Lugbara - Religion and Expressive Culture



The Lugbara recognize a single deity, Adroa (also known as Adro), who created the world and its inhabitants. Two Heroes then formed Lugbara society itself. Beneath Adroa are two categories of spiritual beings: the spirits and the ancestors. Spirits are known as adro, a word of complex meaning that essentially refers to a source of power. The spirits are of many kinds and have different degrees of power over human beings. First are the numberless spirits of sickness and disaster, their motives unknowable to the living (although female diviners are thought able to make some contact with them). Second are the spirits that inhabit the bodies of the living, together with the soul. The spirit in the body leaves at death, dwelling in the forests with an immanent aspect of the Adroa. These spirits take the form of small human beings, and both they and Adroa kill on sight.

Ancestors who left male children are "ghosts"; they send sickness to their descendants as response to disobedience. Sacrifices of meat, blood, and beer are offered to the ghosts individually, by elders. The ancestors without male children form a collectivity to which grains and milk are offered, as do the spirits.

Living elders act as priests for their lineages and also as oracles who discover the identity of the ghosts sending sickness. Today many people attend government and mission clinics to ensure physical healing, but the clinics cannot discover the underlying mystical causes of sickness. Diviners, mainly women, are possessed by—and can contact—spirits in order to ascertain the causes and suggest means of removing them. Prophets have appeared at moments of crisis; they bring with them extremely powerful spirits who give divine messages regarding the reorganization of traditional systems of authority. The most famous was the prophet Rembe, who led an anti-European healing cult in 1916. Lugbara also believe in specters of the recently dead.

The most important rites of sacrifice are those to the dead, especially senior men and women; rites of birth and marriage are little elaborated. Sacrificial rites are a central aspect of the authority of the elders, who control them and so gain sanction for the authority given them by their dead forebears. Death rites, mainly in the form of death dances, are highly elaborate; they reestablish the disturbed distribution of lineage authority. There is only a vaguest belief in a land of the dead, but none in a journey to it after death.

Lugbara beliefs in witches and sorcerers, which are clearly distinguished, are strong. Witches are men, especially elders, who pervert their legitimate lineage authority for their own selfish ends. Sorcerers—women and young men—lack legitimate authority and are thus thought to use "medicines" and poisons. Both witches and sorcerers are feared but can be dealt with by diviners, who can identify them. Witchcraft is linked to the lineage system; as that system has weakened in the late twentieth century, beliefs in sorcery have been strengthened.

Christian missions (Italian Verona Mission and the Africa Inland Mission) entered the area soon after 1914 but made few converts until the latter half of the century; today most Lugbara are Catholics. There is little adherence to Islam except for the "Nubi" in the few small townships.

The Lugbara do not practice painting or elaborate carving in wood or metal, their main aesthetic products being fine basketry and pottery. Ironworking for tools and weapons is by a specialists' ethnic group (Ndu) regarded with awe and some fear, who live dispersed among the Lugbara settlements.


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