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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jul 11, 2020


SWAHILI, Zulu, Lingala, Sheng’ is 400, 200, 100 and 40 years old respectively. But how old is Dholuo as a language? If the greatest known ancestor of the Luo nation is placed to have been born around 1000 AD, then Dholuo must at least be 1,000 years old. Does that make Dholuo older than some languages? For a fact Dholuo is older than Kiswahili,  Lingala and Nairobi Eastlands Sheng’ dialect even if the two are more fashionable in houses of entertainment than Dholuo.

How far back can we place Dholuo and why has it not developed? Is Dholuo really stunted? Is Dholuo a dying language? Is it being taught anymore? Dholuo survival and resistance in Kenya can be attributable to the siege mentality created by oppressive governments. But what if there were no such governments would Dholuo have resisted or just gone underground?

Still how ancient is Dholuo may be can be sampled by a few words whose presence in Dholuo language is a mystery because some of the words are very ancient and stopped being in use thousands of years ago.


In Dholuo abiriyo is number seven. I am not very sure of the origin of the phrase “abiriyo I wi aboro” but I am sure it means a grave deed with dire consequences.

Abiriyo was either lent to Hebrew or borrowed from Hebrew. It therefore can be placed around 1300BC.

Hebrew is a Semitic language spoken by the Hebrews, in its ancient or modern form

The Hebrew is a member of an ancient people living in what is now Israel and Palestine and according to biblical tradition, descended from the patriarch Jacob, grandson of Abraham. After the Exodus (c1300 BC) they established the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and their scriptures and traditions form the basis of the Jewish religion.

This does not quite tell us who borrowed from who but just an indication of how ancient the word Abiriyo is by the proximity to the river Nile valley catchment area is conspicuous.


In Dholuo, amun is a word mean to be quiet, i.e. amun kodi (I am silent with you or I am giving the silence treatment). Or “liel omuono” (the ant hill is sealed). Or in Ugenya illicit breweries the sealed breweries stage of alcohol distillery is called “amuna”.

Amun was an ancient Egyptian mysterious God. His ways was hidden. This was the time of BC age.

3. BAR:

In Dholuo bar is an open patch of land. Something that resembles a plateau. In Hebrew bar means exactly the same thing. Bar is also around 1300BC and resident of the Nile valley area.

4. GANA:

In Dholuo Gana is 1,000, 000. And Tara gana is 1,000,000,000. In computer science Tera and Giga is commonly used.

Giga is a unit of measurement denoting a factor of 10s. Giga origin is from Greek meaning giant. The Greeks were marauding the mountains of Eastern Africa during classical civilization when they believed the gods lived in the mountains of East Africa. This does not quite say who borrowed from who except that Gods never borrows from worshipers. It’s the worshipers who borrow everything including speaking in tongues that they don’t understand (dhum).


Kayo in Dholuo is a first born child whether boy or girl, Consequently Mikayi is a short form of Min Kayo for the first wife in a polygamous marriage.

In Biblical stories, Cain is the first child and son of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1). Consequently Eve is min-Cain or shortened in Dholuo as MiCain (mikayi), mother of First child Cain.

In Hebrew, Cain is Kayan which makes Eve, min-Kayan which is very close to Dholuo Kayo for a first born and min-Kayan or mikayi for first wife and mother of Kayan.

Deeper than this the luo myths about mikayi and Kayo seems to invoke the life of Cain in the bible. So more than the Hebrew the Luos have a deeper religious meaning for the name. For example Luos in general believe that the first born is unnecessarily punished as they are seen as error prone/black sheep. Or the elderly son in Luo clans are identified with thir-no (black sheep).


Nyamo is Dholuo word for to chew or masticate especially with the molars in preparation to egest or in the case of by products to spit out the husks as in sugar cane.

In Fulani tribes people dialects nyamo means food. However the word is commonly used and is overarching the other dialects. The Fulani tribes people were the originally part of the Old Ghana Kingdom (300-1100BC). (Note that Republic of Ghana has absolutely nothing to do with Old Ghana or present day Mali). Mansa Musa of old Mali 1312BC -1337 BC, entourage did cross Africa and was distributing his wealth to all even along the river Nile. Maybe, just maybe this is the where the Luos learnt Nyamo and the much maligned  “gonya”. In any case Mansa Musa or the Fulanis came to Nile Valley catchment area at about the same time we are zeroing in.

7. POLO:

Polo in Dholuo is the sky or the general atmosphere above the ground up to the universe. With the introduction of Christianity and Islam it also now means heaven or paradise where God resides with angels

Apollo is the Greek God of sun, light and more.

8. SIRO:

In Dholuo Osiri is the acacia tree. Also the pole in the middle of a hut supporting a roof is siro. And the small sticking out is kusuru or osuru.

Osiris is the Egyptian God who ruled the world of men. He was murdered and later on reassembled and brought back to life (connection with the roof).

Isis (below) was the Egyptian God of the underworld and bore him a son. Note that both Siro and Sis are important structures of a house playing interesting roles.

Isis was the Egyptian God of the underworld and bore him a son.

9. SIS

In Dholuo, Sis is the wall of a house.

Isis was the Egyptian God of the underworld and wife to Osiris (above) bore him a son. Note that both Siro and Sis and important structures of a house playing interesting roles.

10. TARA:

Tara in Dholuo is 1,000’s. Tara-gana billion 100,000,000). Tweta is a trillion(1,000,000,000)

Tera (bytes) is a unit of measurement denoting a factor of 10s. Tera origin is from Greek word meaning monster.


Thelo is a Dholuo word meaning erectile.

Othelo is a very recent Shakespeare play where the main character, Othelo a black soldier is promoted rapidly but is undone by his sexual excesses, when the daughter of 'who is who' finds out about his affair with his daughter who Othelo married secretly. The dread with which the black person's sexual prowess is held is poorly disguised in this play. That Shakespeare chose a Luo word as Othello for the title of the play is an unfair advantage to Dholuo speakers. Shakespeare could have been influenced by the myth that pertains to the goddess of fertility, Aphrodite and negro male sexuality. This is not the only Shakespeare play whose origin has not been doubted as having been down the Nile valley. Anyway for any wrongs I forgive him because his writing may help me claim our stolen word.


Thuth is weevil in Dholuo. Thoth is many or myriad in Dholuo. I don’t know where this came from but there is a saying in dholuo of iriek ka thuth or iru ka thuth. Both of them saying that you are wise as a weevil.I think it is not thuth the weevil but Thoth the God

Thoth is the Egyptian God of wisdom. Thoth knew myriads and myriads. Thoth nene ong'eyo maTHOTH.

The most remarkable thing is that graphic drawing of Thoth the God of wisdom is a spitting image of a weevil, thuth in Dholuo.

13. WATH

Wath in Dholuo is an entry or exit to a waterway. Wharf is a level quayside area to which a ship may be moored to load or unload.

The old English word is traced to Germanic. Other sources trace it to the Netherlands.

Based on those two sources alone this could make it a very recent word on the Nile Valley.

14. YAO:

Yao is a spring or pond but in general a place where people fetch water coming from underground. An oasis is a fertile spot in a desert where water is found coming from underground. The word came to the English language via Latin via Greek via Egyptian.

So Yao and Oasis are basically the same thing and one must have been localized.


As can be seen from the sample above Dholuo began coalescing in the classical civilization area along the Nile Valley at least 1000 years before Christ. And we cannot place Dholuo to be more recent than 1000 AD just to make it convenient to early Kenyan bible translators. It would cut out large chunks of the Eastern African Luo dialects as not being Dholuo. Still this 1000BC precursor makes Dholuo a very ancient language and explains why the intonation is similar to other ancient languages around the Mediterranean area. Most importantly it explains why it cannot fluently co-exist with other languages in this region. There are always rough edges until the vowels are imported to glue the consonants.



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