Main Kenyan ethnic groups summary.

Main Kenyan ethnic groups, along with population estimates 2007

 

  Percent of population
Kikuyu 22
Luhya 14
Luo 13
Kalenjin 12
Kamba 11

                       Source: Library of Congress, Country Profile: Kenya (2007)

Kenya undertakes a population census every 10 years, with the next one due in August 2009.Going by the 1999 national census projections, the Luo may be numbering approximately 3.5 million (Daily Nation 2000). The Luo tribe has spread its populace beyond Kenya, into neighbouring Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania. The main economic activity among the Luo revolves around fishing, though many have now taken on farming activities to supplement the income they get from fishing.  On the Kenyan side, the majority of community members reside in Nyanza province, one of the eight provinces of Kenya. The administrative centre of the province is Kisumu City, the third largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Mombasa.

 

The Luo, who belong to the Nilotic group, migrated from Sudan into present-day Kenya and Tanzania between 1500 and 1800 A. D, and settled in the area on the banks of Lake Victoria (Cohen & Odhiambo 1989: 33). Formally pastoral nomads, the Luo today are agriculturalists and fishermen, who depend on the lake for their daily bread. There is evidence to underscore the strong association of the Luo to both river and lake (Onyango-Ogutu & Roscoe 1974: 15) and their use of descriptive words such as nyarnam (daughter of the Lake) to distinguish themselves from others. The mainstream language in the area is known as Dholuo.  The Luo are known to be a proud people who value their language and culture. This is juxtaposed with the fact that Luo Nyanza boasts a large proportion of the most widely read and acclaimed personalities in the nation.

The community holds formal education in high esteem, and boasts a significant proportion of medical and philosophical doctors, professors, teachers, nurses, and other white-collar jobholders. It does not think much of blue-collar occupations, and endeavours to send its children to achieve as high a formal educational level as possible, with a view to securing top white-collar jobs. This view of the Luos’ high estimation of education is supported by a study conducted by Parkin who states that “Luo families have been urged to seek salvation through education, with entrepreneurship increasingly ruled out as a possibility in Nairobi” (Odundo & Owino 2004: 27).

Those who have managed to pursue their education to university level, especially overseas universities and in particular, the United Kingdom and the United States, are especially revered.  This reverence of education dates back generations, as can be attested to by Parkin, who further states of the Luo: “when we compare the families of other ethnic groups in Kaloleni, we see how pronounced is the Luo propensity to locate their children in Nairobi, primarily to give them education and training” (2004: 47).

Nevertheless, contrary to expectations, these high education levels have not diminished much the hold of cultural practices and reverence of tradition. Without the advent of HIV, this reverence of tradition is not in itself a negative attribute – to the contrary, it should be upheld. However, since the advent of HIV, stakeholders involved in the fight against the disease have painstakingly attributed the high prevalence rate witnessed in the region to harmful cultural practices that the Luo continue to espouse. By 1997, the HIV prevalence rate within Kisumu city had surpassed 26 percent (Glynn et al. 2007).

 


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