Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Finger millet, the staple food, has been partially displaced by cassava, which colonial authorities compelled the Alur to plant as a reserve against famine; flour from both crops is usually mixed in cooking. Maize has been extensively grown during the twentieth century, a great part of it used for brewing. Beans, simsim (sesame), spinach (both wild and cultivated), and, at lower elevations, shea butternuts are important elements of the diet. In addition to cattle, the Alur raise chickens, goats, and some sheep. Edible ants and seasonal swarms of grasshoppers are further supplements. Elephants, antelopes, buffalo, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, edible rats, rabbits, and porcupines were once hunted, but government regulations, population growth, and sparsity of game have brought almost to an end the hunting of these animals, except for the last three.
The highland areas consist mainly of grassland cleared from primeval forest, the lowland areas of savanna bush. Everywhere, cattle are kept to some extent, but they flourish best in the highlands, which have also been more favorable than the lowlands to the increase of human population. Cotton is grown mainly in the midland areas, and, since the 1960s, arabica coffee has been planted extensively in the highlands, superseding cattle as the main source of cash. The Alur of the lowlands fish in the lake and river, trading smoke-dried fish to the highlands and neighboring parts of Uganda and Zaire. Mineral salt is obtained from a few localities, and vegetable salt is made by filtering the ash of suitable grasses.
Industrial Arts. The Okeodo, an ethnic subgroup of the Alur, formerly melted iron and forged tools and weapons. Skins, leaves, fibers, and bark cloth were worn as clothing until after World War II, when imported cotton came to be universally adopted.
Houses, utensils, and musical instruments are still made domestically, by individuals who have developed special skills, from local materials that are accessible to all. The houses are now usually roofed with imported iron corrugated sheets instead of local thatch, however, and the availability of imported utensils and musical instruments has caused local production to dwindle.
Trade. There has always been some exchange of salt, iron goods, fish, livestock, and foodstuffs, but regular markets did not develop until after World War II; retail shops and and administrative centers can be found at a few crossroads. Some non-Africans, especially Arabs, and African Muslims were prominent in the early development of these retail and administrative centers, but the Indo-Pakistani retailers, pervasive throughout Uganda, were confined to the district headquarters town of Arua, which lay outside Alur territory.
Land Tenure. All Alur had free access to land through kinship and descent. Most people lived in territory that was under the control of a corporate descent group to which people belonged by agnatic descent, but some might also live in another territory, to which they were linked through a mother's brother or other close cognatic relative.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, there was a fairly clear division of labor by sex among the Alur. Women were responsible for the domestic economy—preparing, cooking, and serving food, including brewing beer (and, for some of them, distilling spirits), collecting fuel, and maintaining the walls and floors of houses. Men cleared the land and hoed the fields, women weeded and harvested. The division of labor has become more diversified: both men and women work as teachers, shopkeepers, and medical staff (e.g., orderlies, nurses). Many women pursue careers away from home, especially around Kampala.