I am Luo from Kenya and for the last few weeks I have been reading a book called ‘Luo: Kitgi gi Timbegi’ by Ker Paul Mboya. The book is written in Luo and the title means Luo: their customs and behaviours. The book has been an eye opener for me and I will share some of the things I have learnt and how they affect my outlook on life and what I believe in.
Religion-From the book I learnt that the Luo believed that God resides in peoples’ hearts. In addition, while there are other spirits which exist in the traditional religion, Luos believe in one true God – Nyasaye. These two things explain why it was easy for Luos to embrace Christianity given that the religion emphasized on one true God and also the concept of God living in your heart. The Luos also revere the sun, since it is the one constant on every morning. Elders in the community used the time of sunrise and sunset to proclaim a blessing on themselves and their families and consider anomalies in the sun’s appearance as a premonition of things to come.
Food– one of the interesting reads about my culture was finding out about food. The Luos traditionally drank porridge at 10 o’clock in the morning and then had nyoyo a mixture of boiled maize and beans. The staple of the community is kuon – which is a meal made with ground flour and used to eat soups and vegetables. Kuon can be made using maize flour, cassava flour, millet flour, sorghum flour or a mixture of all the above. The book goes ahead to add that Luos also eat chicken, fish, vegetables, some birds, sour milk and blood. At dinnertime if the meal is nyoyo (mixture of maize and beans) with porridge then it is not counted as a meal but a snack. In order to sleep one must eat kuon with vegetables or meat. This reading helped me understand why Luos eat a lot of kuon. Growing, up I ate kuon and vegetables or milk almost everyday and was surprised later when I learnt that other communities did not eat as much of it as we did. There is also a joke that regardless of what is cooked for a meal, if there is no kuon then the meal is considered incomplete. The joke has a basis in truth. An interesting addition was that it is the high of embarrassment (wich-kuot) for a Luo to eat sweet potatoes and porridge.
Leadership– There existed within the community a leadership structure starting from the home where the man heads the house all the way to the Ruoth who is the head of the community and is advised by a group of elders who according to tradition must all be men. Other people who lead in the community include the best warrior, a negotiator, an encourager who riles the young men into war, community leaders and the protector- who incidentally had the role of protecting the community. Each of these elders had a very specific role and they made decisions for the community and also governed the community on various issues. Only older men were allowed to have these positions and they had to be courageous, wise, humble but also clever. On reading this part on leadership I began to understand the leadership structure among the luo – for example Jaramogi (which is a title meaning –the man of God) Oginga Odinga was revered among the Luo. His son- Raila Odinga is also still revered by many of the Luo community. They are considered leaders- chosen by God and they have wisdom, courage and the knowledge of the gods. This is merely my opinion as I try to understand my culture and my people, but may not be the reality on the ground.
Naming Children– The Luo name children based on what is going on in the environment. It may be that the child is born at a certain time of day and therefore they are named after that time of day. However, children can also be named after seasons and events and in rare cases when a dead relative sends a specific dream to name a child a certain way then this is followed. This tradition partly explains to me why Luos name children strange names such as ‘post-election’, ‘Obama’, ‘Goldenberg’ etc. it is tradition to name a child after the circumstances surrounding the birth so even when Luos name their children after strange events, it is in line with tradition.
I am still reading the book on Luos traditions and with every page I learn more about myself and why I have some underlying beliefs. They may have not been passed on explicitly but the practices by my parents and other community members helped pass on to me a culture, which shaped my beliefs and basis for identity. I am interested in knowing about other communities in parallel to my own and I think this sharing will open up the world to real multi-cultural existence. In a future post I will be exploring the attitudes of Luo to ‘others’ – non-Luos who are referred to as jo-mwa.