The Luo people, despite originating from a number of East African countries – Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, and more – hold a united identity based on the “Luo” language, which they all share. Their community in the Hutt Valley numbers around 50, but they keep close ties with other family and community members around the country, and indeed the world. They understand and relate to the world and each other through dance – and they have a dance for everything from war to marriage to death to harvest and everything in between!
On September 2nd, Upper Hutt was home to the nation’s first ever Luo Cultural Festival, held at Heretaunga College. The Luo community had been working with Upper Hutt College since the end of 2016 to grow the community’s capacity to engage with the wider community and to achieve the goals and projects they have set for themselves. At the heart of their goals is the wish to make New Zealand their home, and to encourage and embody genuine multiculturalism in the community by sharing their own and learning about others. Word had got out about the Luo community’s story, and their journey, and the response from the Upper Hutt community was wonderful, with a large supportive audience of over 400 coming to fill the College hall’s seats.
The Luo community were very excited and a little nervous – despite having done many dance performances as part of other shows, this was the first time they had participated in a programme where the event was exclusively about showcasing who they were. But you couldn’t tell! The community looked and performed spectacularly, interweaving their dances with anecdotes from their home countries and their journeys to begin a new life here, and including guest appearances from African drummer Sam Manzanza, Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy, Elaina Lauaki-Vea from the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Phil Pithyou from NZ Police, and Carolyn O’Fallon, the National Party candidate for Rimutaka. The Luo ladies had also put together an extraordinary feast of traditional food to taste, as well as a traditional beverage made from fermented sesame seeds, which gained a controversial reputation very quickly among tasters!
All in all it was a fantastic afternoon with lots of fun and good energy, and wrapping up with a final dance with all the audience taking part. The Luo community were very happy with the opportunity to meet the wider Upper Hutt community and look forward to doing more with them in the future. Next on their list is visiting Orongomai Marae to share their stories and listen to those of the local Iwi. A big congratulations to Jude Opira for championing the festival, to Heretaunga College for the hall use and Logan for operating the sound system, and to Creative Communities NZ for their support and sponsorship.