28 Nov 2020

Jurchol (Luo)


community map

The Name | Demography and Geography | Environment, Economy and Natural Resources | Mythology and History | The Language | Society: Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions | Marriage |Birth | Naming | Divorce | Relationships | Death | Social and Political Organisation, Traditional Authority, etc. | Spirituality, Belief and Customs | Culture: Arts, Music, Literature, Handicraft | Neighbours and Relationships | Latest Developments |Diaspora

Demography and Geographic Location

Numbering between 60,000 and 70,000, the Jo-Luo are found in Wau, Tonj and Aweil districts. Their main settlements (towns) are Wau, Mapel, Udici, Alel, Thony, Barmayen and Umbili.

Environment, Economy and Natural Resources

The land is rocky, fertile and 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. In the past, they used to produce iron products: hoes, spears, arrows, which they traded with their neighbours.

Mythology and History

Tradition has it that the Jo-Luo are part of the larger Luo family made up of Shilluk, Anyuak, Acholi and the Luo in Kenya. The Jo-Luo are descendents of Dimo, a brother of Nyikango and Gilo. Feuds within the homestead triggered by a power struggle led to a split and subsequently, separate history of the three groups. The Jo-Luo remained in Bahr el Ghazal while Nyikango and Gilo migrated to Upper Nile.


The Luo people speak Luo Language (dho-luo), which is very close to Shilluk, Pari and Anyuak languages.

Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions

The Jo-Luo are organised into agnatic lineages and clans which are related through blood and marriage linkages. They organise and identity themselves by age-set, that is, a group of boys who were circumcised at the same time. On attaining the age of 18 the boys go into a 2 week seclusion period in a forest where they acquaint themselves and learn the art of fighting.


Jurchol DancersJo-Luo marriage is arranged according to seniority at birth. The eldest son marries first before others. The boy and girl enter into an oath (otoya) which they pledge to remain together in good or bad times. They 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 Jo-Luo 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 to about 500,000 Sudanese Dinars.

Birth and Naming

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 3 (boy) and 4 (girl) days after birth.

In this ceremony the elders feast and shout some important traits they wish for the baby. For the boy they would wish him courage, valour, hard-work, good hunting, cultivation signified by hoe, spear bow and arrow.

For the girl they wish her good house keeping, caring for the children, taking good care of husband and relatives. The first born child is named after the grandfather (boy) or maternal grandmother (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 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 4 years 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. The Jo-Luo people have ghost fathers probably adopted from the Dinka.

Socio-Political Organisation and Traditional Authority

In the past the Jo-Luo used to have kings (Ruot) and the strongest persons (Jaa) in the village. Now they have executive chiefs, sub-chiefs, group leaders or elders whose function in society is for conflict resolution and keeping harmony in the community.

Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs

The Luo people believe in God (Jwok) to whom they make sacrifices once a disaster has befallen a homestead; at the beginning of the cultivation season and at the harvest of crops. They believe the spirits of the departed relative stay with God and therefore act as inter-mediatory between the living and God. The Jo-Luo people also believe that spirits stay in the river and hence a sick person would be taken to the stream to be cleansed (lwok naam). They also believe in the power of the witch-doctors (kwir) and other spiritual leaders.

Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft

The culture of Jo-Luo is essentially oral. It is transmitted in song, music, dance 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, chairs, etc.

Neighbours, Foreign Relations and Co-operation

The Jo-Luo people neighbour the Dinka (Tonj and Aweil), Belanda Bviri, Bongo, Ndogo and Bai. They have had peaceful relations with their neighbours until recently, in the context of the war, when the Fertit under instigation by the government of Sudan burnt Jo-Luo villages and killed many people. The conflict with the Dinka centred on destruction of their crop by Dinka cattle.

Latest Development

War has devastated Luo land and caused humanitarian disruption, displacement and economic impoverishment of the Luo people.


A handful of Luo people have migrated to USA, Canada, Europe and Australia.

Further Reading

S. Santandrea, ‘Minor Shilluk Sections in Bahr el Ghazal.’ SNR XXI, 1938 pp 266-287.
Seligman, C. G., and Seligman, B. Z., ‘Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan.’ George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1932.

Collins, Robert O., ‘Land beyond the Rivers, the Southern Sudan, 1898 – 1918.’ Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1971.

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