Written by Imara <The writer is an architect and a member of KitengeSpaces firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.