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Nilotic people or Nilotes, in its contemporary usage, refers to some ethnic groups mainly in southern Sudanmarker, Uganda, Kenyamarker, and northern Tanzania, who speak Nilotic languages, a large sub-group of the Nilo-Saharan languages. These include the Kalenjin, Luo, Ateker, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk and the Maa-speaking peoples – all which are clusters of several ethnic groups.

The terms Nilotic and Nilote were previously used as racial classifications, based on anthropological observations of their distinct body morphology. These perceptions were later widely discarded by scientists. , but today they again find support in population genetics.

These terms are now foremost used to distinguish "Nilotic people" from their ethnic neighbours (mainly Bantu speaking people), based on ethnolinguistic affiliation. Etymologically, the terms Nilotic and Nilote (also spelled Nilot) derive from the Nile Valley, specifically the Upper Nilemarker and its tributaries, where most Sudanese Nilo-Saharan-speaking people live.

Linguistic divisions

Linguistically, Nilotic people are divided into three sub-groups:

Ethnic divisions

Nilotic people constitute a large part of the population of Southern Sudanmarker. The largest of the Sudanese Nilotic people are the Dinka, which includes as many as twenty-five ethnic groups. The next largest group are the Nuer, followed by the Shilluk.

The Nilotic people in Uganda include the Luo group (Acholi, Alur and Jopadhola), the Ateker (Iteso and Karamojong), and the Lango and Kumam.

In Kenya, the Nilotes are often categorised into three subgroups:


Nilotic people have been investigated in studies of both autosomal DNA and Y-DNA. Hassan et al. found out that the three biggest groups of Sudanese Nilotes (Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk) were characterized by the predominance of Y-haplogroups A3b2 (54,9%), B (30,2%) and E1b1b1a (15,1%).

In the autosomal study of Tishkoff et al. Nilotic groups (Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk), together with the related Nyimang people, make up a discrete genetic cluster separated from other clusters in Subsaharan Africa.


Nilotes are often described as gracile in stature with a taller and slimmer stature than the average human, and long limbs with very long distal segments (forearms, calves). This characteristic is thought to be a climatic adaptation to allow their bodies to shed heat more efficiently.

Sudanese Nilotes are regarded as one of the tallest people in the world. For example, Roberts and Bainbridge reported average values of 182.6 cm for height and 58.8 kg for weight in a sample of Sudanese Shilluk. Another sample of Sudanese Dinka had 181.9 cm/58.0 kg with an extremely ectomorphic somatotype 1.6-3.5-6.2.

Other Nilotes are considerably smaller. Campbell et al. measured 172.0 cm/53.6 kg in a sample of agricultural Turkana in northern Kenya, and 174.9 cm/53.0 kg in pastoral Turkana. Hiernaux lists 172.7 cm for Maasai in southern Kenya with an extreme trunk/leg length ratio 47.7%.

Many Nilotic groups excel in long distance running. This sort of sports excellence seems to stem from their exceptional running economy resulting from slim body morphology and slender legs.


  1. "Nilotic", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.
  2. The Forging of Races Cambridge University Press THE FORGING OF RACES - by Colin Kidd Excerpt
  3. Sarah A. Tishkoff et al.: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica Article: Nilot
  5. Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Sudan: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991.
  6. [1] H. H. Hassan et al:. Y-Chromosome Variation Among Sudanese: Restricted Gene Flow, Concordance With Language, Geography, and History
  7. Sarah A. Tishkoff et al.: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans
  8. D. F. Roberts, D. R. Bainbridge: Nilotic physique. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 1963, p. 341-370
  9. B. Campbell, P. Leslie, K. Campbell: Age-related Changes in Testosterone and SHBG among Turkana Males. American Journal of Human Biology, 1/2006, p. 71-82
  10. Jean Hiernaux: The People of Africa. Encore Editions, 1975)
  11. Bengt Saltin: The Kenya project - Final report. New Studies In Athletics, vol. 2, pp. 15-24

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