The Lugbara recognized patrilineal descent, claiming a single origin from two brothers—Heroes—who entered the country from the north, found and cured many leper women, and then married them, their sons becoming the founders of some sixty clans. Genealogies from the founders to the present are usually between nine and twelve generations in depth.
The Lugbara have never formed a single polity and have lacked kings or traditional chiefs. The largest indigenous autonomous group is known as suru ("group" or "category"); it has an average population of some 4,000 people. The suru is formed of the members of a single clan, with many categories of attached groups; not all the members of a given clan will live in the same clan territory, which is given the clan name. The core members of this territory, a single jural community, may be referred to as a subclan. A clan is ideally exogamous; internal disputes should be settled by ritual or feud, in which women and children are not harmed, rather than by warfare, as between neighboring jural communities, in which women and children might be captured. The subclan territory is divided into smaller territorial units, there usually being three or even four levels; the smallest is the household occupying a single compound. These units are likewise each formed around a patrilineal lineage, a segment of the subclan; those who form the core of the household are a minimal lineage. The whole forms a segmentary lineage system. The lineage comprises kin who can trace their exact relationships, whereas those beyond it cannot do so. Lugbara recognize this distinction by referring to a lineage as ori'ba ("ghost people"), who together sacrifice to a single ancestor. Today this traditional pattern has become largely weakened and even destroyed by overcrowding, the events of Obote's genocide and later famines, and the consequent movements of populations.
Marriage is forbidden between members of the same clan or with a man's or woman's mother's close kin. It is effected by the transfer of cattle bride-wealth from the groom's to the bride's close patrilineal kin. Polygyny is a male ideal, about a third of the men having more than one wife; most secondary wives, however, are those inherited from their brothers or fathers' brothers. Divorce, which is relatively unusual, may traditionally be made only by the husband, the cattle being returned except for one beast for each child born; the most common grounds are adultery and the wife's barrenness.
The household is a close-knit and mutually dependent unit. The socialization of children is traditionally by parents and older siblings. There are no forms of initiation at puberty, but children of about 6 undergo forehead cicatrization and excision of the lower four incisors.