The Luo (Lwo) are a Nilotic group of people under the River -Lake Nilotes
They were originally settled around the shores of Lake Rudolf and later the Bahr -el-Ghazel region in South Eastern Sudan.
Their migration is believed to have taken place between 1350 and 1500 AD, moving southwards along the Nile, settling in Northern Uganda (Pubungu) and later moving into Kenya.
Their migration was caused by several factors for example, population increase, overstocking, internal and external threats, diseases, spirit of adventure, natural calamities etc.
They moved along and settled around rivers and lakes, hence the name River - Lake Nilotics.
This group is related to other peoples like the Dinka, Anuak, Shilluk, Bor and Nuer .
They are at times called Jonam meaning people who live around lakes and rivers. Their lives were largely governed by seasonal changes.
They were basically fishermen and pastoralists living in isolated communities along the banks of River Nile.
They also carried out some agriculture.
Today, they are one of the major tribes in East Africa and speak related languages and are mostly dark skinned.
They include people like the Alur, Langi, Acholi, Japadhola and L~o.
Why the Luo Left their homeland
Historians do not agree as to why the Luo precisely left their cradleland in Southern Sudan around the 15th century, but the following have been given as the possible causes.
Over population. Land around Bahr - el - Ghazel is assumed to have become small for their growing numbers forcing some to look for new and bigger areas for settlement .
It is possible that the Luo migrated to look for fertile areas that could support agriculture since some of them were farmers. The soils in their cradle land could have got exhausted.
Their original homeland could have experienced the problem of overstocking. This created the problem of land shortage, soil erosion, uncontrolled live stock diseases and later conflicts.
It is also assumed that since they were pastoralists may be they were looking for pastures and water for theiranimals.
Internal conflicts are given as a probable cause for their migration. These may have been family quarrels or clan feuds. Other conflicts may have been over land that was not enough. The defeated communities therefore had to End new land for settlement in East Africa
It is also assumed that there were external conflicts and pressure from the neighbors like the Galla from Ethiopia. This may be true since the Dinka and Shilluk also left this area and moved northwards.
The hostile climate as evidenced by prolonged seasons of drought due to the Southward movement of the desert might have forced them to move in search of water.
Some historians attribute their migration to natural calamities like over flooding since they lived along the banks of River Nile.
Others assume that their migration was just out of love for adventure and wandering. Some people were just interested in being in a new place .
Others still maintain that their migration was out of the desire to export their political and cultural influence. See how they affected the societies they came into contact with .
Some might also have migrated because of group influence, i.e. simply because they saw others moving (migrating was a fashion).
The need to settle around rivers and other water bodies, since they did some fishing might have forced them to move.
Diseases and epidemics like small pox, malaria, river blindness and nagana may have hit their area due to overcrowding, intensifying their need to look for new disease free areas .
Severe famine might also have hit their area forcing them to look for new areas that could give them food.
Natural aggressive tendencies created the urge to conquer weaker people. The Luo being aggressive might have moved because of this.
Note; by 1500 AD the Luo were already in Northern Uganda (pubungu).
The Luo Migration and Settlement into East Africa (Course)
Around 1400 AD under their leader Olum, the Luo left their homeland in Southern Sudan (Bahr-el-Ghazel and Equatorial province) and moved southwards following the Nile.
Their movements were slow and gradual, spreading over a very long period (1000 - 1800 AD)
Sometimes these movements were also seasonal and moved in small family or clan groups.
On reaching Northern Uganda, at the beginning of the 16th century, the Luo settled at Pubungu near present day Pakwach which later became their dispersal point.
At Pubungu Olum's three sons (Gipir, Labongo and Tifool) had a bitter quarrel which ended in a split. Each group under its ruler moved into a different direction.
One group led by Gipir and Tifool moved westwards, crossed the Nile and settled in the north of Lake Albert, where they intermarried with the Lendu, Okebo and Sudanic Madi to form the Alur tribe.
Another group under Labongo moved southwards across the Nile at Pawir (Chope) and invaded Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
Later, Labongo left Chope and moved Eastwards with some people intermarried with the Madi and Ateker speakers to form the Acholi tribe.
The group that remained at Chope later moved further southwards under Isingoma, Rukidi Mpuga and came into contact with the Chwezi.
At this time, the Chwezi Empire was crumbling; they led to its final decline and replaced it with the Luo Bito dynasty. They also set up sub dynasties in Buganda, Busoga, Bugabula etc.
One group of the Luo moved directly from Pubungu, through Acholi, Langi and T eso lands to Eastern Uganda - Budama area. These gave birth to the present Japadhola (Adhola) tribe that presently inhabited Tororo district.
However, some of the Luo moved into western Kenya. These came to be known as the Kenyan Luo They include the Joka-Jok, J ok-owiny, Jok-omolo and others as refugees from Buganda,
The Joka-Jok were the first to move into Kenya and their migration took place between 1500 and 1550. They have no connection with Pubungu and moved directly from Sudan under joka-jok to Acholi, Gulu, through Mbale and finally into Lamogi hills (Nyanza) Kenya.
The jok-Owiny (loka - Aworwoth) moved from Pubungu and settled temporarily in Budama before finally settling in Sigoma alego in the Nyanza region of Western Kenya. This group was under the fearless Owiny Singoma and is related to the jo-padhola of Eastern Uganda.
The Luo who settled in Budama came to be known as the J o-padhola under the leadership of the Adhola and these were often victims of the Maasai and Bunyole raiders.
The Jok-Omolo were the third group and comprised of the Luo who migrated from Pawir (Chope) in Northern Bunyoro-Kitara, through Busoga, Samia, Bukedi, then into Nyanza region in Kenya, where they arrived at the beginning of the 17th century.
The Abasuba form the last group of Luo who moved into Kenya. These were a mixed variety of people most of whom were refugees from Buganda, Busoga, Bugwere and Ssese islands.
On reaching Nyanza province, the Abasuba mixed with the Luo they found there and settled in the southern part of the province between 1600- 1800. Today they are represented by the Jo-gem, Jo- ugenya and J o-alega.
The group that finally settled in the Kavirondo gulf and the Nyanza region became known as the Kenya Luo (Ia-Luo)
Effects of the Luo Migration
There were intermarriages between the Luo and the local peoples leading to the creation of new tribes like the Alur, Acholi, J apadhola and Langi.
The new tribes also came with new languages like Acholi, Alur, Japadhola, Langi, Kuman etc. They also intermarried with the Bantu
The coming of the Luo led to the formation of new kingdoms. Wherever they went, they imposed themselves as rulers over the local people. For example, by 1700 small Luo dominated and centralized states had emerged among the Acholi.
The Bito dynasty in Bunyoro and other related sub dynasties in Buganda, Karagwe, Ankoie, Busoga, T oro and western Kenya were all set up by the Luo.
The Luo introduced chiefdom (Rwothdom) in Northern Uganda and western Kenya. The institution of "Rwothship" in Northern Uganda is for example a Luo creation .
Their migration also led to population increase in East Africa especially in areas like Northern Uganda, Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya. This later led to land conflicts.
The coming of the Luo led to the final collapse of the vast Chwezi Empire (Bunyoro Kitara). They catalylised the collapse of this vast state and set up their own Bito dynasty that lasted up to 1967.
As a result of the collapse of Chwezi rule, small independent states emerged. For example, Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, Ankole and Karagwe. These were ruled over by Luo sub dynasties.
They influenced the non-Luo to adopt their language. For example, the Acholi who were Ateker speakers adopted the Luo language and so were the Abasuba refugees who moved to Kenya.
In some cases, the Luo dropped their cultures and language in favor of those of the Bantu. In Banyoro for example, the Luo were totally absorbed into Bantu cultures.
In other cases, the Bantu dropped their languages and cultures in favor of the Luo's. The Luyia for example, copied some aspects of the Luo initiation rites like removing the sixth bottom teeth and the Abasuba adopted their (Luo) language.
They introduced pet names (Empaako) like Ateenyi, Akiiki, Atwooki, Amooti, Adyeri, Araali and Apuuli. These are common in western Uganda (Bunyoro and Toro).
They also introduced new crops in East Africa like millet, simsirn, sorghum, peas, ground nut,etc.These are staple foods of many East African tribes today.
They also introduced the idea of cattle keeping (short horned hampless cattle). This cattle culture was spread in almost all the areas where they settled like. Acholi land and other parts of Uganda and Kenya.
They also initiated the system of granting land to clans, whereby each clan owned a particular areas. This system is common in Buganda and Northern Uganda.
In Bunyoro the Luo introduced new items of royal regalia like the royal drums, shield, a horn, a royal fire and a bag of millet.
They further introduced the system of royal burial sites for the kings - Abakama. The jawbones of kings had to be removed before burial and buried separately from the body.
Their coming increased warfare and insecurity in East Africa. This was because they fought all the people they came into contact with during their movements.
Because of these conflicts, many people were forced to leave their original homelands. The Langi for example, were forced to migrate and so were the Bantu of Alango in Kenya.
These conflicts also resulted into massive loss of lives and destruction of property.