Linda Ozromano | Contributor
In this series of Project Maisha, I would like to share a glimpse of the beautiful Acholi culture I experienced. Acholi is an ethnic group from various districts in Northern Uganda as well as residing in South Sudan. One of the most important cultural expressions for Acholi people is dance, along with playing music. These two aspects of their culture are part of their daily lives revealed in welcoming ceremonies, celebrations, mourning and even war.
Each traditional dance performance carries a special meaning for Acholi people and expressed differently. The costumes and instruments also vary while some of them distinctly belong to the Acholi culture. Since I had the opportunity to work with a youth drama group at TASO performing traditional Acholi dance, I had the chance to observe some of their costumes and instruments closely. Ostrich feathers and traditional beads are essential parts of Acholi dance costumes while drums, horns, calabushes, zuzz xylophone, and adungu are some of the instruments they use during performances.
It has been incredible for me to get to know these people and especially to observe their culture through personal stories. Some of the characteristics of Acholi people that stroked me the most were their honesty, sincerity and joy of living. It is not easy to have such characteristics especially if a society has gone through so much. And this is exactly the case for Acholi people. Northern Uganda has been one of the poorest and most HIV/AIDS affected regions in Uganda, not to mention the civil war that devastated the region which was caused by the insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Thousands of children were abducted and forced to participate in hostilities. Families were torn apart and every single Acholi life was affected from the war one way or another. Most of the people in the region were displaced and had to live in refugee camps for many years. Men had to leave their jobs, women were oppressed and children were constantly living under fear.
I have repeatedly heard stories of many men, women and children leaving their homes and never coming back because of the increasing number of abduction, murder and rape at the time of the civil war. Over twenty years, Acholi people have experienced the brutalities of war whereas now the society has to deal with many post-war problems such as poverty, unemployment HIV/AIDS and so on. There are also many psychological and cultural affects of the war which divided the society into groups of perpetrators and victims.
Many Acholi people I met in Gulu told me first-hand stories of the war. It is not very hard for an outsider to notice such daily life struggle with a burdening past. Still, Acholi people are full of life and joy and willing to find reasons to be grateful for what they have. They are aware of their painful past and they have been mourning for the beloved ones for years. Yet, I have seen the glimpses of hope in everyone’s eyes which were full of future expectations. They want to forgive the perpetrators and move on with their lives to live in peace and reconciliation. I have been amazed by the honesty, sincerity and joy of living of Acholi people. I was also reminded that this is a group of people who appreciate life with great joy in spite of their every day struggle and the world has so much to learn from them. I hope some of my photography taken at several Acholi dance performances will also give you a glimpse of the beautiful Acholi culture. I am extremely grateful to get to know such great people.
Editor’s Note: Browse our Photo Feature archive for Part1, 2 and 3 of Project Maisha. These photo series give you great insight into Ugandan culture, as well as what it is like to be a volunteer.