Kenya’s second largest ethnic tribe
The Luhya tribe, also known as Abaluhya, Baluhya, or Abaluyia, are a bantu tribe living in the agriculturally fertile Western region of Kenya. They are neighbors to some of the nilotic tribes including Luo, Kalenjin, Maasai and Teso (Iteso).
Luhyas are Kenya’s second largest ethnic tribe after the Kikuyu, making up 14% of the Kenya population. Though considered as one tribe, the Abaluhya consist of over 18 sub-tribes, each speaking a different dialect of the Luyia language. The Bukusu and Maragoli are the two largest Luhya sub tribes. The others include Banyala, Banyore, Batsotso, Gisu, Idakho, Isukha, Kabras, Khayo, Kisa, Marachi, Marama, Masaaba, Samia, Tachoni, Tiriki and Wanga.
History of the Luhya tribe
The true origin of the Abaluhya is disputable. According to their own oral literature, Luhyas migrated to their present day location from Egypt in the North. Some historians however believe that the Luhya came from Central and West Africa alongside other Bantus in what is known as the Great Bantu Migration.
The Luhya tribe, like many other Kenya tribes, lost their most fertile land to the colonialists during the British colonial rule in Kenya. The Abaluhya, and more so the Bukusu, strongly resisted colonial rule and fought many unsuccessful battles to regain their land. The Wanga and Kabras sub-tribes however collaborated with colonialists.
Culture & Lifestyle
Traditionally, the extended family and the clan were at the centre of the Luhya culture. Luhyas practiced polygamy, and a man got more respect depending on the number of wives he had. This is because only a very wealthy man could afford to pay dowry (bride price) for several wives. Dowry was paid in form of cattle, sheep, or goats. Today, polygamy is no longer widely practiced, but dowry payment is still revered in some Luhya communities. Instead of giving cattle, sheep, or goats as bride price, one may pay dowry in form of money. However, marrying from one’s clan is considered a taboo.
Traditional male circumcision is an important ritual in most Luhya sub-tribes. It marks the initiation from boyhood to manhood. The modern and educated Luhyas today choose to circumcise their sons in hospitals upon birth. However, among some sections of the Bukusu and Tachoni, traditional circumcision ceremonies still take place every August and December.
Luhyas and Sports
Luhya people are very enthusiastic about sports especially rugby and soccer. AFC Leopards is one soccer club that enjoys wide support among many Luhyas as it was considered to be their own. The club was formed in the early 1960s as Abaluhya Football Club, and has traditionally had bitter rivalry with Gor Mahia FC, a club associated with the Luo.
In Kenya’s football history, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia FC were for a long time the best soccer teams in the country producing most of the players in the national soccer team, the Harambee stars.
Up to this day, traditional bullfighting is viewed as a sport activity among sections of the Luhya ethnic tribe. The annual bullfighting competition attracts many spectators, among them Dr. Bonny Khalwale, the current Member of Parliament (MP) for Ikolomani.
Faith & Religion
Many Luhyas today are Christians. However, it is common to find some Luhyas mixing Christianity with aspects of African traditional religion. Dini ya Msambwa for example, a religion whose adherents are mostly Luhyas, uses portions of the bible for its doctrine while at the same time practicing traditional witchcraft. God in Luyia language is Nyasaye, a name borrowed from the nilotic luo neighbors.
Luhya tribe economic activities
Like other Kenyans, Luhyas are today found in almost every sector of the Kenyan economy. In most urban areas for example, there are many Luhya professionals as well as semi-skilled laborers. In their native Western Kenya region they practise farming and agriculture where they grow sugarcane among other cash crops grown in the region. Most of the sugar consumed in Kenya is produced in Mumias, a Luhya’s land. Other agricultural products grown by the Luhyas include maize(corn) and wheat.
Ugali, known as Obusuma in the Luhya language, is the traditional food of the Abaluhya. Ugali made from either maize(corn) flour or cassava, or millet flour, is usually accompanied with chicken. While Luhyas eat other foods, a meal is never complete without some Ugali.
Facts About The luyia Tribe