The Lost Story of Uluo Atyak

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The story of Ulwo Atyak is of a man who ushered a whole new generation of people who today are known as the Luo. In 1010 AD, the Nuer king took over reigns from his father, King Rubanga, who, after several invasion from the Arabs moved the Kingdom capital to Wau in Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan. The new King established himself in the area through acquisition of many wives from the conquered Madi tribe. Inflection of the Nuer language by the Madi tongue gave birth to a new language – the Luo language, and with it a new Kingdom the Lwo-Atyak dynasty (followers of Atyak).

For 400 years, the dynasty grew through commerce, wars, and agriculture until 1365 when the bastard son of Queen Nyilak killed the King and the tribe split into two. One Sudanic led, and the other Madi led (Acholi). It is in Acholiland where quarrels on succession led to the split of the tribe witth Owiny Ramogi moving to Kenya, Onongor Adhola starting the Padhola tribe and Queen Nyilak forming the Alur tribe. Currently, it is only the Alur tribe that still refers itself as Lwo-Atyak.

The Reign of Lwo-Atyak Kings
King Rubanga: (Wau -970-1010)
King Ulwo Atyak : (Wau -1010-1050)
King Komrach: (Wau -1050-1090)
Nuer Kingdom Ended Here

King Utike: (Gondokoro-1090-1130)
King Alu: (Gondokoro-1130-1170)
King Cimvor: (Gondokoro-1170-1210)
King Atira: (Patiko -1210-1250)
King Chuwa: (Patiko -1250-1290)
King Ulei: (Pajau -1290-1330)
King Kyabambi: (Pajau -1330-1370)
Queen Nyilak: (Pajule -1365- 1390)
End of Lwo-Atyak

Today, the only remnant of this Kingdom is the language spoken by the various sub-tribes that broke away further from the two major splits. I set to reconstruct this history by the studying migration and variations in the Luo languages.

So I began a project to measure the different pronunciation of words among the sub-tribe to reconstruct point of origin. I sampled basic words from 8 sub-tribes namely; Joluo (Kenya and Tanzania), Shilluk, Jur Chol (South Sudan), Anyuak (Ethiopia) and Acholi, Lango, Padhola (Uganda) as shown below.

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The next process is to measure the average string (words) distance between the tribes. An interesting pattern occurs when a network diagram is constructed out of the string distances and the population. In the diagram below, node sizes indicate tribe population and edges represent the degree of similarity.


Correlation of Language Among Luo Subtribes

Correlation of Language Among Luo Subtribes

The image shows a separation of the Southern Luo and the Northern Luo. This lends credence to the story of the great schism in the Lwo-Atyak dynasty that led to a Sudanic led group and a Madi led group with the former migrating southwards and the latter northwards.

An equally interesting facts is the measure of centrality on the nodes. The Acholi language is at the center of the other half of the network – this confirms that all southern luo tribes are highly related to it and support the theory of the split among the brothers Owiny and Adhola. In addition, we can also tell the Anyuak tribe in Ethiopia broke off from the Shilluk.

Mapping the ancestral home of modern day Luo sub-tribes reinforces part of the story. The map below indicates towns where Luo tribes are a majority. It worth noting that the North South divides is clearly shown in the lack of a Luo tribe around Juba – only clusters in the north and south. Given this is close to Wau (Bar-El-Ghazal), it could be true the Lwo-Atyak dynasty exited and radiated from the area.

Therefore, the Luo language has been around for about 1,000 years.

Special Thanks to
Roselyn Otim
Isaac Owere Odumo
Philips Odele

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  1. Pingback: The story of Uluo Atyak | raydawa

  2. Dear Orwa, this is gold. Thank you for such an indepth, informative and analytical piece.. A treasure for many generations to come. Good job

  3. Hi Orwa. This is some dope stuff. I’m working on a similar kind of article on the migration of Eastern Bantus from Shungwaya to their present day locations. I’d wanna do something similar to the network to test a theory I have. Can we engage on email please? Thanks

  4. Hi Orwa. This is some dope stuff. I’m working on a similar kind of article on the migration of the Eastern Bantu from Shungwaya in present day Somalia to their present location. Can we engage on email please? Thanks

  5. Great article! This has been 1000 years of UNPLANNED existence with random actions and major disruptions from Arab and British forces.
    The next 1000 years must be PLANNED.

  6. Thanks for the great research. Am thinking to visit Wau one day to see where my great grandparents came from

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