Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: Luo tribe’s right to identity is neither a demand nor a request but constitutional

By Charles Kon Bona Magot

Map of South Sudan's Western Bahr el Ghazal state (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Map of South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August 19, 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – Recently, following the first article ever written on the vindication of the legalization of term ‘Luo’ to replace the wrongfully documented ‘Jurchol’ as the identity of Luo tribe in Bahr el Ghazal, readers reacted with different opinions and in response to the said article I defended it that “It is not up to me, my tribe or any other tribe in the Republic of South Sudan to stand on the way rejecting a legally provided procedure in documenting anything relating to the tribe in question because all tribes ought to be equally obedient and treated under the laws of the Republic of South Sudan and those tribes have no any right to any objection at their capacity. Furthermore, this matter is not even between the government of the Republic of South Sudan and the Luo people but between Luo people and their ability to willfully either follow the rightful procedure regarding their identity’s legal documentation or give it up because the constitution of the Republic of South Sudan defends this right of ethnic cultures of communities”.  As per this remark, Luo people are not requesting any tribe for the legalization of their identity as Luo or they are not even demanding the government but simply exercising their rightful procedure which is recognized under the international laws and the Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011.

On the verge for recognition and legal documentation of Luo, it is true that Luo is one of the communities in East Africa with the largest population originated from South Sudan Bahr El Ghazal region (Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states) dispersed earlier during the Muslim conquest in Sudan which now the majority of Luo fled the said Sudan during the Islamization to Kenya known as the Luo tribe (Jo Luo); Uganda (the Joluo, Acholi, Pari and Alur); Tanzania ( Pari and Luo); Ethiopia (Anyuak); and DRC (Luo). Within the remains of Luo community in Bahr el Ghazal, a further division where a good portion of it found its way to Upper Nile and called themselves the Shilluk, another one in Equatoria, the Acholi and Anyuak. This makes all the dispersed communities under mother Luo in Bahr el Ghazal have an umbrella making the Luo tribe in Bahr el Ghazal their original founder of the entire Luo community. Luo in Wester Bahr el Ghazal are found in Luo River County (Northern and South parts) while Luo in Northern Bahr el Ghazal are found in Barmayen and Aroyo counties.

Luo tribe has a profound culture, norms and values just like any other African tribes unlike other tribes in the Republic of South Sudan, Joluoi have distinctive features. In Bahr el Ghazal following the years of struggle for the liberation of the Southern Sudanese, they played roles in the fields of education (most of them were teachers in schools and priests in churches) during English colonialism. Luo people also represented Southerners at the level of national government of Sudan in the earliest times. Luo territories are hilly and mountanious, rocky, fertile lands covered by thick forests. The Jo-Luo society is sedentary agriculturalist, but individuals keep few cattle, goats, sheep and fowl. Important economic activities include bee-keeping, fishing, hunting and crop cultivation. The main crops are sorghum, simsim, groundnuts, maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and beans. Joluoi, also produce iron products: hoes, spears, arrows, which they traded with their neighbours. They speak dhe-luo, thong-muojieng, and Arabic.

Jo-Luo marriage is arranged according to seniority at birth. The eldest son marries first before others. The boy and girl enter into an oath (atohyo) which they pledge to remain together in good or bad times. The two exchange their beads. A ceremony is performed with the ear of a goat – brought by the parents of the boy is cut and with a bead, is tied around their necks. The Joluoi pay dowry according to the capacity and ability of the suitor. In the past it used to be in form of beads, hoes, spears, axes, and other iron products. But in recent times, it varies from 16 cows, 30 goats and suited amount of money.

At delivery the girl (woman) is required to confess (kwano) all the sexual relationships she had as a girl. The reason being that the child could die if the father did not know his wife’s ex-friends. Naming of the new born is performed with a ceremony three days after birth of a boy child and four days after birth of a girl child. In this ceremony the elders feast and shout some important traits they wish for the baby. For a boy they would wish him courage, valor, hard-work, good hunting, cultivation signified by hoe, spear bow and arrow and for a girl they wish her good housekeeping, caring for the children, taking good care of husband and relatives. The first born child is named after his maternal grandfather if he is a boy or maternal grandmother if she is a girl. Other names describe the situation of the parents or the environment of birth.

Death is mourned and this differs with age. For a young person people may mourn for 3 days. The relatives slaughter a goat or a cow and the old women tidy-up the grave. In the case of older persons, the people beat the war drum. They dance for 3 days praising (mwoch) the departed and his ancestors. After four months the family conducts funeral rites and a bull is slaughtered as a sacrifice. A widow co-habits (lak) with any of the close relatives she chooses until the children have come of age.

Luo people have a ghost father they called (Malo) meaning heaven. In the past the Jo-Luo used to have kings (Ruoth) and the strongest persons (Jaah) in the village. Now they have executive chiefs, sub-chiefs, group leaders or elders whose function in society is conflict resolution and keeping harmony in the community.

The culture of Jo-Luo is essentially oral. It is transmitted in song, music, dance (Adhu, Fadhala and Gumo) and other bodily expressions. Dance and songs are very important in Luo culture and one distinguishes oneself through them. They perform funeral/war dance (gumo) for the departed elders.

The Luo have several dances, and have perfected the art of making whistles and their sounds for different occasions. The Jo-Luo people are famous for iron smelting and they produce hoes, axes, spears and arrows. Their handicrafts include baskets, mats, pottery and chairs.

Luo people are bordering Dinka Tonj, Dinka Kuajok, Dinka Gograil, and Dinka Awiel and the Fertit, Bongo. They have history of intermarriages and mixture of cultures. They also interchange names with their neighbors mostly as a result of intermarriages as per Luo culture, once a marriage is concluded, the first born child shall be named after her/his maternal grandmother/grandfather. Luo people share quite a few names like Deng, Madut Achol with Dinka tribe; names such as Manydoh, Ngala, Atun from Bongo tribe; and names like Booh, Umihya, Gabi from Fertit tribe etc.

History is now being rewritten by Joluoi and they have abolished some of practices in their community and this became their last resort when their journey to identifying themselves as Luo was strictly challenged by one of their neighbors (Dinka Tonj and other Dinkas). Most of the names which sounded Jiengism were corrected and an abolition of further naming was strictly dared within their community. This came as a result of failure of corporation from their trusted neighbors, the Jieng who disputed their decision for the correction of their identity. Luo people are peaceful and humble but once played with they take it serious.

In conclusion, this advocacy by Luo activists should not be misunderstood confusing it from a mare advocacy for the nation and the rest of the tribes to know with a misinterpretation of thinking that it is a request that Joluoi are asking Dinka tribe to recognize Luo instead of Jurchol or with a demand that is held on the government of the Republic no! This is a rightful and a legal procedure that any other ethnic group in any democratic nation like South Sudan would follow.

The author is a concerned citizen of South Sudan and can be reached via: bonamagtkon@gmail.com

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