The Anuak people live on the banks of the Baro River in the Gambela Region. Unlike other Nilotic peoples in the Upper Nile, whose economies are based on raising cattle, the Anuak are herdsmen and farmers. They are believed to have a common origin with their northern neighbors, the Luo and Shilluk. Also, they share a similar language with their neighbors to the south, the Acholi.
The Luo peoples are scattered all over Eastern Africa, including Sudan and Ethiopia; they identify as a people who have preserved their cultural heritage wherever they reside. The Luo- speaking people of Eastern Africa are found beyond the Sudan and Ethiopia in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo. Their language(s) and dialects belong to the broader cluster of Nilo-Saharan languages.
The Gambela region is hot and tropical with rich, fertile, well-watered soil coming from the rivers. Much is carried down from the mountains of the highlands, which has a cooler, dryer climate. The differences in geography have caused self-identification by Ethiopians into distinctive categories of "lowlanders", such as the Anuak and other indigenous groups in the area, as opposed to the "highlanders." The latter, including the Amhara, Oromo, and Tigrayan ethnicities, comprise the majority of the population of Ethiopia.
The Anuak and others who live in the lowlands of Gambela complain of racial discrimination and marginalization by other ethnicities in Ethiopia. This has affected the Anuaks' access to education, health care and other basic services, as well as limiting opportunities for development of the area.
The Anuak of Sudan live in a grassy region that is flat and virtually treeless. During the rainy season, this area floods, so that much of it becomes swampland with various channels of deep water running through it.