The Luo

The Luo started to arrive in Kitara during the reign of Wamara. But before this, the Luo-speaking peoples had already dispersed from their land of birth, probably in the southern
Sudan. The northern Luo apparently remained in this region, but the central and southern Luo moved south into the area of the Agoro mountains. A glotto-chronological study of the Luo dialects has suggested that this separation occurred in 870 ce (+ 200), that is, between 670 ce and 1070 ce.

Oral tradition indicates that the Luo-speakers continued their gradual expansion and dispersal during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These dates receive corroboration from linguistic evidence, which suggests that the proto-central and southern Luo separated between 1170 ce and 1470 ce. By the end of the fourteenth century, four Luo communities had emerged: one group lived near the Agoro mountains; another lived along the Nile near the north end of Lake Mobutu – the Pakwac triangle; a third occupied the area between Nimule and Shambe (Baar); and the ancestors of the Joka-Jok lived somewhere south of Mount Agoro.

According to Luo traditions, they encountered several non-Luo groups in the Agoro mountain area. On arrival, they found the Muru, amongst whom they settled and with whom they extensively intermarried. It was from this mixed population that the Joka-Jok and the Pawir-Pakwac groups, who moved away, derived. The Luo-speakers who stayed behind in the Agoro mountain area were later joined by the Jo-Oma (Bahima) about 1320-
60. At this time the former were primarily hunters and agriculturalists, and they seem to have learnt about cattle-keeping from the Bahima pastoralists.

Following the outbreak of a cattle disease in the area, a large number of these pastoralists were later forced to migrate. They crossed the Nile into the Bachwezi empire during the reign of King Wamara, […] Those who remained behind were absorbed by the Luo speakers who, under their king, Owiny I (1409-36), had established Tekidi, one of the earliest Luo states. According to Luo traditions, Owiny married Nyatworo, a Muhima girl, by whom he had a son, Rukidi. Later, Prince Rukidi broke away from his father and, with his followers, migrated towards Pakwac. After Kagoro’s coup, he was invited by earlier Luo migrants into Kitara to assume political leadership there. H e and his followers became known as the Babito, and he founded the new Babito dynasty of Kitara (c. 1436-63) as related below. From these accounts of life in Tekidi we can infer that at this time it was extremely difficult to know who was a Luo and who was a Muhima, given the mixed descent of the population. It is probably because of this that Crazzolara and other writers refer to these Luo-speaking Bahima as Luo.

B. A. Ogot (Kenya); specialist in African and particularly East African history; has published many works and articles on the history and archaeology of East Africa; teacher, researcher, former Director of the International Louis Leakey Memorial Institute for African Prehistory.

Source: General History of Africa Vol.IV. [Editor: D. T. Niane] Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century. Chapter 20. The Great Lakes Region.

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