Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Luo live mostly in western Kenya with a significant presence in the adjoining parts of Uganda and Tanzania. Traditional Luo society had a strong egalitarian ethos and lacked centralized authority. Lineage membership was the primary structuring principle of social organization. The Luo, together with other culturally and linguistically related Nilotic-speaking peoples of southern Sudan and northern Uganda, were regarded as classic examples of African segmentary lineage systems. Luo subsistence depended upon a mixture of agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, some handcrafts, small-scale commerce and urban-based employment.


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Africa --Eastern Africa





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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Luo (FL11) collection covers cultural, historical, economic and demographic information circa 1895 to 2000. There are a number of general ethnographies on Luo culture and society as observed by professional anthropologists in late the 1920s to the mid-1930s. Specific themes covered in these works include tribes, kinship and social organization (Evans-Pritchard 1949, no. 2; Butt 1952, no. 1), marriage and sex restrictions (Evans-Pritchard 1950, no. 3; Shaw 1932, no. 8), religion, life cycles and burials (Hartmann 1928, no. 11; Evans-Pritchard 1950, no. 12). These ethnographic accounts are further supplemented by the works of historian Jean Hay, discussing changes in material culture (Hay 1996, no. 29) and gender relations (Hay 1982, no. 30) that took place before the Second World War as a direct result of British colonial rule and the complex forces it set in motion.

The collection also includes anthropological works that specifically focus on the post Second World War decade with particular emphasis on dynamics of lineage and family ties (Southall 1952, no. 17), customary law (Wilson 1960, no. 22) and Luo attitudes toward homicide and suicide (Wilson 1960, no. 19).

Other documents in the collection focus on the actual experiences of Luo men and women with urbanization and nationally designed development programs in the post-independence period (1963-2000). Specific themes covered include Luo responses to urbanization, modern education and population growth (Parkin 1978, no. 23), changes in public health and nutrition (Geissler 2000, no. 31; Geissler et. al., 2002, no. 32), land policy (Okeyo 1980, no. 25; Shipton 1992, no. 34), and the local effects of labor migration and global market forces (Cohen and Odhiambo 1989, no. 35; Shipton 1989. No. 24; Okeyo 1979, no. 26); and misguided development programs (Shipton 1995, no. 33; 1992, no. 34).

The remaining documents provide a linguistic analysis of Luo genealogical accounting (Blount 1978, no. 27), personal naming systems (Blount 1993, no. 28), and a comprehensive bibliographic information of existing works on Luo culture and society, circa 1920-2000 (Blount 2009, no. 36).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

chang'aa –an illegal distilled liquor– Use ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ( 273)

Chira –supernatural illness believed to be caused by violation of taboos– Use THEORY OF DISEASE ( 753) with AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

Dala –homestead– Use EXTENDED FAMILIES ( 596) with SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361)

Gunda –old settlement, often identified by the name of a founding ancestor– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with KIN RELATIONSHIPS ( 602)

Gweng –the smallest local territorial unit formalized by the colonial government– Use INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS ( 648) with TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY ( 631)

Jadak –magical and quasi-religious leaders who serve as lineage prophets– Use PROPHETS AND ASCETICS ( 792)

Jodongo –council of elders elected to settle minor disputes– Use JUDICIAL AUTHORITY ( 692) with COUNCILS ( 623)

Jodak –landless squatter (an outsider), or tenant lineage– Use REAL PROPERTY ( 423) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621)

Lek –communal grazing area– Use REAL PROPERTY ( 423) with LAND USE ( 311)

Magendo –smuggling– Use INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS ( 648) with FOREIGN TRADE ( 439)

Matatus –or "bush taxis"– Use VEHICLES ( 493)

Mikayi –senior co-wife– Use POLYGAMY ( 595) with GENDER STATUS ( 562)

Dhoudi –maximal lineage, sometimes called "clans"– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with CLANS ( 618)

Piny –distinct territory occupied by a cluster of maximal lineages– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621) or REAL PROPERTY ( 423)

Ot –a co-wife's hut in a polygynous homestead– Use POLYGAMY ( 595) with SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361)

Ruoth –head of a tribe or subtribe– Use COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622) with CLANS ( 618)

Tera buru –mortuary ceremony– Use BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS ( 764)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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