Luyia - Orientation

Identification. "Abaluyia" is the preferred name for the people once called the "Bantu Kavirondo" because of their proximity to Lake Victoria's Kavirondo Gulf. "Abaluyia" refers to the nation, tribe, or ethnic group, Omuluyia" to an individual, and "Luluyia" to the language they speak. There are seventeen Luluyia-speaking subnations in Western and Nyanza provinces of Kenya: Bakhayo (Abakhayo), Bukusu (Babukusu, Kitosh [derogatory], Vugusu), Banyala (Abanyala), Basonga (Abasonga), Banyore (Abanyore), Batsotso (Abatsotso), Idakho (Abetakho, Babetakho), Isukha (Abesukha, Babesukha), Kabras (Abakabras), Kisa (Abakisa, Bakisa), Logoli (Avalogoli, Maragoli), Marachi (Abamarachi, Bamaraki, Marach), Marama (Abamarama, Bamarama), Samia (Abasamia, Basamia), Tachoni (Abatachoni, Kitosh), Tiriki (Batiriki), and Wanga (Abawanga, Bawanga). Some Luluyia speakers are found in eastern Uganda: the Gisu (Abagisu, Bagisu, Bamasaba, Masaba), Gwe (Abagwe), Nyole (Abanyole, Abanyuli), and Samia. The ethnic label "Abaluyia" is Kenyan, however, and is not used by Ugandan Luluyia speakers. The label has been associated with this part of Kenya since the 1930s, and elders from the region accepted the designation during the 1960s.

Location. The Abaluyia region, which includes eastern Uganda, extends roughly from the equator to 1°10′ N and from 34°00′ to 35°15′ E. It is bounded on the south by Nyanza Province and Lake Victoria (elevation 1,127 meters), on the north by Mount Elgon (elevation 4,296 meters), and on the east by the Rift Valley. The majority of the Abaluyia live in Western Province, Kenya, which consists of four districts: Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, and Vihiga. Most of the region (90 percent) is highly suited for agriculture, but there are interspersed rocky and sandy areas. Temperatures range from about 32° C in the south to 5-10° C near Mount Elgon. There are two rainy seasons, the long rains from March to June or July and the short rains from August to October. Rainfall ranges from 76 centimeters per year in the southernmost region to 155 centimeters per year around the area of the Kakamega Forest—a 315-square-kilometer, isolated primeval rain forest teeming with many unique plant, primate, bird, and insect species. Large carnivores (e.g., leopards), large mammals (e.g., elephants), and ruminants (e.g., gazelles) were once common throughout western Kenya, but they have been gone since at least the 1950s or 1960s. Although eucalyptuses and euphorbias are common, deforestation of the entire region, including the Kakamega Forest, poses a serious threat.

Demography. Wagner (1949) estimated that there were less than 350,000 Abaluyia in 1937. The Abaluyia, with a total population of 3.5 million, are now the second-largest ethnic group in Kenya. There are at least 1.5 million Luluyia speakers in Uganda, but—unlike the Kenyan Abaluyia—they do not consider themselves a single ethnic group. Population densities range from more than 2,000 persons per square kilometer in the south (Vihiga District) to less than 200 persons per square kilometer near Mount Elgon. Although there is now some evidence of fertility decline, total fertility rates, until the late 1980s, exceeded nine and ten births per woman of childbearing age.

Linguistic Affiliation. Luluyia is a Western Bantu language. The Abaluyia subnations speak mutually understandable dialects, but subnations that border each other are more likely to understand one another's dialect. Some of the dialects (Lubukusu, Kisamia) are tonal. Many contemporary Luluyia speakers also know English, Kiswahili, Dholuo, and/or Luganda.

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