Acholi - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. When not disrupted or dispossessed by the violence endemic since the mid-1980s, most Acholi remain primarily mixed farmers. The old staples of eleusine (finger) millet, sorghum, sesame, and various peas, beans, and leafy green vegetables continue to be grown, along with twentieth-century crops such as cassava, maize, peanuts (groundnuts), fruits, and cotton. As they have for centuries, Acholi farmers rely mainly on iron hoes and other hand tools. The most common domestic animals are (and have long been) chickens and goats, with some cattle, especially in the dryer portions of Acholi. Large, dry-season hunts were an important part of the precolonial economy; these gradually decreased in significance as the varied roster of both large and small game animals dwindled over the twentieth century.

Industrial Arts. Ironworking, mainly but not entirely confined to certain lineages, appears to be almost as ancient as agriculture, going back perhaps to the first millennium B . C . Pottery and basket making were widespread and relatively nonspecialized arts, carried out by both men and women. In most chiefdoms, only members of designated lineages could make or repair royal drums.

Trade. Precolonial trade, both within Acholi and throughout the region, focused mainly on obtaining iron ore and finished iron products in exchange for baskets or products of the farm, herd, or hunt. Significantly, iron-ore deposits were located mainly at or just beyond the western, northeastern, southeastern, and southern boundaries of what became Acholi, and trade for this iron created networks of movement and interaction that helped determine a collective identity within these boundaries. During the later nineteenth century, the emergent Acholi became involved in the international trade in ivory and slaves, which were exchanged mainly for cattle, beads, blankets, cotton cloth, and firearms. Colonial rule brought the penetration of a money economy into Acholi, along with the establishment of numerous rural and small-town trading centers and the two major urban centers of Gulu and Kitgum, where a range of local and imported goods are available.

Division of Labor. In the precolonial era, warfare, herding, and hunting were the domain of men. Men have also traditionally played a significant role in agriculture, especially for such time-limited, labor-intensive tasks as clearing, planting, and harvesting (often as part of lineage-based cooperative labor teams). Women also provide major labor in the fields, as well as being responsible for most child rearing and all cooking and other food-preparation tasks. The building of houses and granaries has historically involved both men and women, with each performing specified functions. Boys and girls are typically socialized into distinct gender roles, and do household and other chores accordingly. Since the entrenchment of colonial rule, an average of 10 to 20 percent of adult Acholi males at any one time have been involved in migrant labor or employment in the police or army that has taken them from their home and families. Relatively small numbers of Acholi have filled middle-level or senior civil-service positions in independent Uganda.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, land rights were vested in localized patrilineal lineages, under the control and guidance of lineage heads and elders. This included both agricultural and hunting land. An individual had personal claim to land that he and his wife (or wives) had under cultivation or that had been cultivated but was lying fallow, and such rights passed from father to son. Given the low population densities and minimal land pressure, almost anyone who was willing to clear and work unused land has been welcomed by lineage heads responsible for such land and, while they functioned, by the rwodi of chiefdoms within whose domains the land lay. Girling (1960) notes that as late as 1950 there was still no system of individual land tenure in Acholi; however, such tenure has become increasingly common since independence.


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