History of the southern Luo, Volume 1: migration and settlement

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Peoples of East Africa




Photo by A. Sharman MITUSA

Ritual Head of the Padhola

Peoples of East Africa


VOL. 1


BETHWELL A. OGOT Reader in History UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, NAIROBI University of East Africa





East African Publishing House

Uniafric House, Koinange Street P.O. Box 30571, Nairobi, Kenya

First Published 1967

Copyright © Bethwell A. Ogot 1967

Printed in Letterpress by East African Institute Press, Nairobi Saldanha Lane, P.O. Box 30502


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maturer investigation,” he later admits,” “... and on comparing details in connection with other groups and divisions, I had to

convince myself that real historical facts were, in some important points, fundamentally different.” He now rejects the theory that

there were two distinct waves of the Jo-Pajook immigrants in the area around Lafon Hill. The Pajook clan (or the Jo-Ywaaya as sometimes they are called) should be regarded as a remnant of a large Lwoo group that migrated southwards from Lafon. The route followed by this southern stream is important.*?

According to Crazzolara, the Luo moved westwards into Bari country from Lafon Hill. On reaching the Nile they divided

into two parties, one party proceeding southwards on the western side of the Nile, and the other on the east side. He then identifies the western party with the big group that later divided at Pubungu. The eastern division is the party we are concerned with here. It moved south and then east, finally settling in the Pajook region, where it established a minority rule over Madi elements. Leaving a small pocket of the Pajook people behind, they gradually moved away to settle in the region south of the Agoro range—or Lamogi—where, it would appear, they assimilated more “stranger” elements. From here, it would seem that a large section of them migrated to Nyanza.*4 Crazzolara’s revised version of the migration of thee Pajook folk seems to tally with the traditions of the Joka-Jok, who not

only maintain that they are related to the Pajook, but also that they actually came from there. If this interpretation is correct,

then the Joka-Jok represent a group of Luo people who migrated to Kenya directly without either passing through Pubunguorfirst settling in Bunyoro.* The name “Jok” in this context, probably refers to a place and not to a person.** Ramogi mayalso be another reminiscent name like New York or Cambridge (Massachusetts), 42.


Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part Lt p. 396.


The Lwoo, Part I,


44, 45.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, oo16-17; 46-47. Luo Historical Texts, p. 241, where the Joka-Jok are given as the


See Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part II, p. 174, where Pajook is interpreted as “Jook’s site” (pa-Jook= the place of God).

only Luo group that migrated from Acholi.

The First Luo Settlers in Nyanza


if we accept Crazzolara’s statement that the area south of the

Agoro range was formerly known as Lamogi. Moreover, the same

author maintains that the area was inhabited in ancient times by a people called Lamogi or Ramogi, whom he thinks belonged to the western Lango group.*’? These were the people who, together with a few others such as the Padzulu (or Julu as they are known in Nyanza), were absorbed by the Joka-Jok prior

to their migration to Kenya. In other words, the group that migrated to Nyanza was already a mixed population, and it is probably only metaphorically that we can regard Julu, Oywa, Chwanya and so on as “sons” of Jok. It is more probable that

some of these names are personifications of assimilated groups.

From Lamogi region, Luo traditions agree that the Joka-

Jok migration route lay along the Gulu-Soroti line. Then, passing between modern Bugwere and Mbale, they moved towards the

site of the present town of Tororo and thence into the Teso

(Omia) region in Elgon Nyanza.*® Continuing with their southward trek, they crossed the River Sio and entered modern Samia at Bukangala. After a brief sojourn in the northern part of Samia, they established settlements in sections of North Ugenya. Up to this point, the traditions are unanimous, and indeed from Acholiland it was the most likely route a migrating group of pastoralists would follow. But there are conflicting accounts as

to where the Luo went when they abandoned their temporary

settlements in North Ugenya. According to one account,they

first went to Manga in Wanga, and thence to Boro in Alego; and

according to another account,®° they went straight from North Ugenya to Alego. But these accounts, both of which are given by experts on Luo traditions, are contrary to the accounts of the Joka-Jok themselves,®!

all of which

affirm that their first

permanent settlement was in Kadimo, frorn where they moved to Alego and other places about three to four generations later. 47. 48. 49. 50. ol.

Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part III, pp. 333-334. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp., 16-17; 46-47. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 17. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II p. 48. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 37, 41, 130-131, 199, 245, 281.



Perhaps the confusion arises out of the fact that Luo settlements in Alego became so famous that in the imagination of some narrators of tribal lore they tend to supersede the earlier settle-

ment in Kadimo about which, admittedly, little is known.

What seems to have happenedis that the Luo migrants found North Ugenya comparatively higher and wetter than the environment they had been accustomed to, besides being away from the lake. They therefore moved back to the lakeshore, settling for a while at Ligala in modern Bunyala, before they migrated southwards, across the Yala swamp, to settle on Ramogi Hill.

But it would appear that not all the Joka-Jok migrated to Ramogi Hill. The Jok-Owidi (alias Jo-Kisumo), for example, stayed behind in Samia where they claim to have founded a big

settlement called “Kisumo,” after which they are named. Here they lived for about seven or eight generations, assimilating several diverse groups, until they were compelled to migrate to

Alego by the Jo-Lango, possibly some marauding Kalenjin bands.®

The environment of Ramogi Hill (4824 feet) resembles the

original habitat of the Luo in many respects. Bounded on the

east by the River Yala, on the north by Yala swamp, and on the

west by Lake Victoria, it provided a wide expanse of savannah lowlands in which the Luo pastoralists could practise their transhumance. Besides, Lakes Kanyaboli, Nambogo and

Saru—all within easy reach—provided extra water to support an

expanding human and bovine population. And above all, from the security point of view, the site was ideal, protected as it was by the natural barriers provided by the River Yala, Yala swamp and Lake Victoria. Ramogi Hill itself offered a vantage point from which the settlers could command a wide view, and which was defensible.

It would be incorrect to describe this early intrusion of the Luo in the Nyanza basin as a “conquest”. Unlike the narratives dealing with the second and third waves of migrations which are replete with allusions to battles fought and popula024.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 221-222.

The First Luo Settlers in Nyanza


tions subjugated or assimilated, the traditions describing this first wave are characterized by the lack of any references to wars or encounters. It therefore seems reasonable to infer that this was a slow and peaceful penetration of the region by these seminomads whosettled in areas adjacent to, and probably unsuitable for use by, the agricultural populations which then inhabited the lake region. Their manner of movement was unlikely to be different from the pattern followed generally by the Luo up to about 1900, when the British terminated these folk wanderings.

As one account has putit:

A few people would organize hunting expeditions to a no-man’s territory, “to test it”, as they said. If they liked the place, they would then go back to persuade the rest of their people to move to the new region. In this slow way, people covered long distances.53 The Luo nomads, like other nomads, must have been rest-

ricted in their wanderings by the water-supply, on which

depended their lives and the lives of their cattle, sheep and goats.

Their social organization at this time must have been simple, and based on kinship. Families formed larger units for the purpose of mutual protection and succour. But as more immigrants

poured into the area, a more complex social organization gradually evolved, as we shall see in later pages. What is import-

ant to emphasize in this context is that this first permanent settlement on Ramogi Hill marked, for the Kenya Luo, the first important step towards the transition to the life of an agricultural people. On this hill began the experience which, from a small, isolated group of semi-nomads, has welded the Luo, now numbering over a million, into one united people. And it is this evolution of Luo society that we shall discuss in the rest of the


But before we leave this chapter, there is one important question to which we must refer, however briefly—the date of the first Luo settlement in Nyanza. There is at present a wide discrepancy of judgement amongst scholars as to the date of the 53.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 10-11.



settlement, and the present state of the evidence leaves no room for dogmatism. According to Crazzolara,** the Luo separated from the Padhola about 1840. This date is not only wide of the mark, as we

shall presently show, but is also based on the mistaken belief that

all the Luo are descended from the group that broke off from the Padhola. Recently, Prof. S.H. Ominde has affirmed: “Available views seem to suggest that the main Luo migration into the area is probably late 18th century or early 19th century.”5- Perhaps by the “main” Luo migration the writer means the second wave. But in order to determinethe date even of the second migration, it is vital that we should attempt to estimate the age of the first settlement. On the basis of genealogical evidence,®* the first Luo settlers arrived in Nyanza aboutfifteen to sixteen generations ago, thatis, between 1490 and 1600 A.D. This would be contemporaneous with

the arrival of the first Padhola settlers in eastern Uganda.’ An

offshoot of this Padhola group later moved to Nyanza from Budo-

la, arriving in Alego about twelve generations ago, and therefore

between 1590 and 1670.58 It had been preceded in the area by a

splinter party of the Joka-Jok that had migrated from Ramogi

Hill under the leadership of Alego, from whom the location derives its name.°? W.KE. Owen, who was not given to romanticising the past, estimated in 1934 the age of the sacred spear which belonged to Alego to be between 350 and 400 years old.® Since

these sacred spears (tong liswa) were only possessed by founders

of clans or maximal lineages,6! we may conclude that the Seje clan in Alego was founded between 1534 and 1584, which appears

to corroborate genealogical evidence. 54. 55.

Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part III, p. 558. Ominde, S. H.: Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, vp. cit., London University

56. 57. 58. 58. 60. 61.

See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 37-39. See Part 2, p. 87 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 2-8. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 38-39. Central Nyanza District Archives, Political Records, Book 4, pp. 67-72. Evans-Pritchard, E. E.: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans,’ op. cit., pp. 29-30.

1963, p. 103.

CHAPTER 3 LUO CONQUEST AND OCCUPATION OF THE LAKE SHORE The story of the Luo settlement in the lake region has often been presented as the invasion of the area by the twelve Luo sub-tribes who, arriving as a unit, conquered the former inhabitants in a series of battles.1 This monolithic and idealistic picture of the course of events is the creation of later tribal historians who, for the sake of social cohesion, regard all the Luo as descendants of Ramogi. But even a cursory look at Luo historical texts would reveal

that such an idealistic picture, though flattering to the painters,

is contradicted by a wealth of historical evidence. The picture we glean from the texts is that the story of settlement was a very

confused affair. It was not a united invasion, planned and execut-

ed consciously and deliberately. The whole operation was diver-

sified, irregular and unorganized.

Each of the

sub-tribes or

groups that later evolved into sub-tribes, acted independently

and often against one another. The conquest was therefore the result of independent sub-tribal and clan warfare, rather than of a tribal invasion with conclusive campaigns undera single leader. What we see are local heroes or “saviours” — a kind of Luo “judges” in the Israelite sense. None of these judges acted together—or very few of them did—against the non-Luo enemies.

And in spite of formidable enemies such as the Nandi, Kipsigis

and Iteso against whom they had later to fight, the Luo never produced a Saul under whom they could unite in order to repel 1.

cf. Ayany, S. G.: Kar Chakruok Mar Luo (1952), pp. 23-26.



their attackers. Hence, this semi-nomadic period of Luohistory, which lasted from about thirteen generations ago to the end of the 19th century, coincided also with the period of the “saviours”

or local heroes who behaved like chiefs or kings. The period also marks the gradual change from a nomadic to a sedentary life which,in the political field, was characterised by the change from statelessness to chiefship.

In reality, the settlement was carried out in isolated detach-

ments and was only very graduaily completed. Up to about thir-

teen generations back, the Luo immigrants only occupied the

small area around Ramogi Hill, as we have seen inthe last chapter. From this focal point they expanded eastwards and southwards to establish settlements in Alego, Sakwa, Asembo

and Uyoma. Then with the second wave of invasion which was

formed chiefly by the Jok’Owiny, Jok’Omolo and other minor groupings, the real conquest of these regions started. Between

six and seven generations ago, South Nyanza was invaded; and the process was completed when the Luofinally abandoned their traditional habitat and invaded the higher areas of Gem, North Ugenya, Kisumo and North Seme about two to three generations

ago. Thus the process of conquest was a very slow affair which continued up to 1900. At different stages different factors operated.

In the course of this slow process, the previous populations in Nyanza were rarely exterminated: they were either driven out or subjugated and absorbed. Hence the population of the Luo expanded rapidly, which in turn led to further migration, encounters and assimilation. Small wonder then, that although the

the Kenya Luo are furthest removed from the original Nilotic home, today they constitute the biggest group of Nilotes.

As we have already said, for about two to three generations, the Luo settlement in Nyanza was confined to the remote and isolated area around Ramogi Hill. During this period, there is no evidence to show that the newcomers attempted to conquer or impose their way of life on the former inhabitants. It is even doubtful whether the Luo regarded their settlement on Ramogi Hill as permanent in the same way that two generations later

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


they were to view their settlements in, say, Alego. What appears to have happenedis that a small band of nomadssettled on the periphery of agricultural populations; and so long as they were safe and there was adequate pasture for their cattle, they preferred to maintain a state of co-existence, But this peaceful and satisfactory state of affairs seems to have changed about thirteen generations ago, that is, between 1560 and 1640 A.D. The Joka-Jok started to expand eastwards and southwards in small groups which provided the nuclei for later sub-tribes. The cause of this sudden expansion is unknown. But it is reasonable to infer that the main cause was that the land was no longer adequate to sustain both the animal and human populations, which must have considerably increased during the three peaceful generations. One large Jok group, under the leadership of Alego, the son of Muljuok, moved eastwards to Nyandiwa, on the southern bank of the river Yala. They found the area inhabited by some people called the “Jokombekombe”’, whom according to one version of the story, they fought, defeated and drove out of the re-

gion.? But according to traditions recorded by Evans-Pritchard in 1936,3 the encounter between the two groups was peaceful. He writes, “When Alego entered the country from the West (Yimbo or Kadimo) he found there a people called Kombekombe and they and Alego’s people lived together in peace. Then the Kombekombe people began to disperse and were lost and the whole of the land cameinto the possession of Alego and his sons.” It seems

unlikely that the former owners of the land could have so charitably left their homes to the new strangers! It is more reasonable

to infer that they were dispossessed of their land by the Luo immigrants and therefore compelled to seek new homes elsewhere. After a brief sojourn at Nyandiwa, the group led by Alego migrated eastwards across the river Yala, to the Oburu Forest, 2. 38.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 38. ‘“‘Kombekombe” appears to be a collective nickname which the Luo applied to a large Bantu group whose identity has been lost in the mist of history. Evans-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., pp. 32-33.



where they established a big settlement. It was at this settlement that Alego himself died.4 Another party that moved eastwards from Yimbo was led by Nyinek, a cousin of Alego. They stopped briefly at Rayola,

after which they finally settled on Mbaga Hill.® These two parties of settlers constitute the core of the Jok folk in Alego. But there were other Jok groups which did notsettle in Alego. When the party led by Alego was migrating to Nyandiwa, another big Jok group under the leadership of Chwanya,a brother of Alego, moved southwards to Nyandwat in modern Uyoma,

where they established a big Luo settlement.® For about six gene-

rations, the Chwanya cluster of clans (Chwanya is the ancestor of the major lineages in Kanyamwa, Kabuoch, Karungu and Kadem) lived at different places in this fertile peninsula, attracting

several splinter groups to the area, until about seven generations ago, and therefore between 1730 and 1790, when with the arrival of the Jo-Uyomain the peninsula, the former Luo occupants were forced to migrate to South Nyanza across Lake Victoria. But we shall deal with that episode in Chapter 5. Three other Jok parties moved southwards. First, there was

the party led by Nyikal which moved into modern Sakwa by way of Alego.’ After living for a short time on Abiero Hill (43807 feet), near the present Mugwena village, the group was persuaded by Chwanya, who had espied the settlement from afar, to abandon their settlement in Sakwa and to move further south. This they

did, and for a while lived with the Chwanya party at Likungu in

Uyoma. But dissension soon developed between the two Luo

parties. Nyikal and his followers moved north-eastwards and then northwards to Winam Kagombe in Asembo, absorbing some



people called Mori and Uwaria en route. Here, about twelve generations ago, they established a big settlement called “Seme”, after which the present location in Central Nyanza where the His grave, visited by Owen in 1933, can still be seen. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 38-39.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 41-42; 62-63.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. L pp. 130-131. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 199-203.



try Area of Primary Settlement

FHHt® generations ago


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F——-1 c 13 generations ago c¢ 5 generations ogo


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The expansion of Luo Settlements in Central Nyanza.



Jo-Kanyikal live, is named. Chwanya and his followers stayed

behind in the vicinity of Likungu.

The second party was that formed by the Julu folk, who migrated from Yimbo via Bondo to Ong’ielo Hill in Asembo. Here they encountered the Nyang’ori who were retreating inland in response to Luo pressure.® In fact, the Jo-Kajulu claim that the

hill was named after a Nyang’ori elder called Ong’ielo, whom

they killed on this hill. From Ong’ielo Hill, the party moved to Ramba where they built their second settlement. The story of the third party is somewhat confused.


Ramogi Hill, a group led by a certain elder called Oywafirst moved northwards to modern Busonga, where they founded a settlement called “Nyakach”, after which the descendants of Oywa together with the people they assimilated are today known.? From Nyakach, about seven generations later, the group moved southwards in three different parties: one party went to Osiri Masanga. a second occupied the island of Kadiang’a in the Kavirondo Gulf, and yet a third (the biggest party) crossed Lake

Victoria and settled around Homa Bay.

That is the story, in outline, of the movement and early settlement of the Joka-Jok, based on traditional evidence. And

although the details of these migration narratives may be incor-

rect, they nonetheless give us a rough outline of the approximate

positions of the different Luo settlements about twelve generations ago, that is, between 1590 and 1670, and just before the second wave of migration (see Map 5). From the focal point on Ramogi Hill, the Luo immigrants had, after three generations, radiated in all directions. Their settlements, all of which still

lay close to the lake, with the exception of the Alego settlements

which were situated along the River Yala valley, stretched from the Nyakach and Kisumu villages in the north to Likungu in the south. They were widely dispersed, with adequate pasture for each settlement. Each of them constituted the nucleus of a future sub-tribe, and the consciousness of belonging to a bigger unit— 8. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 245-246. §. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 281-284.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


the Luo tribe—wasstill lacking. It was into this sparsely populated land, lacking in any social or political cohesion, that the second wave of Luo immigrants moved. The real conquest of the lakeshore region of Central Nyanza by the Luo may be said to have taken place between seven and twelve generations ago, and therefore between 1590 and 1790. It was during this period that two other major divisions of the Luo, the Jok’Owiny and Jok’Omolo, arrived; and it was also during the latter part of the period that the unclassifiable groups that

were later to evolve into Kano, Asembo, Uyoma and Sakwasubtribes, made their appearance. Within about five generations, Central Nyanza appeared over-populated to the Luo. Clan feuds increased until finally a section of the Luo decided to adopt the remedy their forefathers had always employed in such circum-

stances—they migrated, to South Nyanza.

To go back to the newcomers. The most aggressive and virile group of the newcomers, and therefore the group whose arrival had important repercussions, was the one led by Owiny Sigoma. This was the party which had separated from Adhola’s followers in Budola.!® Today it comprises the following: the Karuoth, Kogelo, Karapul, Kanyabol and Agoro clans—all in Alego location; Nyigor clan in Asembo; Owil, Dimo, Munyejra and Wagoma clans in Yimbo; the Kakwar clan in Kisumu peri-urban; and the

Kamot and Konya clans in Kano." From Budola, the group migrated under the leadership of Owiny the Elder across Samia-Bugwe, defeating the Bagwe (whose other name was Otewe) and who, according to tradition, were the people who first referred to Owiny’s party as “Karuoth” (“the royal clan’”)—a name which has stuck—because they accepted the rule that had been imposed by Owiny.! The latter died

10. 11.


See Part 2, pp. 68-69 above; Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 65-66. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 1-2. Note that we have omitted the so-called Owiny-Suba group, for reasons we shall examine in Chapter 5. Otewe is a Luo version of the now-abandoned name of the Bagwe — Abatebe. c.f. Osogo, J., op. cit., p. 103. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 46.



at Bakangala in Samia and was succeeded by his son Kisodhi.!% But the son never even reached Alego: he died at a place known in Luo tradition as Akek, but which the Abasamia call Buhehe.

Kisodhi was in turn succeeded by his aggressive and impulsive son called Owiny Sigoma, who led a section of Jok’Owiny to Alego. The group thus took over a generation to travel from

Budola to Alego. In the Samia-Bunyala area a split seems to have occurred

within the Owiny group, caused by a disagreement over grazing

arrangements.14 One group led by Gwanga, a cousin of Owiny Sigoma,!5 moved away to Ugoma (the present Port Victoria).'% Here they intermarried with some people (most likely Bantu) from whom they learned the art of pottery. The Wagoma ir. Kadimoare still famous for pottery. On the other hand, some of the best pottery in western Kenyastill comes from Port Victoria. After wandering about in Alego, this group finally settled

at modern Goma in Kadimo, about twelve generations ago.!" In this area they found several groups—the Wahaga, Wagugwa and

Walany—whom they subdued. But no sooner did they establish their authority over the former occupants of the land than another Owiny party led by Munyejra, Owili and Dimoarrived to conquer Kadimo. These three leaders and their followers are referred to in tribal saga as “a strange and powerful people, who were excellent warriors and who already had conquered many other groups.”!8 If both the Wagoma and the new bandof conque-

rors were Luo, it is odd that the latter party should be described 13. 14.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 42. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 75.


Probably Wath Ugoma [Port Ugoma — the present Port Victoria — was named after Goma. The prefix U is typically Bantu. It is worth noting that the area is today called Bukoma (or Bugoma)]. According to Osogo (op. cit.) the Owiny group seems to have arrived in Western Bunyala during the Abakhoone wars which lasted two hundred years (1600-1800), and which only ended with the ex-. pulsion of the Abakhoone from Western Bunyala. He mentions as some of the clans which were involved in these warsin the first decade eo the 18th century the Abalwani, Abanyekera and the Abamaba, pp. 41-45). Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 75-77; Vol. II, p. 2. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 77.


17. 18.

Gwanga s/o Goma s/o Owiny, who journeyed together with Adhola.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


as “a strange and powerful people,” unless the Wagoma were originally non-Luo. Be that as it may, the fact remains that it was this second group of Jok’Owiny which conquered modern Kadimo. It is probably for this reason that the location is called “Kadimo”, that is, “the place of Dimo”’. That the followers of Dimo and Owiny Sigoma travelled together up to Alego is corroborated by the traditions of the Abasamia and Banyala,!® which affirm that the Ababongo”’ people who live in Bunyala were left there by the Jok’Owiny when the

latter were migrating to Alego.

This part of Bunyala was then

occupied by some people called the Wamithi and Maingo with whom they established friendly relations. And under the leadership of Ager and Owiny Sigoma, the Luo migrants planted a settlement at Nungo. But soon they had to defend their settlement against several hostile peoples: the Abaulwani, Abamatsi, Aba-

nyekera, and Abaamba—all of whom they defeated and ruled. Thus the Bunyala-Samia corridor was already collecting all kinds

of splinter groups that were eventually to evolve into the present Banyala and Abasamia.?!

On reaching Alego the party split. One section led by the brothers Owiny Sigoma, Ager and Ogelo moved eastwards from Port Victoria across the River Nzoia and round the northern edge

of the Yala swamp towards the present Muwer in Alego, where

they found the Jo-Alego already settled under Ruoth Seje.22 They

established their settlement at a place they called Sigoma, after their leader.22 We shall have more to say about the impact of Owiny’s group in Alego shortly. The other division led by Dimo, Owili and Munyejra migrated southeastwards, probably by way of modern Busonga, and past Lake Kanyaboli to the present Kanyango, where they met the 19. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 99-101. 20. ‘“‘“Ababongo” means ‘‘Karuoth’. The Wanga


for instance,

usually refer to the Karuoth clan in Alego as the Ababongo. There

may be some connection between this name and thetitle of “Nabongo” found among the Wanga. 21. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 108. 22. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 66, Vol. II, pp. 48-49. 23. The name is still in use. 11 Ogot, Luo



Mur clan of Alego.24 They occupied the area between Nyandiwa and Mur Malanga. But they did not stay here for long. According to one text,

“because of the inadequate pasture land in Alego, friction soon developed between the Jo-Alego of the Mur clan, and the newcomers. The latter, after consulting a diviner, decided to seek new homes”.*®° We should note that even as early as this, land was already an important factor'in population movement in Nyanza.

It looms large in most accounts of population fissions, clan feuds and inter-tribal wars. From the eastern bank of the River Yala,

they crossed it to conquer the future location of Kadimo.?6 Despite the fact that the Joka-Jok had lived in Kadimo for

about three generations, the land in actual fact still belonged to

the Bantu groups such as the Kanyiywen, Wahanya, Wahuwa and Wasawa, who were only conquered by the new Luo intruders after a bitter struggle. Some of these Bantu populations surrendered and were eventually absorbed. But many of them such as the Abagwanga, Abakhone, and Abanyekera fled to neighbouring regions such as Samia and Bunyala.2’ Henceforth,

this became Luoland.

It is thus evident from the large number of assimilated groups that the Luo invaders found modern Kadimo inhabited by several Bantu peoples. This would also confirm the suggestion we made earlier?’ that the Joka-Jok had not conquered Kadimo; they had merely settled on the periphery of Bantu lands where they practised a form of coexistence with the agriculturalists. It is probably because of the large number of assimilated groups found in the area that early writers such as Hobley,?? regarded the Jo-Kadimo as Bantu. D. R. Crampton, the District Commissioner of Central Nyanza, wrote in 1910: “The natives 24, 25.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 66-67. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 67.

27. 28. 29.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 78. See pp. 150-151 above. The Political Records, Book I, Central Nyanza District, National Archives, Nairobi.


Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 67-71.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


of Kadimo are not pure-blooded Jaluo—but are largely Waganda

who have adopted the Luo language and customs.”20

Finally, we come to the group that was led by Owiny Sigoma himself. As we have seen,*! from Bunyala the group moved across modern Busonga to a place in Western Alego which they named Sigoma, after their leader. Here there occurred the first clash in the Kenya Luo history between two incipient chiefships. The first territorial grouping in the area had been established under Ruoth Seje,*2 who lived about ten generations ago, that is, between 1650 and 1700. Their settlement around Oburu Forest in West Alego, which was made up of a core of the lineage of Alego, soon

attracted additional members consisting of affines, matrilateral kin, friends, allies and refugees from other clans.*? It is important to emphasize that this territorial grouping did not depend on kinship. In the words of one of the texts: All the people who came to Alego afterwards, both Luo and non-Luo, were admitted by Seje. He could only give land to a group after the latter had agreed to call themselves “JoAlego”, that is to assume Alego “citizenship” as it were. Any persons or group of people who refused to “naturalize”’ themselves were evicted and expelled if they were already in the country, or were refused entry if they were outsiders. Some of the strangers who complied, for example Ager and Ragak, were not only accepted, but were even allowed to marry the daughters of Ruoth Seje.*4 The existence of a “plural” society thus made it imperative for the Luo settlers to evolve territorial social and political organizations which were not based entirely on kinship groupings as had been the case hitherto. We may regard this development as the beginning of chiefship. On the other hand, the party led by Owiny Sigoma were already looked upon as rulers (“Jo-Karuoth”) by the medley of 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

The Political Records, Book II, Central Nyanza District, National Archives, Nairobi. See pp. 160-161 above. See pp. 155-156 above. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 38-42; Evans-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., pp. 29-31. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 39-40.



groups that inhabited modern Samia-Bugwe.* They were therefore unlikely to accept meekly the over-lordship of Seje. The sharp encounter between these two incipient chiefships resulted in what is known in Luo tradition as the Seje-Karuoth conflict,

which seems to have been a long andbitter struggle for power.*6 For a short time Owiny superseded Seje as the Ruoth of the whole region. But dueto his dictatorial and repressive rule, which intensified inter-clan feuds, the people of Alego eventually revolted against Owiny. He, together with his followers, escaped to Bunyala to reorganize themselves. The Bahuri (or Abakhuri)

who are a splinter group of the Karuoth folk are said to be the descendants of the followers of Owiny who stayed behind when their leader later on decided to return to Alego.3? One version of Alego tradition®® claims that Owiny Sigoma, Ugagi (the eponym of the Kaugagi clan in Alego), Otama and

Songa (the founders of the Marama and Basonga people respectively) were relatives who migrated to Alego together from

Bukhayo. If there is any historical basis for this story, then it would appear that it was when Owiny and his supporters were in exile in Bunyala that they came across these people. The Marama are a Luyia tribe who, according to Johnston, claim to have

migrated to their present homes “from what is now the Luo chieftaincy of Alego”’,®? and Basonga are people of Nilotic origin who reached Alego after a long and circuitous journey.*° Perhaps this tradition refers to the movement of the Songa folk from Kisa. The four different groups, having met in the Bunyala area, then moved together to Alego. And as was commonin those days, unrelated peoples migrating together, sharing common experiences and settling together in one area, often regarded themselves,

after several generations, as relatives. The autocratic regime of Owiny Sigoma was brought to a premature end with the help of the Jo-Ugenya who arrived in Alego when Owiny had just returned from his exile in Bunyala 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

See p. 159 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 44; Vol. II, p. 21. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 1U0. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 51-52. Johnston, H. H.: The Uganda Protectorate, Vol. II, (1902), p. 24. Lwo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 93-99.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


with the intention of re-establishing himself as the ruler. He was defeated and killed. His death brought peace to the troubled land,*! and that in turn led to a more extensive as well as intensive settlement of the area than had been possible until then.

To the newcomers, we must now turn.

The Jok’Omolo group consists of the sub-tribes of Gem (in

Central and South Nyanza) and Ugenya; and the following clans — Kakan in Alego, Kagan in South Nyanza; Kadet in Gem,

Central Nyanza, who are called Nyidet in Ugenya; Kanyada and Kochia in South Nyanza; and the Uburi, Urawana, Udongo and Umanyi clans in Samia location.

The origin of this division seems to be lost in the mist of history. According to the traditional evidence we have discussed,

it is apparent that the Jok and Owiny groups migrated from

Acholiland and Padhola respectively. The case of the Jok’Omolo is more difficult to establish. Luo tradition suggests that the party may be related to Crazzolara’s Ragem and Jo-Pugwenyi (or Ugwenyi).*% The Gem (or Ragem) sub-clans in Acholiland and Alurland appear to have migrated to their present homes from Pawir in Bunyoro. They probably formed part of a much larger Luo party which included the Jo-Pugwenyi, and which did not settle for long in Bunyoro. Indeed the name Omol (or Omolo or Omoli) appears as the name of several clans in Lango, Acholi and Padhola.** According to Acholi tradition, for example, the Paimol claim descent from a certain Omol. They came from Pawir in

Bunyoro about twelve generations ago, following a dispute over succession. Probably the Jok’Omolo in Nyanza also came from

Pawir, and while the Paimol moved towards Opela and the


42. 43. 44.

ef. Fazan, 8S. H.: Political Records, Book II, Central Nyanza District Archives, Kisumu: “Opinion varies as to wno was senior of the brothers Owiny and Ager. Owiny is the better known of the two, the Wasonga, Wahehe and Waholo having bitter recollections of him.” Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 2. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 21-22; 46; 49-50; 241. Reuben S. Anywar: Acholi Ki Ker Megi, (1954), pp. 61-62. Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part II, pp. 231-233; Part III, pp. 443-445. Crazzolara: The Lwoo, Part II, pp. 196, 316. Part ITI, pp. 369-370; 394; 538.



Akang’ Mountains via Payira, the Jok’Omolo migrated southeastwards in the direction of modern Tororo. As one text putsit, the Jok’Omolo “had migrated to Acholi area from Bunyoro, where

they had lived for a very short ‘time. Because of the over--

crowding in Bunyoro, they left the country in search of new homes, one large group going to Alurland to occupy the lowlands, and the second group migrating to the area around Got Ramogi in Acholi. “But the second group never stayed for long in Acholiland.

From Got Ramogi they followed more or less the same route that the Joka-Joka had followed, passing near the present Soroti town,

and moving towards Mt. Elgon and thence to Tororo and Busia.”"45 It is not clear from oral sources whether Ugenya, Gem and

other members of the Jok’Omolo conglomeration travelled to-

gether from Acholiland. But it would appear that theymigrated

in the same manner that they were to use later in their journey from Busoga to Nyanza; that is, they moved in several waves each headed by an elder.*® | After meandering forwards and backwards over the peneplain, they finally found themselves at Banda in the Bukoli county of Busoga about fourteen generations ago, and therefore

between about 1540 and 1600. Here, Luo tradition asserts,’ they lived for about two to three generations, intermarrying with the local inhabitants. They also built large canoes in which they made several expeditions to neighbouring islands on Lake Victoria such as Sigulu. Tradition also claims that it was while this group was living at Banda that the Luo learned how to make

kuodi (large shields) which wereto be of great service to them in their conquest of South Nyanza about five generations later.’8 When they decided to leave Busoga about 1600, a small group

under the leadership of Gor remained behind; and this group has

since been known as the Kagor in Luo traditions,49 and the Wahori (or Wakoli) in Soga history. 45. 46. 47. 48.

Luo Luo Luo Luo

Historical Historical Historical Historical

Texts, Vol. II, pp. 21-22. Texts. Vol. I, pp. 14-18. Texts, Vol. I, p. 14; Vol. II, pp. 22-30. Texts, Vol. II, pp. 22-23.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


The route followed by Gem and other smaller parties from

Busoga to Nyanza is obscure. But it would appear that they

settled for about two generations in the area around Akek in modern Samia.°° From here the Jo-Gem moved southwards across

present-day Bunyala into Kadimo, where, according to tradition,

they lived for at least three generations.5! Aboutfive to six generations ago; and therefore between 1760 and 1820, they migrated to western Alego, under the leadership of Rading Omolo.™ But while the definitive history of Gem does not begin until about five to six generations ago when they were settling in Alego, the history of the migration of the Jo-Ugenya—the other big group within the Jok’Omolo cluster—from Banda and their subsequent settlement in Alego, is much clearer and more detailed. Moving in two big waves, the first party, led by Okiyo, Nywa, Teg and Deje—the founders of the present Kateg and Kanyamwa clans—went directly across Samia, to western Alego, where they

settled at Uhui, Sigoma and Gangu about ten generations back.°*%

This brought them into direct conflict with the warlike Owiny

and his followers, who had already established their hegemony in Alego.=4 Owiny launched a serious attack on the newcomers, killing many of them.55

But before he could bring them under his sway, a second party of the Jo-Ugenya led by Boro and Puny—the founders of the Boro and Puny clans—appeared. The party had halted briefly 49.

50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 14-15; Vol. II, 20, 50. The county is today known officially as Bukoli, and according to Busoga traditions (see Lubogo, Y. K.: A History of Busoga, op. cit., pp. 138-140, and Part II, pp. 101-102), the principality is named after a Bito (hence Luo) prince called Okoli from Bunyoro, who founded the settlement about 13 generations ago. But as we have seen, the Luo, most of whom later migrated to Nyanza, were in the area about 14 generations back, and it is quite possible that ‘“Bukoli” means “‘the county of the Wahori or Wakoli”’ — the Bantu form of Kagor. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 21-23. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 162-164. See pp. 221-222 below. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 15-16. See pp. 163-164 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 15.



at Sifuyo and Lwambwa in Samia where they met the Abachonga who nowlive in Bunyala amongthe Bahuri.5* From thelatter they

learned that the first party had gone to Alego, where they were living under the hated tyranny of Owiny Sigoma. It was while they were still here that the group was joined by the lost brother—Waljak—later nicknamed “Ger” (the brave one)—and his followers. He was the founder of the famous Kagerclan.®” Reinforced by the return of the lost brother, and with the support of the Abachonga, the party decided to invade Western Alego in order to deliver their kin from the hands of Owiny

sigoma. But, as had happened in Busoga, another splinter group remained behind at Sifuyo and Lwambwa when the party led by Boro and Puny was invading Alego. Their descendants were later known in travel literature as the Wanyifwa, a name whose

etymology is uncertain. Today they live in Bunyala.58 Crossing the River Nzoia, and using clever military sub-

terfuge, the group routed Owiny’s army and, in the ensuing

fight, killed Owiny himself. With the consent of Ruoth Seje they then established their settlements in the area between Muwer and Uhui, at Boro (named after one of their leaders andstill in

use) and Ugingo.®? In other words, the arrival of the Jo-Ugenya folk in Alego marked not only the demise of Owiny’s turbulent rule and the re-emergence of the rule of the Seje lineage; it also inaugurated an epoch of peaceful, intensive and permanent settlement in the region. For about eight generations® the Jo56. 57. 58.

59. 60.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 15, 100. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 15-16. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 16, 100. See also Hobley, C. W.: Eastern Uganda (1902), op. cit., p. 53. Macdonald, J. R. L.: Notes on the Ethnology of Tribes met with during the progress of the Juba Expedition of 1897-9, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Eastern Uganda (1902), op. cit., p. 53. Macdonald, J. R. L.: Notes on XXIX, pp. 226-250. Variants: Nifa, Wa-Nifa, Nife, Wa-Nife. Note that most of the early European travellers in Nyanza referred to the Luo (at least to the northern section) as Nyifwa. This was perhaps because Nyifwa’s home lay in the border area between the “Bantu Kavirondo” (Abaluyia) and the Luo, and the early travellers whose routes ran near this border assumed that all the Luo (Nilotic Kavirondo) were called Nyifwa. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 16-21. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 37.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


Ugenya lived in their mud-walled villages,®! tending their cattle

and practising a limited form of agriculture. They owed nominal allegiance to Alego folk. For this section of the Jo-Luothesettlement in Alego marked the beginning of a sedentary life, and a change from pastoralism to mixed farming, with increasing emphasis on agriculture. Such comparatively peaceful and permanent existence led to an expansion in population; and consequently, about three generations ago, there occurred a conflict between Ugenya and Alego ostensibly over pasture and waterholes. The Ugenya folk then moved to the higher and wetter

regions they occupy today. But we shall come back to this final phase of Luo migration in Chapter7.

Before we conclude this chapter, there are two important points which, although already alluded to in Part 2, we should again emphasize here because they bring out the contrast between

Padhola and Luo societies. First, in Nyanza land was being settled on a lineage basis, and the right of occupancy depended on the right of conquest and not of prior occupation as is the case in Padhola. The type of movement practised was what Bohannan has called “expansion”,®2 where movement does not break the correspondence between genealogical and spatial relations. This set-up still remains the basis of land-tenure in Luoland, and it constitutes the chief obstacle to land consolidation projects in the area.® The second point is even more important. As we have seen in the case of Luo settlement in Alego, incipient chiefship was

beginning to emerge during this period.

Instead of groupings

based entirely on kinship relationships, territorial groupings

began to emerge. All the people whosettled in Alegoat this time, for example, began to look upon themselves as belonging to one piny (territory), and they all owed allegiance to one ruler (Seje

or Owiny Sigoma). It is these pinje (plural of piny), which later 61. 62. 63.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 43. See Part 2, pp. 119-120 above. See Fearn, H.: An African Economy, (1961), pp. 208-9.



formed the basis of the present administrative locations of

Central and South Nyanza.

But such evolutionary and political changes among the Luo

have been denied by several writers such as Evans-Pritchard and

Southall.64 Evans-Pritchard’s paper, though by far the best exposition of Luo political structure that has appeared in English, was produced after only a six-weeks’ visit to Luoland. Professor Southall’s pamphlet on the Luo lineage formation seems to have been based entirely on the Karachuonyo sub-tribe,® in which the

majority of the people are members of the dominant clan. The few stranger lineages in Karachuonyo had intermarried:- so much with the dominant clan, that the clan had become by the 19th

century the effective political unit. In other words in Karachuonyo, as among the Nuer,® descent groups tended to be identical with political communities, and both leadership and politics were conceived largely in kinship terms. But this was not typical, for in other Luo areas, for example

Alego and Gem,the basis of political unity was the occupation of particular settled territories (pinje). Within these territories

there were usually several clans (dhoudi),6” some of them

unrelated, occupying their own settlements (gwenge) and it was in the settlements where, on the whole, the lineages coincided with the territorial boundaries. But all these divers clans were

referred to as Jo-Alego or Jo-Gem, that is, the people of Alego

or Gem. To base a study which is meant to apply to over twenty sub-tribes on the single untypical example of Karachuonyo, as

Southall has done, is misleading.

Unlike Acholiland, the history of Luo land is a history not

of clans but of what Evans-Pritchard has termed “tribes”.®8

“Ruothships” or “sub-tribes” would perhaps be better terms.

There are eleven sub-tribes in Central Nyanza, and most of the 64. 65.

Evens-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 28. Southall, A.: ‘Lineage Formation Among the Luo’, International African Institute Memorandum XXXVI, 1952, pp. 27-29. ibid., p. 16.


Evans-Pritchard: The Nuer (1940), pp. 174-175.


‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, ibid.


Singular dhoot, which literally means ‘mouth of the house” — door.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


sub-tribes in South Nyanza were founded by splinter groups from Central Nyanza, who conquered and assimilated many Bantu

and “Nilo-Hamitic” peoples.®§ Originally the Luo seem to have lived under a form of patriarchal clan system. But migrations, warfare, conquests and the subsequent assimilation of non-Luo elements produced a different political structure in many pinje. Clans and lineages became widely scattered; and gradually both kinship and chietship principles began to be applied to political organization. Both Evans-Pritchard and Southall have given excellent expositions of the kinship principle as it operated in traditional Luo society. Both, in my view, have either belittled, or paid scant attention to, the chiefship principle. Evans-Pritchard, for instance, has written: “There was nothing that can be described as a political office in the Luotribe. The “ruoth” was an influential person, but no more. He wasricher than his fellows in wives and cattle and people came often to

his home to eat there and to discuss affairs of the state.’ It is

difficult to accept Evans-Pritchard’s interpretation. In those areas where a kind of chiefship had emerged, the “ruoth” was the jural-political leader of the piny. In some tribes, he was also a prophet, jabilo. Within the “routhship” (piny) a hierarchy of

chiefs developed.”! This view is supported by the observations of

one of the earliest British administrators in the area, G. A. 5. Northeote, who wrote about the traditional chiefs thus: “Each

chief subdivides his territory, placing each portion under a sub-chief.””?2

Dr. Gordon Wilson, a social anthropologist, has recently

stated that on the arrival of the Europeans (about 1882), the Luo

political structure varied from sub-tribe to sub-tribe. Some sub69. 70. 71.

See Chapter 6 below. Evans-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 28. Mr. Paul Mboya, an authority on Luo culture and history and Southall’s chief informer, has given a succinct account of this hierarchy in his Luo Kitoi gi Timbegi (‘“‘Customs and Traditions of the Luo" 1938, Nairobi, pp. 7-10). See also Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II,


G. A. S. Northcote: ‘The Nilotic Kavirondo’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXVII (1907) p. 60.





tribes, for example, Gem, Kano and Alego, had developed “an

embryonic form of centralised chiefship, while others were classical examples of decentralised, loosely organized, political

units.””3 It should therefore be evident from the passages we have cited that not enough thought had been given by previous writers to the problem of the evolution of chiefship in Luo society. As I have argued elsewhere,” there is a possible correlation between the emergence of a central chiefship and the existence

of plural and sedentary societies. Michael G. Whisson, another anthropologist who has recently studied the problem among the Kenya Luo, has come to a similar conclusion. He writes:

Leadership within the sub-tribes varied considerably. In some sub-tribes there is a tradition of chiefship which goes back for ten or more generations each chief being succeeded by his son, or by a very close agnate who was subsequently considered to be his son... Such routinised chiefship appears

to have emerged when one clan gained ascendancy over the rest, and did not divide into factions based on subordinate

lineages in the clan. In other sub-tribes there was no such routinised leader, the people maintaining their unity more by virtue of their common enmity against neighbouring sub-tribes, and their affiliation to a single lineage which embraced most of them.

The effective leaders of such sub-tribes were the most success-

ful warriors, and the most feared magicians ... Some clan histories suggest that chiefship has been in the sub-tribe for only a small number of generations, and in those there is a

correlation between the establishment of a form of chiefship

and their being forced to take to a more sedentary way of life

than was traditional, [Italics mine]. Uyoma and Asembo, having been driven out of South Nyanza, and confined to a considerable extent to the Uvoma peninsula developed at that

time a routinised form of chiefship, supported initially by

the mystical experience of the leader, but subsequently by his lineage affiliations.”5

73. 74. 75.

Wilson, G. M.: Luo Customary Law, p. 1. Ogot, B.A.: ‘Kingship and Statelessness Among the Nilotes’. Whisson, M. G.: Change and Challenge (1964) Christian Council of Kenya, pp. 23-24.

Luo Conquest and Occupation of the Lake Shore


Concluding his remarks on this subject, ‘Whisson states: The development of a form of chiefship when the tribe

was forced to halt or slow its movement south, and to form

a sedentary society with a greater reliance on agriculture is probably the best example of evolution under social and

economic pressure. It included wars and population expansion

resulting in a shortage of pasture land, an increase in internal tensions, and the emergenceof a single figure — the ruoth or jabilo — to settle disputes peacefully and lead his people united into war against their powerful adversaries.’6

While Whisson’s analysis shows a greater awareness of the complex nature of the problem than previous writers such as Southall and Evans-Pritchard, it nevertheless fails to appreciate the importance of the existence of a mixed society for the emergence of centralized chiefship. He has also ignored the possible influence of external factors on the evolution of chiefship. According to Lonsdale, there is ample evidence to show that external pressures contributed towards the emergence of a ruoth:

Unusual external circumstances might not always he essential for the emergence of a ruoth but it is surely no coincidence that the two most powerful leaders in the Luo area at the end of the 19th century were Odera of Gem and Kitoto of the Kano tribe; Gem wasat that time fighting for livingspace along the Luo-Luyia border, while Kano people were very exposed to raids from the Nilo-Hamites in the surrounding hills.7” It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that a form of chiefship had definitely emerged among the Luo of Kenya by 1900; that the emergence of such an institution was partly due to the slow transformation that had been taking place from a seminomadic existence to a sedentary way of life; partly due to internal factors such as clan feuds, the dispersal of lineages, expansion of population and the assimilation of non-Luo elements;

and partly due to external factors such as wars with the Bantu and “Nilo-Hamites” in the second half of the 19th century. 76. 77.

op cit., p. 43. Lonsdale, J. M.: A Political History of Nyanza, 1883-1945. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Cambridge University, June, 1964, p. 65.


THE LAST LUO IMMIGRANTS INTO CENTRAL NYANZA About eight generations back, that is between 1700 and 1740, most of the Luo groups had already settled in Central Nyanza.

No Luo party had as yet crossed the Kavirondo Gulf to occupy

modern South Nyanza. Further local migrations, which were destined to have significant repercussions, were precipitated by the arrival, about eight generations ago, of the final wave of Luo migration comprising groups that were later to evolve into the present sub-tribes of Uyoma, Asembo, Sakwa and Kano. The northern side of the Gulf now looked congested to the pastoralists and this apparent over-crowding resulted, a generation later, in the exodus to South Nyanza. We shall discuss this important episode in the next chapter. Of the new arrivals, the migration and settlement stories of the first three, ie. Uyoma, Asembo and Sakwa, are best treated

together. Their story prior to their arrival in Nyanza is obscure. What seems clear,! however, is that the early histories of Uyoma

and Sakwa are somehow connected with the early history of the Wanga people in the Western Region of Kenya. It would beout of place in this book to deal exhaustively with the difficult, though very important subject of the origin of the Wanga dynasty.2 But certain aspects of it are relevant to our

general theme. 1.


Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 116; 130-134; 136. Vol. II, pp. 2-3: 24-28: 51; 1388; 141-142. Matson, A. T.: ‘Mumia — The Man and the Myth’, Kenya Weekly News, 20.10.61 and 27.10.61, reproduced in Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II. I have discussed the issue in greater detail in a separate paper which I hope will be published soon.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


According to Huntingford,? “the origin of the Wanga, confirmed by tradition, is clearly the inter-lacustrine peoples of western Uganda.” The tradition on which Huntingford has based his assertion is that collected by Dundas* at the beginning of this century. Besides traditional evidence, the anthropological evidence cited by Dundas, especially the Wanga divine kingship, suggests possible links with the interlacustrine Hima-Bito complex. To begin with, the institution is not found in any other Luyia tribe. Secondly, certain features of it have close resemblance to those of western Uganda. The royal insignia of copper bracelet, drum, leopard skin cloak, and sacred spears—the !ast two of which are kept in the custody of the king’s mother; the ritual killing of the Nabongo—thetitle of the ruler of the Wanga —who was usually strangled by a member of the Wacero clan with a cord; the wrapping of the corpse in a newly-killed bull’s hide; and the burial of the skeleton in a separate shrine at Matungu, a practice reminiscent of the jaw-bone shrines of Buganda and Bunyoro® — all these regalia and social practices point to a western origin for the Wanga kingship. About the Hima-Bito complex Huntingford himself has concluded that “it is perhaps to Bito influence that the divine king in western Uganda is to be attributed.’ But we should guard against the usual diffusionist’s pitfall

of seeing a commonorigin between any two societies with similar material or institutional cultural elements. It is quite feasible and conceivable that the Wanga divine kingship might have

evolved independently.

Although the western Uganda origin of the Wanga has often been affirmed by authorities such as Dundas and Huntingford, no one has as yet given any historical evidence to support this 3.

History of East Africa, Vol. I (1963), Eds. Oliver, R. and Mathew,G., p. 89.


Dundas, K. R.: ‘The Wawanga and other Tribes of the Elgon District, British East Africa’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,


See History of East Africa, Vol. 1, ibid., pp. 87-89 for similar


XLII, (1913), pp. 19-75.

features of divine kingship; also Crazzolara, J. P.: The Lwoo, Part Li,

pp. 133-134.

History of East Africa, Vol. I, ibid., p. 87.



claim. What I wish to attempt in this chapter is to show that the somewhat slender evidence culled from Luo and Luyia traditions suggests that the three ethnic groups, Bantu, Hima and Luo— whose interactions were responsible for the evolution of centralized kingship in western Uganda,’ were also present in western Kenya.

Wanga traditions, though inconsistent on many points of

detail are, however, unanimous on three important historical claims: (i)

that they were preceded in the present Wanga location

by some pastoralists who, under the leadership of a certain Muhima, had established a kind of hegemony over agricultural peoples such as the Abamulembwa

and Abarungu;

(ii) ~that the Wanga people who migrated to Imanga — the headquarters of Muhima — from Tiriki, and who subsequently superseded Muhimaas the rulers of this area were of a different stock from the subject populations over whom they were soon to rule; and (iii) that these subject populations were Bantu peoples.’ Taking point (i) first. It is not clear who this Muhima was. According to one version, the Bahima and the Abalako were

originally the same people.? But we know that the Abalako (or Pok) are part of a Kalenjin group which was left behind in the Elgon area when their kin moved southwards to found new

homes.!° Also, if they had been the same people as the Bahima, it is unlikely that folk memory would have preserved such

2 0 99


See Ogot, B. A.: ‘Kingship and Statelessness Among the Nilotes’, op. cit., pp. 294-300. I would like to stress that the theory I am about to advance is based mainly on the traditions of origin of the Wanga people themselves. I recorded twelve versions of the tradition from 15 Wanga elders including Mr. Musungule Mahero, the official historian of Nabongo Shitawa. I also consulted The Short History of the Nabongoship of the Wanga Kingdom, (1933) which was originally written in Swahili by Chief Rappando, Lutta, Shiundu Sakwa, L. Wanyama, D. Mutekete and Orata. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I], pp. 125-126; 138-141; 147-149; 170-172. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 125; 139-143. see p. 152 above.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


vivid recollections of the Bahima as a distinct group, especially as the latter no longer exist as a separate people in the area. It is therefore safe to infer that because both groups were cattle

people, and since both were non-Bantu,it is easy to confuse them, especially when the time-span involved is over two hundred


Wanga tradition! states that Muhima (probably a personification of the Bahima) arrived with many cattle with long horns.

He found the original inhabitants who did not possess any cattle

living on wild animals and fruits. He also found living at Bungoma the Abalako, another cattle people, whom tradition names as the founders of the village. He initially used Bungoma as his headquarters; but later he founded a new centre at Imanga, and it was at the latter place that he established a Bantu toparchy over which he ruled until the advent of the Wanga. Although the details of this folk saga may be incorrect, it is unlikely that it is without any historical basis. Usually Hima influence is associated with western Uganda, Ruanda, Burundi and the northwestern parts of the Republic of Tanzania. But if this Wanga tradition, which is widely held, is true, it would

follow that the influence extended as far east as western Kenya. Indeed, according to Bunyoro tradition,!* we are told that during

the reign of Ndahura—the most famous of the Chwezi rulers—

the frontiers of the Bachwezi empire were extended eastwards to Nyanza and southwards into Tanzania. In fact, Ndahura himself

is supposed to have gone round Lake Victoria in the twentieth generation back, and therefore in the middle of the 15th century, asserting his authority in each saza (county) as he went along. It is therefore conceivable that what had occurred in western

Uganda, where a cattle people had gradually organized loose

confederations of Bantu toparchies, also happened in western

Kenya, though to a lesser degree. 11. 12.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 139-141; pp. 125-26. K.W.: ‘The Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara’, Uganda Journal, Vol. IV, p. 153. Nyakatura, J. W.: Abakama ba Bunyoro-Kitara (1947); see chapter on ‘Bachwezi Kings-Ndahura’. Were, op. cit., has adduced enough evidence to show that a Hima group established itself in this area prior to the arrival of the Wanga ruling dynasty, pp. 52, 72, 122-127. 12 Ogot, Luo




It is important to emphasize that the Abamuima and Abalako

were preceded in the Bungoma area by small Bantu groups. Musungule Mahero, the official historian of Nabongo Shitawa, was particularly insistent upon this point. He pointed out that these early Bantu inhabitants of north Buluyia, such as the Abamadu-

ngu, Abamukabo and Abarungu, did not possess any cattle, and

lived on wild animals and fruits. These were the people, together with other smaller Kalenjin groups, who gradually came under the rule of the Abamuima.}8 This brings us to the second point: the identity of the aristocratic section of Wanga society. Luo traditional accounts are unanimous that they were of Luo extraction. The genealogical tree is represented thus:



(who live in Uyoma)



(live in Wanga)


(who live in Asembo and Uyoma)

(the descendants of whom live in Sakwa)

But this genealogy itself presents difficulties. It would have

been comparatively easy to interpret it if it did not have Omia

Ramul (sometimes called Omia the Elder) as its eponym. As we

shall see in subsequent pages,!6 the Omia who live in Asembo and Uyoma are late comers to the area. Until quite recently 13.

14. 15.


Luo Historical dismissed this Luo Historical 24-28, 51. Luo Historical

Texts, Vol. II, pp. 139-141. c.f. Were, op. cit. Were has evidence on dubious grounds, pp. 123-127. Texts, Volume I, pp. 116, 130-134. Vol. II, pp. 2-3, Texts, VolumeII, p. 27.

See pp. 222-224 below.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


they were pejoratively referred to as Omia Maduk (the Naked Omia), and it is generally believed by the Luo that they are related to the Iteso. Moreover, in the early literature concerning the group we are considering, there is no reference made to the

Omia. Thefirst time we come across them is about three to four generations ago, during the second half of the 19th century. It is therefore probable that the Omia represented a splinter party of the large Teso group that had reached the Kabras-Wanga area by an eastern route.’ Probably because of a common and

understandable wish to be identified with their Luo hosts, they fabricated the blood relationship cited above.!8 That leaves us with the Owila and Matar groups who repre-

sent the dominant clans in the sub-tribes of Uyoma and Sakwa respectively; and who claim to be related to the aristocratic

elements in Wanga. The three peoples, Luo tradition claims,’

journeyed together from Budama area via Busoga and Busia. They founded a big settlement in Bunyala near a hill which up

to now is still called Got Wanga (Wanga Hill), and which lies to the northwest of Lwambwa. Leaving behind a small pocket of Wanga folk, now assimilated by the Banyala, they moved northeastwards, across the River Nzoia to Elurego (the present Mumias). It was while they were living here that the famous separation, characteristically Nilotic, occurred. One group, the Owila people, now nicknamed “Jo-Oyuma” (the modern JoUyoma or Abayuma in Luyia), because of their acts of foolery, moved southwestwards to Alego Kaluo about eight generations

ago, where under their leader Owila, they founded a village which they called “Abayuma”’. The name has stuck, and today this northeastern corner of Alego location is known as Uyoma

The second party, the Jo-Wanga, moved southeastwards to

Tiriki, from which place, under the leadership of Wanga, they

soon returned to wrest political leadership from the Bahima.”° 17. 18. 19.

20. 12*

See Part 2, pp. 115-116 above. Note that the Iteso living in the western Kenya and eastern Uganda were usually called by the Luo Omia Maduk. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 1380-134; Vol. II, pp. 24-25; 56-57.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 125-126; 140-142; 146-149; 168-169.



Tradition is silent about the fate of the third party, the Jo-

Matar. But we are told that about a generation later, that is, about seven generations ago, they migrated from Wanga to Alego, where they had been preceded by the Jo-Owila (the future Jo-Uyoma.)?!_ What had probably happened wasthat they had been left behind in Wanga when the other two parties were moving away and later, perhaps as a result of the population pressure which must have followed the return of th? Wanga people to Wangalocation, they decided to moveoff to Alego. The fate of the conquering Wanga minority resembled that

of the Bito in Bunyoro. According to one version of the account of the transformation which took place, ‘‘on their arrival in the

present Wanga they found some Bantu clans living in the area.

These Bantu groups lacked any proper system of government, the

family forming the largest unit of administration; and they were very poor. The newcomers employed them as herdsboys and

servants, the former posing as rulers. But the majority of the Wanga were men, and hence they soon began to marry Bantu girls. The consequence of such intermarriages was that the Wanga soon lost their tongue, which was doubtless not a Bantu language but a dialect of Dholuo.”2 The historical picture we have so far portrayed on the basis of Luo traditional evidence is corroborated in many significant respects by the Wanga tradition. According to the official historian

of Nabongo Shitawa, there are pockets of Wanga people in Bunyala and Sakwa, Central Nyanza. “The people in Sakwa,”

the account continues, “were originally a small clan. They went

to Sakwa via Mboli, passing near the small lakein Alego.24 You find the same name (Sakwa) in Wanga Mukulu (East Wanga).” From the same source welearn that other relatives of the Wanga,

the Abakhayo and Abayoma, who live near Sakwa in Central

Nyanza, “originally possessed a lot of cattle—like grass.” 21. 22. 23. 24.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 116. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. Il, p. 25. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 141-148, Probably Lake Kanyaboli. c.f. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, 116: “Matar (the eponym of Sakwa) with his children migrated from Wanga to Randago in Alego, and thence to Uloma in Sakwa. .

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


The account of Wanga tradition given by Matson is fuller and throws muchlight on the identity of the rulers.25 He writes, “The tribe as we know it today probably originated with the move of the Wanga from Tiriki to the then heavily forested Nzoia River area where,it is said, he (i.e. Wanga) gained control over the local agricultural and hunting peoples by a trick... “Like the traditional rulers in Uganda, the leading family of

Bayuma claims to have been a different race from the serf tribes

over which they ruled. The clan may have been an off-shoot from the main Nilo-Hamitic migration, as its members claim to be the inheritors of a pastoral culture. The chief observed the diet

routines and restrictions common to the Bahima overlords and

was expected to practice the daily rites of ceremonial herding and milking as part of his duty as preserver and augmenter of

the tribal herds and wealth.”

The Bayuma, as we have noted, are the Owila folk wholive in modern Uyoma. Even the large pit, the Yobunyali, which was always found in the royal enclosure, and which some modern tribal historians who are somewhat imperialistic in their attitude use as a basis for laying claim to most of western and central Kenya, can be shown to be of Nilotic origin.24 Furthermore, the totem of the Bayuma clan is the bushbuck—which is one of the

distinguishing features of Nilotic ruling groups. All these facts, together with the anthropological data we discussed earlier,

point to the inescapable conclusion that the Bayuma—the royal family of the Wanga—were Nilotic in origin. And just as the

Bito had inherited a loose segmentary state from the Bahima which they consolidated into the Bito empire, the Bayuma, in the same way, though on a smaller scale, succeeded the Bahima as the rulers of a loose confederation which, under them, eventually evolved into the Wanga state. Like the Bito, the new rulers in Wanga lost their tongue and, through intermarriage, their identity. 25. 26.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 168-172. See Roscoe, John: The Bakitara (1923), p. 82, also quoted as a footnote: Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 170.



Were has strongly rejected this theory on the following grounds: (i) That it ignores the tradition of the ruling house of Wanga; (ii) that the institution of Kingship could have been imported into the area by the Abamuimaor the ancestors of the Abashitsetse who came from Buganda via Busoga; (iii) that the ruling clan in Wanga is called Abashitsetse and (iv)

not Bayuma;

that the Kenya Luo themselves did not evolve a Kingship and;


that no uncircumcised person can be installed as King.?’ These are very serious charges which we should not gloss over. The first point can be dealt with briefly. As we emphasized at the beginning of this chapter, our account of the early historv oi the Wangais based to a large extent on the tradition of the ruling house. Regarding the second point, it is worth pointing out that discussion on the origin of the Wanga Kingdom has been bedevilled by two understandable desires: (a) a desire to ‘prove’ the royalty of the dynasty by linking the Wanga royal house with

the Buganda royal house; and (b) a wish to provide aq historical justification for the often-made claim that Nabongo Mumia was the traditional ruler of all the Luyia. While Were’s account is free from the second preconception, it suffers seriously from the first one. Wehavein earlier pages warned against the tendency among

certain scholars to trace African Kingship institutions to one

source or one people, and have further suggested that the Wanga

Kingship might have evolved independently. Were quotes with approval Luyia accounts which regard the Abashitsetse as part of the large Bantu group, comprising among others the Baganda, Bagisu and Basoga, who migrated from Egypt. They are supposed to have occupied a focal point in the Mount Elgon area from which they moved to their present homes. From these folk wanderings, he infers that the Abashit27.

Were, op. cit., pp. 127-147.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


setse must have acquired a kingship system from the Baganda or the Basoga. As a further proof of this, he cites the similarity between the hereditary principles, and the burial customs, of the Wanga and the interlacustrine states of Uganda, especially the principalities of Busoga. It is evident that Were is confusing traditions relating to the Bantu occupation of Uganda with those relating to the evolution of Kingship institutions. The principalities of Busoga, for example, on which he lays much stress, are of Nilotic derivation. Let us now turn to his third point, that the ruling clan in Wanga is called Abashitsetse and not Bayuma. Several Wanga elders from the ruling dynasty pointed out to me that the original ruling family was called the Abayuma, and that most of the younger Luyia historians prefer to call them the Abashitsetse. In fact, at the home of the late Mumia, the author witnessed a very illuminating debate between the old andilliterate experts on tribal lore and the younger, literate historians, on this point.

Part of the answer to this important question lies in the nature of society which was emerging in Tiriki when the ruling

family left the area for Wanga. Were himself has written:

“It is therefore evident that the two sister locations of Tiriki and Nyang’ori are inhabited by peoplesof all sorts and origins — ranging irom Bantu cians of diverse origins to the Kalenjin of both Mount Elgon and Nandiorigins. It is, therefore, not without some justification that the Abatirichi are often regarded as a hybrid community.” 28 Weare further told by Were that the Abashitsetse of Wanga and the Abalukhobaof Tiriki “were originally one people.”29 From such evidence it should be obvious that the area into which the Luo sub-clan of Bayuma moved was at the time being occupied by people of diverse origin from many parts of western Kenya. We also know that when Wanga moved ‘to Imanga, he was 28. 29.

Were, op. cit., pp. 77-78. ibid., p. 141,



joined by the Abakalibo, Abashikao, Abakolwe, Ababuka, Aba-

shibe, Abangale, Abetsohe and Abarungu, who were notthe same people.

In other words, even the group that migrated from. Tiriki to Imanga under the leadership of Wanga, was a mixed group, and it included both the Abayuma and the Abashitsetse. The fourth point raised by Were has been deatl with exhaustively by the author elsewhere.®° Lastly, Were mentions the point that only a circumcised person could be installed as King, and this, in his view, would exclude the Luo. But he himself has told us that this system

had been adopted by the Bantu ancestors of the Abatirichi from

the Kalenjin Terik.3! Even the name “Tirichi” is a bantuised form

of Terik. It is therefore likely that the practice gradually spread

to all the medley of clans, including the Abayuma, whosettled in Tiriki.

The other section of the Abayuma who migrated to Alego met with different fortunes. We learn from folk tradition®? that

they built their settlement called “Abayuma” in Alego about eight generations back. Here they encountered a small group

under an elder called Le. The origin of these people is uncertain,?3

but they are the ancestors of the Kale who form the dominant

clan in Asembo, and whose fortunes henceforth were to be

closely interwoven with those of the Abayuma until about two

to three generations back when they separated. The intimate

friendship between these two parties was cemented by the marriage of Owila—the leader of the Abayuma—to Amolo, the daughter of Le.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, these Luo

bands moved from place to place in search of permanent homes.*4 30. 31. 32. 33.


Ogot, B. A., ‘Kingship and Statelessness Among the Nilotes’, op. cit., pp. 294-300. Were, op. cit., p. 77. c.f. Evans-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 34; Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I pp. 134-136. c.f. The Lee legends in Crazzolara, J. P.: The Lwoo, op. cit., pp. 182-3;

231-2; 238-9; 250-3; 303-5; 468-70. He is supposed to be the eponymous ancestor of the Palee in Acholi. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 134-136; 153-155.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


Le and his followers moved to southwestern Alego to settle at Gangu near Lake Kanyaboli; and the Owila folk moved across modern east Alego southeastwards to Abom which today is in Sakwa. It was at this time that the Jo-Sakwa arrived from Wanga and their incursion gave further impetus to these folk movements. While present evidence suggests that much of the detailed tradition which surrounds Luo patriarchs such as Owila (leader of the Abayuma), Le (leader of Kale), and Matar (leader of the Jo-Sakwa) is legend, it appears likely that it should be interpreted as reflecting the growth and expansion of the Luo settlement about this time, as there is little doubt about the authenticity of these movements. The arrival of the Jo-“Sakwa compelled the Jo-Owila (Abayuma) to move back to Gangu to rejoin their in-laws; and it also affected other Luo settlements such as those of Seme and Kajulu which extended from Wang’arot and Waringa in the

northern part of Asembo, and of the Jo-Kisumo (Jo-Kowidi), who at this time occupied the area between Korango and Malele.5

But the Jo-Uyoma (Abayuma)did not stay for long in Gangu. Together with their in-laws—the Jo-Kale—they fled southwards

to the Uyoma Peninsula in response to Sakwa pressure which

still continued unabated. Here they encountered two groups—

Kobunga and Wagoro (probably Luo splinter parties) who attempted to prevent them from having access to Lake Victoria. Eventually they overcame this opposition and established their settlements at several places along the lakeshore: Nyakongo, Ndere, Usori, Osindo,?* Oboro, Manywanda, Ginga and Bonde.?7 But Uyoma peninsula was not unoccupied. As we have already seen,?8 a big Chwanya settlement had been established at Nyandwat about six generations earlier. This focal point had 35. 36.

37. 3&.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 116-117. The place was named ‘Osindo’ because it was on this spot that the Kobunga and Wagoro attempted to prevent the Jok Owila and Jo-Kale from reaching the water of Lake Victoria (“Sindo” in Dholuo means “ta prevent”. The nameis still in use). Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 135-136; 154-155. See p. 169 above.




attracted several refugee and splinter parties. When therefore,

the Jok’Owila and Jok-Kale tried to expand their settlements

inland, they came across other Luo folk: Kanyadoto, Gem, Kochia, Kanyada, Kagan and Kopole—who were already living in the area.29 What is significant about this list is that the people comprising it do not belong to the Jok division of the Luo who had settled at Nyandwat. Gem (an offshoot of the big Gemsub-

tribe that migrated to Yimbo at about the time the Jo-Ugenya

were migrating to Alego),*° Kochia and Kanyada belong to the

Omolo stock. It therefore follows that other Luo peoples, besides the Joka-Jok, were already settled in the peninsula by the time the Joka-Owila and Jo-Kale arrived. The arrival of the latter groups made the area look overcrowded and, as usual, the Luo had to resort to migration to reduce pressure on the land. The Kanyadoto, Gem, Kanyada, Kochia and Kopole folk crossed the Kavirondo Gulf about seven generations ago to found new homes

in South Nyanza, and all these names have survived as names of localities in South Nyanza.

But the Jok’Owila and Jo-Kale themselves did not live in Uyoma for more than a generation before they were again forced by the belligerent Sakwa to follow in the wake of other Luo groups who had migrated to South Nyanza. It appears that this happened about five generations ago, between 1790 and 1820.* They settled in the Kanyamwa area where they encountered

some of the Jo-Kadem and Jo-Karungu. But unlike other Luo

groups who migrated to South Nyanzaat this time, the Jok’Owila and Jo-Kale returned to Central Nyanza between 1860 and 1870.

They then re-occupied the fertile peninsula, driving the Jo-Sakwa back to their present homes. It was probably during this confused 39. 40.


Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 136-187. See p. 167 above.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 139-140; 155, 177. See also Whisson,

M.G.: ‘The Rise of Asembo and the Curse of Kakia’. East African Institute of Social Research, Makerere, Conference paper, June, 1961, p. 2. He reckons that they crossed the Gulf in 1820 undera certain

Oguta Wanga of the Katweng’a group, and the first chief that can be 42.

remembered. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 140-145.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


period of Sakwa history that a section of them fled to South Nyanza where they founded the modern location of Sakwa. From this brief survey of the early history of the migration and settlement of Sakwa, Uyoma and Asembo sub-tribes, it is evident that it is about this period—from roughly 1700 to 1900— that Evans-Pritchard’s description of Luo expansion would apply. He wrote: Luo expansion at the expense of the Bantu waslike a line of shunting trucks, each tribe driving out the one in front of it to seek compensation fromone yet furtherin front,

generally a Bantu tribe.*8 The Sakwa people, for instance, evicted the Jok’Owila and Jo-Kale from their homes in Abom and Gangu; the latter in turn drove out other Luo groups from the Uyoma peninsula across the lake into what was then a Bantu territory. There were two important consequences of this process which Evans-Pritchard has noted: the movements led to a considerable dispersal of lineages; and secondly the late-comers were, on the whole, the least influenced by Bantu culture in their speech and wayof life. But out of this apparent chaos, the Luo sub-tribes gradually evolved; and by the last decade of the 19th century, the Luo as a tribe werealready beginning to be conscious of their distinct identity. The period therefore represents the formative era of Luo history during which they changed from being hordes of nomads moving about with livestock in search of pasture and water, to sedentary societies with a recognisable way of life. Wehave so far omitted from our discussion one other group —the Jo-Kano—whom at the beginning of this chapter we included in the list of the last-comers. But their time of arrival cannot be dated with certainty; and the position is exacerbated by the fact that they do not seem to be related to any Luo group 43.

‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 26.



in Nyanza.** Nor do we know anything about their origin and history prior to their arrival in Alego about nine to ten genera-

tions ago.*®

According to their traditions, they travelled from

Acholiland as a small, independent group, by way of Lira to

Alego. Indeed, one version asserts that the original migrating

party from Acholiland consisted of ‘one family—that of.a certain man called Obo. He quarrelled with his people, and consequently decided to emigrate.’46 In Labwor country which lies in the mountainous area be-

tween Acholi and Karamoja, there is a county called Kano. In it we find river names such as Awach which later re-appear in Kano in Central Nyanza. The traditions of Labwor recorded by

Crazzolara*’? may, we feel, throw somelight on the origin of the Kano folk. Their dialect is more akin to the Alur and Lira-Palwo dialect than to the Acholi-Lango dialect. And this, if true, would place it in the same group with Dholuo and Dhu-Padhola.*8 Crazzolara attempts to discover their origin by tracing the origin of the name “Labwor”. He concludes, on somewhat flimsy grounds, that the name is derived from the ancient Madi nameof Boori or Boro. He also reminds us that there are other Labwor,

Abuoor, and Ibwoor clans in Acholi and Langoterritories who seem to have migrated from the Pa-Jok area. He therefore affirms that the Labwoor are “a group which separated from the Boori in PawJook and moved southeastwards, dispersing as it went (while a main group occupied the present Labwoor country)”, at 44.


46. 47. 48.

See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 3-4; 29; 51. Note that one text (Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 84) places the Jo-Kano in the Jok division. But this is probably because of the intimate friendship between the Jo-Karachuonyo and Jo-Kano in their journey from Alego to South Nyanza. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 84; 241. We are suggesting this date partly on the basis of genealogical evidence, and partly because the time suggested here accords well with the sequence of subsequent events. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. Il, p. 241. Crazzolara, J. P. Anthropos, op. cit., pp. 202-214. See p. 38 above.

The Last Luo Immigrants into Central Nyanza


“about the period when Lango-Omiru country was also being occupied. The division was clearly a large one, as is proved by the main Labwoor kingship and the manylarge clan groups found all over Acholi and Lango-Omiru country.’”49 Leaving aside the question of the origin of the name, it would not be unreasonable to conjecture that the Jo-Kano in Nyanza form one of the many Labwoor clans that dispersed to different areas. After moving from place to place they eventually reached

Alego where they met a section of the Joka-Jok. It was while they were here that the friendship between the Jo-Kano and Jo-Karachuonyo developed. Even the name Obo—the supposed eponymous ancestor of the Jo-Kano — may be a corrupted Luo version of “Bwoor”. Be that as it may, it is evident that the first settlement of the No people was at Kaugagi in Alego, which was then inhabited

by a people called Kalkada. Today it is one of the Luo clans found in Alego and Ugenya.*? After about a generation they moved southwards in the

company of the Jo-Karachuonyo to Uyoma where they arrived about nine generations ago between about 1680 and 1720. The

peninsula wasstill heavily forested; and there were also a few,

scattered Masai settlements.®! Friction soon developed between

the Masai and the newcomers, and Kano tradition claims that

one No sub-clan—Kagayi—was, with the exception of two people, completely annihilated by the Masai.®2 They lived at Kadilur in Uyoma for about two to three

generations, after which they migrated to South Nyanza to49, 50.

Crazzolara: Anthropos, op. cit., p. 203. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. Il, p. 242; Vol. I, p. 45 footnote, according to which they are descended from a Bantu elder who was an expert maker of pipes, and since the Luyia word for a pipe is Olukata, their


51. 52.

(Kanyajeri) nicknamed him Lukata, which later changed to

Likada, Lwo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 242-242 Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 243.



gether with their allies and friends—the Jo-Karachuonyo. They settled along the lakeshore between Homa and Kendu Bays; and for about two generations the two groups lived amicably as neighbours. But, when their numbers increased, a clash occurred between them which resulted in the emigration of the Jo-Kano to seek new homes in the east. We shall return to that story in

Chapter 6.

CHAPTER 5 THE LUO CONQUEST AND OCCUPATION OF SOUTH NYANZA 1 We now cometo one of the darkest periods in Luo history—

their conquest of, and settlement in, South Nyanza. Malo,!

Ayany,? Whisson,? Wilson,* and Evans-Pritchard® have all related. in their own different ways the story of the settlement of the Luo in Central Nyanza. In retelling the story in Chapters 1 to 4 of Part 3, we have been concerned not so much with what must have happened(it is still too early to be dogmatic about the precolonial history of East Africa) as with the kind of evidence which must be considered if we are to arrive at a reasonable outline.

When we turn to South Nyanza, we find that practically

nothing has been written on Luo settlements in the area, This




is not because there is insufficient data to work upon. On the contrary, there is more material, as will be evident in this and the next chapters, for a comprehensive study of Luo migration and the pattern of settlement in South than there is in Central Nyanza. It may not be incorrect to suggest that probably one reason why nobody has so far shown any interest in the history of the Luo settlements in South Nyanza is because of the complexity of the raw data. Dhoudi Mag Central Nyanza, translated and reproduced as Luo Historical Texts, Volume I. Kar Chakruok Mar Luo (1952), Kisumu. The Journeys of the Jo-Ramogi, East African Institute of Social Research, Makerere, Conference paper, undated. Luo Customary Law, op.cit. ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit.



When we talk of the Luo “conquest” of South Nyanza, it is important to bear in mind what we said in Chapter 2 regarding the occupation of Central Nyanza.® As in the latter place, the

invaders did not operate together for any length of time as one conquering host. They operated in small groups; and the separate

bands were not only scattered but rarely, if at all, kept in touch

with one another. Furthermore the Luo in South Nyanza did not all arrive at the same time; they came from diverse sources and

arrived at different times. During the seventh generation back,

when the exodus from Central Nyanza commenced, only a few

groups gained a foothold on the southern shores of the Kavirondo Gulf. But by the third generation back, the Luo had increased in numbers, multiplied and expanded, and they were rapidly coalescing to form a distinct group, in some respects even distinct

from their brothers in Central Nyanza.’ The event was therefore more a colonization than a conquest. There are three major divisions of the Luo people in South

Nyanza and anyhistory of migration and settlement of the region

must be related to the histories of these groups. The three major divisions are: (i) the Joka-Jok, whose early history we covered in Chapters 1 and 2;

(ii) the other Luo groups such as Gem, Kochia, Sakwa,etc.

who do not belong to (i); and


(iii) the large heterogeneous division usually referred to as the Suba.

Like Central Nyanza, South Nyanza was already inhabited

when the Luo colonists arrived; but unlike Central Nyanza, there

is sufficient information about the pre-Luo occupants of the region 6. 7.

See pp. 166-167 above. Evans-Pritchard: “Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 25. “The expansion of the Luo towards the South has resulted in their divisioninto two

parts between which Kisumu location forms a narrow bridge, the

Luo of Central Nyanza, the ‘Joiye’, the ‘Inside People’, and the Luo of South Nyanza, the ‘Jooko’, the ‘Outside People’. By 1900, different dialects and customs had emerged; there were perhaps even biological differences, with the South Nyanza folk being taller, darker and more prognathous than the ‘Joiye’. It is quite possible that with the passage of time they might have evolved intoa distinct group.”

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


to enable us to draw a rough outline of the probable history of migration and settlement of the region during the one or two centuries preceding the advent of the Luo. One of the large pre-Luo groups of South Nyanza were the Kuria (called Watende by the Luo). According to Gusii traditions recorded and translated by Prof. W. H. Whiteley,® the people who later settled in Butende—the Sweta, Neaari, Kiera, Baasi and Siango—were sons (that is male descendants) of Gusii. “These folk,” we learn from one of the texts, “went to Butende because they got cut off from their kinsfolk ... These people came into this area a long time ago; they preceded the others here in Gusii country. These latter were following on behind

them; they found their habitations but didn’t find the people themselves; they lost contact with one another until they were

beaten in catching up with them... When they first moved out ... they left from Kisumu together with Rogoli.. .”

From this text—and it represents a widely-held theory—it would appear that the Kuria separated from the main Gusii group around the Nandi hills, porbably at the same time as the Maragoli.2 Instead of following the southeastern route which was later taken by their kinsmen, they set off in a southwestern direction towards the present Gusii country. Perhaps as a result of Luo intrusion in the area, they moved further south towards Musoma.

But this evidence is clearly not sufficient in itself to lay any solid foundation for the hypothesis we have just advanced. For cross-checking purposes, it is important that we should examine independently the traditions of both sections of the Kuria, the traditions of the section in Kenya and of the section in Tanzania. Regarding the Kuria folk who live between the Gori and Mara Rivers in the Musoma district of Tanzania, Baker has written:

Nothing is known of their early history beyond the fact

that they formerly lived in the southern portion of Kenya and 8.


Personal communication.

See pp. 217-219.

13 Ogot, Luo




were forced to migrate southwards by encroaching Masai and Jaluo. As they themselves ‘truly say, “the movements of people have always been from north to south.”!0 © A closer look at the evidence recorded by Baker further

reveals that they did not immigrate into their present homes in oneparty; they arrived in small. parties at different times; and it is these different parties whichlater evolved into thethirteen sub-tribes we know today. The following are the sub-tribes, with their respective totems: 14



~ Totem

Ba-Iregi ~ Ba-Nyamongo-


Ba-Timbaru Ba-Nyabassi ‘Ba-Bwassi Ba-Kira Ba-Kenye - Ba-Mera Ba-Njare

- Ba-Sweta



| :



Leopard Leopard —

Leopard —

Zebra Zebra Zebra Elephant Elephant ~ Elephant Rockrabbit

Ape ©



Ningu (a species of fish) ?

According to Baker, the leopard people together with the Ba-Simbiti were the earliest arrivals in the Musoma area.’ They werefollowed by the elephant people who arrived about eleven generations back, that is, during the first half of the 17th century. “The father of the unit, Isagu by name, is said to have been born

at Rikobera in Kisii and to have settled at Gossi, also in Kisii, 10. Baker EB. C.: The Ba-Kuria of Musoma, Tanganyika Territory, p. 5, 11. 12.

cyclostyled in the Library of the East African Institute of Social Research, Makerere College, Kampala. Based on Baker, ibid., p. 6. Baker, ibid., pp. 8-10.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


where he begat three sons, Wimera, Mukenye and Mukira who were the parents of the Ba-Mera, Ba-Kenye and Ba-Kira.”!8 The position eleven generations ago was therefore, as follows: the Ba-Mera and the Ba-Iregi had reached their present lands; the Ba-Kenye wereliving at Kitinga; the Ba-Kira at Gantende; and the Ba-Nyamongo, who had not as yet separatedfrom

the Ba-Iregi, were atPemba in Bu-Kira. The Ba-Njare were still

settled at Gossi in Gusii country; and the Ba-Timbaru, BaNyabassi and Ba-Sweta had not yet arrived in Musoma.!4 Later the Ba-Timbaru arrived from Gutura in Masai country, from where they had been driven by the latter. They went to Kerambe where, it is said, they arrived together with the BaNyabassi, their allies. Finally, the Ba-Sweta, who came to Bukuria by way of Suna in South Nyanza, arrived.'5 That, then is the story of migration and settlement of the southern section of the Kuria based on traditional evidence. some of the evidence recorded by Baker dovetails into the story

of the northern Kuria wing, and should therefore help us to

reconstruct a balanced picture of the early history of migration and settlement in South Nyanza. The impression gained from Gusii traditions!® that the Kuria are descended from a homogeneous group which broke away from the Gusii and Maragoli becomes even more questionable when we examine the traditions-of the Kenya Kuria. Dr. Malcolm

Ruel, a British anthropologist who carried out field studies amongst the northern Kuria came to the conclusion that they have no general tradition of origin as one people.!’ Each group (or “province”’) has its own account of migration to its present country. A number of them claim to have come from the north:

Aba-Sweta from Gusii, Aba-Kenye, Aba-Mera and Aba-Nyabaasi from Gwassi; and in the case of the Aba-Kenye ultimately from Uganda. Other groups say they have come from the east: Abaa ee

13. 14, 15. 16. 17. 13*

op. cit., p. 9. ibid., p. 9. ibid., p. 9. See p. 193 above. Personal communication.



Iregi from “Range”, Aba-Renchoka from Chepalungu Forest. In the 19th century the Kuria were much harassed on theireastern border by the Masai, and it is possible in Ruel’s view, that these “eastern origins” refer to the more immediate past when the former were forced westwards by the latter. For instance, a

number of groups say they lived at Getura, a hill in the present

Masai country, at some time; and during the second half of the

19th century the Aba-Kira say they were driven from “Chunuuchi” which is also situated to the east of the present Kuria


My own findings in thefield confirm the diverse nature of Kuria origins.1® And although the story as given by my informant, Chief Joseph Magige, deals only with one of the Kuria sub-tribes —the group commonly known in Kenya as the Watende—it nevertheless corroborates the findings of Baker and Ruel on several important points.

The picture which emerges from the different accounts is that the present Kuria people are an amalgam of various peoples from diverse



big group—the



probably represents the original Kuria core—came from the east. Their immediate home appears to have been in the vicinity of the Chepalungu Forest, near the present Masai-Kipsigis border. The cause of their migration from this area is uncertain; but it would appear that it was in response to Masai pressure which was gradually extending southwards and westwards.8 They continued their northwestward movement by way of Wairaria

and Gutura (Ruel’s Getura), and thence to Buirege (the present

Ikerege), where a group of them, under the leadership of Mwirege,29 remained. Moving from hill to hill,?! the party continued their journey via Tarime until they reached modern Butende about fourteen generations ago, and therefore about the middle 18. 19. 20. 21.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 112-117. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 113. After whom the place is named. cf. The Ba-Kenye “call themselves the Ba-Nyanza or lake-folk as opposed to the Ba-Kuria proper who are Ba-Runguru or hill-folk’’. Baker, op. cit., p. 8.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza1


of the 16th century.22 Here they encountered several groups, most probably Bantu, such as the Aba-Kungu, Aba-Nyabwige-

nye, Aba-Sinyenyi, Aba-Sasa, Aba-Sando, Aba-Moti, Aba-Gonga and Aba-Nchari, most of whom were assimilated, the rest mig-

rating to the northeastern corner of Tanzania.?8

From Butende, sections of the Kuria such as the Aba-Nya-

mongo later moved southwards, perhaps in response to pressure from the north as we shall see presently, arriving there during the eleventh generation back.24 A splinter party, the Waganjo, moved further north to Kadem and thence to Gwassi, where they later intermarried with the Luo. About three generations ago, that is about the middle of the 19th century, there occurred a reverse migration which took this mixed group back to their present homes in Tanzania where they continue to speak Dholuo. So

much about the “eastern origins” of the Kuria. The second important ingredient in the Kuria population is the Gusii group of clans: the Aba-Kira (or, as they are known in Musoma, the Aba-Mera), Aba-Nyabaasi and Aba-Sweta or Aba-Nchari. Attempts have been made to include the AbaKenye in this group, by suggesting that they are all descended from a certain Isagu wholivedat Gossi in Gusii country.”6 But it is quite evident that the Aba-Kenye, who live around the estuary

of the River Mara and who refer to themselvesas the lake-folk

(Aba-Nyanza), are the same people as the Wakenye of Kadimo in Central Nyanza,27 and the Bakenyi of eastern Uganda,”® both of whom are lake-folk and expert fishermen. They therefore form an independent group which has been incorrectly identified with the Gusii parties because they probably arrived together in the region. 22. 23. 24, 25. 26. 27. 28.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 116. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. .115. Note that the Aba-Nchari appears later as of Gusii extraction. See p. 195 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 69, 117. Note that according to Some versions, especially Vol. II, p. 98, the Waganjo migrated io South Nyanza from Central Nyanza. Baker, op. cit., p. 9: Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 112. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 67. c.f. Part 2, p. 71.



~The assimilation of these Gusii clans by the Kuria must have taken place in modernButende, for in both Kenya and Tanzania they have the same traditions about the origins of these people. Thelarge number of name-links between Kuria “provinces” and Gusii sub-tribes, for example, Nyabaasi, Kira (Gusii “Kiera’”), Soeta (Gusii Sweta), Nchari etc., also suggest a common origin. Most of these namesake groups also share a common totem: zebra, ape or elephant. Mayer?9 discovered that the totem Mosweta (an ape) is shared by three Gusii sub-tribes: Getutu, Nyaribari and Machoge. But up to about 1850 the first two sub-tribes formed only one sub-tribe—Getutu; and Machoge is not related to them. Moreover the Aba-Rangi of North Mugirango and the Aba-Sigisa of Getutu who are regarded as aliens, are both ape people, Aba-Sweta. Yet neither claim descent from the founders of any of the ape sub-tribes. They “sometimes say that their forefathers arrived in Gusii country before anyother Gusii, and that some oftheir relatives went on southwards towards what is now Tanganyika”.50 Perhaps these are the two groups of the AbaSoeta who today live in North Mara.

Closely allied to the Kuria are the large conglomeration of

sub-tribes which in the MusomaDistrict of Tanzania are normally

subsumed under the general name of Girango; but who in South Nyanza form one important section of the Suba.3! InTanzania they occupy the area lying between the Kuria in the east, the Sambiti in the south and Lake Victoria in the west; while in

29. 30.


Mayer, P.: Lineage Principle in Gusii Society, London, 1949, p. 13. Mayer, P.: ibid., p. 13.

There is no general agreement on the etymology of the name “Suba”.

According to one explanation, when the people called Suba arrived in South Nyanza, they found the area already occupied by the Kuria. The latter used to greet them with the salutation “Suba” which stuck and has ever since been indiscriminately. applied to the whole ~ heterogeneous group. Note that ‘Suba’ is a common greeting word in Masai. Secondly, it is said that allpeople whocould speak Kuria plusa

mother-tongue were called by the Kuria “Suba”. It has also been

suggested that “Suba” may be derived from Sumba-——the name of _an island on Lake Victoria. The final explanation and the one which we prefer is that the name “Suba” was applied by the Luo to all small non-Luo groups who were not big enough(e. g. likethe Kuria) to warrant a separate name. Note that in all theseexplanations, it is implied that the Kuria preceded the Luo in South Nyanza.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


south Nyanza, their remnants are found chiefly in the locations of Suna, Kamagambo and Mohoru. :

Traditional evidence on their origin and early history is

scanty. The Girango folk in Musoma describe themselves as “detribalised Ba-Kuria” and, as Baker has observed, although a number of the sub-tribes have now ceased to recognize their

totem, their origin is preserved in their name: for Ba-Girango

only means “Ba-Gira engwe” or “those who abstain from the leopard” (ku-gira=to abstain from, engwe=the leopard).*? It would therefore appear that the original core of the Girango formed part of the leopard people who, as we have seen, are represented in Kuria country by the Iregi and Nyamongo. According to Girango traditions,®° they consist of the following eight sub-tribes: (i)


(iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii)




Ba-Rieri or Ba-Tesi Ba-Gusero Ba-Kamoti Ba-Turi Ba-Tegi Ba-Kamageta

All these peoples are today united in a federation which

includes a ninth group—the Kowak, who “have no Kuria_ blood in them and are the only pure Ja-Luo in the district.”*4 32.



Baker, E. C.: The Ba-Girango (of Musoma) East African Institute Social Research Library, cyclostyled, p. 7.

ibid., pp. 11-12. c. f. the list in Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 5:

(i) Usu or Warieri, (ii) Kakseru, (iii) Wagire, (iv) Kamageta, (v) Wategi, (vi) Waganjo, (vii) Wakine, (viii) Rieny, (ix) Wasweta, (x) Waturi. We have already dealt with the origin of Waganjo and Wasweta. We know from Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 102, that the Rieny are the same people as the Wategi; and from page 98, Vol. II, that the Kowak should beincluded in thelist. Hence, the two lists |‘agree to a large extent. The only important omission is the Ba-Gusero, which suggests that they may represent the original Kuria core under whomall kinds of refugees and splinter groups have combined to form the distinct group—the Girango. Note also that the Ba-Gusero are recognized as the senior sub-tribe of the Ba-Girango (Baker, E. C., ibid., p. 15). Baker, E. C.: ibid., p. 12.




From this account it appears that these eight sub-tribes are descendants of a small homogeneous Kuria party. But the situa-

tion must have been much more complex. The picture which

emerges from a comparative study of Luo, Kuria and Gusii

traditions is that between about thirteen and seven generations back, that is, between about 1570 and 1760, the area bounded on the west by Lake Victoria, on the south by the Kuja River, on the east by the Kisii highlands, and on the north by the Kavirondo Gulf, was being invaded by diverse hordes of adventurers who poured in from all directions, but who arrived separately.

There were the Kuria splinter groups such as the Abaganjo,%¢ whosettled in Kadem; then there were the parties which arrived from Central Nyanza, for example, the Waturi (meaning blacksmiths), Wagine, Kakan, Wakiala, Kakseru and Kamageta (from Mageta Island on Lake Victoria). The Waturi, who are known in Central Nyanza as the Jo-Uloma,?” claim to have been theoriginal inhabitants of Usenge Hill in Kadimo location. The group from Central Nyanza (some times knownas the Jok’OwinySuba),*8 had been dislodged from their homes in Kadimo andUyomalocations by the Joka-Jok division of the Luo.® In South Nyanza, where they arrived between nine and ten generations ago,*° they established their settlements along the lakeshore, between Mirunda Bay and Ruri Hills. They gradually extended their settlements to

Simbi where, according to folk tradition,*! a section of them

called the Waswa (or Wagunga) were, with the exception oi 35.


37. 38. 39.

See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 4-6; 10-12; 80; 97-99; 102-103; 106-107; 116-122.

LuoHistorical Texts, Vol. II, p. 117.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 56; 256. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 11. Hence, contrary to the usual belief, not all the Bantu groups who originally occupied the lakeshore of Central Nyanza, moved inland in response to Luo pressure; quite a large number of them seem to have emigrated to South Nyanza, where they were soon followed

by the Luo. A large number of these groups were eventually

40. 41.

assimilated. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 11. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 274; Vol. II, p. 11.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


one woman, completely drowned when the crater-lake, Lake Simbi, formed.” While these Bantu peoples were moving from Central to South Nyanza, another important migration was taking place from the Musoma area of Tanzania (from a place near Rieny) northwards towards Lake Victoria. The migrating groups comprised the Wategi (also known as Rieny, perhaps because they came from Rieny), Kamagambo,*® Miuru (or Mohuru),** Kaksingri and Kasigunga; and their northward trek occurred between eight and ten generations back. Today all of them, with the exception of the Wategi, are found in South Nyanza, and they regard themselves as Jo-Luo. Perhaps it was these folk movements which led Hobley to suggest, in our opinion incor-

rectly, that the Bantu in Nyanza migrated from the Nyamwezi area, northwards. 42.

There is a well-known local legend about the formation of Lake Simbi. We read in the Handbook of Kenya Colony and Protectorate, 1920, p. 117, that “‘a little to the South of Kendu is the crater-lake of Simbi. The lake occupies the site of an explosion crater, from which no lava has ever issued...Probably the springs which gave rise to the lake are still active as it is steadily rising in level.” That is the scientific voice. The local legend explains what must have been an awe-inspiring change in landscape in a different, though familiar, way. We are told that God appeared to the inhabitants of Simbi in the form of an old woman with a young child. She found them merry-making in a village, and although it was raining heavily,

these people refused to welcome this old lady. And to punish thern


44, 45.

for their godlessness, God decided to flood the whole area, drowning everybody .except one woman who had offered hospitality to the strangers. It is quite possible that where there is this body of water today, there was once dry land. It may also be that the lake formed much earlier than the Luo period and that folk memory had preserved that local legend to explain the unusual feature. Similar legends are those of the city of Vineta on the Pomeranian coast, which the archaeologists identify with the ancient city of Julin; the Breton legend on the sunken city of Is; and above all, the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah.In all these legends the catastrophe is caused by the impiety of the inhabitants.

Theyare supposed to have originally been an off-shoot of the Wategi,

see Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 82; Baker, The Ba-Girango, op. cit., p. 78, where the Kamagambo are listed as forming one of the six clans in which the Bategi of Musoma are divided. See also Evans-Pritchard: ‘Luo Tribes and Clans’, op. cit., p. 26, where it is claimed Kamagambois of ‘‘Nilo-Hamitic” origin. Another off-shoot of the Rieny folk. Hobley, C. W.: Eastern Uganda, op. cit., pp. 8, 51.



The last two peoples—the Kaksingri and Kasigunga—claim

to have ultimately come from Uganda; the Kaksingri from a

placecalled Kisingiri in the SeseIslands and the Kasigunga folk from the island of Bugaya.** The Kaksingri claim tohave travelled by canoes from Sese to Rieny in Musoma where they met the Wategi. Soon afterwards they were joined there by the Kasigunga people who also came by boats. From Rieny the two groups of immigrants travelled overland to the present. site of Musoma

town, and thence by canoe ito Shirati. Continuing their journey

northwards by canoes, they finally landed at Kisegi in Gwassi. Along the vaileys of the River Usiri they met the Kamwagenya,

whom they pushed northwardsand Iater assimilated some of them, and the Waganjo, whom we have seen, were a splinter party. of the Kuria.*? From Usiri area, the two groups of immigrants con-

tinued their journey northwards passing between the Gwassi Hills and Lake Victoria until they reached modern Kaksingri,

where they encountered a people called Kasirunga who were probably Bantu. They defeated and eventually absorbed them

completely. It was in the Kaksingri area that the two.parties separated, the Sasigunga people moving further north to their

modern homes. They found they had been preceded in this area by the Wawanga, whom they conquered and assimilated. Soon

they were joined by the Wakiala, a Bantu splinter party which

arrived from Uyoma in Central Nyanza, and who today live in Mohuru. These two groups then—Kaksingri and Kasigunga—represent, according to their traditions, the only Luo groups (though they had not become Luo at the time of their crossing

the lake) that reached South Nyanza from Uganda via Tanzania. All the other groups who came from Uganda reached South Nyanza. by way of Central Nyanza. :

At this stage, we should reiterate the point we have made several times in this study that although the actual details regarding migration routes and timesequence may be conjectural,

there can be little doubt about the general direction of population 46. 47.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 15-16: 68-69: 80-81: 102-103; 118-122. See p. 197 above.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


movements at particular times. In this context, it is evident that between thirteen and seven generations back, the area bounded

by the Kisii highlands on the east, the Kuja River on the south,

Lake Victoria on the west, and the Kavirondo Gulf on the north was being colonized by a hotchpotch of peoples. With the arrival of the Luo folk in the area about seven generations ago, many of the earlier immigrants were gradually forced to withdraw southwards to modern Musoma while others were assimilated by the newcomers, and today they form one important category of the so-called Suba Luo in South Nyanza (see map6). But it was not only the western lowlands of South Nyanza that were already occupied when the Luo arrived; the eastern highlands had also been colonized by the Gusii. The origin of these people, who today number 516,371, and who occupy a fertile highland area in the Nyanza Province of Kenya,is a difficult historical problem. Hobley suggested in 1902 that the Gusii were of Bantu origin, “probably connected with the Nyamwezi stock”.* This hypothesis has been taken over somewhat uncritically by

later writers such as Huntingford,®° Otiende 5! and Barker.®?

Recently, however, linguistic studies together with the evidence of oral tradition have convinced Prof. W. H. Whiteley of the untenability of Hobley’s theory.5? Linguistically, the Gusii have the closest affinity with the Logooli (Maragoli), Kuria (Tende) and Gikuyu—a view which, according to Whiteley, is corroborated by traditional evidence. In his own words: All accounts agree that the Gusii moved into their present habitat from the north between 14 and 18 generations ago, leaving the related Logooli in North Nyanza on the way, 48. 49. 50.

Sl. 52.


Kenya Population Census (1962). Hobley, C. W.: Eastern Uganda, op. cit., p.. 51. Huntingford, G. W. B.: “Some of the Luhya, however, have more affinity with the Gusii (Kisii) of South Kavirondo and plainly represent a northerly extension from the area south-east of Lake Victoria which had no direct connections with Western Uganda.” History of East Africa, Vol. I, p. 89.. Otiende, J. D.: Habari za Abaluhia, 1949, Nairobi, pp. 2, 9. Barker; Eric E.: A Short History of Nyanza (1958), Nairobi, p. 2.

Whiteley, W. H.: The Tense System of Gusit (1960), East African Linguistic Studies, No.

4, pp. 1-2.


HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN LUO and subsequently losing the Tende, particularly the Aba-

Sweta, who moved on further south. Such a view is by no means incompatible with the linguistic evidence of a link with Gikuyu if one supposes that the Gusii moved south only after reaching the Mt. Elgon area from Central Kenya. They would thus have moved in a wide sweep to the east and north of the Nandi/Kipsigis who in the oral traditions seem to have been in their present habitat when the Gusii first moved south from the area of the Uganda border.™ Leaving aside the more difficult question of the Gusii-Gikuyu

connection, the Gusii traditions recorded by the writer suggest

that the Gusii, accompanied by the related Maragoli, set off in

a southerly direction from a dispersal centre near Mt. Elgon until they came to the present Nandi Escarpment. Here the two peoples separated; the Maragoli stayed behind while the more adventurous Gusii continued their trek southeastwards until they came to the present Kano plains, where they established a big settlement. It is not clear when they reached this place or for how long they remained there. But according to Logan®5 the Gusii migrated from the Kanoplains in about 1760 to Gelegele

by way of North Mugirangu.


The Masai, the Luo and famine, according to traditions recorded by Whiteley,5® were the three main enemies of the Gusii

between 1760 and 1907 when the tribe came under British sway.

During this period, the movements and fate of the different Gusii sub-tribes and clans (for they no longer moved together as a group) were almost wholly determined by these traditional enemies.


Whiteley, W. H.: op. cit., p. 1.


Land Commission Report: Evidence and Memoranda, Vol. 3, 1934, pp. 2367-2373. Logan obtained his information from old men, and whenever he had conflicting testimonies, he chose the narrative of the party which he thought was the most intelligent and had the strongest support from other elders. Leading questions were avoided and “‘these notes comprise volunteered statements of different sets of elders made at different times and put into consecutive form. Perversions of facts for private ends have been detected by independent inquiry.” (p. 2367). The sequence of subsequent events suggests that Whiteley’s dates are too early and Logan’s reasonable. Personal communication.


Logan, W. M.: History of the Wakisii (1912), included in the Kenya

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 1


Though the evidence gleaned from traditionai sources” is

incomplete, the picture which emerges is that from Kano plains

the Gusii followed the route which the railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu was to follow in 1900. Moving southeastwards via the present Miwani, they continued their journey until they were halted near Lumbwabythe sight of the Kipsigis homes. They then turned southwestward by way of Kericho, where they stopped for a short time. But one of their traditional enemies, famine, was soon at them. They therefore set off south-

westwards towards Ngoina Hill,58 near the River Sondu. They planted a big settlement at the base of this hill. But their sojourn here was temporary because as Logan has pointed out, “a Luo settlement in Kabondo was contemporaneous with the Kisii lodgement on Ngoinyo Hill... The sight of uninhabited hills to the south probably pleased the Kisii more than that of the

Joluo villages a few miles distant.’59

57. 58. 59.

Traditions recorded by Whiteley and Logan. Logan’s Ngoinyo Hill. Logan, (1932), op. cit., p. 2368.



THE LUO CONQUEST AND OCCUPATION OF SOUTH NYANZA 2 Southall! has estimated that the Luo reached South Nyanza

from Uyoma about seven generations ago, and hence between

1730 and1760. Up to this time, most of the immigrantsinto the

region were concentrated along the western shore of Lake Victoria

in modern Gwassi, Kaksingri and Kasigunga. The other areas

which were already inhabited were modern North Mugirangu, Kitutu and Wanjare locations, and further south parts of presentday Suna and Butende. The northern area near Ngoina Hill was occupied, as we have seen, by the advance parties of the Gusil. This left the middle area for Luo occupation. But as we saw earlier,? the area bordering on the eastern section of Homa Bay, that is Kochia, Kagan, Kanyada and Gem, was occupied by people with the same names a few years before the arrival of the Joka-Jok. It would appear? that the latter people 1.


Southall, A. W.: Lineage Formation Among the Luo (1952), p. 41. ‘‘The Luo of Karachuonyo frankly admit that they know much less about their ancestors before they crossed over Kavirondo Gulf to their present territory about seven generations ago. From this time onward, they can give endless details of ancestral activity, for mnemonies are provided by the topography itself and their association with it.” See also Part 3, pp. 192-193 above. Part 3 pp. 186-187 above. c.f. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 91:: “The Jo-Karachuonyo were preceded by the Gem and Kanyada

people. They were the people who were responsible for driving away


Bantu groups who lived at the foot of Mt. Huma. The Jo-Karachuonyo found the dispossessed Bantus living in the present Karachuonyo location and drove them further South. But a few Bantu pockets remained near Simbi Nyaima. The surviving members of the group live in Suna.” Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 104-105.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 2


migrated in two parties: one party consisting of modern Karachuonyo, Kasipul, Kabondo and Kanosettled first in the area around Kendu Bay; while a second group comprising Kanyamwa, Kabuoch, Kadem and Karungu travelled via Asego (Homa Bay) and occupied the present Kanyamwa location. From Kanyamwa, the western group expanded eastwards into Kasigunga, Kaksingri and Gwasi—where the slow but painful process of assimilating non-

Luo elements started. The group later moved southwards to occupy

the present locations of Kwabwai, Kabuoch, Kanyadoto, Karungu and Kadem. With more arrivals across the Kavirondo Gulf from Uyoma, the unassimilated elements were pushed further south

into Suna location and subsequently into Musomadistrict.

In the east, the Luo colonists extended their conquest northeastwards and southeastwards from Kendu Bay towards Kabondo

and Kericho. This eastern section finally joined the other wing of Luo migrants who had come round the gulf to squeeze out or

assimilate pockets of Bantu peoples around the lake. It was probably during this northeastern and southeastern expansion that

the Gusii arrived at Ngoma Hill* (see Map 6). Confronted with these Nilotic frontier men, it is small wonder that the Gusii

decided to move on southwardsto Gelegele Hill.

“From divisional records,” writes Logan,5 “all sections re-

mained near Gelegele for a generation of 30 years. The mannerof

their going was routin all directions by the Masai.” If Logan’s

interpretation of the records is correct, it would mean that the

Gusii were driven out of their temporary homes about 1800.

From about 1800 to 1907 we witness perhaps one of the most

tragic periods in Gusii history. Since a detailed history of Gusii settlement would be out of place here, we shall only deal with those aspects which touch upon our central theme: Luo settlement in South Nyanza. Logan admits that he had failed to get much 4.


If the Luo reached Karachuonyo in, say, 1740, it is only reasonable to assume that by 1760 they would have got to Kabondo—less than a day’s journey—where according to Gusii traditions, they were already settled by that time. Logan, (1932), op. cit., p. 2368.


Ares of Primory Settiement Expansion orcy

Gusti "






Ares of”


Swe OY





Roule taken by the Non.assimilated Groups

Musoma District between i and 3 generations ogo


Expansion of Luo Settlements in South Nyanza.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 2


information from the Gusii on this “dark age”. But his description of the manner in which the Gusii left Gelegele as “rout in all directions by the Masai” does suggest that the movement could not have been orderly—an impression to which the oral evidence recently collected by Whiteley® lends credence. According to one account, this disaster consigned them (the Gusii) “first to Luo country, and split them up, some got lost and failed to keep contact with other Gusii, and others got lost on the Mogoori (the river), the Masai came on them and others who remained were taken prisoners by the Masai. Some others descended and considered going to Masailand in Tanganyika. Those were the Neaari, Baasi, Girango (Southern) and Macooge people...” Whiteley’s texts suggest this outline: the Gusii fled from Gelegele along two routes and at the end of each were the Luo, One group consisting of the present Wanjare, South Mugirango, Baasi and Macooge (Majoge) followed a northwestern route. Harassed by pursuing Masai, these folk skirted Magenche in Majoge, marched across modern South Mugirango, descended down to the peneplain, and, passing near the present Kamagambo, were received by the Luo of Kabuoch, Kanyada and Gem in modern

East Nyokal—butat a price. For about a generation, and therefore between 1800 and 1820, this southern group of the Gusii lived as subjects of the Luo.

Then, under an elder called Moyange, the

Gusii successfully revolted against the Luo overrule, and escaped towards their present homes. Between 1820 and 1850,’ the different parties consolidated round certain “saviours’, and competition among them for land intensified. Such conflicts reached their apogee between 1850 and 1870,8 when the Gusii migrants were occupying their present homes. Thus for this southern group of the Gusii the age of subjection was succeeded by one of internecine intra-tribal wars. The second group comprising North Mugirango and Getutu followed a more northerly route from Gelegele Hill. And although they too, soon had to fight against the Luo sub-tribes of Kara6.

7. 8.

Personal communication.

Logan, (1932), op. cit., pp. 2372-2373. ibid.



chuonyo and Nyakach, and later against the Kipsigis, they had on the whole an easier life than the southern wing. The picture we get from traditional evidence? is that from Gelegele this northern party fled in two groups: one group which was to evolve into North Mugirango, and a second which formed the core of modern Getutu. ‘taking North Mugirango first: for about a decade their fights against the Masai seem to have continued. But their most formidable enemies were the Luo of Karachuonyo, Kabondo and Nyakach,! with whom for two or three generations they fought. Eventually the Kabondo sub-tribe ~ drove them out of their settlements around Ngoina Hill. They fled to Getutu, leaving behind many of their fellow Gusii as captives. These war captives all seem to have been assimilated hy

the Luo. Though the North Mugirango folk regained their former territory under a leader called Sakawa during the 1870s, they

soon lost it again to the Kipsigis who, with the waning of the Masai power, emerged together with the Nandi as possible

successors to the Masai. Fortunately for the Gusii, this proved to

be only a temporary setback. North Mugirango people once more regained their “lost lands” under Kisiora and Ndumbi, during









permanently. The history of Getutu, the largest and traditionally the most powerful sub-tribe, after Gelegele is interesting. According to Logan," they established themselves in a valley west of Manga under their great leader Nyakundi between 1820 and 1850, after a generation of peripatetic existence. The present Getutu subtribe (about 30,000 souls, according to Mayer!*) are the descendants of Nyakundi andhis little group. Mayer further records that the founders of the sub-clans of the Nyakundi clan—“sons and grandsons of Nyakundi”’—are the actual grandfathers of men 9. 10. 11. 12.

Logan’s and Whiteley’s recordings. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 104-105: “. .. the intermittent war between Rachuonyo and Gusii lasted a long time...” op. cit., pp. 2373. Mayer, P.: Lineage Principle in Gusii Society, op. cit., p. 11.


HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN LUO sir Apolo Kaggwa,!" the first Muganda to commit to writing

Baganda traditions, has given us a detailed account of the cir-

cumstances which led to the flight of these people from Buganda. Kabaka Junju who was a cruel ruler and whodisliked his brother and future successor Semakokiro, exceeded the bounds of propriety by demanding to sleep with one of the wives of the latter who was pregnant. When the wife refused he ordered his men to kill her and to remove the baby from her womb—instructions which they obediently carried out. Fearing civil war, the Queen

Mother advised Semakokiro to take his men and to move away

to Namwezi, where he could secretly prepare for the day when he could avenge the murder of his wife. Semakokiro accepted

his mother’s advice; he collected his men and moved to Namwezi.

When the war preparations were ready, Semakokiro attacked Junju. After fighting several bitter battles, Semakokiro’s men

eventually killed Kabaka Junju when he was trying to escape.

Unfortunately, their success displeased Semakokiro who had not expected them to destroy “the Lord’s Anointed”.!® Their leader who had acceded to the throne arranged for them to be killed at a regimental feast. Fortunately this secret plan leaked out and

the Abakunta fled the country, westwards and eastwards.

That is the story as related by Kaggwa. Whether the expla-

nation is true or legendary, it is certain that a group of Baganda

fled the country following the murder of Kabaka Junju.!% They

were not members of one clan or one family as the oral evidence

collected in Nyanza suggests.29 We know, for example, that the group that escaped westwards comprised several clans such as Mamba, Nsenene, Kobe, Nkata, Mpologoma, Nkima, Mbwa, and

Lugave?! and it therefore seems unlikely that the eastern groun 17. 18. 19.

20. Zl.

Kaggwa, Sir Apolo: Ekitabo kya Basekabaka be Buganda, (1901) Chapters X & XI pp. 66-72. ef. The story of Saul and David, Old Testament, II, Samuel, 2:4. This was the second occasion on which the Baganda fled the country following the murder of a king. The first occasion was towards the end of the 17th century when Kabaka Kayemba, the brother and successor of Juko, was murdered, See Oliver, R.: ‘The Baganda and the Bakonjo’, Uganda Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1, March, 1954, ‘Pp. 31. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 66; 253-255. Oliver, ibid., pp. 31-32.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza2


would have been homogeneous. Indeed, the name “Abakunta” is derived from the Luganda word “okukunta”’, which means “to run away like a madman”, and hence “Abakunta” simply means “the scattered ones.” some of them, according to Kaggwa,?? went to Busagala in southwest Ankole. But the main section of the western party fled to Bunyaruguru in Toro. Gorju has given an account of this flight of the Abakunta, which he reckons to have taken place about 1760.28 According to him they settled at a place called Kisingiri, which he describes as “a characteristically Kiganda name’”’.** We also learn that because they defied the authority of,

and eventually killed, a local chief, they were nicknamed “Bagaya,’ which means “the scorners”.25 Oliver, who in 1949-50 re-examined the historical tradition of this group of the Abakunta, admits that this story has a historical foundation, but that this tradition, which strictly speaking should apply only to a small group, has now been adopted byall the Bakonjo, who today claim Bugandaorigin. He ascribes this to the fact that the well-organized and tradition-minded Baganda minority “imposed their own traditions on theless historically-minded nationsof their adoption.’’6

Not much has been written about the second group of the Abakunta who fled eastwards. Gorju in his book quoted above added in a footnote that “another section of Bakunta escaped to the East through Busoga, and founded families in a corner of Kavirondo”.2” In the same year in which Gorju’s book was published, an article in Munno, a Catholic paper published in Uganda, on the Abakunta went even further:

22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

Kaggwa, Basekabaka, op. cit., p. 70. Gorju, J. Pere: Entre le Victoria, L’Albert et L’Edouard (1920), translation by R. Butler in E. A. Institute of Social Research Library, Makerere College, p. 74. Note Kaksingiri in South Nyanza whose inhabitants claim to have migrated from the Sese Islands, see pp. 201-202 above. The well-known Kiganda nameis ‘“Kisingire.” The Luo living in South Nyanza were known as the Bagaya by the non-Luo in the area. These name-links are unlikely to be merely coincidental. Oliver, R.: ‘The Baganda and the Bakonjo’, op. cit., p. 33. Gorju, ibid., p. 74.


HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN LUO ‘Some of the Bakunta fled eastwards and are settled on a hill called Kisingiri. Today their descendants are called Bagasi or Abagwasi ... This hill can be seen from a canoe

as you approach the mainland towards Kisumu. It is on the

left hand side of Kisumu.

These people can still speak

Luganda though very brokenly. Their country is divided

into three districts:

(1) (2) (3)

Kaksingri Gwasi or Bugwasi, and Suna.

The latter district borders on the country of Abatende, i.e. people who pierce and pull their ears. The Abasuna certainly came from Buganda.’28 These two extracts are based on Baganda tradition. When

we turn to Luo historical traditions, we get much fuller infor-

mation about the fate of the eastern section of the Abakunta. The

story, according to my informants in South Nyanza, is that the

Abakunta fled from Buganda, under the leadership of Kiboye

and his brother Witewe, following the murder of Kabaka Junju. The brothers belonged to the same clan as the deceased king, and it was Kiboye2? who had actually killed the Kabaka. They escaped in a big boat called Mbariga, moving from island to island. From the Sese Islands they went to BugayaIsland (usually known as “Bugaya cha Musito” in both Luo and Bugandasaga): then passing close to the mainland opposite Kadimo, they next called at Mageta Island, and thence to Mfwang’ano Island where they finally settled about five generations ago.*%° The island was already inhabited by several Bantu clans. And although there is no unanimity on the exact number, the

following people appear in all clan lists: Wisokolwa, Wasamo, Walundu (or Wiyokia), Wagimbe (ur Wawiria), Wakiala, Waoshi, Wakisasi, Wakisaria (or Wasiko) and Kamageta (whom ‘they 28. 29.


Munno (1920), pp. 7-8. In another version, Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 253-254, it was Kiboli (perhaps the same person as Kiboye) who killed Junju. In Luganda, ‘‘Kiboole” means an exiled person. ‘Kiboye” or “Kiboli” are probably Luo versions of the Luganda word. On the basis of genealogical evidence, the Bakunta have lived in South Nyanza for about 5-6 generations only, which tallies with

Gorju’s estimate that Kabaka Junju was murdered in about 1760.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza2


called Awa Makuta). To all these inhabitants they applied the contemptuous name of Mfwang’ano,*! which was later adopted as the name for the whole island. For a short while they lived peacefully with the original inhabitants. But when their numbers increased, friction déVéloped between the newcomers and their hosts. It would appear that this small but well-disciplined Baganda minority succeeded in establishing their control over the former inhabitants® so that. today the only existing historical traditions are those of the Bakunta. Moreover, the language that was spoken on the island until about three generations ago, when the island was brought into Luo orbit, appears to be a dialect of Luganda.*% From Mfwang’ano Island, the followers of Kiboye (or Kiboli),

expanded to modern Gwassi which they found already occupied

by the Jo-Wiga (later known as the Jo-Suna), who also claim to have migrated from Uganda by way of Central Nyanza.** Also living in the area were the Wategi who, as we have already

seen,25 arrived in the region between fourteen and ten generations ago. They were dislodged from their settlements by the newcomers who, it is claimed, also gave the name Gwassi to the area.36 The Wategi withdrew southwards to their present homes in Tanzania. But it appears that this famous Abakunta tradition has been adopted by other groups who immigrated into South Nyanza 31.

32. 33. 84. 35. 36.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 71: “Whenever anybody died, they

performed purification rites as if the deceased had killed a human being or a sacred animal or totem. So we used to ask them why “kukola ki Gwangano?” This is the origin of the name. We then called the place ‘Kamwegi Fwangano’.” c. f. Oliver: ‘The Buganda and the Bakonjo’, op. cit., p. 33. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 72-78. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 69-70. See Part 3, p. 201 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 71: The word “Gwassi” means a hill or a mountain. The Abakunta claim that in their original dialect a hill or mountain was called “Avi gwassi” and the hillfolk “abagwasi”. Since they were living on the present Gwassi Hills, their neighbours start to refer to them as ‘‘Abagwasi” which was later shortened to “Gwasi” and the name has stuck. Strictly speaking, they should be called ‘‘Kiboye” after their ancestor.



independently from Uganda. Sometraditions,?’ for example, at-

tempt to classify the Abakunta together with the Waware and

Wasaki. It is highly improbable that these two groups formed part of the Abakunta party. Hobley, writing in 1902, asserted that the Kaksingri folk “belong to the same clan as the Awa Ware.”8 But according to Luo traditional evidence®® the latter’s original home was near Jinja. From here they migrated to South Nyanza by way of Sakwa location in Central Nyanza in two waves, which eventually evolved into the Wasaki and Waware. It is not known what motivated their movement from the Jinja

area, but it seems reasonable to infer that it was part of the general movement from this area northwards into Bunyole and

Budama and southwards to Nyanza.

Their first settlement in South Nyanza was on Rusinga Island, where they had been preceded by the Katahia. Wafira and Warindo (or Watewa)*—most probably Bantu groups who had lived on the island for a long time. The three groups were either annihilated or, more likely, assimilated by the newcomers. About four generations ago, and therefore sometime during the first half of the 19th century, there developed a conflict between the Wasaki and the Waware. The former migrated to the present Kasigunga location where they established a settlement which up to now is still called Wagasi. Later, a splinter group moved to

Kanyamwa and Kadem.

Except for the migration of single families from Central to

south Nyanza, which continued up to the 1950’s, the colonization

of South Nyanza was more or less complete by the third generation back, about 1850. It is not surprising therefore that it was at 37. 38. 39.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 201-202. Hobley, C. W.: Eastern Uganda, op. cit., p. 51. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 13-14; 67-68; 257. Note also that in the passage just quoted, Hobley further says that the Awa-Ware and allied tribes are a Bantu people who inhabit the islands of Rusinga and Mfwang’ano and whose language is connected with the Kisifl or

Kosova language on one side and Lusoga on the other. The allied

tribes are the Abakunta and other groups from Busoga. And some of


the people whooriginally spoke Gusii and who wererapidly becoming Luo-speakers at the time Hobley wrote his book must account for the claim that the language of the Awa-Ware is akin to Gusii. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 13-14.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza2


about this time that reverse migration occurred; the future Uyoma and Asembo folk returned from South Nyanza to occupy the Uyoma peninsula.*! The important historical process that was proceeding apace between 1850 and 1900 (especially in Gwassi

Kaksingri, Kasigunga, as well as on the islands of Rusinga and Mfwang’ano where non-Luo elements were predominant), wasas-

similation. Circumcision and clitoridectomy (where it applied) were gradually abandoned, and almost simultaneously, the Luo custom of removing the six lower incisors was adopted. Dholuo also became the common language in the area. The unassimilated

groups were pushed southward towards Musoma district. The

more southward they moved, the greater the Luo area became. It was no longer a question of a whole clan or sub-tribe migrating en bloc, Individual Luo families moved into the areas that were being evacuated by the fleeing non-Luo peoples. An examination of the Ba-Girango traditions, for example, lends support to the hypothesis we are advancing. Since the BaGirango “did not move in a body but in small groups,” writes Baker,“at intervals stretching over a number of generations, they absorbed the customs of the Jo-Luo to an extent proportionate to the length of their stay in their former areas and the extent

to which they were in contact with the Nilotes whilst in those

areas.” The Becha clan (a section of the Bagira), for instance,

claim to have been driven out of their present homes by way of Suna.*® The Barieri (or Batesi) also came originally from Kadem, whence they were driven out by the Kadem and Karungu

people. They reached Bugire about three generations ago.‘ Another group that arrived at Shirati at the time the Barieri were occupying Bugire was the Bagusero, who say they were driven out of Kadem by the Luo.® Several other splinter groups such as the Kamot, Baturi, Bategi and Kamageta arrived in Tanzania at this time—all maintaining that they had moved awayas a result 41. 42. 43. 44, 45,

See Part 3, p. 187 above. Baker, E. C.: The Ba-Girango, op. cit., p. 7. ibid., p. 13. ibid., pp. 13-14. ibid., p. 41.



of Luo pressure in Karungu, Kadem, Kanyamkago and Suna locations.46 The Bategi and Kamageta in particular claim to have suffered greatly from the Luo colonists. At the former’s settle-

ment at Nyandiwa, they “still practised circumcision until the

neighbouring Ja-Luo forced them to abandon the custom by sending out spies to ascertain when the ceremony had taken place and then attacking them whilst their young men werestill suffering from the effects of the operation.’ Thus the picture we get is that the Luo frontiersmen were rapidly extending their domain southwards at the expenseof the former population. And there is no doubt that but for the advent of the Europeans, the Luo would today be living in South Mara.

The southward thrust brought the Luo intruders into direct contact with the Masai. To protect themselves against the Masai raids, the Luo settlers of Kadem, Suna, Kabuoch and Kanyamkago erected a number of stone-built enclosures. Neville Chittick, Director of the British Institute of History and Archaeology in

East Africa, who visited the area in January, 1962, has written: “The bomas are roughly circular in shape, built in drystone fa-

shion of unshaped, usually flattish blocks of the country rock. In some cases the mode of construction was very simple, with little

selection of stone; it seems unlikely that such walls were ever of great height. Others have been built with very considerable

care particularly the best preserved of those seen.”43 The most

important of these remains are found at Nyaroya, near Macalder’s mine. According to Luo tradition, these bomas (or ohingas as they are called in Dholuo) were built as a defence against Masai raids. On the other hand, Chittick asserts that these structures, “some of which display a high standard of craftsmanship, were either taken from earlier Bantu inhabitants of the region or built in imitation of such buildings. Their nature, which is foreign to 46. 47, 48.

Baker, The Ba-Girango, op. cit., p. 16. ibid. Man, Sept-October, 1965, pp. 152-153.

The Luo Conquest and Occupation of South Nyanza 2


Luo traditions of construction, suggests that the former hypothesis is more probable.’*9 After carrying out a thorough archaeological study of fifty of these stone ruins, Miss Laurel Lofgren, a research student at the British Institute of History and Archae-

ology in East Africa, reported that the ohingas have yielded no evidence that any are more than a few hundred yearsold. Artifacts found associated with various of the ruins include cowrie shells, moulded glass beads, a stone pipe bowl, and numerous rouletted pottery sherds indistinguishable from those of the present Luo and so-called Basuba inhabitants of South Nyanza. Both

archaeological and genealogical evidence indicate that the chief period of building and occupation of the sites was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The art of building in stone seems to have been known; to both the Luo and the Basuba peoples at the time of their arrival

in South Nyanza; and there is no reasion to believe either that one

group learned the skill from the other or that one group was responsible for the constructions which were then taken over by

their neighbours. In fact, it is possible to distinguish architecturally the ruins attributed to Luo builders and those attributed to the Basuba.*®

49. op. cit., p. 153. 50. Personal communication.


THE LAST PHASE Between 1800 and 1900 the Luo entered their last phase to migration and settlement. In South Nyanza, the nineteenth century was characterised, as we saw in the last chapter, by cultural

assimilation of the Bantu and “Nilo-Hamitic” peoples and by territorial expansion southwards. Both of these processes were incomplete at the time of European occupation.

In Central Nyanza, which is our major concern in this chapter, the Luo during this period abandoned, through pressure of population, their traditional habitat of hot, flat lands or savannah woodlands and moved to higher and colder areas such as Gem, North Ugenya and Kisumu, with more reliable rainfall. This process not only entailed acclimatization on the part of the colonists; it also affected their traditional pastoral economy. Because of their pastoralism, which was reflected in the almost religious esteem in which they held their cattle, the Luo had always fought

to occupy lowlands, where they could get access to water and

pasture grounds. But now, because of population problems, they

were being compelled to cease being riverain folk and to become highlanders—or at least to live on higher and wetter lands inland. Consequently, the economic life of the Luo living in the interior came to resemble more and more that of the Bantu agri-


These new lands were not acquired by the Luo through peaceful infiltration; they were all acquired by conquest. It would be misleading, however, to convey the impression that this was a planned and organized invasion of Bantu areas by Luo marauders. It was a confused and haphazard movement, with each sub-tribe acting independently. It was, to quote Evans-Pritchard again, “like a line of shunting trucks.”

The Last Phase


About five generations ago, and therefore at the beginning of the 19th century, the position of the Luo colonists was approximately this: the Jo-Gem were just arriving in eastern

Alego under the leadership of Rading,! and they settled on both sides of the River Yala;? the Jo-Alego were occupying the central! portion of modern Alego location; the Jo-Ugenya the north west-

ern corner with important settlements at Boro, Ugingo, Gangu

and Muwer; and the Kisumo folk occupied the southeast corner of Alego, with. most of their settlements already extended into

South Gem (see Map 5). It was from these settlements that the higher and wetter regions of Central Nyanza were occupied.

The Jo-Gem retreated before the Jo-Alego into the more fertile areas formerly occupied by Bantu peoples. They subdued

Bantu groups such as the Jo-Umswa, whom they dispersed to

different parts of Nyanza;3 the Jo-Umani, whom they fought four generations ago, under the leadership of Ruoth Odera Rangira, son of Rading; the Jo-Marama, who were defeated three generations ago with the help of the Jo-Ugenya; the Jo-Kisa who offered the greatest resistance; the Jo-Uhoware and Banyore who at that time (about three generations ago) were suffering from serious internal dissension. Some of these defeated groups such as Jo-

Umswa, the Jo-Umani and Jo-Uhoware were later to return to

their original homes as refugees. Others such as Kisa and Marama moved further on inland to seek new homes. Wethus see that the Luo either drove these earlier occupants

of modern Gem into the cooler, and at that time more thickly forested, zones, or they conquered and assimilated them, or they kept them as subject peoples. But the general security provided

by Pax Britannica, coupled with the emergence of common consciousness among the Luyia group of tribes in the 1940s, has led

l. 2. 3.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 164-165. Note the name of their important settlement “Barding” (the settlement of Rading, their leader) is still retained. They appear to have stopped in Alego for only a brief period—less than a generation. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 171. Some went to Kano where they are known as Kamswa: other to Wanga where they are called the aswa.



to a resurgence of tribalism which isstill threateningthe unity of Gem location. Many people of Bantu origin, but who had been assimilated by the Luo, have recently renounced their Nilotic connections, learned a Bantu tongue, resurrected certain practices such as circumcision, formed themselves into an organization called Gem Bantu, and even claimed certain prerogatives, especially land rights, on grounds of prior occupation.* Ignoring the land-right principles of prior occupation and right of conquest, the Regional Boundary Commissioners introduced a new principle of counting heads. Wherever there were more Luyia than Luo, the Commissioners assumed that the land must therefore belong to the

Luyia, oblivious of the fact that occupation rights in Luo society are based on conquest. The result is that today land is a burning issue in North Gem; and there is little doubt that the strained relationship existing between the Luo and the Luyia today stems largely from the recommendations of the Regional Boundary Commissioners who completely ignored the facts of history.

A rough chronology of the events connected with the movement of the Jo-Gem in the 19th century can be gleaned from the

genealogical tree of the chiefly clan — Ojuodhi (see chart on page 223).

But the Jo-Gem were not only fighting against the Bantu; they also drove away other Luo sub-tribes like Kisumo and Seme who in turn evicted Bantu groups. The Jo-Kisumo, who had migrated from Alego about four generations ago, and therefore during the first decades of the 19th century, under the leadership of Rombo, son of Abira (see the genealogical chart), moved southwards to Rambain modern Asembo location. Here they


built a large settlement called Lwak,’ after they had defeated See Report of the Regional Boundaries Commission (Kenya) 1962: Cmd. 1899, pp. 13-15. See Part 2, p. 86 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 223-224.

The present Lwak Koracha.


c, 1800-1830

(led the Jo-Gem from Kadimo to Alego, and thence to Gem. Founded Barding in Alego, and Ndere Ka-Rading in Gem)


c. 1830-1860


Odera Rangira


(drove the Jo-Kisa to Nyamninia; invited the Jo-Umani back to Gem. Buried at Murumba in Gem)

ec, 1860-1890


Oloo Ramoya (Final defeat of Kisa and their eviction from Nyamninia. Gem settle in their present homes. Died at Luanda in Gem)


Paulo Opiche


B. A. Ogot

Odera Akang’o

(A powerful chief died in prison, 1918)

Oloo Odera (1915)

Odera Vlalo (Successor of Oloo Ramoya. Bunyore defeated. Built Luanda — the present Ebusagami in Bunyore. Was Ruoth on the arrival of the Europeans. Committed suicide in 1901)



the Omia® who they found living there. From Ramba,andstill led by Rombo, they moved to North Gem where they occupied

the present Asayi, Ndegwe, as well as the area between Sire-

mbe and Abir.

The arrival of the Kisumofolk in this area synchronized with

the arrival of the Jo-Gem under Rading at Ndere Karading.? At a place called Asayi,!® Rading pleaded in vain with Otiende, son

and successor of Rombo, for help against the Bantu warriors.

With the defeat of the Bantu groups by Gem as we have described, it is little wonder that the latter next turned their wrath

against Jo-Kisumu, driving them to Ruma in Uyoma. After a brief sojourn in Uyoma the Jo-Kisumo migrated northeastwards to occupy the eastern half of the modern Kisumu location, where they had been preceded by Kajulu folk and the Nyang’ori (Terik). The latter had been moving inland, for two or three centuries, from Kadimo.! The two Luo sub-tribes — Kisumo and Kajulu—combined to evict the Terik pushing them to their present lands. No sooner did they drive out the Terik than fighting started between the two Luo groups, ending in the defeat and dispersal of the Jo-Kajulu.!@ The Jo-Kisumu then started to expand westwards towards Bunyorehills, which were already occupied by the Banyore. But because the Banyore were renownedrain-makers, the Jo-Kisumo considered it impolitic to fight them. Their great enemies were

the Maragoli, whose settlements they raided regularly for cattle.

During one of these raids the Luo warriors were ambushed and 8.

The Omia had arrived in eastern Asembo about three generations ago from Gem. A generation later they were met here by the Jo-

Asembo whosplit off from Jo-Uyoma. See Luo Historical Texts, Vol.

9. 10.

11. 12.

I, p.156; also Whisson, M. G.: ‘The Rise of Asembo and the Curse of Kakia’, East African Institute of Social Research Library, Conference Paper, June, 1961, p. 2. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 168-174; 225-227. The etymology of this name, which is still used, is that it was here that Rading, the leader of Gem, asked Otiende the leader of Kisumo and son of Rombo, for help against the Bantu—the help which Otiende declined to give. ‘‘Asayi’” = “I beseech you” was the word Rading is supposed to have used. See Part 3, p. 141, above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 227-235; 248-250.


c. 1820-1850


ROMBO (ed the Jo-Kisumo from Alego to Ramba, where they encountered the Omia; and thence to Gem)


c. 1870-1900 (Kajulu defeated — westward expansion towards Bunyore hills. Was chief in 1895 when Hobley visited the area)

(they were defeated by

Gem; they escaped to Ruma, Uyoma)


c. 1860-1890 (Jo-Kisumu occupy their present homes, defeat Nyang’ori. A section of Nyakach migrate to their present homes via

OWUONDO c. 1850-1880 (Resigns on health grounds)



ef. Hobley’s genealogy of Chief Ogada Otiende in ‘Anthropological Studies in Kavirondo and Nandi’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. XXX, 1903, pp. 324-359. 15 Ogot, Luo



almost annihilated at Kyavavo, which means “the place of Luo”. To protect themselves against the Nyang’ori and Maragoli, the Kisumo people built stone bomas whose remains can still be seen, They resembled the South Nyanza bomas!* in many ways; and the biggest ones, for example, Obiero’s boma situated in Nyahera Korando, is about one hundred yards in diameter, and is surrounded by a wall ten feet high. The sporadic inter-tribal fighting continued until it was terminated by the Europeans. The time sequence of the events we have been describing may also be indicated through the genealogical chart of the chiefly family (see page 225).

While Gem, Kisumo, Seme and Kajulu sub-tribes were conquering the eastern portion of Central Nyanza, the Jo-Ugenya, who had lived in Alego for about eight generations! where the remains of their famous defensive mud-walled villages, such as Nyang’oma and Ugingo!® can still be seen, were moving north-

wards and northwards to colonize South and North Ugenya. Congestion and the lack of an adequate water-supply, which led to frequent skirmishes with their kinsmen and the Jo-Alego, seem to have motivated their migration.” First they tried to occupy the southern part of the River Nzoia valley. Already living along the southern bank were nine groups, probably Bantu, whom the Luo intruders conquered. The names of these people have been given in one text as: Kalkada, Kanyabondo, Kanya14. 15. 16.


See Part 3, pp. 218-219 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 21; Vol. II, p. 37. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 43. A common “sigweya” (a special type of song among the Jo-Ugenya is “Wan ya Ugingo, wan ya Usgingo” = “Weare the people of Ugingo, we are the people of Ugingo”’). It is a commemorative song. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 21-22.

The Last Phase


jeri, Jousuunya, Wahesia, Jouramoji, Joumahere, Kanyalaro and Jowalumba.!8 In spite of the fact that the Ugenya settlers now occupied the whole area from Lake Gangu to the River Wuoroya (a tributary of the River Nzoia), they were still unhappy. This was because the region was infertile. For these two reasons, “the Jo-Ugenya finally decided to quit Alego and to occupy the northern side of the river (the River Nzoia), where they still live.’!9 But the northern bank of the river was already occupied by

diverse groups; Umugasa, Umuswa, Urinda, Usuunya, Kachuwo, Kang’onda, Wasaha, Usawo, Kamagwo (whotoday live in Sakwa),

Kanyichuong’, Walanda (who live in Samia), Unuhula and Umunwa (whoare found in Marama), Uhuritha, Kaduong’ and Uwoko (who live in Karachuonyo).*° Judging by the names, it is evident

that most of these people were Bantu. Each group formed an independent unit and it is therefore not surprising that the country was quickly overrun by the Ugenya warriors. According to Ugenya tradition,?! these people neither practised agriculture nor did they keep cattle. They were clever blacksmiths who depended for their livelihood on bartering their iron products (hoes, knives,

spears, bracelets, etc.) for food produced by neighbouring agricultural communities. Some of these people accepted the overlordship of Ugenya and were assimilated, while others preferred to

move away from the area.

So far it had been all plain sailing for Ugenya. The story was very different when they started to move inland from the Nzoia 18.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 22. Note, however, that the Kanyalaro folk (Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 9) are the Jo-Agoro—hence non-Bantu. Those who remained in Alego call themselves ‘Jo-Agoro’ and those who accompanied Jo-Ugenya ‘Kanyalaro’. The Kanyajeri accompanied the Jo-Ugenya to North Ugenya where they built their settlement at Udonga. They were later, however, expelled by the Jo-Ugenya. They migrated back to Alego and settled at Ndere (Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 45). The Kalkada descended from a Bantu

19. 20. 21.

elder who was adopted by the Kanyajeri. He was nicknamed ‘Lukata’ by the latter because he was an expert pipe-maker. The Luyia word for a pipe is Olukata, which the Luo changed to Lukada. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 23-24. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 25. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 25-26.



River valley. This was because their arrival in Ugenya about three generations ago, and therefore between 1840 and 1870, coin-

cided with two important population movements. Firstly, the last noticeable Bantu migrations into western Kenya, comprising the Khayo, Fafoyo (Marach) and Holo arrived at this time. They

claim to have hived off from their parents in Busoga.”* It was partly this last influx of the Bantu which checked the reverse migration of the Luo northwards. And that is why a group of Bantu tribes lives between the Nilotic Luo in Central Nyanza

and the Nilotic Padhola in eastern Uganda, and not because the last wave of Bantu immigrants arrived when Luo migration had come to an end, as Wagner has suggested.?8 Secondly, the Luo migration northwards was chiefly halted

by a more formidable enemy that arrived from the northwest — Iteso. As we have seen in earlier pages** the Iteso hordes were pouring into Samia, Bugwe and western Kenya about two to three generations ago between 1840 and 1880. By 1889, when Dr. Carl Peters was in the area, the Iteso were terrorising much of the area west of the River Nzoia.*® Besides these two population movements that greatly influenced Luo migration and settlement in modern Ugenya, there

was a third factor which was particularly significant in connection with their expansion northeastwards. The Wanga Kingdom, which had been evolving for at least six generations, reached the

apex of its influence about the middle of the 19th century under

Nabongo WamukoyaII. He wasthelast king to rule over a united Wanga kingdom. Any attempt by the Jo-Ugenya to expand northeastwards was bound to beresisted fiercely by the Wanga. These four different groups were thus disputing the ownershipof South and North Ugenya and Buholo between 1850 and 1900. 22.

23. 24. 25.

Wagner, G.: The Bantu Kavirondo, Vol. I, op. cit., pp. 24-25. See also Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, pp. 129-130, according to which the Marach and Khayo arrived from Banda in Busoga during the reign of Wamukoya II, the grandfather of Mumia (c. 1857-1949). ibid., p. 26. See Part 2, pp. 114-116 above. Peters, C.: New Light on Dark Africa, p. 306.

The Last Phase


For the purpose of conquering their future lands, the Jo-Uge. nya were organized into two parties; a northern party under the

leadership of the Puny clan invaded North Ugenya; and a southern group led by the Kager clan moved into modern South Ugenya and Buholo. The northern group drove off the Marachi from the present North Ugenya, and extended their frontier to Buhayo and Ulwan. The southern party was no less successful. It occupied South Ugenya, evicted the Baholo from modern Buholo and conquered the whole region between the rivers Nzoia

and Viratsi up to Inaya and Bukura. Indeed they were only halted by the Wanga forces.26 5. H. Fazan, a District Commissioner

in Central Nyanza, and an indefatigable recorder of traditional history, in 1913 described the conquest in the following manner.?!

The Wagenya came from Uganda between 100 and 200 years ago, under the leadership of one Puny. He drove the

Marachi out of what is now the territory of Muganda, Gero

and Omolo (North Ugenya), while his brother (?) Kager crossed the Nzoia in the same year and swept the Waholo

from Muyendo’s where hesettled.28

The conquered Marach

found homes further west with the rest of their tribe, but the

Waholo fled, some of them to Alego, and some to Wanga...

Here, however, they didn’t remain, but, after Kager had completely subdued the country began to return one by one, the Wagenya raising no objection provided their chiefs were obeyed. Thus we find to this day a mixed population in Muyendo’s (from 1915 known as Buholo location), living side by side with a singular absence of friction.?9 26. 27. 28. 29.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 26-27. Fazan, S. H.: Central Nyanza District Archives, Kisumu, Political Records, Book II, (25:3:13). Kager and Puny represent clan names personified. ec. f£. Thompson, C. F.: who was District Commissioner in North Nyanza in 1934, ‘Historical Survey, North Kavirondo’, Memorandum in the Kenya Land Commission Report: Evidence and Memoranda,

Vol. 3 (1934), Colonial 91, p. 2236.

He describes the conquest thus:

“The Waholo or Kakeny migrated from Busoga some 10 generations ago to their present territory. They were driven out later by the Nilotes, and dispersed to Alego and Wanga. Nilotic Kager and Wanga fought for years in their country. Kager, victorious, allowed the Kakeny to return to their land.” Thompson was obviously misinformed about the time of the arrival of the Baholo in Nyanza.


HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN LUO The Luo continued to expand northwestwards until they

reached the area around Mundika in present-day Bukhayo.*® Here

they came face to face with the Iteso, who soon compelled Uge-

nya colonists to abandon their settlements in Bukhayo. Odiado Hill and the rivers Usire, Gaula and Safu formed the new frontier. In 1885-85, during the famous Abanga famine,the Iteso further pushed the starving Ugenya folk backwards to South Ugenya. It was only gradually and at a high price in humanlives that the latter succeeded in re-occupying their settlements in North Ugenya. The skirmishes between the Luo and the Iteso continued intermittently until 1895 when Britain declared a protectorate over the area. Immediately to the east, the Ugenya settlers had to fight against the Luyia tribe of Marama. As we have seen,they had been driven away from North Gem about three generations ago.

The Marama again offered little resistance to the Jo-Ugenya, who drove them past Butere and Bukura to Inaya.*3

The picture of Ugenya conquests we have just outlined agrees

with the findings of Fazan whocollected his evidence at the beginning of this century. Writing in 1913, he said: The descendants of Punyi and Kageri ruled over the countries they had respectively conquered .. . Seeing that,

except on the Alego side, they were practically surrounded by

hostile Bantu tribes, one would conjecture that their fight-

ing abilities would be well developed, and results support

this view. Besides border skirmishes with their kinsmen of Alego, there were constant and usually successful raids on

Samia and Wahehe,in fairness to whom it must be admitted that Unyala always sided with the Wagenya.** From Marach there was nothing to fear and except in the time of Dindi

Ohayo, seems not to have mounted to much. But the Wakidi 30.


32. 33. 34.

Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 29-31.

It is also known as the Bishop Hannington famine, because it was

caused by the long drought which followed the murder of Bishop Hannington in Busoga in 1885. c. f. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 31. See p. 207 above. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 31-32. c.f. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, p. 24: “... The Banyala have always been on good terms with Ugenya.”

The Last Phase


of Wamia (Iteso) were a stiffer problem and the two tribes made constant raids on the other with varying success. But the most protracted and bitter struggle was that against

the kingdom of Wanga, which without external assistance was

weak.36 But she had powerful allies in the Masai and the Waswahili. These Uasin Gishu Masai had established several settlements in Wanga and other Luyia areas, after their defeat by the Laikipia Masai in the 1870s.37 They “hired themselves out as mercenaries in the various inter-tribal wars’’,?8 and in that way man-

aged to amass considerable wealth in livestock. They had been welcomed by Shiundu, Mumia’s father who died in 1883, because

of their great fame as courageous fighters. But their employers

soon discovered that, like mercenary soldiers anywhere, their primary motive was material gain.

The activities of the Arab and Swahili ivory and slave-traders also intensified inter-tribal wars. The first Swahili caravan to

reach Lake Victoria via Masailand had arrived in 1857,°9 and al-

though the new traders initially concentrated on the ivory trade,

they later turned to slave-raiding as a profitable side-line. We know, for example, that one of Thomson’s porters during his celebrated journey through Masailand in 1883 was from Nyanza, having been captured by the Waswahili traders when a boy.” Shiundu and, after him, Mumia, needed Swahili arms and ammunition not only to consolidate his position against his cousin Sakwa—a rival claimant to the throne—but also to fight 35.


37. 38.



Fazan, S. H.: op. cit.

ibid. “Wanga by itself was nothing, but Wanga was bent on crippling

this, the nearest of the Luo tribes, and combined both with Swabhilis and Masai against it.” See also Thomson, J,: Through Masailand, pp. 306-309. Peters, C.: New Light on Dark Africa, p. 312. Hobley, C. W.: Eastern Uganda, op. cit., pp. 10-11. Huntingford, G. W. B.: Nandi-Work and Culture (1950) Colonial Research Studies,

No. 4, pp. 12-13.

Hobley, C. W.: ibid., p. 11.c.f£. Peters, C:: New Light on Dark Africa, p. 289—the Masai were doing “landsknecht service for the native sultans”; Thomson, J.: Through Masailand, p. 482, records that these Masai (Kwavi) “lived like paupers, and were setting one chief to fight another, breaking up the harmony of the tribe, and plunging it into endless feuds.” Johnston, H. H.:

The Uganda Protectorate, Vol. I, p. 218.

Thomson, J., ibid., p. 503.



the enemies of Wanga such as the Vugusu, Nandi, Iteso and above

all, the Ugenya Luo. In the first military encounter between Ugenya and Wanga, the latter were routed, despite the fact that they had the services of the Masai mercenaries. According to Luo traditions,*1 Mumia only succeeded in saving his throne by giving away his sister,

Wasamba, to Mirembo Obat, a member of the Kager clan.”

But even this desperate action, which converted the Kager clan into his in-laws, did not prevent Mumia from making fresh war preparations against Ugenya. Before his next attack, his

position had been strengthened considerably by the decision of

the Uganda Government to send Fredrick Spire to found a permanent administrative post at Mumia’s in November, 1894. In February of the following year C. W. Hobley, who was to be engaged in the establishment of the British overrule in western

Kenya up to 1908, arrived at Mumia’s. He decided to use Wanga as the base from which to operate, and besides the Sudanese and Baganda soldiers, he relied on Mumia and his mercenaries for

the pacification of the area. Mumia, on the other hand, saw this as an opportunity for punishing his traditional enemies. In 1896, Mumia sent his forces, which included Swahili soldiers armed with rifles, against the recalcitrant Kager clan, in the hope of driving it from Buholo.*8 The combined WangaSwahili forces were “ignominiously defeated, the war carried into Wanga, and it was only the timely interference of the Uga-

nda Government that prevented the extermination of the Wanga family.’’*4 The British Government had to intervene not only because

the defeat of Mumia would have lowered the prestige of his

friends—the British—in the eyes of Africans, but also because 41. 42.



Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 32-33. c. f. Matson, A. T. in Luo Historical Texts, Vol. II, p. 167: “He (Mumia) was egged on to attack the Ugenya section of the Luo southwest of Mumias, but the operation failed and the discomfitted chief had to content himself with allowing his Masai levies to harry the victors with guerilla warfare.” Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 33-34.

Fazan, S. H.: op. cit.

The Last Phase




it would have underminedits policy of using the Wanga kingdom as a base from which to subdue the surrounding area, A punitive expedition was therefore organized against the Kager clan. To quote Fazan again,

. It only needed one battle to bring the Wagenya to submission. This took place at Gero’s boma, where a maxim gun quickly despatched 200 of the Luo. The remainder being unable to get at their opponents and having killed a Nubian

askari, fled in all directions and took refuge in Unyala and Alego with the single exception of Gero himself, who sat

outside his house, alone, in his bracelets and ornaments and

waited, like a Roman Senator, for death. He was, of course,

not killed, but proved a very useful hostage, and by this means, the Wagenya were persuaded to come back to their homes.”

The Wanga and their Masai friends, and even the Banyala who were traditional allies of the Jo-Ugenya, descended upon

Buholo following the defeat and dispersal of the Jo-Kager, and carried away cattle, women and children.*6

It is a matter for speculation whether the Wanga Kingdom would have survived the concentrated onslaughts of the Vugu-

su, Luo, Iteso and Nandi, had it not been for the timely intervention of Britain. Be that as it may, it was this kingdom which

was already on the defensive, if not on the decline, that the British buttressed and used as a nucleus from which to establish their sway in the region. It is not surprising that, unlike Buganda, it did not prove equal to the task. To the east of the Kavirondo Gulf a fierce struggle for the

possession of the area bounded on the southwest by the western Mau Forest, on the north-east by tne Tinderet Forest, on the

north by the Nandi Escarpment and on the west by the Gulf itself, was raging between the Luo sub-tribe of Kano and the Kalenjin Nandi and Kipsigis. To a large extent, the facts of geography helped to mitigate this conflict, for the Luo being a 45. 46.

Fazan, S. H.: op. cit., cf. Secretariat Archives, Entebbe, A/4/4: Cunningham to Berkeley, Port Alice, 26/1/1896—according to which it was the returning Nandi Field Force that subdued Ugenya. Luo Historical Texts, Vol. I, pp. 24-25: 34.








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