Pitt Rivers Museum Luo Visual History


Whether there was deliberate attempt by the colonial administration to "Westernize" the Luo or whether the Luo readily accepted aspects of European culture is still very much debated. But as is shown in Evans-Pritchard's photographs of 1936, one can argue that the Luo were very much culturally changed, if not 'Westernized' ( jananga ) in their way of life as compared to the earlier photos by Hobley. How this came about can be looked at in various ways.


It was often argued by colonial commentators that the most important way of 'civilising' groups such as the Luo was through education. Most education provision however was not by the administration but by the Catholic Mission and the Church Missionary Society (CMS). In Luoland a CMS Mission was established at Maseno, later run by Archdeacon Owen, seen in some of Evans-Pritchard's photos. Other Christian centers were opened in Yala, Nyiya and elsewhere. Both the CMS and the Catholic missions established and ran primary and church schools across Luoland. The Primary schools that were built, and to which young men and women were sent, were later run by government education boards. In Mission church schools, young people and adults were taught how to read the bible and were baptized with new Christian names. With new biblical names and Christian education, many Luo began to feel that their identities had changed. People increasingly dressed in European clothes as was encouraged by the missions, and traditional personal body adornment and cultural practices were increasingly shunned as less civilized than European culture.

Archdeacon Owen holding spear ( tong' ) of Alego. As CMS Archdeacon for Western Kenya from the 1920s until his death in 1945, he was instrumental in the education of many Luo at Maseno and elsewhere.
Evans-Pritchard, 1936

A parade at Kagomya, a colonial primary school in Luoland.
Evans-Pritchard, 1936

A parade at Mulaha, a colonial primary school in Luoland
Evans-Pritchard, 1936

A group of Luo female members of a mission school
Evans-Pritchard, 1936

A Luo man wearing the church medal of his denomination
Evans-Pritchard, 1936