Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Luo are a people of Western Kenya Uganda and Tanzania. The second largest ethnic group in Kenya, they live in the shores and hinterland of Lake Victoria. They speak the Dholuo language, which belongs to the Western Nilotic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. They are famous for, and proud of, their own egalitarian ideology. The Luo are one of the few tribes in Kenya that do not practice ritual circumcision of males as initiation. Traditionally, children had their six front teeth knocked out at initiation. This ritual is rare these days.
The ancestors of the Luo were pastoral nomads who migrated south from Southern Sudan towards the end of the 15th Century. In moving to the lands around Lake Victoria they gradually displaced the Bantu-speaking tribes living in the region that were the ancestors of the modern Luhya and Gusii. Intermarriage was common and the Luo were influenced by the Bantu-speaking tribes they came in contact with.
By the time the white explorers arrived, the Luos had a tight-knit society with ruoths or kings. In 1915 the Colonial Government sent Odera Akang'o, the ruoth of Gem, to Kampala, Uganda. He was impressed by the British settlement there and upon his return home he initiated a forced process of adopting western style of "schooling, dress and hygine". This resulted in the rapid education of the Luo in the English language and ways. Luo tribe has produced many heros like Kenyas first vice-president. Barack Obama - the only african-american United States senator - traces his lineage through his father to the luo.
Traditional and Contemporary Luo Music
Traditionally the Luo music revolved around the nyatiti - a lyre with eight strings. Accompanying the nyatiti lead were songs about society, politics, history and change. Other traditional instruments include onand (an accordian) and orutu (a fiddle).
The Luo are most famous for the benga style of music. It is a lively style in which songs in Swahili are sung to a lively guitar riff. It originated in the 1950s with Luo musicians trying to adapt their traditional tribal dance rhythms to western instruments. The guitar (acoustic, later electric) replaced the nyatiti as the string instrument. Benga has become so popular that it is played by musicians of all tribes and is no longer considered a purely Luo style. It has become Kenyas characteristic pop sound.
Also see Luo Section of Folk Music of Kenya
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