You are on page 1of 7

Navarro P.

Javier Navarro
ANT 379
11/3/2010
Dr. Wills
Acholi Culture and Society
Historically, the Acholi were nomadic cattle headers who used to travel to different
areas of Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan looking for pastures in order to feed their cattle.
Today, the Acholi live is in a semi-arid savanna in northeastern Uganda where there is less than
fifty centimeters of rainfall per year (USDOS, 2008). As of today, Acholi population density only
makes about five percent of Ugandas total population, which is equivalent to 1.6 million
people (Dinar).
The nomadic approach once cherished by the Acholi has slowly disappeared with time
according to anthropologist of the University of Wisconsin. This change from nomadic people
to subsistence farmers came when the Acholi people took up farming and now depend less on
hunting and cattle herding (Acholi). As subsistence farmers, the Acholi currently harvest foods
that are great importance to Acholi society such as Millet. Along with millet, the Acholi also
grow a variety of different crops. Those crops are corn, sorghum, beans, squash, peanuts as
well as some variety of savanna crops. However, even though most of the crops are grown for
the purpose of sustaining the Acholi population, one crop is harvested every year by the Acholi
people for the purposed of trading; that crop is tobacco (Acholi, 2010).
Even though hunting no longer plays as big of a role in Acholi society, hunting still has
some importance to the Acholi since some of their food is still-hunted for in the savanna. The
animals that the Acholi hunt today include gazelle, bush pigs, and Colobus monkeys in the

Navarro P.2

lowlands and Hyrax in the highlands (Whitehouse, 1931).By still hunting for wild game, the
Acholi have created unique hunting tracts where only one clan has access to a specific plot of
land where only that clan can hunt. Along with hunting, the Acholi people also rely on fishing in
nearby streams and swamps for the remainder of their food supply (Acholi, 2010; Whitehouse,
1931).
Within Acholi society, the division of labor with is similar for both genders. For example,
with agricultural tasks, men, woman, as well as children cultivate crops. However, the only
noticeable difference is that the men are responsible for taking care of the cattle. Since men
have to take care of the cattle, in many small Acholi communities the division of labor becomes
more gender based because the majority of the women work in the fields while the men tend
the cattle (Loc, 1990).
Even though the Acholi are able to cultivate crops, the Acholi face a constant threat
when it comes to access to water since in the Northern Uganda region known as Acholiland is
known to have a consistent amount of droughts that affect the region. When drought happens,
not all the Acholi are affected in the same way. For some Acholi who live in the furthest
northeastern areas of Acholiland are at greater risk of not having sufficient amount of water
because the Acholi have to share a border with the Karamojong tribe, who also need access to
the same water. This though has caused tension between both tribes due to the lack of water in
the region (Gonzalez, 2009).
When it comes to leadership within the Acholi, there is an interesting pattern for how
the Acholi socialize with each other. The most noticeable for how the Acholi socialize is that the
Acholi are organized into localized patrilineages that consist of a few hundred people. However,

Navarro P.3

these patrilineages are further organized into clans and several clans will belong to a chiefdom.
Even with such organization, the Acholi clans further organize themselves at a local level based
on ranking. The ranking is determined by their proximity to the royal lineage. Whoever is the
closest to the royal lineage is officially recognized as the king for the clan (Loc, 1990).
When the Acholi socialize with neighboring tribes such as the Langi, the Acholi treat
their guest with dances and other friendly rituals as a welcoming gift. The same can be said
when the Acholi visit other tribes such as the Langi tribe (Whitehouse, 1931).
With the residence pattern for the Acholi, in the past the Acholi tribe would get
together in villages that were fenced. However, today many Acholi members still live in similar
villages within chiefdoms but no longer live in fenced villages. These new modern chiefdoms
range from about five hundred to twenty thousand people where they are sill organized by
patrilineal association (Atkinson, 1989).
When it comes to spiritual beliefs, the Acholi people assign there lineage leaders to be
ritual figures within the chiefdom. However, in many cases, the ritual figure plays a stronger
role especially outside their perspective chiefdom. The Acholi belief system is also unique
because usually the oldest lineage head within the area becomes the primary ritual figure for
the chiefdom as a whole (Atkinson, 1989; Whitehouse, 1931).
Acholi rituals are also unique since there is one ritual that is widely known by several
people as the Acholi dance, which is a three-day event. The event consist of the Acholi having a
big ritual were both men and woman dance in preparation for a large hunt where Acholi
leaders take their young men who have never hunted and hunt on a large scale (Whitehouse,
1931). Another Acholi belief that is noticeable and still practiced to some degree today in many

Navarro P.4

Acholi communities is that many Acholi members have special huts meant to be a resting place
for their ancestors since in their minds, their ancestors are always are always there
(Whitehouse, 1931).
Another belief that the Acholi still practice is the practice of polygamy. Even though
polygamy is practiced, men within the Acholi society cannot marry anyone they want. The
Acholi people do not allow there men to marry any female from the same clan. Therefore, the
woman who is getting married normally is from a neighboring clan where she leaves the
comforts of her home to go live with the husbands clan (Atkinson, 1989; Gurr, 2010;
Whitehouse; 1931). This acceptance of polygamy, although practiced, is not seen very much
with many Acholi members. The reason is that if a male marries more than one wife, the male
has to provide a separate house for each wife as well as a kitchen for the wife to cook (Loc,
1990).
Historically the nature of warfare for the Acholi people was originally to control the
neighboring land of other chiefdoms in order to have the best land for raising cattle and
hunting wild game (Atkinson, 1989).
Warfare currently is a major source of conflict within Acholi society. This conflict is due
to a gorilla war that started from an Acholi splinter group known as the Lords Resistance Army
(LRA). The Acholi splinter group original mission was originally to start an independence
movement in order to have a state govern by theocratic Christian believes (Noll, 2009). This
movement though, has mutated to the point where the gorilla group is going around the
Acholiland region abducting Acholi children and using them to kill other people who do not
believe in the in the LRA theocratic state movement (Noll, 2009). This theological gorilla war

Navarro P.5

has displaced almost eighty percent of the Acholi population who are in constant fear of being
killed by the gorilla group while they sleep (Murithi, 2002; Halmrast-Sanchez, 2004; Gurr, 2006).
Based on available information that is currently available, it is hard for me to
characterize the Acholi society in such a way that one can be confident enough to give a
response since there is very little information about the Acholi society. If I were only to base it
on current information that focuses on the conflict that is currently going on in Acholiland I
would characterize them as savages. In addition, if I were to base it only on pre-colonial
information, I would characterize the Acholi as walking around naked all the time. However,
this is not the case with the modern Acholi. Characterizing the Acholi is a bit tricky since not
much is really known about their society. However, I was able to get just enough detail on the
Acholi were I feel comfortable characterizing a society and its customs. Based on the available
information about the Acholi in modern times and having knowledge about pre-colonial
Acholiland, I would characterize the Acholi society as one that is centered on a family
orientation. The Acholi today, mostly depend on agriculture in order to sustain their current
population. Although hunting no longer takes a big role in Acholi society, hunting is now seen as
a rite of passage for younger males within the Acholi society. By continuing to use hunting as a
rite of passage, I can explain the purpose of the Acholi dance followed by a three-day hunt
mostly consisting of very young males. Overall, the Acholi seem like nice people that one would
want to meet.

Navarro P.6

Bibliography
Atkinson, R. (1989). The Evolution of Ethnicity among the Acholi of Uganda: The Pre-colonial
Phase. Ethnohistory, 36(1), 19. Retrieved from Academic Search Elite database.
Acholi. (2010). In Encyclopdia Britannica. Retrieved November 28, 2010, from Encyclopdia
Britannica Online: http://0www.britannica.com.opac.library.csupomona.edu/EBchecked/topic/3628/Acholi
Acholi. (n.d.). National African Language Resource Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison- ,
Madison, Wisconsin. Retrieved from
http://lang.nalrc.wisc.edu/resources/press/brochures/acholi.pdf
Dinar, A. (n.d.). Uganda -- ethnic groups. African Studies Center, University Of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from http://www.africa.upenn.edu/NEH/u-ethn.html
Gonzalez, F. (2009). Image of northern uganda acholi land. School of Public Health and Health
Services, The George Washington University, Washington D.C., Washington D.C. Retrieved
from
http://www.gwumc.edu/sphhs/about/kudos/kudosDocs/Florencia%20Newsletter%201a1
.pdf
Gurr, T.R. (2010, July 16). Chronology for acholi in uganda. Retrieved from
http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar/chronology.asp?groupId=50001
Gurr, T.R. (2006, December 31). Assessment for acholi in uganda. Retrieved from
http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar/assessment.asp?groupId=50001
Halmrast-Sanchez, T. United States Agency for International Development, Bureau for
democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance. (2004). Uganda - complex emergency.
Washington, DC: Retrieved from
http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/countries/
uganda/fy2004/Uganda_CE_SR02_03-18-2004.pdf
Loc. Library of Congress, (1990). Uganda langi and acholi. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/frd/cs/ugtoc.html
Murithi, t. (2002). Rebuilding social trust in northern uganda. Peace Review, 1(3), Retrieved
from http://0web.ebscohost.com.opac.library.csupomona.edu/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=108&sid=8392
5e2b-d5f8-44ae-84462af7ceec0814%40sessionmgr111&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=afh&A
N=7401653 doi: 10.1080/1367886022000016848

Navarro P.7

Noll, C. (2009). The betrayed: an exploration of the acholi. opinion of the international criminal
court. Journal of Third World Studies, 26(1), Retrieved from http://0web.ebscohost.com.opac.library.csupomona.edu/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=108&sid=8392
5e2b-d5f8-44ae-84462af7ceec0814%40sessionmgr111&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=afh&A
N=37134738
USDOS. United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
(2008). Uganda. Washington, D.C.: Retrieved from
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100510.htm
USDOS. United States Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs (2010). Uganda.
Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2963.htm
Whitehouse, G.T. (1931). The langia-acholi mountain region of the sudan-uganda borderland.
The Geographical Journal, 77(2), 140-159.