23 Sep 2019


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The Language | Society: Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions |Marriage | Birth |Naming | Divorce | Relationships


The Language

The Acholi speak leb Acholi which is close to Alur, Anyuak especially in syntax and structure. Like other Nilotic languages, the Acholi count only up to five which correspond to the five fingers of the hand. They then add one to five until ten literally meaning have become equal.

Society: Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions

The Acholi society is a sedentary, agrarian community organised in chiefdoms, which vary greatly in size but consist of a cluster of villages including the surrounding territory used for agriculture and hunting over which the Rwot exercise his authority.

This territory comprises of the aristocrats who are the agnatic kins of the Rwot commoners who are not related to the Rwot. The villages formed a protected ring around the royal village ‘gang kal’.

The structural configuration of the Acholi into aristocrats and commoners definitely is as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and the social relations in the Acholi society. The members of the royal lineage kaka pa rwot are known as the ‘people of the court’ or ‘jokal’ (sing) lokal or jobito (sing) lobito or the ‘people of power’- joker, while the commoners’ lineage is called luak meaning bulk or mass. An ordinary person is known as dano.

The Acholi observe an elaborate system of social norms, customs and traditions:


Among the Acholi, marriage is a lengthy process. It begins by courting until the young man wins the girl’s consent. He goes to her father and pays a small instalment of dowry after which the pair is considered betrothed.

This may last for a long time depending on the final completion of dowry payment after which the bride’s status changes from girl and becomes a house wife . Acholi dowry is traditionally settled in sheep, goats, spears, hoes. In recent times, money is now accepted.


A curious custom attends to the birth of a child. For three days after the birth of a girl (four in the case of a boy) the mother has to abstain from certain acts, varying from village to village, including eating certain foods and the baby is not allowed out of the house.

At the end of this period the mother calls her women friends together for meat and formally commits the previously forbidden act. The baby has various charms hung around the neck for protection against diseases and ‘evil eyes’.


The Acholi can take as many as five names. The first one ‘nying kwan’ the name taken from some event at his birth e.g. Ulum -born in the grass; Okec - born at a time of famine.

Some of these names may be split into two or three, e. g, a man named Okec may also be called Langara (locust), because the famine at his birth was caused by locusts; flirtation name a curious name taken from some curious event and acclaimed by others e.g. olwiyo, she whistles - a man’s wife calls him to food by whistling for him; yo dok olan -a man courts his girl by telling her she sways her buttocks like a bell; okwuto cet pa mare.

He broke wind at his mother-in-law’s. There are war names . There are also drum names shared by the youth among themselves.


The Acholi women enjoy great freedom to divorce once not satisfied with their husbands but on condition that the new husband pays the dowry that her earlier husband had paid. Fornication and adultery are punished in the Acholi tradition. It costs 5 sheep for fornication and 15 for adultery.


The Acholi entertain extended family relationships and this may affect distribution of wealth. However, the closest relations after the father and mother are his brothers by the same mother and next his maternal uncle.

A man has to give one tusk of his first elephant to his mother’s brother and one to the chief. Inheritance is always in the male line and runs roughly as follows: sons, brothers, half-brothers and then uncles. On a man’s death his son or failing which, his brother sson takes over all his wives.

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