The segmentary lineage system was traditionally self-controlling. The rainmaker ("chief of rain," the genealogically senior man of each subclan) was the only holder of political authority until colonial administration and is still today the only one whose authority is freely accepted. Otherwise, only the heads of minimal lineages—"big-men"—held local authority. Disputes between households and small groups were settled by feud, which was fought subject to strict rules of conduct; feuds were brought to a close by the subclan rainmaker's threatening a curse upon the participants unless they settled their dispute. Between jural communities, disputes were settled by war, which ended through the joint action of the two rainmakers involved. Disputes were almost always over repaying bride-wealth, trespassing, or stealing livestock.
The Belgian administration appointed locally influential men as chiefs, making them responsibile for controlling feuding and warfare to the best of their abilities. The British, who marked boundaries between clusters of jural communities and divided the country into chiefdoms and subchiefdoms, continued the system of appointing influential local leaders. Over time, many units were amalgamated, and, by the 1950s, there were five Lugbara chiefdoms in Uganda and the same number in the Belgian Congo, each chiefdom comprising some five or six subchiefdoms, all under appointed chiefs; below the chiefs were headmen. During the 1950s, the British administration introduced elections for these offices, with some success; in general, however, those elected were looked upon as "Europeans" and often as exploiters who worked under the supervision of European district officials. The European officials numbered one district commissioner and two assistants for the district, of which the Lugbara comprised something over half the population.