Proud of my Acholi culture

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Written by Imara <The writer is an architect and a member of KitengeSpaces kitengespaces@groups.facebook.com>

Culture is a broad subject that encompasses an integrated pattern of human knowledge, and a set of shared values. It manifests itself in a set of practices and behaviours that people ordinarily display through music, dance, language, and rituals.  I therefore define a cultural object as anything man-made or natural that symbolically represents or embodies a people’s set of values and beliefs, heritage and history.

As an Acholi, it is an honour for me to attempt to contribute in documenting the wondrous objects of totem that I had not part creating.

We, the Acholi, have our roots in Bar el Ghazel in Southern Sudan, migrating to the northern regions of Uganda as far back as the 16th century. Different accounts attest that the Acholi are a product of intermarriages between the Luo and Madi; being Luo in language and custom and therefore related in history to the Alur of West Nile, the Jopadhola of eastern regions of Uganda and the Jaluo of Kenya.

The Acholi were primarily hunter gatherers but did incorporate a various agrarian activities into their economy.

The Acholi are a communal people and they express this through their various customary activities, ways of life and rituals; for example the Laraka’raka dance is which is performed in a group which a circular formation of the participating dancers. One of the most meaningful of Acholi customs is the sitting around communal fire places (Wang’oo) where families (always extended) gathered every evening to listen to elders share stories and words of wisdom.

Acholi architecture is another aspect of The Acholi that can be said to celebrate community. Circular huts define a courtyard, used for communal activities such as Wang’oo. The interior of the main hut is the centre of definition of most aspects of the Acholi culture. From the central pole (The Wir) that holds the thatched roof, the Acholi cantilever two adjacent horizontal timber members locally called theRii.

Rii is hence my choice for favoured cultural object for the Acholi because of its role in the home.

The Rii serves two main functions; one being that of holding the Bila (horn) used as a communication means in case of the death in the village, preparation for war, preparing for a hunt, and any other activity that needs public attention to be drawn. For the ardent hunters that are the Acholi, the horns of the hunted animals are also regarded as a symbol of conquest, of one’s bravery. The Acholi also believed that the animal whose horn one hangs from the cantilevered rods is the animal one is most likely to have killed for food! The other purpose of the Rii is for holding dry cereals that will be planted in the next planting season. This is a clever way of keeping the cereals safe from infestation by insects like termites.

The Rii is usually operated by the head of the family because it is regarded as the ‘Heart’ of a home, which is why it is positioned in the main hut.

Arwot ki oda,” an Acholi proverb, translates loosely as, “I am a chief in my own house.” No matter their situation, one is a chief under one’s roof. Human nature desires to own, be identified, and to belong and as such every opportunity available to do so should be utilized.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I somehow expected ur article 2 delve deeper into a particular aspect of Acholi culture bt stil it was a well written, precise piece.
    as far as the Rii is concerned, true its as u said, tho in many parts i gues culture has evolved so u may find dat in ktgm, gulu or lamwo, da architecture has evolved too & da Rii doesnt run across da roof & is nw a short piece for the season harvests or anything frm da garden & dry cereals like u said. Its gud 2 watch as Acholi culture persists & avoids erosion evn as we adapt global trends.
    True cultural practices wil always prevail. Adaa rii, goba gik.

  2. Acholi is apart of luo group alright. Luo history however goes beyond Bar-el Gazel. Luo migrated to Bar-gazel they were not originally from Bar-el Gazel at a later date in their origin. Luo were the founders of Kush Kingdom. Luo people first migrated out of Misr or ancient Eqypt. In the 1600 luo were again forced to migrate from their tempory home in Bar-el Gazel. Some Luo groups decided to migrate nortward, e.g.,Cholo or Shilluk. Some decided to migrate southwards, Acholi, Jo-Luo of Kenya, Alur and Jo-Padhola. Others went eastward to Ethiopia- the Anyuak. Acholi is not an intermarriage of Luo and Madi that is a misinformation from Atkinson’s books. Atkinson was a young student when he wrote the book as a new comer to Uganda and now Acholi is shifting their whole history on the naive and misinformed information from the book? You Acholi and Africans usually begin to say and believe about yourselves whatever the white man says about you without checking the facts yurselves.

    Luo and Acholi culture is based on ancient Egyptian culture. Ancient Egyptian worshiped the gods Anu, Ra and Hapi now called in Acholi Lapi-all ancient Eqyptian gods. Acholi elaborate funeral ceremonies is based on ancient Eqyptian funeral ceremony which was based on the belief that there is life after death. Acholi modern Kingdom or Kerkwaro is based on the fact that Kwaro or ancestors are alive and continue to on in Spirit. Instead of paying full service to your own Kwaro or ancestors you neglect them and instead praise and pray to other people’s Kwaro- Jesus, Mary, St Peter, St. John, Muhamed etc.Those were not Acholi or Luo Kwaro or ancestors.

    The problem of Acholi and Africans in general is that they are always jumping on whatever band wagon comes along without fully understanding what the bandwagon entails. The chritian bandwagon, moslim bandwagon whatever bandwagon comes along. Other races are steadfast, stable and hold fast to their beliefs, Asians are Budhist because their ancestor, Buddha was Asian, Arabs are Muslims because their ancestor, Mohamed was Arab. Europeans are Christians, because, Jesus Christ their ancestor was European. Their religous beliefs and cultures were established by their ancestors and they hold on to them-Mohamed was an Arab and founded Islam based on their cultural beliefs, etc.

    Africans and Acholi ate split brained. You cannot hold on to your ancestral beliefs and foundation and other peoples ancestral beliefs and foundation at the same time. You used the hut, the wir and rii to ilusttrate Acholi cultural foundation. The hut has to be built on a foundation-one foundation. You cannot build it on two foundations, have two wir and two rii. These two or three foundations create conflicts and instability. The reason Acholi, Luo, Africans and Africa as a whole is in turmoil. Acholi, Ugandans and african fight amongst themselves beacuse of two or three foundations. If you try to erect a hut on two foundations in different loacations it will never stand up. That is why Africa though it has a lot of natural resources, gold, diamond, oil etc and brilliant people cannot stand up- too many false foundations, a false Europeans foundation, a false Arab masters and a false Asain foundation, etc. Africans and ACHOLI LUO should learn from the wisdom of the wild animal kingdom and nature, a cat does not build its culture and behavior on dog culture or behavior. Though the elephant is big and strong, no frog tries to become an elephant, The hippo is content being a hippo, the tiger is happy being a tiger and zebra does not borrow from the giraffe thinkin the giraffe culture or religion if any is superior.

    ACHOLI, LUO AND ALL AFRICANS Love yourselves, believe in yourselves, honor yourselves and honor your roots, foundation AND CULTURE, kwaro and build your huts or culture and behaviors on your ancestral foundation-Kerkwaro and kwaro culure, religion and beliefs. You will regain your stregnth and true place under the sun. The different mastes from whose cultures you try to borrow will no longer manipulate you to fight amongst yourselves while they take your natural resouces for free while you remain in dire poverty and desperation.

  3. i can’t believe what i just read,it’s so amazing to know more about the Acholi culture and so grateful that am one.i still need more history about them please help me.

  4. guys am a 4th year architecture student at makerere university, am writing some book about acholi culture. “the hidden treasures in acholi land………..the power of cultural resilience”
    i need references for the history of acholi and other writings about our intrinsic values.

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