Acholi - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that from early in the Christian era, Acholi was settled mainly by Central Sudanic (or "proto-Central Sudanic") speakers in the west and Eastern Nilotic ("proto-Eastern Nilotic") speakers in the east. Before the late seventeenth century, Luo speakers were limited to only a few peripheral areas of Acholi. All of these early inhabitants were ironworking mixed farmers, organized into localized patrilineal lineages or, in some cases, into temporary groupings of two to four such lineages.

A new sociopolitical order—and the basis of an Acholi identity—was established when chiefly institutions and ideology were introduced into Acholi by Luo-speaking Paluo from the neighboring kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. Central to the new order were a set of notions about political leadership in which chiefs ( rwodi; sing, rwot ) shared power and decision making with the heads of chiefdoms' constituent lineages; a system of redistributive tribute within each polity, with the chief at the center; and royal, often rainmaking, drums as symbols of sovereignty and authority. Over the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some seventy chiefdoms were founded throughout the area that became Acholi, leading to the development of a new social order and political culture, the spread of a new language (Luo), and the evolution of a new society and collective identity. This complex process was helped along by two major droughts, probably during the 1720s and c. 1790, which promoted larger-scale political leadership that held the promise of greater stability and security, and by the formation of neighboring identities against which members of an emergent Acholi could compete, compare, and define themselves.

Over the second half of the nineteenth century, Acholi was incorporated into international trade networks through the activities of northern, Arabic-speaking ivory and slave traders. This trade brought new wealth into Acholi that was unevenly accumulated, with rwodi and interpreters (and eventually their sons and other kinsmen) the major beneficiaries. The northerners also contributed to the further evolution of an Acholi identity, not only by introducing the name "Shuuli," which eventually became "Acholi," but by acting in ways that promoted Acholi as a meaningful ethnic and geographic entity.

When Britain established its rule during the early twentieth century, both ideological predisposition and practical utility prompted the colonizers to consider the Acholi a "tribe" and to administer the area as a "tribal" unit. From the beginning, the Acholi were marginal compared to Britain's concern with Buganda, at the core of the colony. Acholi's role in the colonial economy was confined mainly to the peasant production of cotton as a cash crop and the provision of recruits for the colonial army or police and migrant labor for the more "developed" Buganda. Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries were active in Acholi from early colonial rule, providing written Luo religious, educational, and historical texts and producing a local educated elite, all of which fostered the further development of an Acholi identity within the colonial context of "tribal" culture, consciousness, and politics.

With independence, the Acholi remained marginal within the framework of Uganda as a whole, with one crucial exception: their disproportionate numbers in the police and army. Comprising less than 5 percent of the country's population, during the early years of independence the Acholi constituted more than 15 percent of the police force and fully a third of the army. This special access to Uganda's security forces has alternately presented opportunity and danger as a succession of regimes replaced one another in a cycle of political violence often played out in ethnic (or "tribal") terms. In the most recent phase of the cycle, beginning in the mid-1980s, Acholi has largely been on the receiving end of the violence. Uganda's current army, various local rebel groups (some headed by apocalyptic "prophets" such as Alice Lakwena), and heavily armed Karamojong raiders have all raped, looted, killed, and destroyed, making any kind of normal life in Acholi impossible.

User Contributions:

Rev. Okidi Charles
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Jan 18, 2012 @ 4:04 am
I am impressed with this article, I wish you the best as you reflect more on Acholi tradtions and religion. Tjis will open more insight to visitors. I am writing a thesis on the Dualism in atonement reflecting on Acholi tradition and christian perspectives. Major question why do acholi christian converts do engage dual practice in atonement? What do you thing is missing in the church make acholi christian still look for an alternative means of cleansing? and how can this be reconciled?
Your contribution is highly appreciated.
justin Chicago Opiny
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Apr 4, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
I call myself an Acoli from south sudan because Acholi is affiliated with Uganda. In order to know the different between the two Acholi's those from south sudan should call themselves Acoli and not Acholi which was introduced by a ugandan writer Okot P'Bitek an Acholi. They the Acholi from Uganda think we are not even Acholi enough as we have slight different in pronouncing some words. we are one people,but different people at the same time. When you see "Acholi" you will think of Uganda right away that is where we differ. Acoli sudan and Acholi Uganda. Any comment is welcomed.
john engamvile
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Nov 12, 2013 @ 3:03 am
It pleases me so much when I find such cultural treasures are stored in the net which young generation likes most.
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Aug 28, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
I want to thank all of you who have contributed to this wonderful article on Acholi, I am impressed with your artical and would wish to request that if possible please provides us with more information on the early lives of Acholi people. We are members of LET's LEARN TO SPEAK AND WRITE ACHOLI on Face book, our main aim is educate our children who are born in Uganda and outside Uganda Acholi culture as well as teach them to speak Acholi, you're warmly welcome to join us on our Face book group for discussion, learning as well as making new friend. We have members of Kenyans Luo in our group and I strongly would wish to invite our brothers in Sudan to feel free and join us.

I would wish to inform Mr. Justine chicago Opiny that we Acholi in Uganda don't look at their Brothers in Sudan in any different way accept that we belong to two different countries, however, recently due to the war in South Sudan, the Elders in Northern Uganda have made provision to accommodate those Acholi affected by war in S.Sudan and as a result, many Acholi from S. Sudan have crossed over and settled in Acholiland. you're welcome to change your views and think of us like your other brothers who are abroad. Thank you.
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Sep 27, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
Thank you all for this information,that I first thought would not be in the internet
ojok kenneth
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Feb 2, 2015 @ 11:11 am
I am very glad to get this information pertaining the culture of Acholi.We should continue to practice our culture for generations.
Okumu Denis
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Jul 18, 2015 @ 8:08 am
iam so happy to know this information about my tribe and i still need more terminology
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Aug 8, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
I am very impressed to come across this kind of forum where we the Acholi people can dig out our heritage and shared with other people. I would love to learn more abut this beautiful tribe which is existing within the two countries (Uganda and South Sudan)
Emmanuel Okot Ochan
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Jan 16, 2016 @ 1:13 pm
It such a pleasure to learn that my culture is actually absolutely vibrantly being talked about some where more especially on this page. Proudly an Acoli.
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Aug 4, 2016 @ 4:04 am
how do they practice marriage, funerals ,birth of twins ,iniciation?
Lapicha Grace John
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Dec 29, 2016 @ 7:07 am
I am so great full to come across to know that my language is alive and our history and traditions still flowing. I got a big heart to teach the little children in reading and writing in Acholi. But I know little as far as I could remember the beginner book, that goes A E I O U, ba be bi Bo bu and so on. Help required please. My Thanks goes to all those who gives their spirit to runs this Acholi Forum.
Tabu Lee Daniel
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Feb 14, 2018 @ 6:06 am
Thanks so much for Such information, it's time enough for Us (The Acholi) to start putting things down in writings. It had been very difficult for me always to write Scientific Papers when it come to Cultural Issues as far as Acholi is concern, the most recent, I was asked by my Lecture of Wisdom Literature to write Taboos and Proverbs concerning Sexual Morality of my Tribe (Acholi), giving its literary and deeper/ hidden meaning. I can very well when it come to reflection papers.
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Aug 18, 2018 @ 2:02 am
I think the Acholi might be more ancient than we have been led to believe. More than 500 years of slavery and interfering with our minds have gotten the better of us. I think Joli/Mjoli in South Africa is related to Acholi/Acoli or Shuli/Mdluli. In Bantu languages, and Luos are bantu regardless of the nonsensical delineation given by whites of who is semitic and nilotic or hamite. An aside, Israelite tribes mixed with Hamites (Canaan was a land of Hamites - Gergashites, Hovites, Hittites, Sidon etc.), Kushites (The queen of Sheba was Kushite and she lived in Israel - in Juda to be exact and many more - Zepho (means gift as in South African Sipho or Zipho) an Edomite, son of Eliphaz, son of Esau (amambomvu/mpofu - the red people) rued over a Kushite nation, Moses also ruled over a Kushite nation for more than 30 years after leaving Egypt the first time even though he did not mate with their queen as she was a devil-worshipper), we even mixed with the whites/Japhethites of Tyre - what is called indian people today. Also, South Africa has Luos amongst the Zulu, Mpondo, Xhosa and definitely amongst the Vendas - they call their khanda or head village Luonde - they were mostly traders and smiths in one or other thing and lived in Sena, MOzambique - a Luo/Mpondo/Mpoto/Mpundu/Mbuthu-Tonga (matriarchal ancestry town - you had TokaLeya and Tonga-Tshali, Tonga-Tembe (Which I think is Terah - father of Abraham) tribes there etc. in those towns) tribe/Town. The LuoMy research has shown me that the Mjoli/Moholi/Acholi were initially a Levite tribe descendent from Moholi, son of Merari, son of Levi, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. This is over 3,000 years ago. We have kept the same names of the tribes since God left us. The Levite origin will also explain the debilitating levels of witchcraft. You guys dress exactly like the Zulus/MaChi or Mpondo or Mpondomise/Phuthing. They are all Zulu and you are Zulu - Zulu comes from Sulumane/Solomon. King of the combined Kingdom of the Sulus/Zulus(Ya)Kriba/(Mu)Kariba/(Ya)Kubu/Kubung/(Ye)Kuvu/(Ye)Kobi/(Ya)Kova/(Ya)Gova/(He)Gaba/(Ya)Khaba/(Ya)Khama/(Yo)Ruba/(Yo)Luba/Geba/(He)Gebe or Jacob Monosolo - which means Kings of the Solos, in Africa, especially amongst the Sotho tribes - nomadic pastoralists and traders/arabs - where Solo is Sulu and then Zulu/Julu/Gulu/Hulu/Tulu/Zuru/Juru/Guru/Huru/Turu/Zolo/Jolo/Golo/Holo/Tolo or Zoro/Joro/Goro/Horo/Tooro/Toro and Tondo/Tundu/Zondo/Zundu, similarly, G = K etc. etc. These are all indication of Zulu people. Zulu is not what white people taught us. It was what Israelites called themselves such as in the name Zorobabel. Also, Hebrew script does not have vowels so white people put in their own vowels from guesstimates, for instance Zulu/Zoro would be written Z-r-. Anyway, I believe the Mpondos, of which Joli, is a part, was a Portuguese (Putu-Kisii) or Moro/Moroe or Moroa/Morwa garrison after being defeated in Portugal (or Putunkala - nkala = ngara or negara or negra = negro) or South America or even in North Africa and came down to Africa to disrupt and conquer the land. But I think as soon as they came to Sofala and saw that they were fighting against their own, there was mutiny and they settled and ruled the land. They also made very good deals with colonialists in all areas in Africa it seems. South Africa has all the tribes of Africa living there, just like Nigeria. And they are still coming. I see you have Lakwena as a surname - we have Mokoena and Ngwenya, they were called bushmen in South Africa but they are in general Kru-Kweny or Gikuyu-Ngweni or Hungwe (Zimbabwe), they are related to Dlamini-Ngwane clan KaMasumpa and the Shongwa or Hlongwa or Songo/Shongo or Mhlongo clan of Bakabhebhe. I have more linkages. In my country this clan is called Mambo-Kisii/ Mambo-Nkosi or they would be called Ekossi in Cameroon/Gabon.
Kihangire Cyprian George and
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Oct 10, 2018 @ 8:08 am
I am so happy and proud to be an Acoli /Acholi, a tribe so rich in cultures and traditions. I would like to comment on what my brother Justin said about the difference between the names of the Acoli /Acholi. My brother, don't let letters in the names make you have that feeling that we are different people. I strongly disagree with you in that. If you look at the Acoli /Acholi alphabet four letters of the English alphabet are missing out. These letters are : f, h, s and z. This shows to you that the name "Acholi " was a mistake I think. Please, bro, we're one people. I am your brother from Uganda.
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Oct 12, 2018 @ 4:04 am
I'm so impressed to dig out the culture and origin of Acholi/Acoli which is also my tribe
Lets keeps educating people about our culture
We are truly Kodi Pa Lyeci
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Oct 20, 2018 @ 7:19 pm
Both the Acoli of south Sudan and Uganda are Lwoos by origin. The fact that they straddle two countries does not make them less Lwo, however, it has to be appreciated that the migration was not one dimensional as suggested by colonial historians. Acoli migration into Uganda and south Sudan was in small groups headed by a rwot/head.

The name Acoli is a social construction by the alliens that made contact with the many Lwoo groups in south Sudan and Uganda. Acoli only became Acoli because the alliens gave them that label. Before contacts with foreigners the Acoli knew each other by their lineage names such as Obbo, Panyikwara, Agoro, Pajule, Payira, Adilang, Lira-Palwo, Padibe etc.
Kevin Oduor
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May 14, 2020 @ 4:16 pm
Iam a Luo / Ja Nam/ ja Onagi as we're commonly known we luos from Kenya, and am interested in learning Dhoacholi /LebAcholi. Add me to your forum

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