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Nilotes(nīlō`tēz), people of E Africa who speak Nilotic languages. Among these are the Nuer and the Masai. The most prominent Nilotic ethnic groups live in South Sudan, N Uganda, and N Kenya. Originally from E Sudan, they migrated south centuries ago. Farmers and herders, they became primarily pastoralists in their new lands. The Nilotes are noted for their tall stature. Some Nilotic peoples, such as the Masai, are dedicated to their traditional life and have resisted intrusions by European culture.
a group of related peoples living in the basin of the upper and middle Nile along the Bahr el Jebel (Mountain Nile) and Sobat rivers in the Republic of the Sudan; between Lake Victoria and Lake Rudolf in Uganda and Kenya; in Tanzania; and in the border areas of the Republic of Zaire, Ethiopia, and the Arab Republic of Egypt. According to a 1970 estimate, there are 4 million Nilotes in the Republic of the Sudan, approximately 2.5 million in Kenya, about 2 million in Uganda, about 0.3 million in Tanzania, more than 0.2 million in the Republic of Zaire, about 0.3 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt, and more than 0.1 million in Ethiopia. The Nilotes speak Nilotic languages. Many aspects of their material and spiritual culture are similar.
On the basis of linguistic data, the Nilotes are divided into two groups. The first group comprises the Dinka, Nuer, Luo, and Jo Luo; the second comprises the Bari, Lotuko, Teso, Masai, Nandi, Suk, and Tatoga. Nubians and Hill Nubians are also Nilotes. The majority of Nilotes adhere to local traditional cults and beliefs. However, some Nilotes (the Nubians and the Luo) have adopted Islam. The Nilotes suffered greatly from the slave trade. At the end of the 19th century, their territory was divided among the colonial powers.
The Nilotes have to a large degree retained remnants of clantribal structures, which are only gradually changing under the influence of developing capitalist relations. This hinders the unification of the Nilotes into a national structure and greatly impedes social and economic development. The principal occupations of the Nilotes include cattle raising, agriculture, fishing, and hunting.