Lango - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Lango subsistence system is classified as a "mixed" system (i.e., a combination of pastoralism and agriculture). Millet and sorghum are the two principal food crops, and, because they are the crops that the Lango have grown for the longest period of time, these foods are integrated into religious and symbolic conceptions more than other food crops are. Other important crops are maize, groundnuts (peanuts), potatoes, and cassava. Lesser crops are bananas, tomatoes, sesame ( simsim ), cowpeas, and various leafy greens. Most Lango labor goes into agricultural activities, but only half of the labor goes into the production of food; the other half of the agricultural labor goes into the production of cotton, which is the principal source of income for Lango peasants. After the introduction of cotton in 1912, the Lango people became integrated into the world industrial economy for the first time. The cotton was shipped to British textile mills, and the Lango were able to use cash from its sale to pay taxes and the school fees of their children.

Pastoralism requires much less labor than agriculture, but it figures very prominently in Lango cultural life. The Lango exemplify the East African cultural traits that Melville
J. Herskovits long ago dubbed "the cattle complex." Social status is marked by the number of cows a man has; cattle are used to pay bride-wealth, and they are prized for various attributes, such as loyalty or bravery, which are sometimes imputed to particular animals. As a source of food, Lango cattle are of limited value. They provide very little milk, but surplus cattle are slaughtered for feasts, and some are sold to traders who ship them to southern Uganda. Since about 1950, there has been a shift in attitudes: cattle are no longer regarded as a commodity that should be kept for the conspicuous display of prestige or for social exchange but as a commodity that can be sold for profit. During the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s, however, most cattle were slaughtered, and at present the Lango have very few cattle and are thus unable to use them for ritual purposes and exchange, as they had in the past.

In the southern part of Lango territory, near Lake Kyoga, there is a lacustrine adaptation that is centered upon fishing. The lake is an abundant source of Nile perch and other fish, and these can be caught with traps, lines, and spears.

Industrial Arts. There are no Lango artifacts that are made by full-time specialists. In the past, blacksmiths and iron smelters were specialists, but their techniques have long been forgotten. Coiled pottery is made by women who happen to reside near suitable deposits of clay. Some people are known to be especially good at fashioning drinking straws out of reeds, or thatching roofs, or carving wood, or weaving grass mats, but they are not full-time specialists, and in fact many adults can perform these tasks to some degree. The introduction of trade goods and new forms of technology has led to a number of new crafts. In the trading centers, one finds tailors, bicycle repairers, furniture makers, motor mechanics, and carpenters.

Trade. A well-established long-distance trade network existed in precolonial times, involving sesame, which was traded northward into Sudan, much of it ending up in Egypt. The sesame trade dwindled in the twentieth century, but a new and much more complex form of trade was introduced during the colonial period. East Indian traders controlled this trade at both the wholesale and retail level. They operated numerous small shops throughout Lango District and sold such necessities as clothing, matches, kerosene, metal sheeting, bicycles, and pots and pans. The expulsion of East Indians from Uganda by Idi Amin has greatly disrupted this trade network. Supplies are now irregular, stocks are low, and money is scarce. There is also a system of local markets, which are held throughout Lango territory. These markets allow people to dispose of surplus crops or cattle, and they work well in distributing foodstuffs and permitting Lango people, particularly women, to earn small amounts of cash.

Division of Labor. The division of labor in Lango is based mainly on age and sex. As soon as they are 6 or 7 years old, girls assist in household tasks and in caring for younger siblings. Young boys look after cattle, and, by the time they are 10, they may be put in charge of a small herd. Girls often marry when they are 15, and they then take on the responsibilities of growing and preparing food for their households. Adolescent boys are allotted their own fields, so that they can begin their lives as active cultivators. As adults weaken because of age, their productive capacities diminish, and old people find themselves dependent on others for food, with the result that they are often malnourished and embittered.

The sexual division of labor involves men doing the heavy agricultural labor and women doing much of the rest. Men cut trees and brush to clear the fields and hoe the soil at the beginning of the rainy season. They also sow the crops and plant the potatoes and cassava, but after the food crops have been planted, the responsibility of weeding and harvesting falls mostly to women. The crops are said to belong to the women, who must dry them, store them, prepare them for consumption, and sell any surplus. Although women have considerable control over the food crops, men control the cotton. They weed, spray, and harvest the cotton crop, and they control the cash derived from its sale.

Land Tenure. There is some variation in the forms of land tenure in different parts of Lango territory, depending mostly on population pressure. In the southern region, where land is scarce, there has been a tendency for fields to be small. In the northern part of Lango District, land is more available, and, until the 1970s, men had little trouble finding land to cultivate. Throughout the territory as a whole, there is no fixed ownership of land. People have usufruct rights to a parcel of land, but they do not actually own it. Attempts by the government to survey the land and establish a system of landownership have been steadfastly resisted by the Lango, who see landownership as the end of communalism and who fear that acquisitive individuals will take over large tracts of land. The Lango usufruct system, which worked well in the past, merely entails a young man asking the other men in his neighborhood if he may use a piece of land. As his household expands, and as he intensifies production, he may add additional fields, but his acquisitions are always limited by his ability to work the land. Neighborhood elders sometimes fail to give permission, and, occasionally, a man who causes trouble in the community is stripped of his land and must leave to take up residence in another neighborhood. Population pressure and soil erosion have made this system of usufruct less practicable than it was in the past, and conflicts over land are becoming more numerous.


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