Alur - Religion and Expressive Culture



The central religious concept of the tradional Alur was jok, which could be perceived either as a pervasive unity or as a composite entity of innumerable particular entities that were associated with prominent or extraordinary manifestations of nature, rocks, trees, wells, and streams and also with the ancestral spirits of the lineages. Every family head built one shrine for his patrilineal ancestors and another for the spirits of female and cognatic kin. The shrine that was built by a lineage head was more important, and the shrine of the ruler, although also dedicated to his ancestors, virtually amounted to a shrine for the polity as a whole and received the largest attendance for seasonal sacrifice and celebration. The diviner ( ajuoga ) and the witch ( jajok ) or sorcerer (not terminologically distinguished) were thus linguistically linked to jok and were manifestations of the same power. There were various methods of divination, whereby the ajuoga diagnosed the nature and discerned the cure of a patient's afflictions and ascertained the cause of a death. Accused witches were subjected to ordeals in which poison was administered to chickens, which were watched to see which suspect they pointed to in their death throes. Witches convicted in this way formerly were put to death, and they still may be forced to move to another community. Many afflictions emerge in the form of possession by spirits, which are also various manifestations of jok. Possession is dealt with by having the appropriate diviner exhort the patient with drumming and by dancing on the part of those who have previously been cured, in order to accept and welcome the spirit, allow it to come out, and "dance" in its honor. This is called idho jok, "to climb jok."

Cuts were made in certain parts of the body for the insertion of medicine, and foreign bodies implanted in the body by sorcery were said to be extracted by sucking them out through horns. Curative bloodletting was also practiced.

The death of prominent people is marked by a mourning "dance" ( ywak ), which allows the free expression of grief and also of aggressive hostility toward death and its presumed human mystical instrument. The real dance ( myel ) of the Alur is a joyous celebration that brings together people of many neighboring corporate groups in a mystically enforced truce, secured by ritual, that provides an opportunity for young people to become attracted to each other and proceed to courtship and marriage.

Alur artistic expression is evinced in singing; dancing; playing drums, harps, and horns; and making aesthetically pleasing objects of practical use. Herbal medicine is part of the practice of diviners. The Lendu who have been incorporated into Alur society have contributed a rich body of herbal lore. Cicatrizations were made by girls on the forehead and belly, and by the young men of some areas, in patterns that varied regionally. Because the latter tended to spend long periods away from home under foreign influence, they discontinued this practice long before girls did.

Death is marked by sacrifice, feasting, beer drinking, and inquisition into the causes of death, involving an extensive rehearsal and a sifting of all the accumulated tensions, disputes, and witchcraft episodes that have marred the harmony of the local community.


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