub-tribe of Luo) of the Sobat River (Evans-Pritchard, 1940 p. 253) recalls the proto-historic tribe of Anu (of Osiris ethnicity) who originally occupied the Nile Valley" (Diop 1981, p. 121). Both Diop and Evans-Pritchard confirmed that the Luos were the very Nilotic people who first settled the Nile Valley and founded the ancient Kingdom of Koch (Cush, Kush or Quoch). Koch (Cush) was the original and powerful "itiyopian" kingdom that first emerged from the Nile valley in the modern republic of Sudan. In the Luo language, "i" means "thou" and "tiyo" is a verb meaning "to work or dedicate service to," "pi" means "for." Anu was a primordial watery mass, god of gods. Thus, "itiyopianu" means people who dedicate service to Anu.
Luo (Shilluk) people of Sudan
The sovereigns of Koch (Cush) extended Itiyipianu into the lower Nile region, which later became known as Egypt. So over the years the Koch (Cush) kingdom of Itiyo-pi-anu "expanded into Egypt, Arabia, and Aegian Peninsula" (Drussila D, Houston, 1985). The four waves of Luo migration from Sudan to other parts of Africa were chiefly from the four Luo-speaking groups (Lwoo), especially Acholi and Padhola. The Luo comprise a number of communities made up of various clans ( oganda ) and sub-clans who migrated into Kenya in various small groups led by clan leaders ( ruoth ). After settling in Nyanza region, each clan carved out and defended its own territory, later called 'locations' ( piny ).
Luo tribe woman Lupita Nyong'o, Kenyan academy award-winning actress of 12 Yeas a Slave fame and Filmmaker
The powerful and intelligent Luo people whose livelihood are mainly fishing, farming and pastoral herding are the third largest ethnic group (13%) in Kenya, after the Kikuyu (22%) and the Luhya (14%). The Luo and the Kikuyu inherited the bulk of political power in the first years following Kenya's independence in 1963. The Luo population in Kenya was estimated to be 2,185,000 in 1994 and 4.1 million in 2010 according to Govt census. However the figure was disputed by many Luos as not scientific since a significant portion of people previously considered as Luo were now counted as Suba. The Luos also feel that their overall population has always been down-scaled by successive Kenyan regime census in an attempt to mute the strong Luo political voice. Sample census conducted by experts estimate the total Kenyan Luo population to be currently at around 5 million. The Tanzanian Luo population was estimated at 980,000 in 2001 and 1,500,230 in 2010.
Outside Luoland, the Luo comprise a significant fraction of East Africa's intellectual and skilled labour force in various professions. Others members work in eastern Africa as tenant fishermen, small scale farmers, and urban workers. The Luo are the originators of a number of music styles, such as Benga, Ohangla, Dodo.
Historian and Catholic priest, J.P. Crazzolara in his foundational and migration study, The Lwoo (1950), writes hyperbolically, “They marched on and came upon people who trembled at their sudden appearance. The Lwoo were at sight the absolute arbiters of this population, who had no time left to think and try to repel such an unexpected mass of invaders.”
He describes them as an “irresistible, awful, marvellous people” that “spread (their) shadow” over the older areas of western and southern Uganda.
Luo tribe man and US president Barack Obama chatting with Kenyan tribal elders at Nairobi, Kenya.
The most prominent Luo people are Barack Obama, President of United States of America, Raila Amolo Odinga, Kenya`s former Prime minister and main opposition leader, Lupita Nyong'o, Kenyan academy award-winning actress of 12 Yeas a Slave fame and Filmmaker, Olara Otunnu,, Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (Ugandan), Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Independence Fighter, First Vice President of Independent Kenya (Kenyan) and father of Raila Odinga, Barack Obama, Sr, Economist, Harvard University Graduate, father of current U.S. President Barack Obama, Tito Okello, Former President of Uganda and Army Commander, Bazilio Olara-Okello, Former president of Uganda, Joseph Kony, Leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, notorious rebel group in Uganda (Ugandan), Okot p'Bitek, poet and author of the Song of Lawino (Ugandan), Tom Mboya,Pan-Africanist, assassinated in 1969 (Kenyan) etc.
Luo man Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, nationalist, Pan-Africanist, vice president of indepence Kenya and long-time Kenyan opposition leader. He is an uncle of US president Barack Obama
The Luo people speak the Dholuo language, which belongs to the Western Nilotic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. it is spoken by other Luo-speaking peoples, such as the Lango, Acholi, Adhola and Alur (all of Uganda and parts of Sudan and Eastern Congo). The four waves of Luo migration were chiefly from the four Luo-speaking groups (Lwoo), especially Acholi and Padhola. Dholuo, spoken in Kenya, is considered to be proper and standard Luo because it contains elements from all other Lwoo languages. It is estimated that Dholuo has 90% lexical similarity with Lep Alur (Alur language); 83% with LepAchol (Acholi language); 81% with Lango language, 93% with Dhopadhola (Padhola language), 74% with Anuak, and 69% with Jurchol(Luwo) & Dhi-Pari (Pari).
Luo tribe man Raila Amolo Odinga, Kenya`s former Prime minister and main opposition leader
How are you? (informal) "Amosi?"
Very well. "Ber ahinya." (This is literally, "I greet you," a-mos-i.)
How is your morning? "Ichiyo nade?"
My morning is going well. 'Achiyo ma ber." (This is literally, How did you wake?. The verb to wake is chiewo, according to ABO.)
Compare to Acholi Lwo in northern Uganda: Ichiyo ni nin? Achiyo ma ber.
English Acholi Lwo
How is your afternoon? Irio nade? (note: this greeting is less commonly used than either the morning or evening forms.)
My afternoon is going well. Ario ma ber.
How is your evening? Idhi nade?
My evening is going well. Adhi ma ber. (This is literally, How are you going?. The verb to go or to be going is dhi, according to ABO.)
How is the morning? Oyaore?
The morning is going well. Oyaore ahinya.
How is the day? Osaore? (used around midday)
The day is going well. Osaore ahinya.
How is the evening? Owimore?
The evening is going well. Owimore ahinya.
Thank you (very much), Erokamano (ahinya). Note that thanks are quite different in Uganda's Acholi Lwo: which goes like "Apwoyo (ma tek)."
I'll be back. Abiroduogo
Slowly, slowly. Mos, mos. (This is equivalent to pole, pole in Kiswahili.)
We'll see each other [later]. Wabironenore.
Let's see each other tomorrow. Wanere kiny.
I'm (very) sorry. Mos (ahinya). (Equivalent to pole (sana) in Kiswahili.)
Sleep well. Nindi ma ber.
I want... Adwaro...
You want... Odwaro...
I know... Ang'eyo...
I don't know... Ok ang'eyo...
I like... Ahero...
I want water, adwaro pii
I am thirsty, riyo nega (ABO translates thirst as riyo, and thirsty as bedo gi riyo.)
Thank you, ero kamano
Student, nyathi skul
I am starved, kech nega
Father, baba (ABO says, wuoro. Baba is Kiswahili.)
Mother, mama (ABO says, dhako or miyo as well. Mama is Kiswahili.)
To help, kony (The verb in Acholi is exactly the same. The Lord's Resistance Army--a band of rebels that has terrorized villages in northeast Uganda, kidnapped thousands of children, forced them to be child soldiers, and carried out a variety of other atrocities against civilians--is led by a man named Joseph Kony.)
Luo (anuak) girls from Gambela in Ethiopia
Book, buk (or kitabu, the Kiswahili word.)
I want to eat, adwaro chiemo
Grandpa, kwaru,kwara (According to ABO, kwaro.)
Grandma, dani,dana (According to ABO, dayo.)
White man, ja rachar
Black man, ja rateng
Eleven, apar gachiel
Twelve, apar gariyo
Nineteen, apar ga ochiko
Twenty, piero ariyo
Twenty one, piero ariyo gachiel
Thirty, piero adek
Luo Cultural artist, Tony Nyandundo in marylad
According to Okot (1971, 2), the term Luo is the name of the mythical founder or leader of the Luo peoples. He further observes that although the name is widespread it does not appear in the founding myths of those who call themselves Luo. For example, the Shilluck say that their original home was Luo and the other people merely mentions Luo as the first man.
Luo men. Circa 1902. By Charles William Hobley
These myths being about the foundation of the existing political institution and groups are dominated by who the founder was; for example, in Sudan, among the Northern Luo, Nyikang‘o, Gilo, Dak and Dimo; among the Acholi, Alur and Chope Labong‘o, Nyipir and their mother Nyikal; the Padhola and Kenyan and Tanzania Luo by Labong‘o, and Gipir but speak more so of Owiny, Podho and Ramogi.
Luo warriors from Nyakach in full war gear . Charles W. Hobley, about 1900
The name Jo-pa-Luo then means people, followers or descendants of Luo. Although it is possible to reconstruct histories of the Luo groups separately, it is not possible to trace the history of the Luo people to the first Luo man. However, a comparative study of different Luo myths reveals striking similarities; many of them about quarrels over beads or spears. The people call themselves Luo, their language dho or lep Luo (Luo tongue) and their customs kit Luo. They are conscious of their Luo-ness. When shrines are built for ancestors, two are built; one called tipu Luo and the other tipu Jomiru/kimirwa. The first one refers to those of sociologically pure ethnic stock, who are all agnatically descendants of chiefs and Jumiru /kimirwa refers to all other clans who are regarded as subjects of the Luo. The Kenyan Luo refers to the Kalenjin: Nandi, Suk, Maasai, etc., as the Jo-Lang’o. The Central Luo also calls their eastern neighbours Lang’o.
Luo Origins in Sudan
The Luo are part of the Nilotic group of people. The Nilotes themselves had separated from the other members of the East Sudanic family by about the 3rd millennium BC. 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. 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: 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.
Luo origins in 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 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.
Luo little girls performing traditional dance
Luo origins in Uganda
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.
Luo (Acholi) Dancers from Uganda
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 groups who were then living in present day ugenya around 1750AD
Luo origins in 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 Kenya, who call themselves Joluo (aka Jaluo, "people of Luo"), are the fourth largest community in Kenya after the Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Luhya. In 1994 their population was estimated to be 2,185,000. In Tanzania they numbered (in 2001) an estimated 980,000. 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.
Obama, at his ethnic Luo family home in the Kenyan homestead of Alego, poses with, from l., his Grandmother Sarah, Auma Obama (his sister) and Kezia Obama (Barack's stepmother and his father's second wife,
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 people of Ethiopia
The Luo are said to have practiced a dual economy, with both farming and cattle-keeping being important. Both cattle, sheep and goats were kept and were used for both food, marriage payment and also for ritual activities such as sacrifice. Both sorghum (bel ) and finger millet (kal ) were important crops.
In some parts of Luoland, their economic activities are mostly influenced by the fresh water of Lake Victoria. They are mostly involved in fishing. The fish are consumed locally while some, especially the Nile perch, are exported to Europe and other countries. Fish and ugali are the staple foods of the Luo tribe. They also practice sugarcane and cotton farming, in other areas where they (Luos) live.
Luo farmer laughing happily
Social relations among the Luo are governed by rules of kinship, gender, and age. Descent is patrilineal which is traced through the male line to determine kinship. Kin align themselves for purposes of exchange of goods, marriage, and political alliance.
Names are received through the male line, and after marriage women reside in the homesteads of their husbands. A married woman builds up alliances for her husband's family by maintaining strong relationships with her brothers and sisters who live at her birthplace or elsewhere. It is expected that after marriage a woman will bear children for her husband's lineage. Bride wealth, given by her husband and his family, contributes to the woman's ability to maintain ties with her own family throughout her life. By having children, a woman greatly enhances her power and influence within the lineage of her husband. As the children grow, they take special care of her interests. Perhaps as many as 30 percent of Luo homesteads are polygynous; in which a man has more than one wife. This contributes to solidarity between a mother and her children, and between children born of the same mother. Polygyny is commonly accepted by both men and women, provided traditional ideas and regulations are maintained. These include, for example, a special recognition for the first wife or "great wife," whose house and granary are located prominently at the back of the homestead opposite the main gate. Subsequent wives have homes alternatively to her right and left in the order of their marriage. Sons are provided with homes adjacent to the main gate of the compound in the order of their birth. The husband maintains a homestead for himself near the center of the compound, his own brothers, if they have not yet formed their own homesteads; reside on the edge of the compound near its center. As Luo become wealthy in Luo land or elsewhere, it is common for them to build a large house for their mother. This is especially necessary if she is a "great wife," as it is considered improper for younger wives to have larger homes than wives more senior to themselves. Visiting and being visited is the major source of pleasure for the Luo. The social principles regarding age, kinship, and gender impose a heavy schedule of ritual obligations on Luo, regardless of their place of residence.
Age is important factor in the Luo society. Age is divided into two which are age-grating and age set; age is the stages one passes from infancy through adolescence, adulthood to death. Age-set is group of persons of the same sex, age, going through the same life circle at the same step and same time. A Luo have roles in age grade one is expected to behave certain way according to his or her age, they also believe in ancestral spirit which is the last stage in age grading. Politics is played according to one’s age: children and young adults are not expected to lead meetings of were adults and senior adults are, in most cases any leader of the Luo like the Craftsman, Traditional chiefs, or medicine men are either adult male or senior adult male. The age set also plays an important role in the Luo society people who are of the same age or have just a slight variation, have grown and matured together in the same manner have obligations to do certain things together or are expected to behave in certain ways; people of the same age are expected to grow and mature in the same manner and if one tends to delay it is questioned by the society and the elders advice the victim to try and catch up with the age-set. However the age is not very important in the modern world since some of the roles of an upper age grade can be taken by the lower age grade therefore age does not reflect that much as in the past.
Luo (Anuak) girl from Dimma
This factor is the very social organization in the Luo society, it defined the obligation of the members of the Luo society it also defined privileges of members, kinship has two levels; the nuclear and the extended family, the nuclear family in made of the male head who has unchallenged power, his wife or wives, their children and the unmarried daughters of the male head. The nuclear served many functions and it was important in the Luo society; it is the centre of education where parents teach their children values common practices and customs , it is also the survival of the Luo society and it has a role to protect the children. The extended family comprises the parents, children, relatives, aunts and uncles this formed a clan. The clans where identified by totems. Kinship therefore still plays an important role in the Luo society up to date even though some believes and values have been eroded by the modern world like the unchallenged power of the male head. Politics, economy, and education is therefore played from the male down to the siblings, the male head is the decision maker when it comes to the running of business within the nuclear family and the leadership goes down to the wives then to the male sons from the eldest to the youngest. Education is done in gender basis the female are educated by their mothers and aunties while the male are educated by their father and uncles.
In the traditional Luo society sex is a very important factor in term of advantage in the social structure, the female is termed as the second sex, when it comes to food the male has the advantage over the female because the belief says that the male has to take care of the Kinship and the clans as a whole and therefore he has to be strong and eat good food. The male also have an advantage over the women, they are always the beneficiary in division of wealth. In the division of labor men are advantaged, since women are the laborers and this led to men marrying many wives who will provide more labor when it comes to house work and food production. Sex also plays a big role in religion and leadership within the Luo society, the leadership is that of hierarchal and patriarchal, the women have a low status when it comes to leadership even though this element of sex is not important in the modern world due human rights, and the upraised civil societies. The most notable fact about the Luo economy is that women play the primary role in farming. Before the introduction of the modern money economy, the garden was the centerpiece of the women's world of work. Industrious women could earn considerable wealth by exchanging their garden produce for animals, handicrafts, pots, and baskets. A young girl is expected to help her mother and her mother's co-wives in farming land owned by her father, brothers, and paternal uncles. Even though a girl may go to school and rise to a prominent position in society, there is often still a strong association with the land and digging. Men are preoccupied with livestock and spend a great deal of time in "social labor" concerned with placing their cattle in good contexts, such as bride wealth exchanges, trading partnerships, and commercial sales. In the modern economy, cattle and goats have a monetary value as well. Men have control over animals and cash crops.
The woman cannot build a house on her own there has to be a man, in case of death of her husband she has to be inherited by one of the male in that community since customs indicate that there is no house without a male head to make decisions.
Luo man playing a string instrument, Ngomongo Village, Kenya | The Africa Image Library
Luo name their children after their ancestors. They therefore get the name of spirits (Nying-Juogi). The basic principle upon which the Luo acquire these Nying-Juogi is directly from the sun`s different positions in relations to the earth. If a child is born at sunrise, its name is Okinyi for male and Akinyi for female. To a great extent luo names are based on the principle of sun`s position during the day and its corresponding positions by the night. Thus, a child born between 5 a.m and 7 a.m is named Okinyi for a boy and Akinyi for a girl. A child born between 7:00 a.m and 9:00 a.m or 10:00 a.m is named Onyango for a boy and Anyango for a girl; a male child born between 11:00 a.m and 1:00 p.m is named Ochieng and Achieng for a female, and a male child born between 2:00 p.m and 5:00 p.m is named Odhiambo and Adhiambo for a female, a male child born after sunset is named Otieno, and Atieno or Athieno if female. A child born midnight is named Odiwuor for a male and Awuor for a female; the one born after midnight to 4:00 a.m is named Ogweno for a male and Agwena for a female.
Other names are given as a result of special events, such as harvesting, rain, eclipses, child`s birthplace, how the child came out at birth and so on. The following are some of Luo names
Luo names Meaning in English
Ocholla one who is born after the father`s death
Engale Guiding spirit
The Luo people believe in a Supreme being and creator God known as Jok. Driberg in Okot (1971:50) explains that the idea of the word Jok to a Lang‘o (Luo) is "The sum total of the long departed souls merged into one pre-existing deity called Jok, a plurality of spirits merged into one person of a single godhead, a spiritual force composed of innumerable spirits, any of which may be temporarily detached without diminishing the oneness of the force."
Ogot 1961 noted that the word Jok was found in various forms in all Nilotic languages and that for the Shilluck Juok and Nyikang are the most general explanatory concepts. Jok accounting for the existence of nature or reality and Nyikang for the way in which it is ordered and interpreted. Jok mal created and maintains the world, while Juok piny determines how and for what purpose the God‘s gift should be utilized by man. For the idea of Jok among the Lang‘o and Acholi (Hayley1947), it was a neutral power permeating the universe, neither well nor badly disposed towards mankind, unless made use of by man. Lang‘o religion was the conception of this Jok power, and their magic was the practice by which man uses jok power. The world to Acholi (Wright) was one vast plain enclosed by the vault of the sky, charged throughout with magical force. The force is released by change from its static condition which then becomes fluid and powerful as seen in lightning, whirlwind, curious mountains and rocks. The Lang‘o (Harley) attributes anything of an unusual nature and unusual occurrences to some aspect of jok power. This included abnormal births, peculiarly shaped stones, hills, rain, hail, lightning, locusts and earthquakes. They (Hayley and Wright) noted that it was not the hills or forests that formed the objects of worship; these were mere shrines, the abode of Jok.
When lightning struck a house in a village, or when rain failed or hail, locust destroyed crops, prayers were offered to jok and sacrifices made to ancestral ghosts, just as other troubles occurred. But they were not sparks of jok power. Whirlwinds were regarded as jok in transit. Twins were regarded as jok. The spiritual part of man, the only part which survives death, is jok. Hence, to the Nilotes Jok is not an impartial universal power; it is the essence of everything, the force which makes everything what it is, and God Himself. The Greatest Jok is life force in itself. Above all force is God, Juok of Jok mal which is followed by the famous chiefs of the old such as Nyikang’ among the Shilluck and Podho among the Kenyan Luo. Next to come are the dead followed by specialists like ajwaka (ajuoga), medicine men and prophets who are believed to have special jok power. The specialists are followed by ordinary mortals, then animals, plants and finally, inanimate objects (Okot, ibid.:55).
The ajwaka/Ajuoga may be possessed by a spirit which helps him or her to divine; the witch la-jok also has jok power in him. And to have more jok power meant to be a more dangerous witch. The dead among the Luo are mostly forgotten, except those that believed to be troublesome. Such are referred to as cen, vengeance ghosts. The ghosts of certain animals such as elephant, lion and leopard are feared. Certain inanimate objects used by sorcerers to harm their victims such as lugaga (gagi). But, these are not considered as bits of jok power.
Outstanding feature of the religious activity of the Luo was the annual feast at the chiefdom shrines. Each chiefdom had a shrine on a hill, in a dark forest or by a riverside. Some of the shrines were unusual natural phenomena or outstanding landmarks in the landscape. Some of the larger chiefdoms had more than one shrine at which they offered sacrifices. Among the lowland Alur the jok possessed one of the chief‘s wives in each reign; she then had duties in the service of the jok. Jok Lokka of Koc in Acholi possessed the priest who was also the medium. Jok Langol of Padibe caused the person possessed to become barren. Jok Lamwoci of the Payira caused barrenness in men, and insanity in women. Jok Lalangabi of Palaro made the possessed person hate members of the opposite sex, so that he or she remained a bachelor or spinster for life, or if married, divorce followed soon after Lalangabi had fallen on one of the couple. Few shrines were founded by chiefs. In fact, most of the chiefdom shrines and Jok originally belonged to commoner clans who continued to provide the line of priests. When chiefs visit or go to the village of priests they lose their normal prerogatives. Moreover the chiefdom Jok that possessed persons did not possess members of the chief‘s clan. Almost every force which can affect human beings may be and has been spiritualized. The elemental power of nature, sun, moon, rain, thunder and lightning, lakes and rivers and forests and deserts, all have been conceived of as spirit and have become objects of worship and sacrifice. The Luo did not offer sacrifices to the rocks or forests or rivers, they did not worship the spirit of the hills or forests or rivers, but Jok whom they believed lived in the caves or in the middle of the dark forest or by the riverside. Areas around these places were sacred grounds. No one might urinate, defecate, drive the blade or the butt of his spear into the earth. The duties of a priest were burdensome, dangerous and profitless. Ibaana (Crazzolara) means a person chosen and at times possessed by Jok. The Lang‘o put the phenomena of possession by ghosts in the province of Jok Nam which is contrasted with Jok Lang’o. Nam refers to riverine peoples: Pa-Luo, Nyoro and those bordering the Nile and Lake Kyoga. Ajwaka (Driberg) who dealt with diseases caused by Jok Nam were abanwa or abani (plural) who were men or women possessed by Jok Nam.
When according to the diviner, ajwaka, ill-health or misfortune was due to certain spirits other than ancestral or chiefdom jok, the situation was dealt with by inducing the offending spirit to possess the victim, and then depending on whether the particular spirit was friendly or hostile, it was allowed to stay in the victim or sent to where it belonged, or killed and destroyed. The preliminary examination of the patient usually took place at the home of the ajwaka, but the spirit possession ceremony, yeng’ng’o jok, shaking jok, was held at the home of the patient.
Education by Proverbs
The Luo elders use proverbs intensively for the education of their children and grandchildren. Every child in turn is expected to learn these proverbs, even though some of them are quite difficult to understand. Examples of some Luo proverbs and their meanings:
1. "Jarakni jamuod nyoyo gi kuoyo" (Don`t go shares in the flesh before the buffalo is dead, since he fights in the bush). This means one should not be rushing in life. Patience is everything.
2. "Alot muchayo ema tieko kuom" (The hen begins as an egg, man as blood). It means even an insignificant work is still of a value done nothing at all.
3. "wadu en wadu" (Blood is thicker than water
4. "Kik nyany nyang kapod in epige" (Do not abuse crocodile while you are still in its water). It means one should reflect on the consequences of his action whilst still indebted to somebody or under authority.
5. "Yath achiel ok los bungu" (One tree has never made a forest). It means it is always good to be united.
6. "Kik iwe ngowo man piny to odhi ni man malo" (He who stands on the ground sees the fruit better than the man up in the tree). It means we should respect everyone`s point of view.
Death and Afterlife
Among the Luo, it is believe that when a person dies his or her spirit or soul goes to the underworld after few days or weeks. The underworld is determined to be the centre of the Earth, at the bottom of the sea, and at a distant steppe down below the mountains.
Luo people believe that death comes from God and He alone has control over life and death. When someone dies Luo people just say ""Ekaka nose wacho" (It is how He has decided), "Ekaka nose kor" (That was what was predicted) or "Nyasaye okowe" (God has taken him).
Some deaths are considered to be abnormal death of persons whose body houses Jachien (troublesome spirits). A person who commits suicide is feared that he may become a ghost. The body of Ngamodere ( suicide man) had to be punished by whoever comes to his funeral. Because it is a taboo to commit suicide. The body of Ngamodere is slashed by a twig from the Powo tree. This is done to remind its Tipo (spirit) that it was the fault of his own man, and not someone else. If a person commit suicide on a tree, that tree is immediately cut down and burned. On Ngamotho e Pi (Death on sea), it is considered that ones Juok had preferred to live in the water. It is therefore proper to bury the one who died at sea closer to the sea. It is also necessary to bury the body of one who dies in water, Japi, must be buried by the Lake or waterside.
Luo, a Western Nilotic people, perform a series of rituals and many feasts for the dead because of their strong fear and respect for the dead. The Luo attitude towards their burial place evidently shows how they fear and respect the deceased ancestors
Luo people perform a total of about fourteen rituals for one deceased. All rituals are performed only when elderly men died, and a certain number of rituals are omitted depending upon age, sex, and marital status of the deceased. First, I will provide a list of a series of rituals in successive order of their occurrence, and then explain each ritual.
1) Death announcement
2) Vigil (budho)
3) Grave digging (kunyo)
4) Burial (iko)
5) Accompanying the spirit of the deceased to the former battleground (tero
6) Shaving (liedo)
7) Mourners’ departure for their houses (kee)
8) Serving a meal to the deceased and its family by married women (yaodhoot)
9) Serving a meal to the deceased and its family by married women (tedo)
10) Going to the former battleground with the spirit of the deceased (tero buru
11) Visiting the widow’s natal home (tero cholla)
12) Dividing articles left by the deceased (keyo nyinyo)
13) Remembrance (rapar)
14) Serving a meal to the family of the deceased by affines (budho)
I. Death and Its Announcement
People come to know of a death by hearing the women’s long, quivering wail, followed by the sound of drums. The death is always announced in the early morning or in the evening. Never have I heard this wail in broad daylight.
There are rules prescribing the time of announcement. The time varies with the dead person’s age, sex, and occupation. If a baby died in the morning, its death is announced immediately, and its body is buried the following morning. If old men or diviners died, their death must be announced after sunset, that is, women must wait for the right time to start wailing.
II. Vigil (budho)
The close relatives of the deceased such as the spouse(s), parents, step-mothers, brothers and sisters, and first and second patrilineal cousins, must stay within the compound of the deceased throughout several nights until the burial day. Two to four days pass before the burial, because relatives living in cities have to return to
their rural homeland. A lamp is lit through the vigil. Inside the house of the decreased, stools are placed
for as many relatives and church members as possible. Whenever new visitors arrive for condolence, some must step outside to make room.
Men and women form separate groups within the compound. Especially on the day of the death, they continue to cry and sing their lamentations and war songs throughout the night. Christian songs are sung if the dead person and his/her close kin are Catholics or followers of overseas-based Protestant Churches. People who belong to the Roho, an African Independent Church, pray, while they dance and play drums and metal instruments.
Most of the vigil visitors follow either Catholic or Protestant ways of expressing condolence. However, as they step slowly inside the house, older women and men may start crying and call out the name of the dead person as if talking to the body. Outside the house, some sit on stools and others sleep on the African mats under the eaves. Men make fire called magenga near the house for warmth, because it becomes very cold at night, about 10 °C. They say that this fire is made also for the departed to warm him/herself. The vigil continues up to the burial.
From the day following the death, the surviving family and relatives of the deceased busy themselves to prepare for the burial service: building the shade, cooking for visitors, and preparing the coffin and cloth. They must take a day off to fulfill their share of such obligations.
Neighbours start turning up to bid farewell to the deceased for the last time. Married women raise a strange voice before entering the compound to announce their arrival. Men enter the compound playing their whistles and singing their own elegies. These visitors go straight into the house where the body is laid without greeting other people, and then they pray, sing, or cry in their own ways. After a while they come out of the house, greet other people and join them. The relatives stay within the deceased’s compound during the mourning hours, which is called padho, meaning ‘sitting without doing anything.’ Most of the neighbours usually leave the compound in twos and threes after spending two or three hours. Some old people in particular, stay in the compound during the daytime. Most who come to pay condolence on the burial day are either married or marriageable.
III. Grave Digging (kunyo)
According to some old men, people used to dig a grave in the daytime in the old times. These days, people prepare the grave in midnight before the burial day, because, they say, it is too exhausting to dig under the strong sun. Digging begins around 9 p.m. and is completed about 3 to 4 a.m. of the burial day. Sometimes it
takes many hours because of the rocks in the soil. Young and middle-aged male relatives and several neighbours join forces in digging.
The right place for the grave is decided by a church member or any of the deceased’s male kin, including the father and the father’s brother. Men with pregpregnant wives are not allowed to participate in grave digging. If they did, their wives would give premature birth. Nor are twins allowed to participate in digging the grave.
IV. Burial (iko)
For deceased adults, the burial ritual normally starts at 2 o’clock p.m. The father or one of brothers of the deceased presides over the proceeding of the ritual. The program of the ritual includes: speeches about the memories of the deceased by parents, brothers and sisters, children, and friends, etc.; a harambee asking for donations to cover expenses for lamp oil, food, and other items which are consumed for this occasion; and several political speeches by politicians. Then, burying the body ensues.
Because these speeches and the harambee take a long time, the surviving family are sometimes forced to serve a meal to their affines before the burial takes place. Other mourners are served a meal after the burial. The surviving family and other relatives eat and sleep inside the compound of the deceased for one full week, which is followed by the buru.
V. Accompanying the Spirit of the Deceased to the Former Battleground (tero buru matin)
This performance marks the beginning of cholla (mourning period). It can be done one or two weeks after the burial. To begin this ritual, several relatives take their cattle to the deceased’s compound early in the morning around seven o’clock.
This ritual is performed only for a man, and participants are also basically men. Men and boys who include neighbours and relatives of the deceased take their own cattle and goats to the former battlefield located along the boundary between the clans. The cattle of the deceased are also taken there by the relatives. They kill a cock without using a knife, and divide and eat pieces of the meat. Sometimes a hen is substituted for the cock. Then, they return to the home of the deceased. Men and cattle form a cheerful procession. Men blow horns of buffaloes and rhinoceroses (oporro), and play drums (bul).
On their way home, the procession swells, as more men and women join them. The procession becomes longer and noisier as people sing and play the instruments more and more loudly. Women hold up leafy branches, some men raise their spears, and other men wearing traditional hats and mantles of animal skins, hold up shields and clubs.
Returning near the home of the deceased, people become extremely excited. They shout, cry, and run with tree branches, spears, and shields in their hands. Some blow whistles and others play drums and metal instruments (ongeng’). There are also many people waiting at the deceased’s compound. People in the
procession struggle to rush into the compound through the main gate, taking their cattle with them. Upon entering the compound, they start running about, crying and shouting. Some cry loud and throw their body on to the grave. Others continue to repeat entering the house and the main gate, while crying. This spectacular scene continues for 20 to 30 minutes. Later, the participants and visitors are served a meal. While all this take place, other relatives slaughter one of a few heads of cattle for this ritual. Sometimes a group of musicians are invited. They play traditional music and people dance until dawn.
This ritual reminds the people of the time when forefathers engaged in inter-clan wars. When one member lost his life in a battle, the forefathers worried that their fighting power might diminish. Thus, an idea was born that the loss of one member should be compensated by killing one of their enemies.
According to the old men, people went for the buru early in the morning before burial in the old days. Later, they went two days after burial. And nowadays, two kinds of the buru, major and minor, are conducted.
The burial was formerly done on the day following the death. People other than those participating in the buru were in charge of preparing the grave. After the participants in the buru returned, the burial was held at noon. Participants of the buru was divided into two groups. The first one had their own special function to practice divination on whether they had a good chance of winning if they tried to kill one enemy to compensate for the life of the deceased. This was the reason why the first group included some fighters and a diviner, together with a cock and cattle. When they reached the boundary, the diviner killed the cock and conducted divination by examining its intestines. With bad omen, they returned home. With good omen, the
second group consisting of fighters and cattle were called, and the two groups joined for a battle.
People give following reasons for performing the buru:
1) To chase away the evil spirits,
2) To have the many spirits of war heroes of yore and new spirits join them for this occasion. Eating chicken killed on the battlefield symbolized such solidarity,
3) To remove the shadow (spirit) of the deceased. The buru must be done by the river, because they believe that the shadow will go away through the river. The shadow must be taken away from the home, otherwise it lingers,
4) To drive the evil spirits to the bush or to the enemies,
5) To identify who may make a good leader and who is brave and skillful in war tactics.
6) To demonstrate that they have lost a member of their community. The Roho people conduct ‘buru for women,’ which was not strictly a Luo tradition and therefore not always performed. This buru is called suda among the Roho.
VI. Shaving (liedo)
Four days after the burial, people shave their heads. A razor blade is usually used. The first shave is supposed to mark the beginning of the mourning period. At the end of mourning, those who were shaven are shaven again, which marks the beginning of their new life.
There are three types of shaving. The first one is for the spouse(s) of the deceased and children of the deceased, conducted one or two weeks after the burial. It marks the beginning of the mourning taboos. In the old days, people were shaven soon after the buru matin before the relatives departed for their home.
The second one is for children, between two weeks and one month after the burial. After shaving, the children are free to step out of the compound. This leaves the widow(s) to follow the mourning taboos.
The third is done to free the widow(s) from the mourning taboos. After this, a widow can choose a man who inherits her in the tero cholla, explained later. The shaving used to be conducted at the keyo nyinyo when the articles of the deceased were distributed.
The first and second shaving must be performed soon after death, but the third can take place one month, one year, or even two years after the burial. Nowadays, however, most people do not heed the above-mentioned three types of shaving, which must be done at different times. They perform all the shaving once and for all, and shave only a little on the back of their head in a symbolic manner.
VII. Mourners’ Departure for Home (kee)
The kee refers to the members of surviving family and other relatives returning to their respective home in order of age. The first-born departs first, followed by the second, then the third, and finally they all depart. This whole process may take place in just one day, a few days, or even one week depending on the number of sons and daughters in the family of the deceased. It is because only one person a day departs. The relatives who do not have to be shaven may stay for a while and go home only after they made sure that the shaving (liedo) was done early in the morning, following the day of the tero buru matin. The kee is normally completed one week after the shaving.
The period between the death and the kee is called budho, which actually refers to the mourning period, and literally means ‘sitting without doing anything,’ because people are supposed to stay within the deceased person’s compound without doing any worthwhile work.
VIII. Serving a Meal to the Deceased (yaodhoot)
The relatives return to the deceased’s home once again soon after returning home. Married women (wagoguni) bring food and cook to comfort those who remained, such as children and spouse(s) of the dead person. They invite neighbours to share the meal. They think that eating together with the deceased pleases him/her. They celebrate the occasion by dancing, playing music, drinking local beer to try their best to forget the sad event.
Literally, yaodhoot means ‘opening the door,’ which implies that the survivors start their new life. Some explain that wagoguni return to open the door, which has been shut since the person died. After the door is opened, the surviving family start a new life. Others say, “we do not do this for bachelors, because they don’t have their own family. For whose sake the married women must open the door? They don’t have a wife or children who should live in his home after he died.” At present, people perform the yaodhoot for every death of an adult. If the surviving family have many domestic animals, they slaughter some of them for their guests. Otherwise they buy fish and meat in the market.
IX. Serving a Meal to the Deceased (tedo)
The tedo, which literally means cooking, follows the yaodhoot. On the day of the tedo the sons and daughters return to their natal home to cook for the dead mother or father. Children contribute a certain amount of various kinds of food according to their income.
The first-born, son or daughter, is the first person to open the fireplace, and the food he/she contributed should be cooked first. The food include meat, fish, and sugar, and depend on what the family like to eat. The relatives should be informed of the day of the tedo in advance. They come that day to celebrate the occasion with the children of the dead person. It is just like a get-together party for the children and their relatives.
X. Going to the Former Battleground with the Spirit of the Deceased (tero buru maduong’)
This ritual is performed only for the death of elderly men. This buru is performed on a much larger scale than the previous buru: buru maduong’ means ‘big buru’ while the previous buru matin means ‘small buru.’ The family and relatives of the dead man take their cattle to the former battlefield in the same way as they did in the small buru. This time, however, they do not kill a cock in the field. Returning to the compound, they find a lot more people and far more abundant food than in the small buru. The relatives slaughter many heads of cattle, called dher buru, and goats, and serve local alcoholic beverage including changa, busa, and mbare. They invite traditional musicians and dancers.
The people must prepare a huge amount of food and much money for this occasion. This is why they must set the day of the big buru to come right after harvesting with much of maize and sorghum for preparing food and drinks.
A woman performs a traditional Luo Ohangla dance to entertain guests at the Barack Obama Nyangoma Kogelo primary school in Kenya
XI. Visiting the Widow’s Natal Home (tero cholla)
This is the ritual which ends the mourning. Right after this ritual, the surviving family members start their new life, and the surviving spouse starts his/her life with a new partner. Widows, in particular, must have a man in her mind as her prospective inheritor before the day of the tero cholla. If a husband died, the widow and her eldest son pay a visit to the home of the widow’s parents. They spend only one night there. The following day, before departure, a goat called cholla is slaughtered. Part of its meat is eaten by the widow’s parents and the rest is taken by the widow to her home.
The widow’s prospective inheritor (sing. jater, pl. joter) sleeps in the widow’s house while she is visiting her natal home. When the widow returns, she cooks the meat she brought back. The widow and her inheritor eat the meat. They engage in sexual intercourse that night, and the man must prove that he is a real inheritor.
Then, the inheritor starts building their new house, helped by the widow. A widow too old to have sex selects a man who is about her age. When she returns from her natal home, her inheritor prepares a fireplace for cooking. She cooks and they eat together. They spend the night without sex. But the inheritor must keep inside the house his belongings. This is done so that visitors may know that the old man and woman stay together and love each other. With a young widow, it is practically impossible for any man to inherit her and not have sex. If a wife died, the widower follows the mourning taboos only when she was the first wife. In that event, the husband takes his children to the deceased’s parents. They stay one night and return the following day. The children are given meat or a hen by their grandparents.
The parents of the dead wife sometimes give one of their unmarried daughters to the husband as his new wife. The daughter normally comes over to the husband’s home on the day of the tero cholla. She begins to live in the house and inherit whatever her sister had. If the husband marries some other woman, he should build a new house for her.
XII. Dividing the Articles Left by the Deceased (keyo nyinyo)
This is the occasion when the family and relatives divide between themselves articles left by the deceased, such as clothes, furniture, dishes, calabashes, and cooking pots. Land and animals are divided among surviving sons not that day, but some other day.
Women leave behind many things or few things largely depending upon how old they were when they died. Old women may leave behind many cooking pots, water pots, and dishes. Old men would leave clothes, three-legged stool (komnya luo), spear, shield, mantle, animal skins, and horns of animals he hunted.
XIII. Remembrance (rapar)
This is the ritual in which the relatives get together in the dead person’s home to remember, comfort, and please the dead person. The parents, children, brothers and sisters, and affines of the deceased come and enjoy a lot of food together. The host invites his neighbours and arrange a dance which continues through the night of the rapar.
The relatives may build a small temporary hut (akumba) if the original hut is gone. The first thing the married daughters (wagoguni) of the dead person should do upon their arrival is to enter the hut and put their luggages and clothes inside as a sign of greeting the dead person. They then start cooking in the small space inside the hut and cut the meat of the animal, slaughtered for the dead person. People surround the hut and eat together. The spouse of the deceased must sleep inside the hut during the night of the rapar. The following day, the spouse pulls down the hut. Because this ritual requires heavy expenses, it depends on the relatives’ finances how many times they hold the rapar for the dead person.
XIV. Serving a Meal to the Family of the Deceased by Affines (budho)
This is a ritual feast organized by affines. The purposes of this feast are to make sure the relationship between affines even after the death of the mediator and to consort the remaining family. The affines set the day after preparing enough money and food for the feast. So the budho may take place before the rapar. On the day, the affines come with maize flours and animals for slaughter. Since affines have the relationship called luor, which means respect and fear, they are expected to reach the compound of the dead after sunset (agi an’gich welo) and to stay only for one night without sleeping. Following morning, they return home.
LUO ORIGIN OF CIVILISATION: TOWARDS A POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION OFbTHE ANCIENT ITIYO-PI-ANU PEOPLES
Dr. Terence Okello Paito - Abstract
After the Second World War, Henri Frunkfort, an eminent Egyptologist, suggested that there are distinct groups of Africans surviving today, whose ancestors can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. A couple of decades later, at a symposium on the peopling of ancient Egypt and the deciphering of the Meroitic script, C.A. Diop, resolved to carry out a comparison of the languages of ancient Egypt and those of contemporary Africa. Both Diop and Frunkfort believed that there are people alive today in Africa who speak the very same language or one very close to the language spoken in ancient Egypt. The identification of such a people would add a linguistic dimension to the conventional study and better understanding of ancient Egyptian history.
This paper presents an argument in support of the contention that the survivors of the ancient Egyptian culture are the Nilotic people now commonly known as the Luo (or Lwoo). It is suggested that the Luo were the founders of the ancient Koch or Cushitic kingdom at Napata, which had expanded into Egypt. It will be further argued that the Luo pledged collective loyalty to the god Anu and were the very Itiyo-pi-anu peoples.
Luo women with basketry fish traps (osech kiteng' ) going to fish in a shallow river water.
Charles W. Hobley, about 1900
The identities of the earliest settlers and builders of the great ancient Itiyo-pi-an and Egyptian civilisations have been a subject of protracted debate that has largely remained in abeyance for sometime. At the height of the early 19th century Euro-imperialism and colonialism in Africa, the‘civilisation/barbarism’ dichotomy was a construct and an ideological tool to explain the justification for colonialism. Throughout the colonial and early post-independence period, the imposition of a euro-centric curriculum plus western anthropologists’ sustained denigration of the African personality and culture, deterred Africans from considering, ‘The African Origin’ of civilisation. Nevertheless, Henri Frunkfort (1948), one of the Western scholars whose attention was drawn to the achievements of the early Egyptians wrote, “…. There are alive today in Africa groups of people who are the true survivors of that great East African substratum out of which the Egyptian culture arose ….” (Henri Frunkfort, 1948, p.6). Resistance to the contradictions inherent
in colonial policies, curricula and the distortion of African history, later produced a generation of African scholars who were prepared to examine facts on ancient Egyptian history. It was in that light that C.A. Diop (1974), stood out and published ‘The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality’.
In the preface of that work, Diop advocated a linguistic approach to link the history of black Africa to that of ancient Egypt. Following the symposium on ‘The peopling of Ancient Egypt and Deciphering of the Meroitic script’, he repeated the call for the application of the linguistic approach to analyse ancient Egyptian history. So far, from the literature on ancient Egypt, three main observations can be made. First and foremost, the literature suggests that much ground has been covered towards the reclamation and linking of ancient Egypt to African history thanks to the efforts of African-American and other diasporan scholars. Secondly, despite the great strides made, most of the diasporan scholars continue to confuse ancient Itiyopianu with modern
Ethiopia. Thirdly, and most importantly for this paper, Diop’s lead in which he identified Osiris race with the Nilotic Luo has not been followed, despite Simon Simonse’s (1992) assertion that Luo antecedents have relevance for the reconstruction of the past. Similarly, J.B. Webster’s (1979), call for a linguistic approach to reconstruct and expand Crazzolara’s work on the Luo has been largely ignored.
In this paper, we argue that the people referred to as the Luo were the very builders of the ancient Itiyo-pi-anu civilisation known as Koch (Cush, Kush). The Koch (Cush) kingdom expanded into Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Phoenicia. The paper is divided into five sections. In the second section, we review the attempts by some scholars to de-link the Luo from ancient Egyptian civilisation; section three presents a discussion on how the identification of Luo Cradle-land became such a contentious issue in the historiography of the Great Lakes region. In section four, the Luo will be identified as the ancient Itiyopianu peoples. Luo presence in ancient Egypt is discussed in section five, followed by conclusions.
In the opening statement of his work ‘The Lwoo’, Fr. J.P. Crazzolara (1950), wrote, “The Lwo racial group of people has had a past so full of exciting adventures that their history - once it were fairly completely written up - would read like an absorbing novel” (Crazzolara, 1950,p.1). Fr. Crazzolara, an Italian Catholic Missionary, linguist and historian had lived, worked and conducted field- work amongst the Luos for over thirty years. Most importantly, he had access to the Meroitic scripts. Apart from the three volumes on the Lwoo, Crazzolara (1938) wrote ‘A Study of the Acooli Language’. For the composition of the Luo racial group who are scattered across thousands of miles in Eastern and Central Africa, Fr. Crazzolara, noted that,
“The tribe into which the original group of the Lwo divided after leaving their country of origin, are as follows, 1. Boor, 2. Jo- Luuo, (Thuri, Bwodho, Jur), 3. Collo (Shilluk), Anywaa, 5.Paari (Lokooro, Ber, Nyorro), 6. Acholi, 7.Alur, 8. Jo-Pawir (Jur), 9. Lango, 10. Kumam, 11. Jo- Pa- Wiir alias Jo-KaWeer, 12. Jo-Pa- Adhola, 13. Jo-Lwo, 14. Barabaig”. (Fr. J.P. Crazzolara, 1950: 5).
Thus, the Luo group of peoples are found in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo. Though Crazzolara was ecstatic at the prospect of reconstructing Luo history, he had underestimated the opposition towards such an endeavour. Before looking at attempts by some Africanist to de-link the Luo from ancient Itiyopia and Egypt, the question that arises is, what is meant by the very term Luo or Lwoo?
What is Luo or Lwoo?
According to Nalder (1937), the word Luo derives from the evening fire around which people sat. He suggested that, “A feature of the village life is the ‘O’, men’s sitting – place, rather like a club ….” (Nalder, 1937, p.147). Nalder was particularly aware that, amongst some Luo groups such as the Acholi, ‘Lu’ is a plural prefix (sing. ‘La’) which means ‘those who….’, and denotes a group in relation to some activities, profession or general behaviour. On the other hand, the one letter word ‘o’ means the evening fire around which a family or friends sat in an open court yard to chat, discuss, educate, gaze into the clear sky, and enjoy the fresh evening air, before retiring to bed. By combining ‘Lu’ and ‘o’, Nalder claimed to have explained the identity of the Luo people.
Nalder’s explanation is not particularly satisfactory when it is considered that some members of the same group refer to themselves as the Lwo. In any case, sitting around the evening fire is not peculiar to the Luo, as many African peoples share the same habit. A clue to an alternative explanation was provided by the Rev. Fr. Crazzolara who observed that “The name Lwoo (the meaning of which is unknown) is still widely used, as I have shown elsewhere ….” (1938, p.xiii). However, elsewhere, he also noted that, the “the morphologically interrelated terms: Luuo - Lwoo - (Loh), Lao - Loo -Lowi -Lowoi - Looi, Luui and Luu do certainly suggest an original unity” (Crazzolara, 1950, p. 338). According to Fr. Crazzolara, the above were the various ways of spelling the same word but he did not specify the correct one. The original word that was to be spelled in different ways can best be identified when Luo spirituality and world- view is looked at
According to S. Santandrea, “The Luo are by far the nearest in ‘royal’ traditions to the great homonymous tribe of the Nile. They too, maintain that their chiefs are (or rather were) possessed of a divine power, inherited from their great ancestors” (Stefano Santandrea, 1968, p.48). In other words, the Luo believed in a supernatural authority through whom their kings ruled. For example, the great god of the Nile was known as ‘Hapi’ (Wallis Budge, 1994, p, cxxiii). The Luos are familiar with this divinity whom they refer to as, ‘Lhapi’. The word, ‘Pi’ in Luo means water. ‘Lha’ or ‘La’ is a singular prefix. Thus Lhapi means ‘of water’. The Lango Luos would simply omit the ‘L’ and call it Hapi. The Nile was described as “…. the type of life giving waters out of the midst of which sprang the gods and all created things” (E.A. Wallis Budge: cxxiii). In a reference to Lhapi, an Acholi historian wrote, “Lok, cik maber twotwal ma wan wanongo bot Ludito mewa me Acholi, en aye Lam nyo Lapii. Acholi pe gidonyo i lweny ata labongo Lapii nyo labongo lam mamit….” (L. Okech, 1953:22). “We have inherited from our Acholi ancestors the idea of consulting Lapii or obtaining a blessing from him. The Acholi will not get involved in a war without consulting Lapii or obtaining a blessing
from him” (my translation).
In ‘Customs of the Acholi’, Capt.Grove (1919) presented a Luo spiritualist world view and wrote, “The man in trouble addresses a prayer not only to his deceased father and grandfather but to ‘Everything that went before or begot him’. He addresses himself to God and the sun and moon and “my ancestors spirits, and all you who begot me” throwing a sort of general responsibility for his being there on the universe at large, and pointing out that as they were responsible for putting him there they ought to do something about it” (Capt. Grove, 1919, p.174, My emphasis in italics)
Cattle-owning, Shilluk tribesman. Duk Fadiat. Upper Nile Province. Sudan. 1948 | © George Rodger
From Capt. Grove’s account, the Luo man believes that some supernatural being caused his very presence on earth and together with ancestors, could help ease his problems. In other words, the man was suggesting that he was simply a product of creation and was at the mercy of the creator. Any casual observer familiar with the Luo or Lwo language will note that the morphologically related terms that were presented by Fr. Crazzolara refer to the story of creation. Rev. Fr. Alfred Malandra (1956) actually pointed out the original word when he wrote of the Acholi dialect, “There are a certain number of words, mostly monosyllabic, which end in a long or stressed vowel, which is here written double. In this standard orthography doubling is recommended in only a selected list of nouns viz. aluu (vapour) (Malandra, 1956, p.9). Elsewhere, Fr. Malandra pointed out that ‘Kuto aluu = exhale (Malandra, 1956, p.132). Thus, the original term that Crazzolara failed to identify was ‘Luu’ (pronounced as in Lhuu) – means God’s life- bearing- exhalation. On the other hand, in the same language, Luuo, (pronounced as in Lhuuo), – means, ‘of God’s life – bearing exhalation, the product of creation, the created beings. Thus ‘Luo’ is the word variously spelled as Lou or Lwoo and which became the collective identity of the Nilotic group variously known as the Lwo or Luo.
Interestingly, in the Acholi – Luo version of the book of Genesis, the word Luu is used to describe the breath of life breathed into the nostrils of the first created man. It is also in the same context that the people call themselves ‘Joo-Jok- Amalo’, meaning people of the high god. In texts related to the story of creation, the word Luo is clearly distinguishable despite serious distortions. For example, according to Jacob H. Caruthers (1999), “The creator then, after having impregnated itself, sneezes and Shu comes into being (Shu is pronounced shwoo, like a sneeze” (Caruthers, 1999, .287). Caruthers was referring to ‘Lhu’, i.e. ‘God’s life bearing exhalation’, pronounced as in, ‘Lhwoo’ or Lhuo’ or ‘Lwoo’. Cf. “Shou = sou = space, the first divinity created by Ra” (Diop, 1991, p.359). Having defined the meaning of the term Luo, the next task is to look at how some Africanists viewed the relationship between Africans and ancient Egyptian civilisation.
A group of Luo warriors in full warrior dress with long spears and shields, posed in front of the administrative building at Kisumu. This group is particularly distinguished by their extraordinary headdresses, including colobus monkey tail ones (kondo bim). Their chests are also adorned by cowrie shell decorated belts (okanda gaagi). Their shields are typical of Luo shields in the period, taking a curved form and with geometrical patterns. Pitt Rivers Source (Charles William Hobley). Circa 1900
2.0 Attempts by some Africanist scholars to de-link the Luos from ancient Egypt.
In 1911, the attention of the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge (1911) was drawn to the similarities he saw between the myths and rites of ancient Egypt and those of sub-Saharan Africa including Buganda. Nilotic or Sudanic in the broadest significance of the word”(Budge, 1911, p.vii). Wallis Budge’s assertion came against the back- drop of concerted efforts to de-link Africa from ancient Egypt. Attempts by some western scholars to de-link Africa from ancient Egypt had been going on well before the advent of the 19th century colonialism. In ‘The Wealth of Nations’, Adam Smith (1776) noted:
"The nations that, according to the best authenticated history, appear to have been first civilised,
were those that dwelt around the coast of the Mediterranean Sea …. Of all the countries on the
coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt seems to have been the first in which either agriculture or
manufactures were cultivated and improved to any considerable degree" (Smith, 1776, p.124)
Smith attributed the early economic success of the ancient Egyptians to a well-developed inland navigation network similar to what existed in Holland during his time. While Adam Smith features highly in the history of economic thoughts, ancient Egypt, a source of his inspiration, is never mentioned. Smith then went on to de-link ancient Egypt from the rest of the continent and wrote, “All the inland parts of Africa, …. seems in all ages of the world to have been in the same barbarous and uncivilised state in which we find them at present”(Smith, 1776, p.125). The portrayal of Africa as barbarous was widespread amongst European scholars. In his discussion on Africa, George Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel (1956), remarked; “It …. surprises to find among them, in the vicinity of African stupidity reflective intelligence, a thoroughly rational organisation characterizing all institutions and the most astonishing works of art” (Hegel, 1956, p.199). Hegel, who showed enormous contempt for Africa, added:
"At this point we leave Africa not to mention it again. For it is not a historical part of the world; it
has no movements or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it – that is in the northern
part – belong to the Asiatic or European world. Carthage displayed there an important
transitionary phase of civilisation; but, as a Phoenician colony, it belongs to Asia. Egypt will be
considered in references to its western phase, but it does not belong to the African Spirit. What we
properly understand by Africa is the unhistorical, undeveloped spirit, still involved in the
conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the
world’s history. (Hegel, 1956, p.99)
Hegel was dismissive of any contribution Africans had made towards the world’s development. For him, any exhibits that existed pertaining to the developments in Carthage or Egypt were largely Asiatic or European. It is worth noting that the essential notion in Hegel’s work was ‘dialectics’. He had borrowed the term ‘dialectics’ from Plato’s Republic. However, it is known that the latter was, mocked by his contemporaries as having borrowed the ‘Republic’, from the ancient Egyptians.
Marx for instance pointed out that, “Plato’s Republic, in so far as division of labour is treated in it, as the formative principles of the state, is merely an Athenian idealisation of the Egyptian caste system, Egypt having served as the model of an industrial country to others of his contemporaries, e.g. Isocrates. It retained this importance for the Greeks even at the time of the Roman Empire (Marx, Capital I, pp 488-489). Thus if Marx found Hegel upside down and put him upright, the latter needed to be sat upright on the African origins of Greek Philosophy. Christopher Arthur (1993), a proponent of ‘new dialectics’ suggested that ‘a direct appeal to Hegel’ be made as ‘the standard move’ to understand the Hegel-Marx connection1. An analysis of dialectics is beyond the scope of this paper. However, for a complete understanding of dialectics we suggest that there is a need to go beyond Hegel and Plato into its origins in Egypt. Yet the influence of Hegel was
widespread amongst some Egyptologists. In ‘A History of Egypt: From the Earliest time to the Persian Conquest’, James Henry Breasted (1937) argued that there was no link between ancient Egypt and Africa, “The conclusion maintained by some historians that the Egyptian was of African Negro origin is now refuted …. at best he may have been slightly tinctured with Negro blood” (Breasted, 1937, p.36). For a long time, prejudices as discussed above, contributed significantly tothe concealment of the truth about the history of Africa. Attempts to separate Egypt from Africa and deny the latter its past was widespread. The de-linking of ancient Egypt from black Africa is still tempting to some scholars such as by Benjamin C. Ray (1991) who, quite recently wrote,
“Archaeological research has not turned up a single object in the inter-lacustrian region or
elsewhere south of the Sahara that derives from the lower or middle Nile valley. Nor is there any
decisive evidence that there were contacts anywhere between Egypt and Africa south of Meroe”
(Benjamin C Ray, 1991, p.196).
However, Ray did not engage with ancient historiography in which contacts between ancient Egypt and modern day Uganda were fairly well documented. For example, Rev. Fisher (1904), found, artefacts in Uganda, from ancient Egypt about which he wrote,
“In the extremely delicate and diverse forms of string and baskets working peculiar to the Batoro
tribe, one notices marked similarity to Egyptian design. Then, again, among the tribe of the
Bakuku is another suggestive point: whilst staying in their vicinity for a period of six weeks, I
made a strong effort to collect together a selection of their war-horns, which consist of minute
ivory tusks shaved down and scooped out. It was not an easy matter to procure them, as they are
regarded as the heirlooms of the family, and have been handed down from ancient times.
Offering, however, high and tempting terms in the shape of goats, I succeeded in procuring six or
seven. I then found that each had its own peculiar mark: one resembled most clearly the planet
Saturn, another, the Pleiades, others various hieroglyphic designs. Questioning the folk as to the
significant meaning of each, they expressed total ignorance beyond that they were intended for
ornamentation by their early fathers ….” (A.B. Fisher, 1904, p.250).
In any case the ancient Egyptians did look to Uganda as their home of origin. The ‘Papyrus of Hunefer’ and the ‘Book of the Coming Forth by the Day and Night’, contain the message which the ancient Egyptians recorded about their origin and which read, “We came from the beginning of the Nile where the god Hapi dwells, at the foothills of the mountains of the moon” (Yosef benJochanannan and John Hendrik Clarke, 1991, p.5). In a desperate attempt to reinforce the de-linking of Africa from ancient Egypt, a construct, the ‘Hamitic theory’ was developed to distort the identities of the ancient Egyptians.
2.1 Hamitic theory
In its original formulation, the ‘hamitic theory’ stipulates that, “ …. The divine kingship of ancient Egypt derived from a pre-historic Caucasian/Negro culture called ‘Hamitic’. …. This culture had given rise to many East African societies, including the kingdom of the Shilluk in the Southern Sudan and the Kingdoms of Bunyoro and Buganda further south” (C.G. Seligman, 1966, p.100). On the contrary though, the Shilluk, who are portrayed as Hamites do actually belong to the Luo racial group. The same Luo group had indeed founded the Kitara empire in the Great Lakes region. For example, Onyango ku Odongo and Webster (1976) specifically wrote,
“Banyoro sources suggest that the man who founded the Lwo Bito dynasty of Bunyoro-Kitara was
called Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi1. Even a layman can easily see that the two names have no
etymological affinity to Lwo ones, but the last one might have been Lakidi or Lukidi. The first two
names, Isingoma Mpuga, are typically Bantu. It is possible, however, that these were the names
given to the Lwo rulers by his subjects, not his actual names. ….” (Ku Odongo, Webster, 1979, p.118)
Consciously or unconsciously, Ku Odongo and Webster have suggested that the Luo were the very founders of the Kitara empire in the Great Lakes region. Thus, two competing models, the ‘Nilotic-Luo’ versus the ‘Hamitic’ have been advanced to explain the origins of the state builders in the Great Lakes region on the one hand, and that of the ancient Egyptian civilisation on the other. Seligman, a proponent of the Hamitic model, further claimed that, “The in-coming Hamites were pastoral Europeans- arriving waves after waves – better armed and quicker witted than the dark agricultural negroes” (Seligman, 1966, p.100). Whilst ecstatic about the Hamitic theory, the proponents were deeply divided on the true identities of the Hamites. For example, Driberg (1923), a British colonial administrator who for seven years lived and worked amongst the Lango of Uganda, described the ‘Hamites’ as “…. Latuka, Taposa, Dodotho, Karamojong, Iteso, Akum,
Turkana, Suk, Masai, Nandi, and the group of tribes contained under the general heading Langu, viz. the Ajie, Olok ….” (Driberg, 1923, p.9). Despite the confusion over the identities of the socalled Hamites, some western anthropologists and colonial administrators continued to lend tremendous support to Seligman’s theory. Margaret Trowell (1943), a curator of the Uganda museum during the colonial period was one of the ‘Hamitic’ enthusiasts. In the 1940s she reignited the hamitic debate and posed the question, “Who are the Hamitic people, known to us chiefly through the Bahima of Ankole but comprising also many other groups in the Belgium Congo and down south and west of the Lake? They are light skinned, long faced, fine featured
people of Caucasian stock coming from the North; but how they arrived is a problem upon which
work has yet to be done”2. The Bahima of Uganda and the Tutsi of Ruanda, Burundi and the
Congo may have some Caucasian features described by Margaret Trowell. However, they are of
Somali descended migrants, who settled in the Great Lakes region well after the arrivals of the
Luos in the region (Karugire, 1971). In any case, the Kingdom of Koch (Cush), in the upper Nile
region of northern Sudan developed largely out of sedentary agricultural activities, rather than
pastoral nomadism as enjoyed by the Bahima and the Tutsis. Besides, the ancient Egyptian
divinities are unknown amongst the Bahima and Tutsis. As no historical evidence has ever been
uncovered that linked the Bahimas to the Nile Valley civilisation, interests in the ‘Hamitic theory’
begun to wane. One of the enthusiasts later admitted the flaws surrounding the theory and
confessed that, “The place of the origin of the hamitic invaders is uncertain and the route they
followed to Uganda still unknown …. There has been some considerable sympathy for the
suggestion that they ultimately derived from Egypt”3. But the last nail in the coffin of the theory
was hammered by Evans-Pritchard, Seligman’s own student who wrote, “No one today would
uphold the hamitic theory that was held by Seligman. …. Seligman would always muddle up the
categories of race and language, an error, which can only lead to confusion. He was also a firm
believer in Nordic superiority (as his student, I had to read a lot of literature in support of his
belief)”4. As will be discussed further below, Seligman contributed to the identification of the
Anyuak of the Sudan and Ethiopia with the Osiris’ race.
The ‘Hamitic theory’ reveals serious ambiguity and needs to be examined closely. More precisely,
the origin and meaning of the term ‘hamite’ needs to be laid bare. According Dr. Finch (1991),
“Our name ‘Ham’ comes from the Hebrew Cham which in turn is derived from the Egyptian word
KAM, meaning ‘black’….” (C.S. Finch, 1991:133). The word ‘Ham’ may be Egyptian but as for the
meaning, we beg to disagree with Dr. Finch. For the original meaning of the concept ‘Ham’, we
have to turn to the Old Testament. After one of Noah’s sons showed disrespect to his drunken
father, he was supposedly cursed. This was what he father said, “Cursed be Canaan!….” (Genesis
9:25). The key word here is ‘curse’. Interestingly, the Shilluk people mentioned by Seligman,
together with the other Luo groups use the word ‘Laam’ or ‘Lham which, is similar in meaning to
the context used in the Bible. Therefore, it is likely that the word ‘Ham’ is a distortion of ‘Lham’ or
‘Laam’, which in the Luo language means ‘Curse’. Accordingly, Crazzolara (1938) defined the transitive verb ‘Laamo’, “Laamo …. To wish ill to, curse, cast a spell on one …. “ (Crazzolara,
1938, p.279). Amongst the Shilluk and the Acholi, ‘Lham’ or ‘Laam’ remains a common name. The
Luo basis of the biblical story of the ‘curse’ becomes apparent when we look further, at the
identities of the Ham’s brothers who were blessed and bestowed with luck. Here again, the Old
Testament offers a useful clue and indicates that their names were Luo in origin. For example,
‘Japhet’ or ‘Laphet’ means, a loiterer, a wanderer in the Luo language. Coincidentally this is how
Noah’s Japhet is described in the bible. Similarly, the Old Testament tells us that Shem’s
grandsons were named as; Joktany, Obal, Ophir (Genesis 10: 26- 29). Interestingly, these are all
Luo names still in use today. According to one of the experts on Luo history, Ophir or Opiir was
the leader who brought the Luos to Uganda. Fr.Crazzolara (1950), who supports this view-point,
“Owiny, Labongo and Opiir, were the three men that came from Misr (Egypt). After traversing
several river tributaries they reached the Kuku, Moyo, Arua and finally Pubungu. ….Opiir remained
and begot many children but in the end he left too and moved in the direction of the Logbara. One
of Opiir’s sons was Wiir.” (Crazzolara, 1950:256).
Thus, the so- called Semitics were in fact Luos. Therefore, the medieval European mythology on
the multi-genetic origin of humanity, which links Shem as the ancestor of Jews, Japhet to the
Europeans and Laam to Africa was baseless and must be discarded. This is simply because they all
were from the same race, the Luo people. A discussion on the Luo presence in the bible is
reserved for a later work
Thus, the ‘Hamitic theory’, as discussed above, was not only a flawed attempt to present in an
unscientific manner a theory about the origin of races, but was also intended to deter the Luo
people from laying credible claims to their heritage and to ancient civilisations. Jacob Caruthers
(1999) has observed that the liberation of African history was a war being fought against
intellectuals bent on fabricating facts that would deny Africans their rich heritage. As the ‘Hamitic
theory’ was gradually discredited, attention turned to the distortion of Luo history.
3.0 Luo history as a battle-ground;
From the time the Nile Valley came under the Turco-Egyptian and European colonial subjugation,
the history of the Nilotic Luo, has come under intense scrutiny, and subjected to distortion and
denigration. For example, according to I. Richards (1969), “None of the Nilotes and Nilo-hamitic people of Uganda had achieved a centralised system of governance by the time of Speke’s visit in
1862. They were organised on a clan and lineage basis ….” (Richards, 1969, p.41). For Richards,
the Nilotiocs were incapable of developing any social institutions, including that of the state.
Richards’ ideas emerged as part of an anthropological paradigm known as the ‘Lineage theory’
that was being promoted by E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1940). The basis of the lineage theory was that
there was a dichotomy between societies with states and those without. Further more, the latter
were considered to have had no history and could at best be studied from the perspectives of
kinship analysis. The anthropological approach was seized upon by neo-Marxist writers such as
Mahmood Mamdani (1984) who on sheer speculation argued that, “When colonised in the early
part of this century, the people of Northern Uganda were just at the threshold between primitive,
but egalitarian, tribal democracies and the state-governed class divided societies. Communal form
of life, then prevalent, continued to exist as remnants today”5. The point Mamdani was trying to
put across was that a major element of civilisation was lacking amongst the Nilotics. However,
both Richards and Mamdani did not offer any explanation as to why the Nilotic Shilluk and the
Anuak, from whom the Acholi separated, had well established state organisation, while the latter
allegedly, did not. Yet much earlier, after careful observation, Evans-Pritchard (1940) noted,
“The Anuak are linguistically much more akin to the Acholi of the south than to the Shilluk in the
north, and they are probably, also much more akin to them in culture and social organisation
generally. On the other hand, the Anuak kingship is undoubtedly very similar to that of the Shilluk,
and is quite unlike anything recorded among the Acholi (Evans-Pritchard, 1940, p.133)
While similarities existed between the Anuak and the Acholi social organisations, the State
organisation of the Acholi differed from those of the anuak and the Shilluk. Even more explicitly,
Girling (1960) insisted, “The antithesis between ‘state’ and ‘stateless’ societies in Africa has
become a common place of contemporary social anthropology, but in my view this distinction is
meaningless. …. In the case of the Acholi they were certainly not ‘stateless’ in 1860, and there is
no evidence that they ever had been” (Girling, 1960, p.3). Meanwhile, Onyango Ku Odongo and
Webster (1976) suggested that the Kitara kingdom was indeed founded by the Luos. Quite
recently, Simon Simonse (1992) concluded that, “Since the Lwo are known to have played an
important role in the pre-colonial processes of state formation in the interlacustrine area, …. Luo
antecedents in our area of research have relevance for the reconstruction of the past over a more
extensive area” (Simonse, 1992, p.53). Once it became apparent that lineage theory was not useful
in the denigration of Luo history, attention focussed on re-examining the identities of the Central
Luos in Uganda.
It was in the recent work of R.R. Atkinson (1995) that the distortion of Luo identity took a new
twist. Atkinson had come to Uganda as a member of the American Peace Corp, but later carried
out research under Makerere University’s Oral history project that had been spearheaded by J.B.
Webster. In his earlier work, ‘State Formation and Language Change in Westernmost Acholi in the
18th Century’, Atkinson (1984) had provided a useful account of state formation in Acholi during
the 18th century. In his latter work, The Roots of Ethnicity, The Origin of the Acholi of Uganda
Before the 18th Century, Atkinson embraced the lineage theory and had wanted to apply it to the
analysis of pre-colonial Acholi society. Faced with difficulties, Atkinson then sought to portray the
Acholi as distinctively non-Luo after all and wrote, “ The independent but mutually interacting
communities of early Acholi were made up of speakers of three major language groups: Central
Sudanic, Eastern Nilotic, Western Nilotic Luo” (R.R. Atkinson, 1985, p.71). He added that, “ …. I
challenge one of the most common themes of East African historiography, which attributes the
origin of kingship or chiefship throughout the region, including, Acholi, to early Luo-speaking
migrants from the Southern Sudan circa 1500 ….” (R.R Atkinson, 1995, p. 18). Atkinson was aware
that a number of states in Acholi were founded by fugitive Luo princesses and followers from
Bunyoro and never questioned the Luo-ness. However, he later wanted to label Luos who passed
through Central Sudanic and the so-called Nilo-hamitic regions as non-Luos, just to distort Luo
migration into Acholiland. Amongst the Central Luos, (Acholi, Alur, Lango), the Alur dialect and that of the Lamogi of Acholi are quite close to that of the Kavirondo (Kenya & Tanzanian) Luos and
differ slightly from the main dialect spoken in wider Acholi. Two main factors could have brought
about the differences. Firstly, if Crazzolara’s (1950) work is taken seriously, the Acholi region has
to be seen as the convergence point of all the Luo groups migrating from lower and Upper Egypt,
Arabia and Mesopotamia. While the migrants may have traversed Eastern Sudanic Nilo-hamitic
territories, they were Luos who had set off from the regions that the Cushites or Kushites (Koch
people) had once settled and had diverse backgrounds. Secondly, the priestly and court language
of Nilotic Kingdoms differs from the commonly spoken versions. (cf the corresponding ‘hieratic’
and ‘demotic’ scripts in the ancient Itiyopianu and Egypt). Thus, in Acholiland, there was a fusion
of the two spoken Luo dialects. The above factors necessarily led to the development and
simplification amongst the Acholi of the very Luo dialect, which is still spoken by the Alur, Lamogi
and Jo-Luo. Crazzolara (1938), specifically noted that the Acholi did not adopt foreign words, “The
Acooli, on the other hand, have probably been less influenced in their vocabulary, but have
changed and simplified the forms of the words, dropping nearly every kind of stem modification,
as in noun plurals, &c., to a much greater extent than the rest” (Crazzolara,1938, p. xii).
Elsewhere, Fr. Crazzolara, (1950) wrote, “If an Acholi in ordinary conversation wants to assert that
he spoke in plain intelligible homely language, he says: aloko lok Lwoo do! << I spoke in plain
Lwoo!>> ….”( Crazzolara, 1950, p.4). Thus, contrary to the assertion of Atkinson, the Acholi are
pure Luo and spoke a dialect that was a product of internal development. Atkinson (1985) wanted
to disregard linguistic, archaeological and written accounts of Luo history and revert to
anthropological approach in order to downplay, denigrate and deny the Luo, any contribution to
If Atkinson questioned whether or not the Acholi were a Luo group, other writers focussed on the
distortion of Luo cradle-land. J. B Webster (1976, 1979), a Canadian Africanist and a proponent of
the oral historical tradition had taught in Ibadan and at Makerere Universities and was aware of
the nature of distortions about the Luo that some of the Africanists were engaged in and with
Onyango Ku Odongo, had this to say,
“The question of the origin of the Lwo, their migration and settlement in many parts of East Africa,
has already been examined by many historians of integrity. The location of the Lwo cradle-land
has, however, remained an unsolved historical problem. So far, two versions have been given of the probable location of the original homeland of the Lwo. The first version came from
Westernmann, Hofmayr and Seligman,1 who have all postulated a common Nilotic cradleland
somewhere to the east of some unidentified great lakes. ….” (Webster & Ku Odongo, 1976, p.25)
Westernmann, Hofmayr and Seligman did not identify the location or identify of the Great Lakes
from whose vicinity the Lwo were purported to have originated. All they wanted was to obscure
the cradle-land or at least manoeuvre it away from the confluence of ancient civilisations in Upper
Egypt. There was no point on their part in suggesting an easterly direction of a place, which
remained unidentified. For the trio, an origin of the Lwo should be left to speculation but
anywhere, away from the Sudan and Egypt would do. J. B. Webster and Ku Odongo (1976) added
“ The second version came from Reverend Father Crazzolara2 who placed the original homeland
of the Nilotes to the west of the Nile, in the Bahr-el-Ghazal, near Rumbek. He came to this
opinion after a very exhaustive and painstaking collection of oral traditions from the Nilotes. But it
would appear that the oral traditions, which he collected, did not extend back far enough to cover
the whole period of Lwo evolution. What he collected seemed to refer only to the events, which
took place after the first dispersal of the Nilotes from the legendary home of the Lwo, known as
“Dog Nam” or the Lake Shore Settlement”.(Webster & Ku Odongo, 1976, p.25)
Africa with a past equally as chequered as the Lwoo, but with most of them there remain only
slight traces, a few historical fragments here and there – one can hardly speak of ‘a people’ any
longer. Of such fragments there remain many in the present habitat of the Acholi as will be
revealed” (Crazzolara, 1950, p.1). However, he was not keen to uncover aspects of Luo history
which he knew impacted on the development of Western philosophy and religion. Most
importantly, Fr. Crazzolara and other missionaries were not too keen to dispense with religion as
a tool and wanted to impose the western version of Christianity in order to control the colonised.
Thus, Fr. Crazzolara remained evasive about the original home country of the Luo. His claim that
Bahr-el- Ghazal was that original country was the same old strategy so often employed by some
Euro-centric scholars to de-link Africa from the ancient civilisations. Most aspects of the period of
Lwo evolution has been well documented in both the oral traditions and written sources. The
identification of the Cradle-land would uncover the region formerly known as Upper Egypt
(modern Northern Sudan). The region is rich in archaeological materials that are related to the
ancient Koch (Cush) kingdom. It should not be a surprise that those scholars keen to deny an
African link to ancient Egypt were equally determined to restrict the Luo cradle-land to Southern
Sudan. J.B. Webster (1979) who was not at all satisfied with the two versions, pointed out that, “As
other historians have suggested, perhaps a more useful approach in searching for a correct
answer to this difficult question of the Lwo cradle-land would be through the fields of linguistics
and archaeology. For the moment we look into the traditions of the central Lwo who are known
today as the Acholi” (Webster, 1976, p.25). Ironically, as will be discussed below, the oral tradition
of the Acholi contained all the information one needed to identify the Luo cradle-land.
Luo Cradle-Land at Tekidi (Napata), the Grand Court of Koch (Kush)
During the colonial period, indigenous scholars in Northern Uganda were keen to present their
own history and expose as fallacies, the accounts presented by colonial scholars. Girling (1960),
an anthropologist, witnessed the activities of the indigenous writers and noted that, “…. In many
parts of the district I found men with small exercise books in which they had written accounts of
the past, taken from the lips of their grandfathers and other old men” (Girling, 1960, p.202). One
such man was Onyango ku Odongo (1976) who wrote,
“It was in 1942 that I first developed an interest in oral traditions and begun to make some notes
on them. As I did not then know that these notes would become useful in future, in writing a book, they were carelessly and disorderly scribbled in a school exercise book. The stories were
mixed up with old proverbs, songs, rituals and many odd things related to every Acholi life. The
chief contributor was my grandmother, Alunga Lujim. Unfortunately, the Second World War
interrupted my stay with Alunga Lujim, and I could not record more notes which might have been
useful in throwing some light on the dim past of the central Lwo. ….” (Onyango ku Odongo, 1976,
Ku Odongo’s collection and documentation of Luo history was interrupted as he was conscripted
into the King’s African Rifle of the British army that fought in the Second World War. After the war,
he resumed the documentation of oral history and travelled to the Sudan to do field work amongst
the Shilluk and the Anuak. Unfortunately, the Anyanya civil war broke out in 1956 whilst Ku
Odongo was in the Sudan. Subsequently, the valuable historical data that he had collected from
his field trip was confiscated and destroyed by the Sudanese soldiers. However, through sheer
determination, he was able to put together the accounts passed to him by oral historian, Alunga
According to Ku Odongo, the Luo had developed a prosperous kingdom with the capital or grand
court at the foot of a mountain. Ku Odongo specifically pointed out that, “The central Lwo people,
who lived in a settlement known in the legend as Tekidi or “ on the foot of mountains”, had a
great kingdom which was making steady progress in many fields of human endeavour”(Ku
Odongo, 1976, p.80). Though unaware, Ku Odongo was referring to the Koch (Kush) kingdom at
Napata. He added that, “This great kingdom was destroyed by the first brown men to meet the
Lwo. The last rwot or king of this kingdom was called Owiny wod Pule Rac Koma” (Ku Odongo,
1976, p.80). Interestingly, archaeological work has unearthed the ancient Kushitic kingdom at
Napata, in Northern Sudan. According to G. Mokhtar (1990), “Taharqa’s name is found on
numerous monuments throughout the whole length of the Nile Valley. He built his sanctuaries at
the foot of the holy mountain of Djabal Barkal, a kind of sandstone table formation, which
dominates the large fertile basin of Napata. ….” (Mokhtar, 1990, p. 163). It was considered to be
the land of the Gods. Thus, contrary to the assertion of Westernmann, Seligman, Hofmayr and
Fr.Crazzolara, the Luo cradle-land was not east of some unidentified Great Lakes or Rumbek in
Bar-el-Ghazal, but Napata in Northern Sudan. The main reason for misrepresenting the location of
the Luo cradle-land was to de-link the Luo from and deny them any claims on the ancient
kingdom of Kush (or Koch).
Chancellor Williams (1987) observed that the greatest dream of all the great kings of the Nile
Valley was the consolidation of the southern and northern regions, hence the constant wars
between upper and lower Egypt. Tekidi, the grand court of the kingdom, the land of the gods also
bore the brunt of military incursions from lower Egypt. According to Onyango Ku Odongo &
“ …. the people of Rwot Owiny wod Pule Rac Koma of tekidi lived peacefully for some years. Later,
their peace was interrupted by a strange people who were thought to be jok or super-natural
beings. These strangers invaded the Lwo settlement from the north. They shattered the formerly
invincible great Lwo kingdom of Rwot Owiny. Some old men in Acholi said these strangers were
white but others believe that they were brown, red or yellow. It was generally agreed, however,
that these first white, brown or red invaders had long black silky hair and untidy beards. ….” (Ku
Odongo & webster, 1976, p.131)
Coincidentally, an incursion for the control over Tekidi is still recalled in songs by musicians and
royal bwola dancers in Acholi:
Lakila oywaro mony me lanek Oyuro do! Oyuro do! I Tekidi
Tong pa Oyuro odong, I Tekidi!
Iyee Lakila oywayo mony me lanek Oyuro ye! I Tekidi
Nok rac ocera lweny!
Oneko Oyuro ye! I Tekidi
Nok rac ocera lweny ….!7
Lakila mobilised an army to annihilate Oyuro! At Tekidi
Oyuro’s spear was abandoned at Tekidi
Iyee, Lakila mobilised an army to annihilate Oyuro ye!
Poor state of conscription made the war difficult
Oyuro got killed at Tekidi!
Poor state of conscription made the war difficult. (The writer’s translation in Italics)
The Agoro State of the Acholi, do recall Lakila as one of their great kings. Interestingly, the Acholi
use the word Yuro or Yuru to describe the densely silky haired which fits the description of the
untidy bearded invaders who vanguished at Tekidi. Once deconstructed, the proper name Bwomoono that exists amongst the Acholi, does reveal the wars that were fought between the Luos
and the white/brown invaders. The word ‘Bwo’ in the Acholi language means to overcome or
defeat. On the other hand, ‘Moono’ is an Acholi noun meaning, “ …. the white man, ….”
(Crazzolara, 1938, p. 310). Thus the name ‘Bwomoono’ is a call for the defeat of the white.
Recent research findings have confirmed the invasion of Napata by a mercenary supported
Egyptian military force led by Harmachis or Amasis. According to G. Mokhtar (1990),
“Aspelta was a contemporary of Psammetik II. This is one of the few really secure synchronisms,
almost the only one in a thousand years of history. In – 591, or the second year of the king’s
reign, the land of Kush was invaded by an Egyptian expedition, reinforced by Greek and Carian
mercenaries, under two generals, Amasis and Potasimto, and Napata was captured. ….” ( Mokhtar,
Amasis, one of the leaders of the invaders, succeeded and became the last indigenous Egyptian
Pharaoh. He became a hate figure amongst the Luos and his humiliation at the hand of Cyrus,
which has been captured in an Acholi song and ‘folk- tale’ will be discussed further below. Suffice
to mention that Napata was indeed the grand capital of the ancient Koch8 kingdom, which was
also known as Cush or Kush. Constant threats and incursions from lower Egypt led to the
relocation of the grand court of Koch, from Tekidi to Meroe as noted by G. Mokhtar (1990), when
he wrote, “…. It is undoubtedly to the Egyptian raid, whose importance has long been
underestimated, that we must attribute the transfer from Napata to Meroe, much further south, at
no great distance from the Sixth cataract. Aspelta is in fact the first attested Meroe sovereign. ….”
(Mokhtar, 1990, p.174). Ample evidence exists to show that the Meroitic kingdom was of Luo
Diop (1974), who laboured so much and convinced the world that Meroitic State was of Nilotic
origin, showed a lapse of judgement when he suggested that, “The name Meroe does not seem to
derive from an African root. It is probably what foreigners used after Cambysis to designate the
Capital of Ethiopia (in the Sudan)” (Diop, 1974, p.143, 288). Yet in his article ‘Origin of the Ancient
Egyptians’, Diop also noted that in ancient Egyptian, “mer = love”(Diop, 1990, p.29).
Coincidentally, in the Luo language, the same word ‘mer’ = harmony, or to be friendly with, while
“mar = love”. The writer is inclined to believe that the name Meroe derives from a Luo word Mero
(or Meru) which means, ‘cultivate an harmonious relationship’. Linguistic evidence exists to show
the affinity between the Luo language and the Meroitic script. According to A.A Hakem (1990),
“The rulers of Napata and Meroe used traditional Pharaonic titles in their inscriptions. Nowhere in
their titulature do we encounter a Meroitic word for king. The title kwr (read qere, qer or qeren)
appears only in Psammetik II’s account of his conquest of Kush when he mentions the king
Aspelta. Though this title must have been the usual form of address of Kushite sovereigns, it was
not allowed to intrude into the monuments of Kush. ….”(Hakem, 1990, p.174).
In the Acholi - Luo dialect, Ker (Qer) means royalty or Kingship. For example, Reuben Anywar
(1954) wrote, Acoli ki ker megi, which translates as Kingship of the Acoli. Similarly, Lacito Okech
(1953), another author also wrote, Tekwaro ki Ker Lobo West Acholi, which translates as, History and Kingship in West Acholi. Meanwhile, in the same Acholi dialect, Ot Ker denotes the royal
family or household. Thus the Meroitic title - Ker is a Luo word. On the other hand, the title used
by the sovereigns of Meroe was Reth, or Rwoth, or Rwot. According to A.C.A. Wright (1940), “Reth
is a frequent title in Demotic and is translated as Inspector or ‘Agent’ (Cat. Of the Demotic Papyri
in the Ryland library III p.367). Demotic ‘rt’ is Egyptian ‘rwd’ – agent found also in Coptic”9. It is
worth noting that ‘rt’ (Reth) is the title of the Shilluk King, while rwd (Rwot) is the title of an Acholi
King. Amongst the Luos, women participated fully in governance. In a further scrutiny of the title
of Meroe’s female rulers, A.A. Hakim (1990) added that:
“The title is derived from the Meroitic Ktke or Kdke meaning queen mother. Another title – qere –
meaning ruler was not used until the Meroitic script appeared. As a matter of fact we have only
four queens known to have used this title, namely Amanirenas, Amanishekhete, Nawidemak and
Maleqereabar, all by definition being candaces. ….” (Ahakim, 1990, p.174).
Coincidentally, amongst the Acholi, the queen mother occupies a special place, and was (is)
referred to either as Min Rwot or Dak ker. Kdke in the Meroitic script simply refers to Dak ker. The
best known of whom was Daca. Just as threats at Napata forced the location of the Koch Kingdom
to Meroe, the destruction of Meroe led to the decline and fall of the greatest civilisation of the Nile
Valley, forcing the Luos to move to great Lakes region and other parts of Africa. In the Great Lakes
region, the Luos soon begun to build themselves up and founded the Kitara empire. In a
description of the elaborate state organisation reconstructed by the Nilotics, the Rev. B. Fisher
“Then as regards government, if they had not modelled it after a higher example shown them,
how can we account for the intricate and highly developed form of native administration which we
found existing in these parts, and which the British Government was not able to improve upon for
these people” (The Geographical Journal, Vol 24, No.3 A. B. Fisher, 1904, p.250)
The Kitara Kingdom was not pristine or Bantu in origin. Curiously enough, the Nilotic rulers who
founded that state still had fond memory of Meroe. For example, the Meroitic origin of Kitara was,
revealed to the British explorer, Major John Hannington Speke, by Rumanika, the 19th century
king who ruled Karagwe as a satellite of the Kitara. In a conversation with Major Speke, King
Rumanika pointed to the ancient kingdom of Meroe or Meru in the Sudan as the origin of the
This conversation diversified by numerous shrewd remarks on the part of Rumanika, led to his
asking how I could account for the decline of countries, instancing the dismemberment of the
Wahuma of Kitara, and remarking that formerly Karagwe including Urundi and Kishakka, which
collectively were known as the kingdom of Meru governed by one man (Speke, 1863, p.226)
Rumanika suggested that, Kitara had fragmented and was no longer a powerful empire as it once
was. Most importantly, he also confirmed that Kitara was the successor of the once powerful state
known as Meru or Meroe. The Meroitic State was also described as Ethiopian. Therefore, of
interest to us here is the link between Meroe and Itiyopi-anu (Ethiopia).
A group of Luo warriors in full warrior dress with long spears and shields, posed in front of the administrative building at Kisumu. This group is particularly distinguished by their extraordinary headdresses, including colobus monkey tail ones (kondo bim). Their chests are also adorned by cowrie shell decorated belts (okanda gaagi). Their shields are typical of Luo shields in the period, taking a curved form and with geometrical patterns. Pitt Rivers Source (Charles William Hobley). Circa 1900
4.0 The Luo and dedication of service to Anu - the Itiyopianu people
The Egyptologist who contributed so much to the identification of the earliest settlers in the Nile
valley was the Frenchman, Abbe Emile Amelineau, As an archaeologist, he was also credited with
the discovery of Osiris’ tomb at Abydos (Diop, 1974, p.76). It was Amelineau who identified the
early settlers as the Anu people and wrote that in their migration down the Nile, the Anu peoples
founded cities such as Esneh, Erment, Quoch and Heliopolis, pointing out that, “All those cities
have the characteristic symbol which serves to denote the name Anu. It is also an ethnic sense, that we must read the term Anu applies to Osiris” (Amelineau, 1916, pp.124-125). Quoch later
became the most famous as it expanded into lower Egypt, Asia and the Aegean sea. It was also
variously known and written as Kush, Cush or Koch (Drussilla Houston, 1985, p.222). Following
Amelineau, Diop made further revelation about the same people when he wrote,
“These Anu …. were an agricultural people, raising cattle on a large scale along the Nile, shutting
themselves up in walled cities for defensive purposes. To this people we can attribute, without
fear of error, the most ancient Egyptian Books, The Book of the Dead, and the Texts of the
Pyramids, consequently, all the myths or religious teaching. I would add almost all the
philosophical then known and still called Egyptian ….” (Diop, 1974, p.77).
According to Diop, it was the Anu people who authored the various books and scripts associated
with Egyptian religion and philosophies. The Anu people were also referred to as the ‘Agu’.
According to Houston (1985), “This was the aboriginal race of Abyssinia. It was symbolised by the
great Sphinx and the marvellous face of Cheops …. The ‘Agu’ of the monuments represented this
aboriginal race. They were the ancestors of the Nubians, and were the ruling race of Egypt
(Houston, 1985, p.35). D.D. Houston added that, “This old race of the Upper Nile, the Agu or Anu
of the ancient traditions spread their arts from Egypt to the Aegian, from Sicily to Italy and Spain
(Houston, 1985, p.49). Up to the 1960s ‘Agu’ was still worshipped amongst the Acholis in Uganda
and the Sudan. It was offered a sacrifice on a mountain known as Got or mount ‘Agu’, “1. Keny,
son of Ocak came from Lepfool to Got Agu, where he died. 2. Obaak, son of Keny, died at Got
Agu. 3. Atanga, son of Obaak, died like wise at Got Agu. (Crazzolara, 1950, p.177). Though
Amelineau, Diop and Houston all identified the early settlers as the Anu, they neither explained
nor defined the meaning of the word Anu.
Prez Obama and his luo family from Kenya
4.1 What is Anu and who were the Anu peoples?
The ancient systems of philosophies are recorded in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In order to
understand the emergence of the philosophical systems, one has to look at the economic
problems at the time. The most serious of which were droughts and floods, all of which posed
serious threats to land, an important means of production and livelihood. The Nile along whose
valley the Anu people descended was regarded as the source of prosperity and honoured as the
life – giving waters out of which the universe and all it contains emerged. Droughts, floods and
threats to the means of livelihood were attributed to a supernatural force or god that played a
reconciliatory role between humans and nature. Thus in the Anu peoples’ cosmogony, it was held
that the universe developed from a primordial watery matter known as ‘Nu’. “ represents the
primeval watery mass from which all the gods were evolved …. This god’s title are “Father of the
gods” ….” (E.A. Wallis Budge, cvii). The prefix ‘A’ means ‘of’. Thus ‘Anu’ means, ‘of the father of
gods’. Anu was considered to have the properties of self- development known as Khapere.
Amongst the Acholi, Khapere or Lhacere is a common name, which, signifies ‘unstable-ness’ or
one who never settles down at all. Through the process of self- development, Anu or Lhapi was
transformed into Ra, the Sun god. The Acholi are the only people in the Eastern Africa region who
recognised ‘Ra’. Writing about the arrival and settlement of a central Luo group under one named
Ocaak, Fr. Crazzolara noted, “Paari mythology tends to indicate that he was killed by some evil
Jwook (spirit); that is why they call this people Parajook (para jwook, they dreaded this spirit or
disease) …. (Crazzolara, 1950, p.174). As a matter of fact, the name of an Acholi state in the
Sudan is known as the Parajok. Once deconstructed, the true meaning of the state comes out as
‘Pa-Ra-Jok’ (‘Pa’ is a possessive preposition of, Ra is the Sun god and Jok is spirit). Thus, Parajok
means ‘Of the spirit Ra’, and a dedication to the Sun god, which completed the creation of the
The terms used to describe the metamorphosis of the Sun or Ra, have bearings with the Luo
language. For example, Horu (Oru) in Acholi means the ‘sun has arisen’ and the ‘day has broken’.
In the same language, Hru-piny means, “…. Dawn, when the sun breaks through and drives away
the cover of darkness and night ….” (P’Bitek, 1980, p.155). It is simply the ‘coming forth by day’.
Today, a Luo language weekly news paper in Uganda is known as Hru-piny. To the Acholi, the
setting sun at dusk is said to be dying. ‘Too’ or ‘Thoo’ is a neuter verb meaning ‘to die’. Amongst
the Acholi, a goddess known as ‘Atoo or A’tho’ (read as in Hathor) is worshipped on a Got Atoo
mountain. Writing about the migration of the Bwobo peoples who had retreated from the
Kavirondo Luo and rejoined the Acholi, Fr. Crazzolara pointed out that, “Later, they moved southwest across the Acaa to Ureet, Odac, Lovaa and Got Atoo, (Pa-Icoo), where Ongoom is mentioned
as their Rwoot. Could A’thoo be the Hathor the goddess that reproduces life? Interestingly, Horus
the king, was said to be the son of ‘Hathor’, the mother of his incarnation. Fr. Crazzolara also
noted that, Jo-Lamwoo were in charge of Jook Lacic, whose abode was on Got Lacic, called also
Got Lamwoo. They had to offer sacrifices to Jook Lacic on this mountain, ….” (Crazzolara, 1950,
p.175). The goddess the Acholi refer to the ‘Lacic’ is the ancient Isis. Amongst the Luos, the word ‘Cier’(Cyer) is a verb, which means, to rise from the dead. Similarly, ‘Ciero’ (Ciero) is another verb
meaning to raise from the dead. On the other hand, ‘Ocier’ means, has risen. Coincidentally Ausar
(or Osiris) was the Egyptian god who had passed through death and had the power of bringing to
life, out of death. In linking Osiris with the Luo people, Henry Frankfort (1948) wrote,
“…. We should consider for the moment a very similar god worshipped by the Shilluk, modern
Nilotes who are related to the ancient Egyptians. We have referred above* to Nyakang, who like
Osiris, counts as a former king. Like Osiris, too, he is credited with having given to his people the
element of culture. Both are permanently concerned with the well being of their people and
influence it from beyond. …. Nyakang is the equivalent of both Horus and Osiris in this respect
(Frankfort, 1948, p.198-199)
The relationship between the Nilotic Shilluk that Frankfort referred to above was confirmed by Fr.
Crazzolara who wrote about the death disappearance of Nyikango following his murder, as was
the case with Osiris,
“Nyikango …. became tired of their unending disputes. One such contender went one day and
threw a spear at Nyikango hitting him in the chest. <> Nyikango said to his people. He was taken
to a hut. Its roof opened of itself, and Nyikango went into the height – into heaven, in the shape of
smoke, keta mal a iiro. The important chiefs were called. …..the members of Nyikango’s family
said to the chiefs: <> - turning to the gazing people Nyikango said reprovingly: <> ….”
(Crazzolara, 1950, p.126 –127).
Nyikango was like Osiris, a god of the dead. As a royal, Nyikango had rivals and there were feuds
similar to that encountered by Osiris with his brother Set. In Nyikango’s case, the main rival was a
Dowaat as noted by Fr. Crazzolara who wrote, “Nyikango was driven away by his half-brother
Dowaat, because he aspired to take his place ….” (Crazzolara, 1950, p.130). Without doubt, there
is a strong affinity between principal characters in the Shilluk tradition and those in the
philosophy of ancient Ethiopians/Egyptians religion.
Besides Frankfort’s observations, the link between ancient Egypt and the Luos did attract the
attention of Chiek Anta Diop. In identifying the Anu people with the Luos, Diop (1991) wrote, “The
Anuak of the Sobat River (Evans-Pritchard, p.253) recall the proto-historic tribe of Anu (of Osiris’s
ethnicity), who originally occupied the Nile valley” (Diop, 1981, p.121). To recall means to have knowledge. Thus the Anuak have knowledge about the first and the original inhabitants of the Nile
Valley, Osiris’s tribe the Anu. As for the identity of the Anuak, E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1940) noted,
“The Anuak belong to the Shilluk-Luo group of the Nilotic peoples and this monograph provides
further data for comparative study of their political systems. The group comprises the Shilluk,
Anuak, Acholi, Luo of L.Victoria, Luo of the Bahr-el-Ghazal and the closely related Dembo, Shat,
and Mannangir, Alur, Lango, Jo-Pa-Dhola, Kumam, Bor, and Fori….” (Evans-Pritchard, 1940, p.5)
Both Diop and Evan-Pritchard confirmed that the Luos were the very Nilotic peoples who first
settled the Nile Valley and founded the ancient Kingdom of Koch (Cush, Kush, or Quoch). In the
Luo language, i- means, thou and ‘tiyo’ is a verb to work or dedicate service to, pi- means, for.
‘Anu’ was the primordial watery mass, the god of gods. Thus, itiyopianu means people who
dedicated services to Anu. The Koch kingdom of the Itiyo-pi-anu expanded into Egypt, Arabia,
Chaldea and the Aegian penisula (Drussila D. Houston, 1985). The Luo presence in Egypt is
5.0. The Luo in Ancient Egyptian history.
Luo expansion into Egypt.
Koch (Kush, Cush, Quoch) was the original and powerful Itiyopian kingdom that first emerged in
the Nile Valley in the modern Republic of the Sudan. The sovereigns of Koch extended Itiyopianu
rule into the Lower Nile region, which later became known as Egypt. More specifically, it was the
Thebban priest/kings from the Upper Nile Valley of Koch that established theocratic rule in
ancient Egypt. The first king of Dynasty I, was Menya (Mena, or Menes). Speakers of IndoEuropean languages have difficulties in pronouncing African words with the consonant ‘ny’ as in Kenya or Nyerere.
In the case of Menya, the letter the ‘y’ was omitted altogether so that Menya is spelt and read as Mena and quite often distorted as Mene. This distortion and the omission of the letter ‘y’ was pointed out by E.A. Wallis Budge (BOTD: xii). Thus the first king of Egypt was not Mena or Menes as has been depicted in many texts but Menya, the Thebban and originally, one of the Itiyopian priests (Dunjee Houston, 1985:69). Menya is a Luo name and a common one amongst the Acholi today. The name ‘Menya’ means ‘shines on me’. Amongst the Acholi, Menya is still remembered as a rich and powerful person, in the following proverb; “Tong gweno oloyo Menya”- translates as ‘Menya failed to get an egg’ (Okot P’Bitek, 1985:86). For such a powerful figure, nothing was beyond his reach. However, on one fateful day even an egg was not
affordable. It was beyond Menya’s reach. Menya’s clan, the ‘Pa-Menya’ are today affiliates of the
former Payira state of Acholi.
Luo kochia dancers
It was Menya who built one of the first temples in Egypt. One of the temples, ‘Ptah’ was so named
in honour of the solar god. The solar god illuminates the world by the fire of its eyes. Thus it was
the illuminary that ‘shines on him’. Coincidentally, Tah is also a Luo word meaning bright light or
an illuminary. ‘Ptah’ means ‘of the illuminary’ or ‘of the light’. The prefix ‘P’ means ‘of’ as in Okot
of Bitek above. A-gy-ptah or Ae-gy-ptah means ‘I am of the light’. Thus the name Egypt is not
‘Kemit’, but comes from the term ‘AEGYPTAH’ and was a construct of Menya, the first king. Menya
went on and instituted the first dynastic and theocratic monarchy. Menya saw himself as the solar
god that has descended amongst men.
He was succeeded by one ‘ Aha’. Interestingly, this is a familiar common Luo name. In the Luo
language, this name is an expression, which means, ‘I have risen’. He was succeeded by ‘Djer’(H.
Frankfort, 1948:xxiv). His name means ‘set back’. Meanwhile, ‘Dimu’, the last ruler of the first
dynasty is the ancestor of the Shilluk. In acknowledging Dimu as the ancestors of the Shilluk, Fr.
Crazzolara wrote, “Nyikango fled to Dhimmo (Collo spelling), who is said to have been a Reth,
king, whose country was distinct from that of Dowaat ….” (Fr. Crazzolara, 1950, p.123). The
second dynastic ruler ‘Nacca’ still carried a Luo common name and this trend continued. The Fifth
dynastic ruler who assumed power around 2340 B. C. was ‘Tet-ka-Ra’. The word ‘Tet’ or ‘Teth’ is Luo meaning, ‘forge, design, mould, construct or create’. The name meant ‘the creation of or the
hand work of ‘Ra’’. In the sixth dynasty, which ended in 2180 B. C, the first Pharaoh carried the
name ‘Teti’ meaning ‘design and make’ in the Luo language. The 18th dynasty rulers included
‘Ahmose’, whose name translates in Luo as ‘I hail him/her’ and ‘Akhena-tuon’, meaning ‘I am the
one and only bull’. He was succeeded by, the boy- king, ‘Tute-ankh-amunu’. The word ‘tute’ in
Luo means, strive, endeavour or struggle. On the other hand, ‘ankh’ is the eternal life (BenJochannan, 1972, p.362). Thus, the boy king who was likened to the life giver was urged, ‘struggle
patiently like that the life giver’.
In the late period 750 BC Kabaka or ‘Pi-ankh’ reasserted Itiyopian rule over Egypt. Do these titles
have any significance amongst the Luos? According to Kabaka Mutesa, the king who ruled the
Buganda kingdom at the dawn of British colonialism in Uganda, ‘Kabaka’ the king’s title means
“the glorious messenger of Baka”10. As for the meaning of ‘Baka’, P’Bitek provided a useful
explanation he wrote, “ I swear in the name of Baka, the Jok of Patiko Chiefdom, that I shall speak
the truth, without hiding anything from you, or tell a lie, but all the truth as I know it” (P’Bitek,
1989, p.69). Okeca Ladwong, an Acholi native from Patiko and the main character in P’Bitek’s
satirical novel ‘White Teeth’, was swearing in a British court in colonial Uganda. Patiko was a precolonial Acholi State in Northern Uganda that was destroyed by Turko-Egyptian and British
colonialism, and Baka was the State Deity. The point here is that through Luo migration and
relocation, the use of the titles ‘Baka’ of the Koch ruler continued in the post Meroitic States in the
Great Lakes region. Meanwhile, ‘Pi-ankh’s influence in the Great Lakes region and Central Africa is
seen in the recognition of the supreme being amongst the Bantus. For example in the Luo
founded Bunyoro- Kitara kingdom, the supreme- being became known as ‘Ru-hanga’. Today, the
existence of common names such as ‘Lu-anga’, and ‘Mu-anga’ are a direct outcome of the
influence of the ancient ruler of Koch in the great Lakes region.
Married Luo men and women in traditional ornaments. D. V. Figueira, about 1925
In the Nile Valley the magnificent seats of government such as Thebbes and temples at Karnak
and Luxor still carry Luo names. For example, in the first place the word Thebbe or Tebbe is
Acholi for ‘seat of government’. For example Rwot (King) Olya of the Atyak city state of Acholi
described his headquarters as his “Tebbe” (Lacito Okech, 1953:87). Meanwhile, Karnak is a
distortion of Luo word ‘Ka-naka’ which means, ‘the place of the everlasting’. Luxor on the other
hand comes from the Luo word ‘Lu-kwor’ meaning, ‘the living’. As lower Egypt increasingly came under foreign domination, the people of Lukwor (Luxor) retreated to Koch, at Te-Kidi, the grand
capital, where Onyango-ku- Odongo (1976), noted, “Here the people of Lukwor prospered and
made progress in many fields” (Ku Odongo, 1976, p.80). The last indigenous Egyptian Pharaoh
was Amacic (Harmachis or Amasis) who was put to death by Cambysis in 525 BC. Amasis is still
remembered in Acholi today and was a hate figure, having participated in the destruction of
‘Tekidi’, the grand capital Koch. He was derided as a traitor for colluding with foreigners and more
so for his inability to stand firm, in the face of flagrant aggression by Cyrus and his son Cambysis.
Cyrus had wanted the service of an Egyptian Oculist (Herodotus, 1954:203). However, the expert
selected was resentful and in revenge, suggested to Cambysis to demand Amacic’s daughter for a
wife. Amacic’s humiliation has been captured in an Acholi ‘folk tale’ and a song passed down to
me, and which in part says,
“Got Amacic yee! Got Amacic ni immii dako, Got Amacic! Man rwot ma ocwala got Amacic ni imii
dako got Amacic!”11
“Oh Amacic the mountain, please provide a bride. Amacic the mountain I am the king’s messenger
sent to collect the bride!” (My translation).
Amasis’ humiliation by Cambyses is well documented in Herodotus’ ‘The Histories’. Through sheer
coincidence, the story was passed onto the writer, as a ‘folk tale’ by Safira Anek, a native of the
former Acholi State of Alero, who trace their origin to Egypt. Fr. Crazzolara (1950) gave a brief
account of the origin of the Alero peoples and noted, “Owiny, Labongo, Opiir were the three men
that came fro Misri (Egypt) (Crazzolara, 1950, p.256). Safira’s narrative further shows that oral
tradition remains relevant particularly if backed by written sources. Without doubt, the demise of
Amacic sparked a frantic migration from Egypt down to the Sudan and later to the great Lakes
region and beyond.
The reclamation of African heritage from ancient Egyptian civilisation has been a daunting
endeavour. This has been due a great deception about the identity of the ancient Egyptians and
also to the obstacles placed by some euro-centric scholars to deny Africans their historical
heritage portraying them as a people without history. From the advent of colonialism till now, the
history curriculum in most African education institutions was based on the experiences of
Europeans and their world-view. The false perception of the colonialism as a civilising mission led Africans to embrace a euro-centric curriculum. Though the ancient Egyptians invented writing
through which they documented their history, the very loss by Africans, of Cush, Egypt, Akum,
(Axum), and Meroe culminated in migration and the gradual loss of their ancient art of writing.
The inability of Africans to read ancient scripts remains a big obstacle in their quest to re-discover
A group portrait of a seated woman surrounded by young women and younger girls, and described as belonging to Kisumu clan of the Luo, captured in a humorous moment in relaxed fashion despite the posed formality of the group. Their personal adornments are simple glass bead necklaces (tik ng'ut), front aprons (olemo), string waist belt and waist beads (tik nungo) and earrings (stadi). The shaven head hair styles are very youthful and would have been a fashion in the period for young women.
The historical analysis in this paper is a contribution towards the reclamation and linking of Luo
and African history to that of ancient Itiyopianu and Egypt. We have argued that the conception
and development of the ‘Hamitic theory’ was undertaken to thwart such an effort. Attempts by
some western historians, Egyptologists and missionary scholars to conceal the Luo cradle-land,
distort the identities of some Luo groups of peoples and their migration patterns, were part of a
strategy calculated to rob not only the Luos, but Africans of their historical heritage. Using
linguistic, oral and written sources, we have presented an argument to support the contention that
the Itiyopianu kingdom of Koch (Cush), which expanded into lower- Egypt, was indeed founded by
the Luos. From Napata, the people of Koch migrated and settled in Arabia, Mesopotamia and
Phoenicia. The Luo presence in those areas will be a subject of future discussion.
1. Chris Arthur (1993), ‘Review of Shamsavari’s Dialectics and Social Theory’, Capital & Class, 50
2. Margaret Trowell, (1943), ‘Who are the Hamites’? The bulletin Of the Ugandan Society, No 1,
3. Ingham Kenneth (1957), ‘Some aspect of the History of Western Uganda’, The Uganda Journal,
Vol 21, No. 1, The Ugandan Society, Kampala.
4. see Benjamin C. Ray (1991), Myth, Ritual and Kingship in Buganda, Oxford University press,
New York, p 191.
5. Mahmood Mamdani (1984), ‘Forms of Labour and Accumulation of Capital: Analysis of a village
in Lango, Northern Uganda, Mawazo, Vol 5, No.4, Dec 1984, Makerere University Kampala
6. Some of Ku Odongo’s contemporaries neglected the recording of the Oral Historical traditions
of the Luo. Consequences, valuable historical information was lost. Ku Odongo lamented
“It is regrettable that modern central Lwo scholars have preferred to study European history.
Many to whom I spoke told me that it was not possible to study what was “non-existent”.
Apparently, they had cut themselves from the old folks and were not aware of the living oral
traditions amongst their own community. Although there is wealth of conflicting stories,
tradtitional, linguistic evidence and place-names which make the study of the central Lwo’s past
very exciting ….” (Onyango ku Odongo, 1979, p.28)
7. Also in ‘Exile’, a track in Luo, by Goeffrey Oryema (1990), A Womad Production for real
Sounds, London, Virgin Records Ltd. The song is popular with entertainers and artist who
perform the ‘Bwola’ royal dance. In London the Luo Cultural Group regularly sing the lyric
during their ‘Bwola’ dance performances.
8. Koch in the Acholi dialect refers to, ‘solitary, gigantic and formidable’.
9. Mrs Griffith, quoted in A.C. A Wright (1940) who reviewed J.P. Crazzolara 91938), - ‘A study of
the Acholi language, Uganda Journal, 1940, Vol VII no 4.
10. see Wilson C J. (1878), Letter to a Mr. Wright dated , G 3 A6/ C.M.S archives, University of
11. See Herodotus, (1972), ‘The Histories’, p.203-205. During, his second year at Mary Knoll
primary school, (Purongo, Acholi district), the writer narrated the same story to fellow pupils as
part of ‘role play’ and ‘confidence building’ learning strategy that had been adopted by Ms.
Magdelen Labol who took that class. Safira Anek, the writer’s mother had passed the story, on to
Arthur, Chris (1993), Review of Shamsavari’s Dialectics and Social Theory, Capital & Class, 50
Atkinson R.R (1995), The Roots of Ethnicity; The Origin of the Acholi of Uganda Before 1800,
Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Press.
Baker Samuel White (1877), Albert Nyanza, Macmillan and Co, London.
Ben-Jochannan Yosef A.A. (1970), Black Man of the Nile, Black Classic Press, Baltimore.
Bernal M. (1987), Black Athena. Vols 1&2, Free Association Books, London.
Breasted, James Henry (1937), A History of Egypt: From the Earliest Times to the Persian
Conquest, New York, Charles Scribner and Sons.
Churchward A. (1903), Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, A&B Books Publishers, Brooklyn
Carruthers, Jacob (1999), Intellectual Warfare, Chicago, Third World Press
Crazzolara J.P. Rev. Fr. (1938), A Study of the Acooli Language, London, Oxford University Press.
Crazzolara J. P. Rev. Fr. (1950), The Lwoo, Verona Fathers, Verona, Italy.
Diop C. A. (1974), The African Origin Of Civilisation, Chicago, Lawrence Hill Books.
Diop C. A. (1981), Civilisation or Barbarism, Brooklyn, New York, Lawrence Hill Books.
Driberg, J.H. (1923) The Lango, London, Fisher Unwin
Dwonga Jackson, (1992), Luo from the Biblical times, Radio Uganda Luo programme, Luo
programme archives, Kampala.
Evans-Pritchard E. E. (1940), The Political System of the Anuak of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan,
Percy Lund Humphries &Co, London.
Finch S. Charles, (1991), Echoes of the Old Darkland, Khenti, Decatur, Geogia.
Fisher, Rev. A.B. (1904), ‘Western Uganda’, Geographical Journal, Vol 24, No.3
Frunkfort H. (1948), Kingship and the Gods, The University of Chicago Press, London.
Girling, F.K.(1960), The Acholi of Uganda, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Grove, E.T.N (1919), ‘Custons of the Acholi’, Sudan Notes and Records, Vol II, 1919
Hakeem, A.A (1990), The Civilisation of Napata and Meroe, in G. Mokhtar (1990) (ed), General
History of Africa, California, James Cur
Obama and his Luo tribe grandmum
Kogelom, Kenya: Sarah Obama, step-grandmother of Barack, celebrates with members of her family Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama Doing Farm Work In Kenya Many Years Ago.