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Updated on July 26, 2012

Kenya has 42 tribes, each with its own culture and language. These tribes are divided into three classifications; the Bantus, the Cushites and the Nilotes. The Bantus are mainly farmers; the Cushites are nomadic pastoralists while the Nilotes are mostly river lake folk who are extremely dependant on fishing for their livelihood. The Luo tribe falls under the Nilotes category. They live in the shores of Lake Victoria in the Western part of Kenya.

The Luo community has many traditions which are unique to its origins. And one of the most seriously practiced traditions till to-date is their burial rituals. Certain rituals and feasts are performed when a person dies and this is driven by the potent fear and respect for the dead. The Luo people can perform up to ten or more varying rituals for the deceased. Normally, this will depend on the age, sex and marital status of the deceased.

In this instance we shall review the rituals performed when a Luo family man dies. The first thing is that the death is normally announced and this is usually accompanied by the sound of drums and the wails and cries of women. The announcement is either done very early in the morning or in the evening. Close relatives must remain in the deceased’s compound throughout the entire process. That is, until the deceased is buried. Inside the home of the deceased, a lamp must be lit and all relatives must gather together in the home. Songs are sung throughout the night, this can either be Christian songs, war songs or lamentations. Crying and wailing will also continue for most of the night. Collectively this goes on from the day following the death until the burial day.

Relatives normally prepare for the funeral service by building a shade, preparing the coffin and the clothing for the deceased. Since visitors frequent everyday the relatives have to prepare meals to feed a sizeable number of people. The mourning period goes on for hours in a day and all relatives must remain within the compound of the deceased during the entire time, after which, they are free to leave.

The grave is normally dug at night this is because during the day the sun is too hot and it is exhausting to dig in such hot weather. Relatives also join in the digging of the grave. Once everything has been prepared and burial day arrives, normally the deceased adult male’s burial ritual begins in the afternoon. Commonly, the brother or father of the deceased will preside over the ritual process. Usually, speeches and donations are made and then the burial follows. After the burial, a mourning period of about two weeks ensues.


One of the more faithfully practiced traditions when a family man dies in the Lou community is widow inheritance. This is when a widow must sleep with another man to cleanse the death of her husband and bring ritual renewal and regeneration. A widow who refuses to be taken in by her new husband is ritually considered unclean and stained by death. In other words, they believe that the widow is still bound to her deceased husband and she threatens to bring misfortune and even death to all her family including the children.


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      penlope 2 years ago

      is it true that it's a must a man must sleep with the wife, as in have sex to cement burial

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      Anjeline 2 years ago

      it is good to read this article but my request is that you may include the post burial rituals thanks Anjeline

    • smartprincess profile image

      smartprincess 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thank you so much Valarie for taking the time to read it. I really appreciate your comments.

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      valarie 4 years ago

      it is so good to read it i think i agree with bill and frank

    • smartprincess profile image

      smartprincess 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks a lot Frank. I think I should write more on other tribes here in Kenya. You know there are 32 tribes all with different cultures, traditions, beliefs, customs, languages, and foods. Its pretty interesting.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      so interesting the widow inheritence too.. damn what a lesson you teach here voted awesome, interesting thank you for the share :) Frank

    • smartprincess profile image

      smartprincess 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi Billie, Thanks for the comment. Today, not many Luos practice wife inheritance. I agree it can be quite disconcerting being given out to another man like you are some sort of commodity. I will be writing more on the tribes of Kenya. I think right now we are a little over 42 tribes.

    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 4 years ago from Newport Beach

      Fascinating. I had never studied Kenyan culture. Would you write the phonetic pronunciation of the tribes for us? I think I would know how to pronounce them by the spelling, but I'm not sure. The concept of the woman having to take a new husband after the death of her previous one probably has a psychological component. Many woman who are divorced, for example, can't move on because of their connection to the past which can be damaging. Very interesting.