Luo (Dholuo) Phrases and Basics

On this page: greetings | general | numbers
vocab from wiki | verbs | other vocab
animal sounds | in the news

The Language

Luo, or Dholuo, as it calls itself, is spoken by more than three million people, mostly located in southwestern Kenya; Nyanza Province in particular. Languages in Kenya are often divided into Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic; Luo is Nilotic. According to the Ethnologue website (see links below), Luo is in the Nilo-Saharan language family. The three most closely related languages to Kenyan Luo are the languages of the Acholi and Lango in Uganda, and the Alur language in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both Lango and Acholi languages are sometimes referred to as "Lwo" by native speakers. Because Luo speakers are centered in southwest Kenya, there are significant populations of Luo speakers across the borders in both Tanzania and Uganda. Luo occasionally borrows from Kiswahili, as Kiswahili has a larger vocabulary, and is one of the official national languages of Kenya. There are also cases of words shared between Luhya and Luo, despite their disparate (Bantu vs. Nilotic) origins. Examples include words for "yes" and "no."


Motivation for this webpage

I lived in Kenya for two years, and traveled throughout East Africa. I learned to speak Kiswahili, as well as bits of Luo and Luhya, during my stay in Busia, Kenya. (Unfortunately, I hardly picked up any Teso.) I even learned a few words of Acholi during my trip to Kitgum, Uganda. I particularly enjoyed Luo, though, as it was both handy during trips to Kisumu, the nearest major city to Busia, and occasionally useful when negotiating prices in Nairobi. Plus it turned out to bear a resemblance to the Acholi Lwo language. Upon returning to the US, I saw that there were surprisingly few resources on the internet for picking up simple Luo phrases, so I thought I'd write a few down.

External Links

Wikipedia entry | Betsy McCall's careful discussion of Luo verbs. | Rice University Luo Grammar papers from Spring 1998
Ethnologue: Luo (Kenya) | Acholi (Uganda) | Lango (Uganda) | Alur (Dem. Rep. Congo)

Pronunciation note

The distinction between ng' and ng is like the difference between the ng sounds in the english words hanger and anger. The word nanga, meaning cloth, uses the same ng sound as in anger, where the g can be heard distinctly; the word ang'wen, meaning four, uses the ng' sound similar to that used in the English word hanger, where the g is not distinct.

Also note that a trailing y after a consonant, as in the word meaning tomorrow, kiny, is barely pronounced, so in this example, the word comes out sounding much like the English word keen.


How are you? (informal) Amosi?
    Very well. Ber ahinya.
    This is literally, "I greet you," a-mos-i.

How is your morning? Ichiyo nade?
    My morning is going well. Achiyo ma ber.
This is literally, How did you wake?. The verb to wake is chiewo, according to ABO.
Compare to Acholi Lwo in northern Uganda: Ichiyo ni nin? Achiyo ma ber.

How is your afternoon? Irio nade? (note: this greeting is less commonly used than either the morning or evening forms.)
    My afternoon is going well. Ario ma ber.

How is your evening? Idhi nade?
    My evening is going well. Adhi ma ber.
This is literally, How are you going?. The verb to go or to be going is dhi, according to ABO.

How is the morning? Oyaore?
    The morning is going well. Oyaore ahinya.
How is the day? Osaore? (used around midday)
    The day is going well. Osaore ahinya.
How is the evening? Owimore?
    The evening is going well. Owimore ahinya.


Thank you (very much), Erokamano (ahinya)
    Note that thanks are quite different in Uganda's Acholi Lwo: "Apwoyo (ma tek)."
I'll be back. Abiroduogo
Slowly, slowly. Mos, mos. This is equivalent to pole, pole in Kiswahili.
We'll see each other [later]. Wabironenore.
Let's see each other tomorrow. Wanere kiny.
I'm (very) sorry. Mos (ahinya). Equivalent to pole (sana) in Kiswahili.
Sleep well. Nindi ma ber.
I want... Adwaro...
You want... Odwaro...
I know... Ang'eyo...
I don't know... Ok ang'eyo...
I like... Ahero...
Goodbye. Oriti.


One, achiel
Two, ariyo
Three, adek
Four, ang'wen
Five, abich
Six, auchiel
Seven, abiriyo
Eight, aboro
Nine, ochiko
Ten, apar
Eleven, apar gachiel
Twelve, apar gariyo
Nineteen, apar ga ochiko
Twenty, piero ariyo
Twenty one, piero ariyo gachiel
Thirty, piero adek
One Hundred, piero apar achiel or mia achiel. The first option is according to ABO. However, I have never heard this; all Kenyan Luo speakers I have met use mia or mia achiel, importing the word from Kiswahili.
Two Hundred, piero apar ariyo or mia ariyo. (Again, I believe the latter is much more frequently used.)

From the Wikipedia:

I want water, adwaro pii
I am thirsty, riyo nega (ABO translates thirst as riyo, and thirsty as bedo gi riyo.)
Thank you, ero kamano
Child, nyathi
Student, nyathi skul
Sit, bed
Stand,Stop, chung
Hunger, kech
I am starved, kech nega
Father, baba (ABO says, wuoro. Baba is Kiswahili.)
Mother, mama (ABO says, dhako or miyo as well. Mama is Kiswahili.)
God, nyasaye
To help, kony (The verb in Acholi is exactly the same. The Lord's Resistance Army--a band of rebels that has terrorized villages in northeast Uganda, kidnapped thousands of children, forced them to be child soldiers, and carried out a variety of other atrocities against civilians--is led by a man named Joseph Kony.)
Man, dichuo
Woman, dhako
Boy, wuowi
Girl, nyako
Book, buk (or kitabu, the Kiswahili word.)
Youth, rawera
Pen, kalam
Short, curuari
Trousers, curuach long
Table, mesa
Plate, san
lock, rarind
Leader, jatelo,ruoth
Bring, kel
Go, dhi
Go back, dog
Come back, dwog
Run, ring
Walk, wuoth
Jump, dum
Rain, koth
Sun, chieng
Moon, duwe
Fish, rech
I want to eat, adwaro chiemo
Grandpa, kwaru,kwara (According to ABO, kwaro.)
Grandma, dani,dana (According to ABO, dayo.)
White man, ja rachar
Black man, ja rateng

Some verbs:

To teach, pwonjo (I teach, apwonjo)
To learn, pwonjore (You learn, ipwonjo) (Note that this is the verb for teach, but with the reflexive suffix added. Kiswahili also uses this structure: To teach is kufunza, while to learn is to teach oneself, kujifunza.)
To run, ringo
To eat, chiemo (or chamo, according to ABO)
To drink, madho or modho
To sleep, nindo
To want, dwaro
To know, ng'eyo
To like, hero
To see, neno
To rise, malo
To support, teno
To return, duoko (or duogo; ABO only lists the former.)
To scare, buogo (or bwogo; ABO only lists the former.)

Other vocabulary:

Luo man, ja Luo
Teacher, ja pwonj
Hill, got
River, aora
Mountain, got maduong'
Chicken, gwenye (According to ABO, gwen, which is listed as meaning poultry.)
Cat, nyambura or paka according to ABO. (Note that paka is also the Kiswahili word, and Nyambura is also a woman's name.)
Dog, guok (pl. guogi)
Firefly, otit mach
Cow, dok or dhiang'
Insect, kudni
Bug, chwarni, kudni, jams. (ABO doesn't explain distinctions.)
Cloth, nanga
Ball, mpira (Note this is the same as in Kiswahili.)
Food, chiemo
Drink (n), math
Banana, rabolo
Maize (or ugali, the food made from maize meal), kwon
Milk, chak
Easy, ma yot
Difficult, ma tek
Small, matin
Large, maduong'
Cold, ma ng'ich
Today, kawuono
Tonight, otieno ma kawuono
Tomorrow, kiny
Day, odiechieng'
Morning, okinyi mathi
Night, gotieno
Ice, pee
Water, pi (Note that ABO writes pi, while Wikipedia writes pii.)
No water, onge pi
Fire, mach
Near, machiegni
Word, wach
Power, teko
Firefly, rise! Otit mach malo, seen written on a truck (lorry) in western Kenya.
Eye, wang' (pl. wange)
Head, wich (Note Kiswahili: kichwa)
Nose, um
Mouth, dhok
Ear, it
Yes, ee or duoko (Note that ee is also used in Luhya.)
No, dawe (Note that dawe or tawe is also used in some Luhya dialects.)
Good, maber
Bad, marach
Sin, ketho
Life, ngima
Death, tho

Animal sounds (from Vivian Cook's Words and Meanings Page):

A cat says: ywak
A dog says: guu guu
A sheep says: meee
A cow says: mboo
A rooster says: kokorioko

In the news...

From Kenya's Daily Nation, 2005, "Don't ignore the Luo, Raila tells President"
When he rose to speak, President Kibaki avoided politics and did not answer Mr Odinga's request. He spoke only about education and hard work.
The Head of State however delighted the crowd with a Luo phrase: "Ng'ama teni ema iteno (Support only he who also supports you)".

From Jim Harries
'Wach en gi teko' is a favourite Luo phrase. It can be translated as 'a word has power'.

From African Proverb of the Month
Today a popular song is Unbwogable which combines English and the Dholuo word "bwogo" ("to scare") so a good translation is [We Are or I Am] Unscareable/Fearless/Unbeatable. It was used in the December, 2002 political campaign as a rallying cry for the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) candidate Mwai Kibaki who was elected the new President of Kenya.

From the Ave Maria DHOLUO page. Not news, but a high google hit in 2005.
Hail Mary (1)
Mirembe Maria, Ipong' nema, Ruoth obet kodi, I jahawi kuom mon duto, Gi wesu Nyathi ma e iyi, jahawi.
Maria Matakatifu, Min Nyasaye, Ikwanwae wa joketho kawuono gi kar thowa.
Editor's note: according to the source webpage, this came from a 1931 Italian text. This looks like a mixture of Luo, Luhya, and Kiswahili. Mirembe, for example, is very close to the Luhya greeting, Murembe, but is not Dholuo as far as I know. Likewise, Matakatifu is Kiswahili for Saint/Holy, but is also not Dholuo.
Hail Mary (2)
Misawa maria
Iponggi nema ruoth obed kodi
In jahawi kwoum mon gi
Jesus nyathi manie iyi jahawi.

Maria matakatifu
Min Nyasaye kwanue wan
Jo ketho kawuono gi kar thowa.
Editor's note: This version is from Tom Onditi, and appears to be more accurate.

ABO refers to Asenath Bole Odaga's English-Dholuo Dictionary, printed by Lake Publishers & Enterprises Ltd., Kisumu, Kenya

Owen Ozier

In the old days of the internet, this was the only sort of page that would exist about anything: a few notes somebody jotted down. Nowadays, it is rare to find a topic so infrequently discussed on the internet that a page like this can have any significance at all. What a difference a decade makes.