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Idhi nade? Get to know the Luo language and culture.

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO volunteer

This is the second blog of our blog series celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Last week we introduced Luhya language, if you have not had time yet to read that blog, you can do it here. This blog will present the Luo language and culture! Before starting, I want to recognize Bernard Kasuku’s contribution in translating the words and sayings featuring in this blog.

In total, there are 12 different Luo languages which are spoken in multiple different countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. However, this blog’s focus is on the Dholuo dialect spoken in Kenya and Tanzania on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.

The Luo tribe is Kenya’s third largest ethnic group. In Kenya, there are a little over 4 million speakers of the Luo language. The Luo people are mostly located in Luoland, in western Kenya, neighbouring the Luhya people. Unlike the Luhya language which is part of the Bantu group, Dholuo is part of the Nilotic languages group. There is also a growing population of Luo people in Nairobi.

In Kenya, the Luo people are regarded as slightly posh. This is because of their elegantly sounding “Queen’s English”, fancy dressing style and the Luo tribe having many influential politicians, academics, businesspersons and other highly educated experts. For example, Barack Obama might be the world’s most famous Luo.

English and Swahili languages have a dominant position in the Kenyan society: English is the language of government, higher education and most businesses; and Swahili is the language of trade and media. However, Dholuo is the preferred language in daily conversations, outside of work and studies. While Dholuo is taught in most primary schools, Luo parents are the biggest reason why Dholuo has remained well-known and much used.

The Luo language is known for its melodious sound and even the other ethnic groups in Kenya find it very pleasant to listen. Dholuo is also a perfect language for the tongue-twister game. For example, try to say fluently without any difficulties: “Acham tap chotna malando chotna cham tapa malando”, which means “I eat from the red dish of my lover and my lover eats from my red dish”.

Once you are able to say that tongue-twister sentence without any trouble, we can move to learn some more words and sayings in Luo…

Hello –Nango

How are you? – Idhi nade?

Thanks – Erokamano

What is your name? – Nyingi nga?orIluongi ni nga?

I am/my name is – An iluonga ni… or Nyinga en…

Yes – Ee or Kamano

No – Ooyo

What are you saying – Iwacho nango?

Goodbye – Oriti

School – Kar tiegruok

Football – Adhula

Lake Victoria – Nam Lolwe

Market – Chiro

Domestic animals – Jamni

Rich – Joma omeo

Poor – Joma odhier

All that glitters is not gold – Gigo tee manyilni ok gin mula

And finally, something that is very important in the modern fast-paced society:

Hurry hurry has no blessings (More haste less speed) – Jarikni jamuod nyoyo gi kuoyo

Big thanks for Bernard who translated these words and sayings in Luo. Bernard is COCO’s project partner at Mercy Primary. The school is currently educating 125 students and employs 13 staff members. At Mercy Primary, COCO has assisted the school to become self-sustainable by renovating classrooms, providing small loans and helping the school with farming, which has provided good healthy food for the students and increased the school’s incomes.

This year the world celebrates the International Year of Indigenous Languages and we encourage you to learn some words in the Luo language. If you would like to next learn how to greet or thank in Maasai, stay tuned for the next blog!

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