Maragoli tribe (Luhya)

Maragoli tribe (Luhya)

The Maragoli, or Logoli (Ava-Logooli), are the second largest tribe of the 6 million-strong Luhya nation in Kenya, after the Bukusu. The dialect they speak is called Llogoli, Urulogoli, or Maragoli.

Maragoli also refers to the area that the Maragoli tribe settled and occupied. Maragoli clans include the Va-Gonda, Va-Mavi, Va-Sachi, Va-Saniaga, Va-Vulughi, and Va-Yonga. (The prefix Va- refers to people, and is sometimes written Ba-, Ava-, or Aba-.)



Oral history

Maragoli history records a migration from the north. The story of the Maragoli people begins with a man called Mulogoli. He was descended from Kintu, who led the progenitors of the Luhya, from Ancient Egypt, approximately 1000 years ago, after Egypt had endured a constant series of invasions from Greeks, Romans and eventually, Arabs. [1]

When the Luhya progenitors first arrived in what is now northern Kenya, their ruler of the Luhyas at the time was Kitanga. The Turkana people later came to occupy the area where the Luhya ancestors had settled, and called it Lok-Kitang meaning 'the place of Kitang.' (Lokitaung is a modern town in North-Western Kenya).[2]

Mulogoli was born from the union of Andimi and Mwanzu. Andimi had three wives: Mwanzu the mother of Mulogoli; Amugovolie who had no children and Ndiegu the mother of Mwenje or Anyole (these are the Wanyore, who inhabit Vihiga district together with the Maragoli). Naturally the Nyores and Maragoli are one, they are from the same stock, the stock of Andimi. Mulogoli had a wife called Khaliyesa. She had four male children. These four make the four major clans. The children were: Musaali; Kizungu; Kilima and M'mavi.

In Maragoli, the word 'Abaluhya' or 'Avaluhya' is pronounced as A(b/v)a-roo-shia, ('b' and 'v' are interchangeable) which means, "the people of the North," "the people of the higher place," "the people from the North," or simply "Northerners."

Luhya ancestors moved further south, probably along the Turkwel river. The Turkwel's principal source is the Suam river.[3] Luhyas, a people who needed a constant source of water for their crops, animals and various industries like metalworking, and building, kept moving along the Suam River depending on various environmental or human triggers, into what is now Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda, and settled near the source of that river, Mt. Elgon.

They displaced a people akin to the Khoisan of Southern Africa[citation needed] and settled in their current homeland of what is now Western Kenya.


Luhya culture is comparable to most Bantu cultural practices. Polygamy was a common practice in the past but today, it is only practiced by few people, where the man marries under traditional African law or Muslim law. Civil marriages (conducted by government authorities) and Christian marriages preclude the possibility of polygamy.

About 10 to 15 families traditionally made up a village, headed by a village headman (Rigutu". Rigutu is a post colonial title for a village leader coined from the English word "Crew". Within a family,the man of the home was the ultimate authority, followed by his first-born son. In a polygamous family, the first wife held the most prestigious position among women. The first-born son of the first wife was usually the main heir to his father, even if he happened to be younger than his half-brothers from his father's other wives. Daughters had no permanent position in Luhya families as they would eventually become other men's wives. They did not inherit property, and were excluded from decision-making meetings within the family. Today, girls are allowed to inherit property, in accordance with Kenyan law.

Children are named after the clan's ancestors, or after their grandparents, or after events or the weather. The paternal grandparents take precedence, so that the first-born son will usually be named after his paternal grandfather (Guka), while the first-born daughter will be named after her paternal grandmother (Guku). Subsequent children may be named after maternal grandparents, after significant events. Some Maragoli names usually have names whereas others do not. For instance, names like Injugu (born during groundnut harvesting), Kabwoni (born during sweet potato harvesting) and Anzala (born during extreme drought) have meanings. Other names like Afandi, Inziria, Mwachi, Aliviza and Asava have no known meaning. Names of events are also commom. For example, Imbarambara (born during road construction), Msuruve (born when a white missionary called Miss Reeves first came to Maragoli land)and Sirinji (born when money was first introduced in the land). Traditionally, Luhyas practiced arranged marriage. The parents of a boy would approach the parents of a girl to ask for her hand in marriage. If the girl agreed, negotiations for dowry would begin. Typically, this would be 12 cattle and similar numbers of sheep or goats, to be paid by the groom's parents to the bride's family. Once the dowry was delivered, the girl was fetched by the groom's sisters to begin her new life as a wife.

Instances of eloping were and are still common. Young men would elope with willing girls, with negotiations for dowry to be conducted later. In such cases, the young man would also pay a fine to the parents of the girl. In rare cases abductions were normal but the young man had to pay a fine. As polygamy was allowed, a middle-aged man would typically have 2 to 3 wives. When a man got very old and handed over the running of his homestead to his sons, the sons would sometimes find a young girl for the old man to marry. Such girls were normally those who could not find men to marry them, usually because they had children out of wedlock. Wife inheritance was and is also practiced. A widow would normally be inherited by her husband's brother or cousin. In some cases, the eldest son would also inherit his father's widows (though not his own mother). Modern day Luhyas do not practice some of the traditional customs as most have adopted the christian way of life. Many Luhyas also live in urban towns and cities for most of their lives and only return to settle in the rural areas after retirement or the death of parents in the rural areas.

The Luhya had extensive customs surrounding death. There would be a great celebration at the home of the deceased, with mourning lasting up to forty days. If the deceased was a wealthy or influential man, a big tree would be uprooted and the deceased would be buried there, after the burial another tree, Mukumu would be planted (This was a sacred tree and is found along most Luhya migration paths it could only be planted by a righteous Lady mostly Virgin or a Very Old Lady). Nowadays, mourning takes shorter periods of time (about one week) and the celebrations are held at the time of burial. "Ovogogo" and "rovego" are post burial ceremonies held to complete mourning rites.

Animal sacrifices were also traditionally practiced. There was great fear of the "avaroji" (witches) and "Babini" (wizards). These were "night-runners" who prowled in the nude running from one house to another casting spells.

Most modern day Luhyas are Christians and for some, (if not all), the word for God is Nyasaye or Nyasae.

The word Nyasae when translated into English roughly corresponds with 'Nya (of) and Asae/ Asaye/ Sae/ Saye/ (God). The Luhya traditionally worshipped a god of the same name. When Christianity was first introduced among the Luhya in the early 1900s by various Christian missionaries from Europe and America, the Luhya took the name of their traditional god, Nyasae, forgot about that idol, and gave that name to the Living God of Christianity, the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and whose son is Jesus Christ of the Bible.

The first Luhyas who were converted into Christianity applied words that defined some aspects of the religious traditions that they were born into and gave them to Christ and the Christian God.

The Friends Church (Quakers), opened a mission at Kaimosi and the Church of God based in Anderson, Indiana took over the mission in Bunyore. During the same period the Catholic order Mill Hill Brothers came to the area of Mumias. The Church of God of Anderson, Indiana, USA, arrived in 1905 and began work at Kima in Bunyore. Other Christian groups such as the Anglicans (CMS) came in 1906. In 1924 the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada began their work in Nyan'gori. The Salvation Army came to Malakisi in 1936. The Baptists came to western Kenya in the early 1960s.

The first Bible translation in the Luhya language was produced by Nicholas Stamp in the Wanga dialect. Osundwa says he did this translation in Mumias, the former capital of the Wanga kingdom of Mumia. There has been a strong Christian witness among the Luhya in the twentieth century. A religious sect known as Dini ya Msambwa was founded by Elijah Masinde in 1948. They worship "Were," the God of Mt. Elgon, while at the same time using portions of the Bible to teach their converts. They also practice traditional arts termes witchcraft. This movement originally arose as part of an anti-colonial resistance.

Various sources estimate that Luhya are 75-90% professing Christians.[4]

2002-Iriambuka; 2009-DC(Disi wa kavaga)

Other Luhya Initiation

The Luhya, with the exception of the Marama and Saamia, practiced male circumcision. The Maragoli did not practice clitoridectomy.

Traditionally, circumcision was a period of training for adult responsibilities for the youth. Among the Kakamega Luhya, circumcision was carried out every four or five years, depending on the clan. This resulted into various age sets notably, Kolongolo, Kananachi, Kikwameti, Kinyikeu, Nyange, Maina, and Sawa in that order.

Like the Abanyala living in Navakholo do the initiation of their young boys every other year and notably an even year. The initiates were about 8 to 13 years old, and the ceremony was followed by a period of seclusion for the initiates. On their coming out of seclusion, there would be a feast in the village, followed by a period of counselling by a group of elders.

The newly initiated youths would then build bachelor-huts for each other, where they would stay until they were old enough to become warriors. This kind of initiation is no longer practiced among the Kakamega Luhya, with the exception of the Tiriki. Nowadays, the initiates are usually circumcised in hospital, and there is no seclusion period. On healing, a party is held for the initiate — who then usually goes back to school to continue with his studies. Among the Bukusu, the Tachoni and (to a much lesser extent) the Nyala and the Kabras, the traditional methods of initiation persist. Circumcision is held every even year in August and December (the latter only among the Tachoni and the Kabras), and the initiates are typically 11 to 15 years old.

Economic activities

The Luhya are, traditionally, agriculturalists, and they grow different crops depending on the region where they live. Close to Lake Victoria, the Saamia are mainly fishermen and traders, with their main agricultural activity being the raising of cassava. The Bukhusu and the Wanga are mainly cash crop farmers, raising sugar cane in Bungoma and Mumias areas respectively. The Bukhusu also farm wheat in the region around Kitale. The Isukha of Kakamega area and the Maragoli of Vihiga raise tea, while the rocky land of the Nyore is used to harvest stones and gravel for construction. In Bukura area, the Khisa are small scale and only subsistence maize farmers. They also rear cattle, sheep, goats and chicken on a small scale. The Kabras of Malava area raise mainly maize at subsistence levels, with a few also farming sugar cane.

With the rapid modernisation of Kenya, many young Luhya people have emigrated to Nairobi and other towns in search of work.

See also


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