Lango Web

The Independent Voice of Lango, Northern Uganda, since 2007


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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