Burial Rituals Among the Luos in Kenya

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There are more than thirty tribal ethnics in Kenya. The two major ones are Luos and Kikuyus. The Luos are generally known in Kenya as a people who are seriously concerned with their burial place, far more than any other ethnic group. Growing up, I witnessed many burials including my own father. Details of the rituals differ for all the deceased, depending on the deceased sex and status in the society. A ritual is performed in certain, fixed ways to reflect how a particular death occurred, the good and bad deeds of the deceased, and the way the deceased and the ancestors performed the same rituals. There are some differences that reflect different areas.

For example, a young unmarried woman cannot be buried in her fathers’ homestead. The Luos believe that her unmarried spirit will follow other living girls in the village and make them not to be married also. This is changing with people who believe or practice Christianity. The Luos attitude towards their burial place evidently shows how they fear and respect the deceased ancestors. They perform more than ten kinds of different rituals for the deceased, largely held in their rural homeland in the face of ongoing modernization and urbanization in overall Kenya. People are still buried in the homestead. Graveyard are for people who do not have families or sojourners.

There was a long court struggle in 1986 of a prominent lawyer S.M. Otieno who was married to a Kikuyu lady and resided in the city center. Upon his death, his clan insisted that his body be transported to Nyanza his birth place for burial. His widow fought for several months for the body to be buried in Nairobi where they had lived most of their lives. The clan won and the Judge ruled on their favor after six months. S.M. Otieno was transported to the village for burial. His widow did not attend the burial because of some Luo rituals which she was not prepared to go through. It was largely through this court case that many Kenyans came to recognize and realize how deeply Luo people were preoccupied with their burial place. This is not a myth but a reality among the Luo tribe in Kenya.

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