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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Apr 11, 2022

What happened here? How could such a word go missing in dholuo? Muma maler uses a word that means to suck. Much later I bumped into a Congolese empire movie script that rebuked the kissing habit with the line that, “the mouth is meant for eating”.

Still about 20 years ago in West London I met a defrocked lady who was describing another Luo lady in heavy lower river Nzoia upon river Yala accent as “ndalo moko nene ayude ka olueko dhog ja telo moro” to mean ‘I once met her kissing a prominent politician’. After a whole afternoon’s debate followed by one year’s consultation among older people we resigned to the reality that dholuo does not have the word “kiss” and lueko could be aptly substituted to mean “kiss”. Forget about the biblical nyodho. And the absence can only be so because such habits were foreign to Luo habits along the river Nile. Why else would kissing be so absent ?


The nearest Luo words to describe the kinematics around kissing are either negative, maligned or restricted.

Take nyodho as used in the bible for example. As 7year olds in primary religious studies lessons it was not easy to visualise Judas kissing Jesus when said in dholuo because this is a word restricted to sucking. The first thing that comes to mind is evil Judas, a whole adult sucking an adult. And sucking what? Then later in age you connect in your brain that it was kissing.

Dhodho is also used to mean breastfeeding a child which is limited in period, quantity and activity. The mouth is involved and a liquid must pass from the supply (breast) to the child.

Then there is lueko as used by the defrocked lady above. Lueko which is close to chido does not restrict to mouth and means using the tongue or the finger to scoop-dry something like soup in a plate in the way a dog laps the serving dish. While a dog uses only the tongue, humans can use the fingers. However, for the dog, the word, nang’o (lick). But nang’o would not fit kissing as a Luo word.

In the above four words the emphasis is in the scarcity. That there is scarcity of what is being extracted and it is passing from one to the other and not the other way round. Maybe that is why the Luos could not find the use of the word kissing and neither there an indirect translation.

Vikings of the Nile

Luos of the not so distant past feared scarcity in any form. The man’s main pre-occupation was seeking endless supply by raiding for resources, hunting and then later day fishing. It was simply the economics of algebraic mathematics (3x3x3) or nothing. The modern economics that subjects the Luos to simple arithmetic mathematics (3+3+3) of generating of wealth is a poverty trap. The endless tilling of the limited land, fishing, waiting for salaried income was not a Luo thing.

And this is evident on how a miser is perceived in Luo land. Iye lith, jaguondo, luete chiek. Compare this to the words reserved for a person who gives freely.

This can also be found in the actions that tend to suggest that whatever is being eaten is in short supply. Activities like tindo, lueko, nang’o, chuero are very much discouraged.


And living with such conditions created certain habits that became the mark of a good family.

It was seen as good social order for a child to be raised to resist the wants. I remember as a child if offered food by visiting relatives who were dining, we would refuse with a smile and then just skip away. For if you dared even look at the visitor’s direction, then that day you get to know the real meaning of NyaBoro bade dongo, the pet name of ladies from my mothers clan.

And these habits were not just restricted to children. It was a taboo for a man to catch the sight of the cooking pot, let alone to know what is cooking. The easiest tactic for a wife to send the husband scampering away to safety was for her to pick a cooking pot as if she wanted to clean it. The aim in that case was just to send the men away especially when they want wanted their peace to do the woman-to-woman chit chat. Very simple and easy tactic. From this came several phrases that helped to weave good family values and even to sustain great understanding in marriages. Riddles such as:

  • rahawanya go dhako ka gweno owang’

  • Ka irango gik ma gweno chamo to ok dicham gweno

The common thread is in avoidance of scarcity which made the Luo man work extremely hard and algebraically to raise more resources for the family.

And even in modern economics, the diligence which the Luo men served in employment or repeated examinations meant to better their lives was driven by the fear of scarcity. The false reputation of Luo women as being lazy and waiting to be spoilt by the husbands was spurred by Luo men’s overzealousness to spoil wives just to show that scarcity is not in that home.

As late as 1978, Wilson by brother in law could not stand the sight of my sister Risper working. And if Risper bought me a present, he would insist on refunding her. By that then it never occurred to me that what was killing Wilson was a fear of scarcity or being seen as a man who is being helped by the wife because he could not drive scarcity away on his own. I think I also read somewhere about the dangers of scarcity in the principles of management.

Table manners

Even though Luos had no tables as such, they had some meal time manners that equated to table manners. For example, spitting while at the table was grotesque if not evil. And so was not inviting guests while dining. The guests who refuse to join to dine was just as well sanctioned. Arriving when people are about to have a meal was seen as a good omen because it meant that one is clean hearted about the hosts.

On the other hand, scooping lumps of food to egest (royo, ngilo, hadho) in a way to suggest scarcity of food was frowned upon as what can be termed bad table manners. It was not just being gentle of hygienic to avoid dipping your fingers in your mouth. I believe to the Luo it is more acceptable to speak while eating than to tuck the scoop of food with your fingers in your mouth, much less to lick your fingers at meal time or any time unless tasting food. That is why entertainers were sent to chat you up while you eat at your in-laws. These separate un attended feasting at dowry/bride price sessions is a very new thing. Ooh sorry I forgot that now hired caterers are in attendance, and not the sweet talking (flirting) sister in laws.

The fear, in my opinion was to avoid any suggestion of scarcity as it took the manliness away from the man. Luo men or African men in general are measured by their ability to provide for the family.

In matters scarcity I remember reading in Peter Drucker’s writings of 1900 or is it Henry Fayol’s principles of management that, “Let us produce enough so that sharing will not be a problem”.

In that case the absence of the word kissing in Dholuo is because it was closer to scarcity while Luos believed that we should produce more so that sharing will not be a problem as a way to spell scarcity. I believe this the reason why kissing is absent. I also believe this is why any Luo finds it disgusting to see five fingers escort food deep in one’s mouth. The mechanics is close to lueko


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