The Luhya (also Luyia, Luhia, Abaluhya) are the second largest ethnic group in Kenya, numbering about 5.3 million people, or 14% of Kenya's total population of 38 million, according to

The Luhya cultivate the fertile highlands of Western Kenya, between Lake Victoria to the south, the Nandi Escarpment to the East, Uganda to the West and Mt. Elgon to the north. The area they live in is the most densely populated in Kenya and indeed, in the world. Luhyas are one of the most culturally, politically and economically active ethnic groups in Kenya.

Luhya refers both to the people and the Luhya languages, a group of closely related languages spoken by Luhya sub-groups. The Luhya are made up of about 16 sub-ethnic groups in Kenya, the most dominant groups being the: Bukhusu, Maragoli, Wanga, Ava-Nyore (who ruled the Bunyoro Kingdom in present day Uganda), Marama, Idakho, Khisa, Isukha, Tsotso, Tiriki, Khabras, Ava-Nyala, Tachoni, Khayo, Marachi and Samia. One sub-ethnic group is in northern Tanzania and four are in Uganda.

Sometimes, the Maragoli are considered to be linguistically and migratorially related to the Kisii (also known as Abagusii), who are separated from the rest of the Luhyas by the chasm of Lake Victoria, Kano plains and Luo Nyanza to the South and the Nandi Escarpment and Kipsigis to the South East. The relationship between the Maragoli and the Kisii or Abagusii is mainly from their oral history (where both claim to have migrated from Misri (Egypt) via Mount Elgon, and also in linguistic similarity of their phonemes and certain key words in the languages. However, the Abagusii also have linguistic relationships with some tribes in Tanzania, and this similarity may be due to acquisition of words from these tribes due to more recent contact after the main migration from Misri. It is also noteworthy that the sound forms of Maragoli and Tiriki languages is slightly different from the other Luhya dialects and closer to the Kisii Language.

Note that the prefix 'Ava' or 'Aba' which when translated into English would mean 'the people/children of ...' (for example 'Ava-Logoli' would mean 'the children of Maragoli') is placed before all the Luhya sub-ethnic groups when referring to one's ethnicity, by a different person describing another person's ethnicity. if one is discribing himself or his/her ethnicity, he/she will use the prefix 'Omu-@ as in 'Omubukusu'.

Many Luhyas today are remnants of several federations (divided along the sub-ethnic lines of the Luhya), of the most powerful centralised kingdom that ever existed in Kenya's entire history before the advent of British colonialism in the early 1900s - the Wanga kingdom. The Wanga, themselves a Luhya people, incorporated most of the other sub-ethnic groups of the Luhya, as well as much of the areas inhabited by the Luo, the Kipsigis, the Nandi and the Masai territories as far east as the popular tourist town and flower capital of Kenya, Naivasha in Central Kenya.


The Luhya oral literature of origin suggest a migration into their present-day locations from the north: virtually all sub-ethnic groups claim to have migrated first south from Misri (Egypt). In one of the Luhya dialects Maragoli, the word 'Abaluhya' or 'Avaluhya' is pronounced as A(b/v)a-roo-shia, which means "the people of the North," "the people of the higher place," "the people from the North," or simply "Northerners."
Misri, what is now known as Egypt to much of the world is directly to the North of what is now called Kenya.

Luhyas travelled south along the Nile river, as they fled Egypt, before settling in the area of what is now Northern Kenya, Southern Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. Their ruler at the time was Kitanga. The Turkana later came to occupy this place and called it Lok-Kitang meaning the place of Kitang ((Lokitaung) is a modern Northern Kenyan town).

Several reasons have been posited as to why Luhyas fled Ancient Egypt (Misri): famine, droughts, repeated attacks from foreign invaders, Egypt's own civil wars, disease and over taxation by Romans. We will get into each reason in detail later.

From here they moved on to what is now Central Uganda. They then claim to have migrated further east, first settling around the Mount Elgon area before displacing a forest people akin to the Khoisan of southern Africa before settling in their current homeland of what is now Western Kenya.

Other sources report that the Luhya, and some ethnic groups of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa like those of Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, like the Zulu, Baganda, Nyarwanda of Rwanda, and the Rundi of Burundi amongst other peoples of Kenya eg. the Kikuyu,were all native inhabitants of Misri (Egypt) before migrating southwards into the interior of Africa over the course of several hundreds or even thousands of years.

The Baganda say that their ruler at the time of their exodus from Egypt was Kintu.

Many anthropologists believe that the progenitors of the Luhya were part of the great Bantu migration out of East-Central Africa around 1000 BC. However, there are some who suggest that the Bantu speakers were part of a larger migration from Egypt (commonly known as Misri in Africa that approximately occurred between the years 500 BC and 1000 AD, after the Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab invasions into Egypt).

Such evidence is based on linguistic, historical, scientific and cultural studies by such Egyptologists as Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese, Wilberforce Obenga, a Kenyan, and Moustafa Gadalla an Egyptian, but are not mainstream or widely accepted especially among American and European historians.

During the height of Rome's power, Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman world. Egyptian families were required to provide a portion of their harvest to the Romans. "Romans who used these foreign bases to govern the Egyptian population and to collect taxes. That led the Romans to reinforce foreign settlements, by bringing in more foreigners, mostly Jews and Syrian," writes Moustafa Gadalla in his widely-acclaimed book 'Exiled Egyptians.'

Over-taxation led Ancient Egyptians to vacate their land for lands further south. With no people to till the land, droughts and famines hit the kingdom. These crises, along with Barbarian invasions from Northern Europe eventually led to the demise of the Roman empire.

Such were some of the main reasons that led to the flight of the people who eventually became the different sub-ethnic groups of the Luhya from their land of origin. It must be noted that the exodus did not happen overnight, but rather, it was a gradual exit. One family here, two families there, and so on and so forth. Some African Egyptians settled in what is now Sudan, others in what is now Ethiopia, while others followed the Nile further into what is now known as Uganda, among other countries within the continent of Africa. While some descendants of Ancient Egyptians settled here, population expansion caused others to move East into what is now Kenya. Some of the ones who ended up in Kenya include the Luhya.

However, some Luhya sub-ethnic groups claim that they have always inhabited the areas around Mt. Elgon. Such varieties of histories reveal how Luhyas are probably a mixture of several Eastern African peoples combining to form a single major ethnic group which is further sub-divded into smaller sub-groups. Most Luhyas exhibit marked physical differences from one another, even within nuclear families. Some Luhyas also practised polygamy just like their forebears in Egypt.

The Nabongo (a Wanga title for king) ancestors came from Egypt. Mutesa emigrated from Egypt with his three sons, Mwanga, Mukoya, and Kaminyi and settled in Kampala, in what is now Uganda where he died. Mutesa was the ruler of his people in Egypt and after his death; he was succeeded by his son Mwanga who adopted the title of “Kabaka”. His other son Kaminyi migrated, due to the cruelty and inhumanity of Mwanga, to Tiriki area where he became the ruler of his people with the title of Nabongo. Kaminyi had 14 wives and six children including Mwanga. Mwanga had 8 sons: Wanga I, Murono, Khabiakala, Wanga II, Muniafu, Namakwa, Mbatsa, and Wabala.


The Luhya people call their leaders Mwami (Singular - Omwami, Plural - Bami or Abami)Luhya leadership was democratic in nature where power came from the people. The overall leader was called Nabongo with the second in hierarchy called Lukongo and followed by Likuru or Amakuru. They Luhya ruled over a lage geographic area between present day Uganda, through lake Victoria Nyanza (over the present day Luo) to the present day Naivasha in the western part of Central Kenya, before being colonised by the British in 1888 after King Mumia was tricked.

For comparative purposes, this area is equivalent to almost a third of the U.S. state of Texas - (140,000 square kilometres) and is 9,000 km larger than Greece. [ [ List of Countries by Land Mass [Ranked by Area ] ]

Luhya leaders included

Kitang'a, Maina wa Nalukale (believed to have died among the Kikuyu after being dejected by his son later known as Kintu), Mwanga, Muwanga, Shiundu, Nabongo Mumia, Hammtalla, Namutala, Namachanja and others

European contact

The first European the Luhya had contact with was probably Henry Morton Stanley as he voyaged around Lake Victoria. In 1883 Joseph Thomson was the first European known to pass through Luhya territory on foot, and was influential in opening the region to Europeans after his meeting with King Mumia of the Wanga Kingdom. The Wanga kingdom was very similar to the Baganda kingdom and other monarchies in Uganda, an unusual form of government for Bantu speaking peoples. Mumia was the last king of the Wanga, and was recognised by the British as a chief.

Reaction to colonialism

The Bukusu strongly resisted British incursions into their territory in the 1890s. In 1895, they fought the British from a stronghold near Bungoma on the lower slopes of Mount Elgon called "Chetambe's Fort". But the British had machine guns and massacred over a hundred Bukusu warriors in the stronghold, who were armed only with spears and hide shields. In the 1940s and 1950s the Bukusu resisted the British under the leadership of Elijah Masinde, a religious leader and prophet who demanded return of their lands. During the Mau Mau rebellion (centered in the Kikuyu areas of Mount Kenya through most of the 1950s), Masinde was imprisoned, but was released to his home area at independence in 1963.

The Kabras and the Wanga collaborated peacefully with the British: the Kabras formed the main Luhya ethnic group in the colonial-era police forces within the Luhya homeland. Nabongo Mumia, the King of the Luhya, was forced to sign treaties with the British after being defeated, this allowed the colonial authorities to subject his people to British rule.

Significant numbers of the Luhya fought for the British in the Second World War, many as conscripts in the Kenya African Rifles. As with many African societies, the Luhya named their children after ancestors, the weather, or significant events. Consequently, many Luhya people born around the time of the Second World War were named "Keyah", a transliteration of "KAR", the acronym for the King's African Rifles. Other famous Chiefs during the colonial time included, Ndombi wa Namusia, Sudi Namachanja, and Namutala.



The family

Luhya culture revolves around the extended family. Polygamy is allowed and, traditionally, was actually normal. Today, however, polygamy is only allowed in cases 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 (Omukasa or Oweliguru) who was elected by the male population in the village. In many cases, the village headman was also a shaman and healer.

Within a family, hierarchy was strictly enforced. Among the men, 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 virtually no permanent position in Luhya families: they were viewed as other men's future wives, and were brought up to fulfil this role. 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 predence, so that the first-born son will usually be named after his paternal grandfather (kuka), while the first-born daughter will be named after her paternal grandmother (kukhu). Subsequent children may be named after maternal grandparents, after significant events, or even after the weather (for example, the name "Wafula" among the Bukusu is given to a boy born during the rainy season — this comes from the Bukusu word for rain, "efula"; and Simiyu among the Banyala was the name given to the child born during the dry season).

The clan

Luhya people usually identified with a clan: this was a grouping of people with a common ancestry (usually up to about 3 or 4 generations). The clan underpinned social interaction and determined relationships such as marriage and custom subsets. Marriage within one's clan was taboo and was strictly forbidden. This custom persists even today: before young people get into serious relationships with members of the opposite sex, they will usually find out the clan of their would-be fiance / fiancee. If it is established that the two, in fact, belong to the same clan, the relationship is abandoned. With the adoption of a modern, town-based lifestyle by many Luhya people, the concept of the clan is dying out among most sub-groups (with the notable exception of the Bukusu, among whom tradition is revered and is still alive).

The sub-groups

The Luhya are divided into sub-groups, each speaking a certain Luhya language or dialect. Linguistically, these subdivisions can be grouped into four main categories:
* The Wanga dialect, or variations of it, is spoken by the Wanga, Marama, Kisa, Watsotso, Kabras, Isukha, Idakho, Nyore and Tachoni.
* The Maragoli dialect is spoken by the Maragoli and the Tiriki.
* The Bukusu dialect, or variations of it, is spoken by the Bukusu, Gisu and Masaaba.
* The Nyala dialect is spoken by Abanyala of Busia and those who emigrated to Kakamenga popularly known as Abanyala ba Ndombi.
* The Saamia dialect is spoken by the Saamia, Nyala (Busia), Khayo, Tura and the Marachi.

Significant overlaps exist between these sub-groups, with mini-dialects that are composed of two or more dialects. The Tachoni of Lugari area, for example, speak a dialect that is mixture of the Kabras and Tachoni dialects. The sub-groups of the Luhya are Babukusu, Abatirichi (Tiriki), Maragoli (Balogoli), Abanyole (Banyore), Abakhayo (Khayo), Abanyala (Nyala), Abasamia, Abisukha, Abidakho, Abashisa, Abamarachi, Abatsotso, Abakabarasi (Kabras), Abatachoni (Tachoni), Abawanga (Wanga), and Abamarama (Marama), Khanye, Haya.

Abanyala (descendants of Nyala)

Physically Nyala is a region somewhere between Ethiopia and Sudan
*see also Nyala, SudanAbanyala is a Luhya sub-group which resides in two districts, Busia and Kakamega, Kenya in East Africa. It is believed that the Banyala of Kakamega originated from Busia with Mukhamba considered as their ancestral father. They are closely related with the Abanyala residing in Busia as they speak the same dialect, save for minor differences in pronunciation. The Banyala in Kakamega reside in Navakholo Division North of Kakamega forest. They are mostly known by their one time powerful colonial chief: Ndombi wa Namusia who was succeeded by his son Andrea Ndombi. Then came Paulo Udoto, Mukopi, Wanjala, Barasa Ongeti, Matayo Oyalo and Muterwa (the most recent) in that order.

Interestingly the Abanyala are a very diverse people with about thirty different clans which have intermarried forming a whole complicated network of relationships popularly called "Olwikho". The Abanyala clans include: Abaafu, Ababenge, Abachimba, Abadavani, Abaengere, Abakangala, Abakhubichi, Abakoye, Abakwangwachi, Abalanda, Abalecha, Abalindo, Abamani, Abamisoho, Abamuchuu, Abamugi, Abamwaya, Abaokho, Abasaacha, Abasakwa, Abasaya, Abasenya, Abasia, Abasiloli, Basonge (also found among Kabras, Abasumba, Abasuu, Abatecho (also found among Bukusu, Abaucha, Abauma, Abaumwo, Abayaya, Abayirifuma (also found among Tachoni, Abayisa, Abayundo, Abasiondo. One is not allowed to marry from his/her own clan.


The Kabras originally Banyala, which is a Luhya sub-group, resides principally in Malava, in what is called Kabras Division of Kakamega district of western Province. The Kabras are sandwiched by the Isukha, Banyala and the Tachoni.

The name "Kabras" comes from "Avalasi" which refers to warriors or Mighty Hunters as that's what the Kabras were. They were fierce warriors who fought with the neighbouring Nandi for cattle and were known to be fearless. This explains why generally they are few as compared to other sub-groups such as the Maragoli and Bukusu.

They claim to be descendants of Nangwiro associated with the Biblical Nimrod.The Kabras dialect sounds close to Tachoni though to the experienced ear, someone can detect some differences. Plus in all Luhya, there are different names for different things depending on the sub-dialect, so to speak.

Originally, the Kabras were few families which ended up as the head of the clans. The names of the fathers of the families also ended up as the names of the clans. The clans are Abamutama, Basonje, Abakhusia, Bamachina, Abashu, Abamutsembi, Baluu, Batobo, Bachetsi, Bamakangala and several others.

The Kabras were under Chief Nabongo Mumia of the Wanga and produced an elder in his council of elders. This was Soita Libukana Samaramarami of Lwichi village in Central Kabras, near Chegulo market.

The first church to spread to Kabras was the Friends Church (Quakers). This was through Arthur Chilson a quaker missionary, who had started the church in Kaimosi, Tiriki. He earned local name, Shikanga, and his children learned the language as they lived and interacted with the local children. Therefore Friends church still has a strong following among the Kabras though other churches have spread to the area.

Tachoni clans

[AbaChambai, Abamarakalu, Abasang'alo, Abangachi, Abasioya, Abaviya, Abatecho, Abaengele etc] . There are theories that the following clans originally belonged with the Tachoni;] Saniak (also found among maragolis in Kenya and in Tanzania along Lake Victoria these include Former President Julius Nyereres Clan), Bangachi (also found among Bagishu of Uganda), Balugulu (also found in Uganda), Bailifuma (also found among the Abanyala)

Bukusu clans

Basonge, Bakhone, Balisa, Baemba, Balunda (also found in Congo), Baengele (originally Banyala), Bakimwei, Basombi, Baechale, Babutu (descendants of Mubutu also found in Congo), Bameme, Batecho, Batilu, Babuya, Bayemba, bakhurarwa, babichachi, bakhwami,bakamukong'i, bamuki, bakibeti,


The Luhya, with the exception of the Marama and Saamia, practiced male circumcision. A few sub-tribes practiced female clitoridectomy, but even in those, it was only limited to a few instances and was not a widespread practice as it was among the Agikuyu. Outlawing of the practice by the government led to the end of the practice, even though a few instances still occur among the Tachoni sub-tribe.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.


Traditionally, the Luhya practiced arranged marriage. The parents of a boy who was of marrying age (usually about 20 years old) would approach the parents of a girl who had the desired qualities (usually, about 16 years old, a reputation for being hard-working and a fine physique — facial beauty was not very important) to ask for her hand. 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.

Among the Bukusu, the custom was slightly different. Young men were allowed to elope with willing (or, sometimes, unwilling) 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.

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 common: 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).


The Luhya had extensive customs surrounding death. There would be a great celebration at the home of the deceased, with mourners staying at the funeral for 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 Mutoto, Mukhuyu or 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, the mourners stay for shorter periods of time (about one week) and the celebrations are held at the time of burial, with a single closing ceremony again to end the forty days. The Luhya practised African Traditional Religion and considered funerals with high regard as a custom to please the ancestors. Sacrifices were made to please the spirits. There was great fear of the "Balosi" (witches) and "Babini" (wizards). These are often referred to as the "night-runners" who prowl in the nude running from one house to another casting spells. Today, most of the Luhya practice Christianity and they refer to God as "Nyasaye", a word borrowed from the neighbouring Luo people. The Bukusu believe in "Were" the God of Mount Elgon whom they worship. They are also said to practice African Traditional Religion and are extremely tied to their traditions.


Maina wa Nalukale, Mutonyi wa Nabukelembe (Died among the kabras in the Machina clan)Wachiye wa Namumo
Elija Masinde wa Nameme

Modern culture

Luhya people that have moved to town to work are, as with most other Kenyans, unable to fully practice their culture. Many of them have turned to sports and clubs to maintain ties with their kinsmen. Most of them follow football, with the majority supporting the AFC club.The AFC Leopards football club is one of the most renowned football clubs in East and Central Africa. It was formed in 1964 under the name of Abaluhya Football club, to represent members of the Luhya community and to rival Luo Union Football club. Today, the club has a fan base spanning the entire nation, and is one of the best supported teams in the country. It has produced several stars, many of whom went on to gain national, regional and continental fame. Some of the sportsmen it produced include Wilberforce Mulamba, Joe Masiga (also a rugby player), Livingstone Madegwa, Joe Kadenge and John Shoto Lukoye. Staunch AFC Leopards fans are known to be very passionate. Matters pertaining to the club evoke high emotions among them especially against their arch rivals Gor Mahia.

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 subsisitance maize farmers. They also rear cattle, sheep, goats and chicken on a small scale. The Khabras 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, and many of them are to be found residing in the south-western Nairobi areas of Kangemi and Kawangware.


The Luhya play a traditional seven-stringed lyre called "litungu".

Notable Luhya personalities

* Filemon F. Indire University of Nairobi, Former Member of Parliament (1983-1988), Kenya's ambassador to Russia (1960's).
* Masinde Muliro
* Dr Mboya Burudi
* Zachaias Chesoni
* Michael Wamalwa Kijana Vice president [January 2003 - August 2003]
* Moody Awori Former vice president
* Musikari Kombo Chairman Ford-Kenya Minister for Local government
* Musalia Mudavadi Deputy prime minister and former vice president
* Joe Masiga
* Elijah Masinde
* Burudi Nabwera
* Maurice Michael Otunga Catholic cardinal
* Daudi Kabaka
* Amos Wako Attoney general
* Robert Wangila Napunyi
* Violet Barasa
* Kenneth Marende Speaker of the National Assembly.
* Calestous Juma Harvard University
* Nelson Nanga Esikuri
* Daniel Sifuna Kenyatta University


* ^ Kakamega Forest
* ^ George Were, "A History of the Abaluyia, 1500-1930"
* ^ John Dealing, "Politics in Wanga, Kenya ca 1650-1914"
* ^ Moustafa Gadalla, "Exiled Egyptians."
* ^ The Holy Bible. Ezekiel, Chapter 29: 6 - 17.
# ^
# ^ [ Osaak A. Olumwullah, "Dis-ease in the Colonial State: Medicine, Society, and Social Change Among the AbaNyole of Western Kenya", p.266]

External links

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* ^ []

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