Obama Gets His Confidence, Eloquence From His Father’s Tribe


It’s a great time to be a Luo. Barack Obama’s father was a member of the African tribe, and as far as most Luos are concerned, the 44th president of the United States is not a Hawaiian, Kansan, or Chicagoan — he’s totally tribal. “The way he talks with intensity and then pulls back, keeps quiet and withdraws, it’s a very Luo trait,” said Mirriam Auma Omala-Oweke, a Luo who works for the African Union mission to the U.N.“That’s the way my father talks.”

It’s estimated that a few thousand of the president-elect’s fellow Luos live in or around New York, and more than a hundred of them will be traveling en masse to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. Obama is, after all, one of their own. His self-confidence is a Luo thing: “They always call Luos braggarts,” says Joab Okello, a Luo who is an administrative judge for the state of New York who works in downtown Brooklyn. “The other tribes say we always show off.” And his eloquence? That’s also all tribal. “Luos pride themselves on the ability to articulate an idea,” said Samwel Oyugi, a medical doctor who is helping to organize the inaugural celebration. “If a Luo is sitting down for a drink, he will rebuke the person he is talking to, saying, ‘show me your education, show me your papers.’”

If you’re worried that Obama might find himself trapped in a military quagmire, don’t: Luos are peacemakers. “If we were living in Greece, we would be the Athenians,” said Okello. “The other tribes would be the Spartans. We value reasoning and talking things out. Talking is a big deal to Luos.” But Dr. Oyugi also gave reason for concern regarding the new president’s ability to handle the economy: “Luos are not good businessmen, for the most part,” he said.