The Friday Five: Surprising Practices of the Luo Tribe

I have spent several years visiting various tribes and cultures across Africa. The one people group that James and I are most familiar with are the Luo tribe of western Kenya.

Here are five surprising practices of the Luo.

1. Luo names describe the circumstance of your birth. Were you born in the morning? You will be named Onyango (for a boy) and Anyango (for a girl). Born at night = Otieno/Atieno. Born when it was raining = Okoth/Akoth. Born in a prostrate position facing down = Ouma/Auma. Born with the umbilical cord around your neck = Owino/Awino. And it keeps going - born in a time of abundance, born as a twin, born in famine, born while it was cloudy...

2. Polygamy is a common practice. A predominantly Christian tribe, the Luo have continued to follow the practices of the Old Testament of keeping multiple wives. Co-wives share in the household and child rearing responsibilities of the home. Polygamy is not practiced by everyone - many more progressive Luos have denounced it and have committed to a monogamous marriage.

3. There is a specific role of a twin in a funeral. It turns out that if your identical twin dies, you are not permitted to attend his or her the funeral. It brings too much pain to everyone who is reminded of your twin by your common appearance. 

4. Punctuality is not practiced, except for times of honoring the dead. The Luo, and most of African culture, do not carry a concept of time like Americans do. In fact, the saying is The Americans have all of the watches, but the Africans have all the time. Which is why I am shocked to see community members arrive promptly on time (if not early) in circumstances of funerals and events of remembering those who have passed. I asked my Luo friend, Robert, about it and he said that people believe that the spirits of the dead are as powerful, if not more powerful than God. So they make sure they come on time.

5. Once a young couple is married, the in-laws must never stay the night in the couple's home. Taking seriously the Biblical role of a child leaving their parents and the man and wife cleaving to one another, this Luo practice protects the complications of parent and adult child relationships. Robert told a story about how he was getting so tired of finding alternate places for his parents to stay when they visited, that he finally just pulled out a mattress in their main room and told them to stay there. Robert walked out at 2am and his dad was just sitting on the mattress refusing to sleep. Robert's parents stayed for five days, so eventually his father gave in, but it was not for lack of trying!