Kenya's second largest ethnic tribe

The Luhya tribe, also known as the Abaluhya, Baluhya, or Abaluyia, is a Bantu tribe living in Kenya's agriculturally fertile western region. They are neighbors to some of the Nilotic tribes, including the Luo, Kalenjin, Maasai and Teso (Iteso).

Luhyas are Kenya's second largest ethnic tribe following the Kikuyu, and they account for 14 percent of the Kenyan population.

Though considered one tribe, the Abaluhya consist of over 18 sub-tribes, each speaking a different dialect of the Luhya language. The Bukusu and Maragoli are the two largest Luhya sub-tribes. Others include the Banyala, Banyore, Batsotso, Gisu, Idakho, Isukha, Kabras, Khayo, Kisa, Marachi, Marama, Masaaba, Samia, Tachoni, Tiriki and Wanga.

History of the Luhyas

The true origin of the Abaluhya is disputable. According to their own oral literature, Luhyas migrated to their present day location from Egypt (north of Kenya). 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 Kenyan tribes, lost their most fertile land to the colonialists during the British colonial rule of Kenya. The Abaluhya, and especially the Bukusu, strongly resisted colonial rule and fought many unsuccessful battles to regain their land. The Wanga and Kabras sub-tribes, however, collaborated with the colonialists.

Luhya culture and lifestyle

Traditionally, the extended family and the clan were at the center of the Luhya culture. Luhyas practiced polygamy, and a man was given more respect depending on the number of wives he had. This is because only a very wealthy man could afford to pay the dowry (bride price) for several wives. The dowry was paid in the 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 the bride price, one may pay a dowry in the form of money. However, marrying a person from one's own clan is considered 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 continue to choose to circumcise their sons in hospitals upon birth. However, among some factions of the Bukusu and Tachoni, traditional circumcision ceremonies still take place every August and December.

Luhyas and sports

Luhya people are great sports enthusiasts, especially when it comes to rugby and soccer. Many Luhyas show wide support for the AFC Leopards soccer club, which they consider to be their own. The club was formed in the early 1960s under the name Abaluhya Football Club, and has traditionally had a 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. Luhyas produced most of the players on Kenya's national soccer team, the Harambee Stars.

Traditional bullfighting is still considered a sport among sections of the Luhya ethnic tribe. The annual bullfighting competition attracts many spectators, including Dr. Bonny Khalwale, the current member of Parliament (MP) for Ikolomani.

Faith and religion of the Abaluyias

Today, most people from the Luhya tribe are Christians; however, it is common to find some Luhyas mixing Christianity with aspects of African traditional religion. For example, Dini ya Msambwa, a religion whose adherents are mostly Luhyas, uses portions of the bible for its doctrine while practicing traditional witchcraft at the same time. God, in Luhya language, is Nyasaye, a name borrowed from their Nilotic Luo neighbors.

Luhya tribe's economic activities

Like other Kenyans, Luhyas are involved in almost every sector of Kenya's economy. For example, in most urban areas, there are as many Luhyas working as professionals as there are working as semi-skilled laborers. In their native Western Kenya region, Luhyas practice farming and agriculture, growing sugarcane and other cash crops specific to the region. Most of the sugar consumed in Kenya is produced in Mumias, a Luhya land. Other agricultural products grown by the Luhya include maize (corn) and wheat.

Abaluhya food

Ugali, known as obusuma in the Luhya language, is the traditional food of the Abaluhya. Ugali is made from either maize flour or cassava, or millet flour. It is usually served with chicken. While Luhyas eat many other foods, a meal is never complete without some ugali.

Related Information

TOP of the Luhya Tribe

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