Luluyia-speaking groups have occupied the same East African region for up to 500 years; they displaced long-established foraging and herding peoples. The Abaluyia subnations, most of which probably originated from central Africa, were originally clans with diverse historical origins that grew large and then split into subclans. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were characterized by widespread warfare between Abaluyia subnations and neighboring ethnic groups, especially the Buganda, Luo, Nandi, Maasai, and Iteso. The Bagisu, Bakhayo, Bukusu, Banyala, Batsotso, Kabras, Nyole, Marachi, Marama, Samia, and Tachoni constructed fortressed settlements during this period. These were walled with thorns and surrounded by moats.
During the colonial period (1895-1963), the British, whose goal was to pacify the area and facilitate the completion of the Uganda Railway, made several unsuccessful attempts to unite politically the Luluyia-speaking subnations. In 1895 the Bukusu waged an unsuccessful war of resistance, the Chetambe War, against the British. The first train reached Kisumu in 1901. The Abaluyia region was split in two in 1902, when the British established the current boundary between Kenya and Uganda. As a result, the subnations in Kenya and Uganda have different colonial histories and different political economies. In 1909, in a futile attempt to unite the subnations, the British anointed Nobongo Mumia of the Wanga "kingdom" the "supreme" chief. The Abaluyia, however, never had a single paramount chief prior to British colonial rule. The Ugandan Nyole were dominated by the Baganda; various clan leaders in Kenya aligned themselves with or resisted the British. The Kenyan Abaluyia did not develop a unified ethnic identity until the 1930s, and the Ugandan Luluyia speakers have never had a single ethnic identity.
The Friends African Mission, the Mill Hill Mission, the Church of God, and the Church Missionary Society (Anglican) were all established in the region between 1902 and 1906; mission schools were established shortly thereafter. A brief gold rush (1929-1931) was followed by land confiscation and alienation. Today nearly all Abaluyia are Christians, although some Abaluyia—especially around Mumias town—practice Islam. Universal primary education has been achieved in much of western Kenya.