The Luhya Tribe

The Luhya tribe of Kenya represents about 14% of Kenya's population, or around 5.3 million people. They are the second largest distinct ethnic group after the Kikuyu tribe.

Though not as large as the Kikuyu tribe, the Luhya tribe is much more wide-spread and diverse. There are around 16 to 18 sub-groups to the tribe, many of which speak their own dialect of the Luhya language. Some of the dialects are so different from one another that they are considered by some linguists to be separate languages altogether. The largest group is the Bukusu (also called the Babukusu), who are also the most traditional of the Luhya.

The traditional territory of the Luhya is in western Kenya, positioned between Lake Victoria, the Nandi Escarpment and the border of present day Uganda. Many people still live in rural areas, but more and more of the population are moving into larger cities in search of work.

Origins and History of the Luhya

The Luhya people likely migrated into the Kenyan area from the north, from probably what is now Egypt. The details are not always clear as the oral histories from the various sub-groups often differ on the tribe's history.

Agriculture was the main means of support for the Luhya tribe, with different groups specializing in different crops depending on their regions.

Luhya Family and Culture

The traditional family unit in the Luhya tribe is polygamous, though the practice of taking multiple wives isn't followed in the cities today. The women were also free to take lovers if they wishes, which often included male visitors to the home. Marriages were arranged by the parents, with a bride price or dowry paid by the family of the groom. Families were strictly patriarchal with the husband controlling the household. Among the women, the first wife was in control.

Villages were made up of 10 to 15 families living together, usually connected by relation and part of the same clan. The villages were led by a headman, or shaman.

Luhya Religion

The traditional god of the Luhya was called "Were", who was worshipped along with the spirits of dead ancestors. Most Luhya have converted to Christianity, and refer to their new god as "Nyasaye". Even as Christians, many old beliefs still persist, such as the fear of witches and spirits.

Luhya Customs and Traditions

Males are usually circumcised in the Luhya tribe, at the age of 8 to 15 years old. The specifics differ from group to group. In the past, circumcision would take place as an event (either annually, or every 2 to 5 years) creating "age sets" of boys who enter manhood at the same time.

Deaths among the tribe were met with great ceremony and celebration. At one time, it was tradition for all mourners to come and stay with the family of the deceased for forty days. Songs are sung, stories are told, bonfires are lit and the entire village gets involved. Today, that has been reduced down to about a week, with an extra ceremony performed again later after 40 days.

The AFC Leopards

The AFC Leopards football club was originally a team to represent the Luhya, and it is currently one of the most popular teams in eastern and central Africa. To remove the tribal affiliation, the name was changed from Abuluhya Football Club to All Footballers Club. But it is still considered to be a team that "belongs" to the Luhya tribe.

Relates pages:

Tribes in Kenya - Main page
List of Kenya tribes with short descriptions

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