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Luhya Tribe, People, Language, Culture and Traditions

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Luhya Tribe – Kenya’s Second Largest Ethnic Tribe

Luhya people: 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.

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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.

Luhya Sub – Tribes

All members of a family had responsibilities towards one another. Several families like that made up a sub-clan; and several sub-clans made up a clan. The clan was the most important family unit in the Luhya tribe. There are nearly 750 clans in Luhyaland. Each clan has a totem; that is, they have an animal or bird or plant which they do not eat, or which they do not touch.

Each Luhya clan swears by its totem. This was done when the person swearing wanted to prove that he or she was not telling a lie. You could not swear by your totem if you knew you were telling a lie as it was believed that the totem would thereby bring you bad luck, or kill you.

List of Luhya Sub – Tribes

Luhya tribe Luhya variety Region
Bukusu Lubukusu Bungoma (Kenya)
Idakho Lwidakho Kakamega (Kenya)
Isukha Lwisukha Kakamega (Kenya)
Kabras Lukabarasi Kakamega (Kenya)
Khayo Olukhayo Busia (Kenya)
Kisa Olushisa Butere/Mumias (Kenya)
Maragoli Lulogooli Maragoli, Vihiga (Kenya)
Marachi Olumarachi/Bumarachi Busia (Kenya)
Marama Olumarama Butere/Mumias (Kenya)
Nyala Lunyala (east),
Lunyala (west)
Busia (Kenya)
Nyole Lonyole (Uganda),
Olunyore (Kenya)
Vihiga (Kenya), Tororo (Uganda)
Samia Lusamia Busia, [Busia District, Uganda] – Uganda
Tachoni Lutachoni Lugari, Malava (Kenya)
Tiriki Lutirichi Vihiga (Kenya)
Tsotso Olutsotso Kakamega (Kenya)
Wanga Oluwanga Butere/Mumias (Kenya)

1. The Bukusu speak Lubukusu and occupy Bungoma and Mount Elgon districts. The clans of the Bukusu include the Batura, Bamalaba, Bamwale, Bakikayi, Basirikwa, Baechale, Baechalo, Bakibeti, Bakhisa, Bamwayi Bamwaya, Bang’oma, Basakali, Bakiabi, Baliuli, Bamuki, Bakhona, Bakoi, Bameme, Basombi, Bakwangwa, Babutu (descendants of Mubutu also found in Congo), Bakhoone, Baengele (originally Banyala), Balonja, Batukwika, Baboya, Baala, Balako, Basaba, Babuya, Barefu, Bamusomi, Batecho, Baafu, Babichachi, Bamula, Balunda, Babulo, Bafumo, Bayemba, Baemba, Bayaya, Baleyi, Baembo, Bamukongi, Babeti, Baunga, Bakuta, Balisa, Balukulu, Balwonja, Bamalicha, Bamukoya, Bamuna, Bamutiru, Bayonga, Bamang’ali, Basefu, Basekese, Basenya, Basime, Basimisi, Basibanjo, Basonge, Batakhwe, Batecho, Bachemayi, Bachemwile, Bauma, Baumbu, Bakhoma, Bakhonjo, Bakhwami, Bakhulaluwa, Baundo, Bachemuluku, Bafisi, Bakobolo, Bamatiri, Bamakhuli, Bameywa, Bahongo, Basamo, Basang’alo, Basianaga, Basioya, Bachambayi, Bangachi, Babiya, Baande, Bakhone, Bakimwei, Batilu, Bakhurarwa, Bakamukong’i, Baluleti, Babasaba, Bakikai, Bhakitang’a, Bhatemlani, Bhasakha, Bhatasama, Bhakiyabi, Banywaka,Banyangali, etc. For a complete list of Bukusu clans see Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo’s new book Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos ISBN 978-1-4669-7837-9[9]

2. The Samia speak Lusamia and occupy Southern Region of Busia District (Busia county), Kenya. The clans of the Samia of include the Abatabona, Abadongo, Abakhulo, Abakangala, Abasonga, Ababukaki, Ababuri, Abalala,

3. The Khayo speak Lukhayo and occupy Nambale District and Matayos Division of Busia County, Kenya. Khayo clans include the Abaguuri, Abasota, Abakhabi.

4. The Marachi speak Lumarachi and occupy Butula District in Busia county. Marachi clans include Ababere,Abafofoyo, Abamuchama, Abatula, Abamurono, Abang’ayo, Ababule, Abamulembo,Abatelia, Abapwati, Abasumia, Abarano, Abasimalwa, Abakwera, Abamutu, Abamalele, Abakolwe, Ababonwe,Abamucheka,Abaliba,Ababirang’u,Abakolwe,Abade. Abasubo.The name Marachi is derived from Ng’ono Mwami’s father who was called Marachi son of Musebe,the son of Sirikwa.So all the Marachi clans owed their allegiance to Ng’ono Mwami from whose lineage of Ababere clan they were founded.The name Marachi was given further impetus by the war-like lifestyle of the descendants of Ng’ono who ruthlessly fought off the Luo expansion of the Jok Omollo a nilotic group that sought to control the Nzoia and Sio Rivers in the area and the fishing grounds around the gulf of Erukala and Ebusijo-modern Port Victoria and Sio Port respectively.

5. The Nyala speak Lunyala and occupy Busia District. Other Nyala (Abanyala ba Kakamega) occupy the north western part of Kakamega District. The Banyala of Kakamega are said to have migrated from Busia with a leader known as Mukhamba. They speak the same dialect as the Banyala of Busia, save for minor differences in pronunciation. The Banyala of Kakamega are also known as Abanyala ba Ndombi. They reside in Navakholo Division North of Kakamega forest. Their one time powerful colonial chief was Ndombi wa Namusia. Chief Ndombi was succeeded by his son, Andrea.

Andrea was succeeded by Paulo Udoto, Mukopi, Wanjala, Barasa Ongeti, Matayo Oyalo and Muterwa in that order.

The clans of the Banyala include Abahafu, Ababenge, Abachimba, Abadavani, Abaengere, Abakangala, Abakhubichi, Abakoye, Abakwangwachi, Abalanda, Abalecha, Abalindo, Abamani, Abalindavyoki, Abamisoho, Abamuchuu, Abamugi, Abamulembo, Abamwaya, Abamani, Abaokho, Abasaacha, Abasakwa, Abasaya, Abasenya, Abasia, Abasiloli, Abasonge (also found among Kabras), Abasumba, Abasuu, Abatecho (also found among Bukusu), Abaucha, Abauma, Abaumwo, Abacharia, Abayaya, Abayirifuma (also found among Tachoni), Abayisa, Abayundo and Abasiondo, Abachende.

The Banyala do not intermarry with someone from the same clan.

6. The Kabras speak Lukabarasi and occupy the northern part of Kakamega district. The Kabras were originally Banyala. They reside principally in Malava, in Kabras Division of Kakamega district. The Kabras (or Kabarasi, Kavalasi and Kabalasi) are sandwiched by the Isukha, Banyala and the Tachoni.

The name “Kabras” comes from Avalasi which means ‘Warriors’ or ‘Mighty Hunters.’ They were fierce warriors who fought with the neighbouring Nandi for cattle and were known to be fearless. This explains why they are generally fewer in number compared to other Luhya tribes such as the Maragoli and Bukusu.

They claim to be descendants of Nangwiro associated with the Biblical Nimrod. The Kabras dialect sounds like the Tachoni dialect. Kabras clans include the Abamutama, Basonje, Abakhusia, Bamachina, Abashu, Abamutsembi, Baluu, Batobo, Bachetsi and Bamakangala. They were named after the heads of the families.

The Kabras were under the rulership of Nabongo Mumia of the Wanga and were represented by an elder in his Council of Elders. The last known elder was Soita Libukana Samaramarami of Lwichi village, Central Kabras, near Chegulo market. When the Quaker missionaries spread to Kabras they established the Friends Church (Quakers) through a missionary by the name of Arthur Chilson, who had started the church in Kaimosi, in Tiriki. He earned a local name, Shikanga, and his children learned to speak Kabras as they lived and interacted with the local children.

7. The Tsotso speak Olutsotso and occupy the western part of Kakamega district. Tsotso clans include the Abangonya,Abashisiru,Abamweche,Abashibo,

8. The Idakho speak Lwidakho and occupy the southern part of Kakamega district. Their clans include the Abashimuli, Abashikulu, Abamasaba, Abashiangala, Abamusali, Abangolori, Abamahani, Abamuhali.

9. The Isukha speak Lwisukha and occupy the eastern part of Kakamega district. Isukha clans include the Abamwilonje, the Abakusi, Abakondi, and the Abamahalia.

10. The Maragoli speak Lulogooli and occupy Vihiga district. Maragoli clans include Avamumbaya, Avamuzuzu, Avasaali, Avakizungu, Avavurugi, Avakirima, Avamaabi, Avanoondi, Avalogovo, Avagonda, Avamutembe, Avasweta, Avamageza, Avagizenbwa, Avaliero, Avasaniaga, Avakebembe, Avayonga, Avagamuguywa, Avasaki, Avamasingira, Avamaseero, Avasanga,Avagitsunda.

11. The Nyole speak Olunyole and occupy Bunyore in Vihiga district. Nyole clans include Abakanga, Abayangu, Abasiekwe, Abatongoi, Abasikhale, Aberranyi, Abasakami, Abamuli, Abasubi (Abasyubi), Abasiralo, Abalonga, Abasiratsi. Abamang’ali, Abanangwe, Abasiloli, Ab’bayi, Abakhaya, Abamukunzi and Abamutete.

12. The Tiriki speak Ludiliji and occupy Tiriki in Vihiga district. Tiriki clans include Balukhoba, Bajisinde, Baumbo, Bashisungu, Bamabi, Bamiluha, Balukhombe, Badura, Bamuli, Barimuli, Baguga, Basianiga and Basuba.

13. The Wanga speak Oluwanga and occupy Mumias and Matungu Districts. The 22 Wanga clans are Abashitsetse, Abakolwe, Abaleka, Abachero, Abashikawa, Abamurono, Abashieni, Abamwima, Abamuniafu, Abambatsa, Abashibe, Ababere, Abamwende, Abakhami, Abakulubi, Abang’ale, Ababonwe, Abatsoye, Abalibo, Abang’ayo, Ababule and Abamulembwa.

14. The Marama speak Lumarama and occupy Butere district. Marama clans include Abamukhula, Abatere, Abashirotsa, Abatsotse, Aberecheya, Abamumbia, Abakhuli, Abakokho, Abakara, Abamatundu, Abamani, Abashieni, Abanyukhu, Abashikalie, Abashitsaha, Abacheya, etc.[10]

15. The Kisa speak Olushisa and occupy Khwisero district. Kisa clans include Ababoli, Abakambuli, Abachero, abalakayi, Abakhobole, Abakwabi, Abamurono, Abamanyulia, Abaruli, Abashirandu, Abamatundu, Abashirotsa, Abalukulu etc.

16. The Tachoni speak Lutachoni and occupy Lugari, Bungoma and Malava districts. Tachoni clans include Abachambai, Abamarakalu, Abasang’alo, Abangachi, Abasioya, Abaviya, Abatecho, Abaengele. The Saniaga clan found among the Maragoli in Kenya and the Saniak in Tanzania are said to have originally been Tachoni.

Other clans said to have been Tachoni are the Bangachi found among Bagisu of Uganda, and Balugulu, also found in Uganda and the Bailifuma, found among the Banyala.

Although Trans Nzoia is in the Rift Valley province, substantial Luhya populations have settled in the Kitale area.

Luhya  Tribe Language – Luhya Names

Here are some typical Luhya names which are not borrowed: These names are predominantly Bukusu and Bunyala..

Boy – Girl – Meaning

  1. Wafula  – Nafula – During rain
  2. Wasike – Nasike – During locusts
  3. Wabwire – Nabwire – During Nightfall
  4. Wanjala – Nanjala – During famine
  5. Wekesa – Nekesa – During harvest
  6. Wamalwa – Namalwa – Beer brewing

Names for twins: The first to come is called Balongo and the other Mukhwana. In western Luhyaland they are called Apiyo and Adongo, respectively. Again there is Luo influence in this.

Removing teeth: The Luos remove six teeth of the lower jaw at puberty. The western Luhya also remove six due to Luo influence. But the Luhya of the east remove four, if at all.

Tattooing: Luo women used to tattoo their abdomens and foreheads as well as the back. Some Luhya also did this.

Luhya Tribe – Culture and 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.

Luhya People 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.

Luhya Traditions – Faith and 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 Community – 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.

Luhya Tribe – Food

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.

Luhya Tribe - Luhya People

Luhya Tribe – Luhya People

Luhya Marriage

How Luhya marriage was arranged

This was done in one of two ways. In one case the father of a boy arranged with the father of a girl with or without the knowledge of the boy. In the other case, the boy himself looked for a hard-working girl from a reputed family. He was usually accompanied by his boy friends. The meeting place was usually in or near the girl’s home. She too came to the meeting place accompanied by her girl friends. The question was then put to the girl, and if she agreed, both parties went to tell their parents.

Before the boy or his father approached to make the suggestion, careful, private inquiries were made about the girl’s character and her ability to work. A go-between (wangira) was often used. Before accepting – sometimes even after accepting – the girl too caused inquiries to be made about the boy’s character. She also scrutinised his deformities, if any.

After everything was checked, male relatives of the boy visited the girl’s parents to talk things over, and if necessary, start paying the dowry. In some parts of Luhyaland the boy gave the girl a token (e.g. eshitiri, a bangle) to indicate that they were now engaged.

The Luhya wedding feast

When the parents and relatives of the girl were satisfied with the dowry paid, arrangements were made for the wedding. (Note: There were only a few cases where the dowry was satisfactory to the parents. It was only in such cases that the type of wedding described here took place) A big feast was prepared, both at the girl’s and at the boy’s home. The boy, together with his friends, went to the girl’s home to fetch her.

There was much singing at the girl’s home. When everything was ready, the boys left with the bride and a large group of girls to act as bridesmaids. These girls sang wedding songs the whole journey to the boy’s home. In some cases the boy did not come to fetch his bride in the manner explained. Instead, the girl’s brothers and male cousins accompanied her and her bridesmaids to the groom’s home. At the groom’s home, too, the women of his side sang appropriate songs. There was much dancing, drinking and eating. As soon as the bride entered the home, certain customs were observed.

Luhya Dowry (Ikhwe)

This differed slightly from place to place. Generally, it was done in instalments. Representatives of the boy took the items available to the girl’s home where they met her parents and relatives. Usually a beer party was made for the meeting. During the party important matters concerning the dowry would be discussed.

The items of dowry were cows and bulls. The equivalent of a cow was four goats, and of a bull, three goats, depending on local practice. The equivalent of a goat was, on the average, three hoes. (In some places it was an insult to pay a sheep as dowry.) Every time an item was brought equivalent to a cow or bull, a short stick was cut and marked and then tied on the little bundle of similar sticks denoting earlier instalments. The girl’s parents kept one bundle while the groom’s parents went away with another for the record. These bundles were kept carefully in case some of the animals died and had to be returned to the groom’s home, as happened in some places; they were also kept in case the marriage did not materialize, or would end up in a divorce, in which case some of the items had to be refunded.

Luhya Bride or pride price?

The final amount or total paid again depended on local custom. In some places three to six head of cattle or their equivalent were sufficient while in others it was more (sometimes much more), say betwen13 and 20 head of cattle.

In other places, an initial number of cattle had to be paid; the number depended on the bargaining power of both parties. The second lot of cattle was ‘customary’ and had to be paid over the lifetime of the marriage. In western Luhyaland, four head of cattle had to be paid: a cow for the mother, a cow for the father (paternal uncle) a bull or cow for the maternal uncle, and a bull for the brother (usually paternal cousin).

When these were paid, there remained many small but important items which were paid to the girl or her relatives during or shortly after the marriage feast.

(Note: Certain relatives of the boy helped to subscribe the items of the dowry while certain relatives of the girl got a share of the dowry)

Luhya Culture – Wife Inheritance

In western Luhyaland, a man married his older brother’s wife when the brother died. Where there was no younger brother to inherit the wife according to custom, a male cousin took her instead. This type of marriage was called okhukerama; it was not practised among some eastern Luhya

Luhya Culture – Circumcision

The Luhya people are still strong traditionalists as far as the rites of passage from boyhood to adulthood are concerned. In Bukusu where the tradition is still strong, preparations for circumcision begins as early as early as two months before where a candidate is required to take a chicken to a local blacksmith in exchange for two bells that he will use to invite relatives to the ceremony.

Luhya Culture – Bells

All candidates whose bells are ready gather at a central point each night and trek for several kilometres rehearsing circumcision songs up to as late as As the D-Day nears, each candidate visits all his relatives’ homes ringing the bells as way of inviting them to the ceremony. A day to facing the knife, a candidate visits his maternal uncles where he chooses one to stand by him throughout the process, he is also given a bull as a gift. In Bukusu the cost of circumcision can be anything up to Shs 20,000 – way beyond annual earnings of most families.

Luhya Culture – Communication with ancestors:

At dawn of the special day, the chosen uncle accompanies the candidate to the river where he smears him with mud, and plants a grass on his head to signify that he (the candidate) is in communication with the ancestors. A group of villagers escort the candidate back home while singing circumcision songs, at this point the candidate is completely naked.

Luhya Culture – Bullying the boy into manhood

All those who have passed through the process are entitled to bully the candidate as a way of hardening them. The candidate finally gets circumcised at his father’s compound as relatives, friends and neighbours of both sexes watch keenly and he graduates from an omusinde (uncircumcised) to an omusiani (circumcised). After successfully going through the knife, the candidate gets showered with lots of gifts from relatives.

Luhya Culture – Living in Murumbi

The candidates are then isolated from their homes and live in a single dwelling known as murumbi. Relatives must bring them food which they must deposit with the janitor as they must not exchange any form of contact until they are properly healed and a graduation ceremony performed.

Luhya Culture – Healing period

Usually the logic is to keep the men away from girls and women to avoid getting sexually aroused and since it might cause the wound to tear and take longer to heal. Healing normally takes two weeks if there are no complications. If there are still candidates who haven’t healed after two weeks, this period may be extended but in all cases never exceeds one calendar month.

Luhya custom under threat

Recently however, the practice has come under threat by critics who claim the practice is unhygienic and exposes candidates to unnecessary pain when one could achieve the same result clinically in a hospital under anesthetics. The issue of training of the circumcisers has also been called into question after reports of boys losing their manhood to poorly trained and erratic abasebi.

Luhya Tribe Video

Facts About The luyia Tribe

Population 3,418,083 in Kenya (1989 census). Population includes 135,000 Wanga, 65,000 Marama, 45,000 Tsotso 60,000 Kisa, 105,000 Kabras, 50,000 Saamia, 35,000 West Nyala, 60,000 Khayo, 60,000 Marachi (1980 SIL). Population total all countries: 3,643,461.
Region Lake Victoria area, Western Province . Saamia and Songa dialects are in Uganda . Also spoken in Uganda .

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