The Luo of Kenya

(Anthropology 21217)


This course is designed to present an introduction to the Luo of Kenya, a Nilotic-speaking society of some 3 million people living primarily on the northeastern shores of Lake Victoria.  It is intended to convey a sense of contemporary Luo culture and society and the complex history that has led to the present moment.  It is equally concerned to use the Luo case in order to give students a sense of the ethnographic practices and theoretical concerns of Anthropology – to show in detail how anthro­pologists study and represent other cultures.  The Luo are of particular interest in this regard because they have been studied by a variety of anthropologists since the 1930s, and they were discussed in British colonial reports since the turn of the century.  Hence, they offer an excellent case for examining differences in the concerns and modes of representation within the discipline of Anthropology as these have changed over the years. We are also fortunate in that there are many Luo academics and intellectuals who have pub­lished their own analyses and literary accounts of Luo culture and history. Hence, one has the opportunity to compare alien and indigenous representations. The Luo are also of particular interest because they have been traditionally a stateless society that has had to adapt over the past century to being incorporated into colonial and post-colonial states, and this local history exposes in acute form some of the problems and contradictions that are found more generally in current African politics, law, and economics. The Luo have also been propelled into the international spotlight in recent years because of their unusually high rate of AIDS and because Barack Obama, who was elected President of the United States in 2008, is the son of a Luo intellectual and politician. The course will focus upon such things as Luo kinship and marriage pat­terns, Luo conceptions of space and time, Luo religion and the transformative effects of Christianity, the impact of AIDS and globalization, the differences and connections between rural and urban contexts, the role of the Luo in colonial and post-colonial Kenyan history, and transformations of the moral economy and the gendered division of labor.