Lango Web

The Independent Voice of Lango, Northern Uganda, since 2007


Marriage. The Lango practice polygyny and attach considerable importance to bride-wealth. Men commonly extol polygyny as an ideal, but in the 1960s only about 20 percent of the men who were married at any given time were married polygynously. Men commonly find it difficult to arrange for the bride-price for a second wife, and many women do not want to be married as a second or subsequent wife; hence, polygynous marriages are not always possible. Another important factor is population pressure. In some locales, there is not enough land available for men to have more than one wife, given the fact that men are expected to provide all of their wives with fields of approximately equal size for cultivation.

One of the difficulties in polygynous marriages is the relationship between co-wives. A woman who allows her husband to marry a second wife often does so with the expectation that she will have some authority over the junior wife; thus the junior wife enters the marriage in a weak position. A woman who has failed to bear children in a previous marriage or who has the reputation of being troublesome or lazy is more willing to be married polygynously. Such a woman also commands a relatively lower bride-price.

The bride-price in Lango is about fourteen head of cattle and a significant amount of other goods such as goats, cloth, cooking pots, and hoes, which are paid to the family of the bride. The problem of accumulating the bride-price can be very complicated, and boys must start planning how to solve it during their adolescence. A boy may obtain the support of his mother, who will attempt to get some of the cattle from her husband's herd for the boy's bride-price. Boys also are linked to their sisters; they must wait until their sisters are married so that they can obtain part of their bride-prices to pay for their own marriages. One other possibility is for boys to solicit cattle from members of their lineage or from their mothers' brothers. A kinsman who sponsors a marriage may expect the young man to reside near him after marriage and to serve as his dependent. Thus, men who have no sons sometimes acquire the loyalty of young members of their own lineage by sponsoring their marriages. If a man sponsors the marriage of his sister's son, the children born to the marriage will belong to the lineage of the sponsor (i.e., they will belong to the descent group of their father's mother's brother). This, of course, is a deviation from the normally strict rule of patrilineal descent, but the Lango see this arrangement as entirely consistent. They say that a child belongs to the descent group of the person who paid the bride-wealth of its mother. Normally, a woman's husband receives the bride-price from his own descent group, and a boy is discouraged from asking his mother's brother for bride-wealth. Children born to a woman for whom no bride-wealth has been paid belong to their mother's descent group (i.e., the descent group of her father). If a man subsequently marries the woman by paying bride-wealth, he may pay an additional amount to her father and procure her children for his own descent group. Because of the difficulty that is encountered in paying bride-wealth, a young man cannot reasonably expect to be married before he is 21, whereas girls commonly marry at about age 16.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit consists of a woman and her husband, together with her unmarried children and, possibly, a young married son and his wife who live in a small, temporary house near the young man's mother's house. If a man is married polygynously, each wife has her own house and resides in a separate clearing. This means that a man must clear land and build a house for each woman he marries. The households of co-wives are usually within 50 meters of one another, but each household functions independently. A man alternates between the households of each wife, sleeping for three nights with one before moving to the next for three nights. The domestic cycle begins when the man takes a wife and establishes a new household with her.

Inheritance. There are few formal rules of inheritance among the Lango, although there are certain principles in operation. Old men are usually dependent on their offspring, and, by the time they die, they no longer have significant possessions. Cattle are the only significant wealth that figures in inheritance, and when a man who owns cattle dies, it is expected that his cattle will be divided among his sons in such a way that the oldest son receives somewhat more than all the others. In practice, this principle can lead to great problems. If a man has more than one wife, the sons of the senior wife are likely to claim a larger share, and a conflict may ensue between the two wives and among their offspring.

Socialization. There is a postpartum sex taboo of one year; hence, children tend to be spaced about two years apart, although this pattern is affected by a high infant-mortality rate. Children are not weaned until the mother becomes pregnant again, or until the mother decides that nursing is no longer practical. Boys are treated more leniently than girls and are given fewer responsibilities in childhood. Tension is likely to develop between boys and their fathers as boys reach adolescence and begin to press claims for their fathers' cattle so as to accumulate the necessary cows for bride-wealth. Mothers commonly side with their sons in these disputes, and as sons draw away from their fathers, they draw closer to their mothers, who see sons as a source of support in their own struggles with their husbands over money and other resources.

Lango Religion & Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Lango religious beliefs are very diffuse and have been affected by the introduction of Christianity as well as by contact with neighboring societies. The Lango believe in a creator spirit called Jok, who is regarded as an all-powerful deity, and who is often equated with the Judeo-Christian God of the missionaries. There are also lesser deities—the spirits who bring sickness and cause trouble; the term for these deities is also "jok." These spirits are of two sorts. The first, associated with the wind, are seen as freefloating spirits who dwell in out-of-the-way places and attack people, often for no good reason. They are harmful and capricious, and people believe that it is important to take precautions against them. The other sort of jok is the shadow, or soul, of a deceased person.

Ceremonies. Most Lango ceremonies are either rites of passage or rituals associated with problems of spirit possession and fertility. Beginning around 1920, rituals that centered on spirit possession spread from the neighboring Bunyoro people into the western part of Lango District. The spirit-possession rituals had great appeal to women, and women were predominant in many of the possession activities, both as patients and as the principal performers. As possession rituals became more popular in the 1940s and the 1950s, the traditional rituals, which had mostly been performed by men, began to decline. Younger men lost interest in the traditional rituals, which came to be held less often. Since the 1960s, women have been more active than men in performing rituals, most of which involve an attempt to cure someone—typically, a woman—who is believed to have been possessed by a spirit.

Arts. Plastic arts are nearly nonexistent; for example, there is no tradition of wood carving except for the occasional carving of some useful object, like a stool.

Music and dance are important aspects of Lango life; the finger piano, drum, and flute are the principal instruments. Singing is done mostly by women, some of whom are recognized as virtuoso solo singers, but groups of people also enjoy singing in unison. Groups of young people compete with one another in public dance contests.

Medicine. Many plants are believed to have medicinal properties, and certain individuals have a knowledge of these plants. With the increasing popularity of spirit-possession rituals, however, curers have made less use of plants and have come to rely more heavily on the belief that illness is caused by spirit possession. The decline in the use of medicinal plants is also related to the declining popularity of the traditional rituals performed by men. The men who performed these rituals were also experts in the use of medicinal plants, and, as interest in the rituals waned, fewer men acquired expertise in the use of medicinal plants. Many traditional medicines have also been replaced by Western medicines, which were widely available to the Lango from the 1940s until the early 1970s. Since the 1970s, Uganda's political unrest has led to a deterioration of the government medical system, and there some indication that the use of traditional medicines is being revived. There is particular concern over the AIDS epidemic in Uganda, and there has been a renewed use of magical cures and folk medicines throughout Lango territory.

Death and Afterlife. The Lango believe that the soul, or shadow, departs from the body as it is being placed in the grave and takes up residence in the bush, near the living kin of the deceased. These shades often dwell in caves, in rocky outcroppings, or near sources of water, and they continue to maintain an active interest in the affairs of their living kin. There is no notion of the afterlife as a reward for a virtuous life or as a punishment for evildoers. Instead, the afterlife represents another stage in social life, because death merely transforms a person into an ancestor spirit, which then plays a role in the ritual life of the community. In general, the importance of an ancestor spirit is a reflection of the importance of that person during life; thus, children and women are not as likely to be regarded as prominent ancestors.


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