The Lango settled into their present location after first moving southward as part of the southerly migration of Luo-speaking Nilotic people, which probably took place in the fifteenth century. There is evidence that cultural distinctions between the Lango and the Acholi were well established by the early nineteenth century. The relationship between the Lango and their Paranilote-speaking neighbors to the northeast, the Karamojong, is unclear. Many Lango clan names resemble Karamojong clan names, and Lango cultural practices such as totemic observances and age grades, are similar to Karamojong practices and may have been borrowed from them.
The two most salient features of the history of the Lango within the nation of Uganda are that they are not Bantu and that they have had a stateless society. When the British came to Uganda in the mid-nineteenth century, the center of colonial power was established on the shores of Lake Victoria in the kingdom of Buganda, 320 kilometers south of Lango territory. The Ganda and the other Bantu kingdoms in the southern part of Uganda gained the respect of the British in large measure because of their well-organized states. The non-Bantu societies to the north of the "Bantu line" were stateless, and, for most of the colonial period, they were regarded as the poorest, the least tractable, and the most warlike societies of Uganda. By creating most of its important institutions in the south of the country, the colonial administration heightened the differences between the north and the south, and the Lango were effectively left out of colonial development.
Contact between Lango and Ganda during the colonial period was characterized by bitterness and a lack of understanding that persist even now. Antagonism between these two societies was particularly strong during the mid-1960s, the years immediately following Uganda's independence. A Lango, Milton Obote, led the Uganda People's Congress and became prime minister; he found himself opposed to the political power of the Ganda Kingdom, the people of which had organized themselves into a political party, the Kabaka Yekka. Ensuing political events—the overthrow of Obote, the divisive reign of Idi Amin during the 1970s, and the long years of civil war—involved the Lango people in a series of opposition movements and guerrilla skirmishes. They have undergone considerable economic hardship and have all but lost any effective political voice in the national government.