THE LUO CULTURE (Way of life, tradition and activities.)

THE LUO CULTURE (Way of life, tradition and activities.)

The Luo also called Joluo or Jonagi/Onagi meaning “Ramogi’s heirs”) are an ethnic group in western Kenya, northern Uganda, and in Mara Region in northern Tanzania.

The Luo people are rich in tradition and cultural practices although some of their ways may have an observer raising an eyebrow.

This article lists some unusual customs that are practiced or formerly practiced by the Luo people.


  • Defense: The Luo defense;

All the locations (pinje) of Luoland were occupied by distinct clans (oganda) with a leader (ruoth) assisted by a council of elders (jodongo). The defense of each location was in the hands of clan warriors (thuondi/jolweny) armed with spears (tong/bidhi) and hide shields (okumba). These were usually young men led by older clan war leaders (osumba mirawyi) as well as a clan peace maker (ogaye).

  • Religion: The Luo religion;

The Luo traditionally worshiped a single God, understood as being manifest in many everyday things including the sun, moon, the lake and some wild animals such as the python. There were traditional healers, witchdoctors and sorcerers, all of whom were concerned with the power of spirits. These spirits (juogi) were considered to poses people to the extent that they became followers of that spirit. A good example was the spirit of Mumbo, supposed to live in Lake Victoria. Mumbo a religious cult and its followers, possessed by its spirit, were characterized by outbursts of hysteria and wearing forest shrubs.

  • Economy: The Luo economy;

The Luo have practiced a dual economy, with both farming and cattle-keeping being important. Cattle, sheep and goats were kept and were used for both food, marriage payment and also for ritual activities such as sacrifice (misango). Both sorghum (bel) and finger millet (kal) were important crops. More importantly, due to their proximity to the lake, the Luo were known as fishermen and fish (rech) was usually the main relish eaten with sorghum. Fishing was usually done by men in the lake but women also trapped fish in shallower waters. Both fish and livestock meat were further supplemented by hunting quill bird (aluru) or other animals.

  • Death: Death and Tero Buru.

When a respectable elderly person dies, Tero Buru occurs (Tho mar jaduong gi Tero Buru). Never has it been explained scientifically but I know and some readers would also agree with me that whenever an elderly person/ a leader of many people or even a very large extended family dies, we would always have a rainbow circling the moon or the sun, this is subject to debate but various African cultures have a meaning tied to this rare occurrence.

It was taken that than an elderly person or even a man who held position of highness within the society, never died during the day. However whenever this happened, it was meant to be kept within the circles of the few who knew and who in most cases his wife(s); who were also allowed to (ng’uro ywakne) mourn him in very low tones that wouldn’t alert the whole village. This was to be so until when the sunset was here and a very sharp loudest cries and mourns would then be left to feel the air (mburo ywakne matek gi nduru) so the best wailers from all around the village would do what they best knew, it’s in this way that the society knew of how death had visited them,

Tero Buru: This tradition however much it’s challenged by the times. It means so much and it would also signify how great one was. The day that followed a great persons demise would be full of activities, the elderly man (Jaduong) would be removed from his house where he had spent the night and be placed on the door side of (Mikai) the elderly wife house, young men from all over the village would gather at his home then leave to the farthest borders and villages where they would show their might and at times even fight an enemy of the village if ever there was any, on this day, everyone had a role to play in this colorful event; (Buru) ashes were smeared on the faces of everyone involved before the Tero Buru team would leave, the team had to be great and that’s the reason for the numbers which also signified his age/position and acceptance to the society. Bulls (ruedhi) were rode on; some also just accompanied the team. It’s the bulls that were always put in front and everyone else followed, it was upon the eldest son to step in the late father’s place and would be signified by having him don his hat, carry his spear and shield, all the male children would be dressed in knitted wear and go for Tero Buru.

Mikayi (the eldest/ 1ST wife) too had a role to play on this day and her part was to remove from the house chairs for visitors to use when they come, she was also to remove other wares from the house too. Mikayi had a mandate to take out some of the grains from (dero) granary so that cattle could feed on. She was also mandated to champion the wives into wailing and mourning smeared with cow dung (owuoyo) and ashes (Buru).

When coming back, the team that had gone for Tero Buru would be heard from a distance singing heroic song compositions which made the whole village proud and the late great.

Example of Tero Buru song!

Koriko gi koni, kendo kocha! Achia! (Tero Buru Ai! Mbrrrrrr!  Rrrrrr!)

Tero Buru Ai! Chia! Chia Chia,

Tero Buru Ai! X2.

{Chant would continue for sometimes depending on who was doing them with pakruok (praise) for the late.}

This is a cheering song that makes the crowd/ participants charged and at the same time praising the dead. The biggest bulls were always offered to take part in the Tero Buru team.

All the women, ladies, wives and those who came to mourn together with the bereaved family would upon hearing the chants of the coming Tero Buru team, came out in large numbers dressed in knitted wear and smeared with cow dung; mourning, crying, wailing with ululations and join the Tero Buru team which would be led by the eldest son of the fallen hero/leader/father/grandfather.

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