Alur people



Alur are a Nilotic ethnic group who live mainly in the Nebbi, Zombo, and Arua districts in northwestern Uganda, and northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), north of Lake Albert.

They are part of the larger Luo group, and their language is closely related toAcholi. Some Alur speak Lendu.

The Alur Chiefdom is probably the only one that was unaffected by the Ugandan ban on traditional monarchies in 1966.

In DRC, the Alur people are organized in deferent chiefdoms namely Angal ,Alur Juganda, Jukoth, Mukambu, Junam.

Alur people map


Alur territory occupies the northwestern shores of Lake Albert and of the Albert Nile, which runs out of it. The lacustrine and riverine areas have an elevation of about 600 meters, and the land rises from the lake at a steep escarpment. Farther north, it rises more gradually to hilly plateaus, which average from 1,500 to 1,800 meters and which have the most rainfall (100 to 200 centimeters), the most fertile soil, and the densest population, as well as the coolest climate in the region. In contrast, the shore areas are very hot and humid. In Uganda, the density ranges from 25 persons per square kilometer in the lowlands to 43 in the highlands.


Most members of the group speak Alur, a language closely related to Dojunam Acholi and Adhola. Some Alur speak Lendu or Kebu. Alur language dialects vary considerably. The highland Alur (Okoro) speak a slightly different dialect from the lowland Alur (Jonam), and it might be difficult to for a native highland Alur person to properly understand his lowland kinsman.



The Alur Kingdom is probably the only one that was unaffected by the Ugandan ban on traditional monarchies in 1966. All Alur Kings are referred to as "Rwoth", just like all Luo Chiefs and Kings. The current Alur King is Rwoth Phillip Rauni Olarker, whose coronation was in 2010.

When the Europeans arrived, the Alur people were organized in ten chiefdoms, namely: Angal, Juganda, Jukoth, Mukambu, War Palara, Panduru, Ukuru, Paidha, Padeo and Panyikano. Based on the royal spear head bearing tradition, the Ubimu of Alur tribe H.M Philip Olarker Rauni III is the supreme ruler of the entire Alur tribe, with his capital at Kaal Atyak Winam, Zombo district, Uganda.

In Angal, the current chief is Rwoth Djalore Serge II. He took over from his late father Kamanda who died in 1998. All these sub tribes of the Alur descended directly from King Nyipir lineage.


Day-to-day life

Traditionally, the Alur live in grass-thatched huts. The homesteads in Alur clans are in the central part of their territory. This helps keeps the territory under their control. The Alur were farmer-herders. The Alur grew (and grow) millet, cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, spinach, and pumpkins. They herded cattle, goats, and chickens. Goat and chicken were important sources of meat. Other important resources were salt, forest and wild animals all who were protected from other clans. In the drought season fishing was important. The large herds of animals the Alur typically hunt as secondary sources of meat so as not to exhaust their own goat and chicken numbers moved away to greener pastures.

In Alur society men did most of the work. They herded the domestic animals, grew the crops, built the huts, hunted, fished and dominated political life. The women were responsible for keeping house, rearing the children and cooking. Although at first glance it looks like the men have more work but in fact the men have more pasture than women. Many of the men jobs are bound to strict times (they hunted in large groups just once a month for example). The sexes are segregated by the Alur. Husband and wife have their own hut. The men sleep alone and the women and children together. They also eat separately.

Women and men rarely mix socially. This behavior is not enforced by the men but it is in the woman's best interest to minimize contact with men out of fear of aggression and the husband's jealousy. Alur men are very close and social with men from their own clan. They hunt, farm, fish, go to war, herd, patrols form coalitions against rivals together. Since Alur men stay in the clan they are born in and women move to the clan of their husband the men are typically more social, have more friends and a wider social network than women. This is a very important factor in male dominance by the Alur. All men of a particular patrilineage can use land to plant crops to feed their families.


History of the Alur people

Their tradition states that they migrated from southern Sudan with other Luo following the Nile banks. Their original homeland is said to have been Rumbek on the confluence of the Nile and the Bahr-el- Ghazel rivers.
They moved south along the Nile Pubungu whence they dispersed, some moving on to Bunyoro, others to Acholi, yet others to eastern Uganda and on to the Nyanza province of Kenya, while the Alur moved westwards to West Nile.
Historians claim however that the Alur people are not purely Luo, but that they are a product of intermarriages between the Luo, the Lendu and the Okebu. But since the Alur people maintained the Lwo speech and other Luo customs they should be grouped that way.


Alur - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Finger millet, the staple food, has been partially displaced by cassava, which colonial authorities compelled the Alur to plant as a reserve against famine; flour from both crops is usually mixed in cooking. Maize has been extensively grown during the twentieth century, a great part of it used for brewing. Beans, simsim (sesame), spinach (both wild and cultivated), and, at lower elevations, shea butternuts are important elements of the diet. In addition to cattle, the Alur raise chickens, goats, and some sheep. Edible ants and seasonal swarms of grasshoppers are further supplements. Elephants, antelopes, buffalo, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, edible rats, rabbits, and porcupines were once hunted, but government regulations, population growth, and sparsity of game have brought almost to an end the hunting of these animals, except for the last three.

The highland areas consist mainly of grassland cleared from primeval forest, the lowland areas of savanna bush. Everywhere, cattle are kept to some extent, but they flourish best in the highlands, which have also been more favorable than the lowlands to the increase of human population. Cotton is grown mainly in the midland areas, and, since the 1960s, arabica coffee has been planted extensively in the highlands, superseding cattle as the main source of cash. The Alur of the lowlands fish in the lake and river, trading smoke-dried fish to the highlands and neighboring parts of Uganda and Zaire. Mineral salt is obtained from a few localities, and vegetable salt is made by filtering the ash of suitable grasses.

Industrial Arts. The Okeodo, an ethnic subgroup of the Alur, formerly melted iron and forged tools and weapons. Skins, leaves, fibers, and bark cloth were worn as clothing until after World War II, when imported cotton came to be universally adopted.

Houses, utensils, and musical instruments are still made domestically, by individuals who have developed special skills, from local materials that are accessible to all. The houses are now usually roofed with imported iron corrugated sheets instead of local thatch, however, and the availability of imported utensils and musical instruments has caused local production to dwindle.

Trade. There has always been some exchange of salt, iron goods, fish, livestock, and foodstuffs, but regular markets did not develop until after World War II; retail shops and and administrative centers can be found at a few crossroads. Some non-Africans, especially Arabs, and African Muslims were prominent in the early development of these retail and administrative centers, but the Indo-Pakistani retailers, pervasive throughout Uganda, were confined to the district headquarters town of Arua, which lay outside Alur territory.

Land Tenure. All Alur had free access to land through kinship and descent. Most people lived in territory that was under the control of a corporate descent group to which people belonged by agnatic descent, but some might also live in another territory, to which they were linked through a mother's brother or other close cognatic relative.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, there was a fairly clear division of labor by sex among the Alur. Women were responsible for the domestic economy—preparing, cooking, and serving food, including brewing beer (and, for some of them, distilling spirits), collecting fuel, and maintaining the walls and floors of houses. Men cleared the land and hoed the fields, women weeded and harvested. The division of labor has become more diversified: both men and women work as teachers, shopkeepers, and medical staff (e.g., orderlies, nurses). Many women pursue careers away from home, especially around Kampala.


Traditional Religion, belief and Culture of Alur People 

The Alur legend of origin says that there once lived a great King called Atira. He is said to have been a direct decent of God and when he died, his son Otira succeeded him. Otira is said to have in turn been succeeded by Opobo. Opobo ruled from a place called Nyraka in Lango County. When Opobo died, he left three sons Tiful, Nyapiri and Labongo.

One day, Nyapir borrowed Labongo’s spear intending to spear an Elephant. Unfortunately, the elephant went away with the spear. When the news reached Labongo, he was very annoyed and he insisted on having back his own spear in spite of Nyapiri’s pledges to offer him a substitute.

Therefore, Nyapiri decided to go follow the elephant and having crossed a big river, he found himself in a cool beautiful land.During his wandering in this land, Nyapiri encountered an old woman.

The Old woman is said to have taken him to a place where, among other spears, Nyapiri was able to recognize Labongo’s spear. The old woman gave him a bead.When he reached home, he called all his brothers and presented the spear.
Every one as amazed at Nyapiri’s story, more especially, at the bead. The bead was handed over for everyone to see and, in the process; an infant son of Labongo accidentally swallowed it.

Nyapiri got his revenge. He also demanded that his own bead be given back. He refused all the possible substitutes. Left with no alternative, Labongo handed over the child to Nyapiri to open and retrieve his bead.

Nyapiri killed the child and got out the bead. This act is said to have annoyed all the brothers so much that they decided to separate.
Tiful having been impressed by Nyapiri’s story of a good country beyond the river, moved with his followers including Lendu and Okebu to the highlands in the west. His descendants are said to comprise of the Alur of Zaire.

Nyapiri followed Tiful and traveled along the west bank of the Victoria Nile and finally camped with his followers in an area opposite Pakwach. The Land was not good for grazing and there being no salt licks his cattle began to graze away.
One day some of the cows which had disappeared were said to have come back on their own and they had salt licks adhering to their hooves.

Nyapiri gathered together his people and followed the track of the cows into the highlands of West Nile. He left behind one of his sons caked Dosha to rule Pakwach. Nyapiri then established himself in the west Nile highlands.


Ritual marriage

The Alur had sort of religious marriage which was conveyed in the Mukeli gagi rituals. The actual ceremony took the following form:-Some times, a married woman would be afflicted by ancestral spirits of her own people.
In such an event, her husband would get cowrie shells and take them to her home. There the shells would be tied to the pole of her father’s ancestral shrine.

The husband would, in effect, be pledging to pay two goats, male and female, in order to rescue the cowrie shells because such shells were not supposed to remain at his father in-law’s home for ever.

If the husband was already imitated into the religious cult, he would go to rescue the shells himself. However, if he was not yet initiated, he would not be allowed to go because a lot was involved which he, as a non-initiate, was not supposed to know.
But if he was willing to be initiated there and then, he could go. In fact most husbands preferred this alternative because at the end of the ritual, the woman would cease to be his wife if he was not yet a confirmed believer. Sexual relations with the former husband would stop forthwith if he was not yet a confirmed believer.

If the initial husband hesitated to be initiated, the woman would ritually be married to another man who was already confirmed and who consented to have her as a ritual wife. The ritual husband would consider her to be his wife and would go ahead and have children with her.


Kinship, Marriage, and Family

The family is polygynous, patrilineal, and patrilocal, based economically on the house-property complex. A man with more than one wife is required to provide each woman with her own house, granaries, and fields. The elementary cell of the compound family is thus an independent inheritance group. Its land is inheritable by its male members; its female members inherit nothing except possibly a few ornaments, articles of dress, and household utensils from their mother. Most of the animals that are received at a daughter's marriage become the property of the elementary family, consisting of her father, mother, and brothers. The head of the compound family is the trustee of the property of each of its component elementary families. The compound family is a self-contained property-holding unit. Bride-wealth received within it does not go outside it, except for special debts, and only its members share in the inheritance at the death of its head. The eldest son of the first wife usually succeeds as chief heir, although any son of any wife can do so if he is considered better qualified; however, such a succession may cause a split in the lineage. The son who inherits is the formal guardian of any young children left by his father. He has the first choice in the leviratic inheritance of widows (other than his own mother), but if there is more than one, he does not inherit both, but probably allows one to go to a younger brother who is not yet married.

Neighborhood groups are usually composed of exogamous lineages, lineage segments, or composite clan sections, with possibly a few other individuals and families linked to them cognatically. A man has special ties and privileges toward his mother's brother's clan as a whole, although such ties and privileges are usually exercised only toward the mother's brother's own corporate lineage. The man's relationship to his father's sister is equally important, but, as sisters marry into different lineages, that relationship is usually centered on a particular father's sister, always involving her husband and his fellow agnates, all of whom refer to the man as "son of our brother-in-law." Of course, the new affinal relations created in one generation always become the cognatic relations of the next.

Because marriage is a lengthy process of contract between two lineages, the Alur try to avoid divorce, which involves costly and disruptive rearrangements of property. Barrenness of women, sterility of men (rarely admitted), witchcraft on the part of either, and gross failure in domestic marital obligations are all grounds for divorce. Most of the bride-wealth must be repaid in case of divorce, with deductions made for any children born of the marriage.

The Alur familial authority system, in relation to the individual, is essentially continuous, collective, and generalized. Within the permanent and pervasive groups, which are mutually interdependent, children are taught to assume generalized roles that impose their inevitable limitations of habit and whose pattern is easily extended to cover like groups. The individual's first experience of authority comes in the form of parental discipline, but training and discipline also come from a fairly wide group of senior paternal and maternal kin. Authority rests on a noticeably collective basis, and the parental role is much less marked than in Western family systems. Alur children go through a process of learning that begins with toilet training and feeding themselves and ranges to respecting persons and property, running errands, and generally emulating older persons of their own sex. Some aspects of this process invite comparison with those of the wider political system. The Alur describe their system of discipline as stern and rigid, yet observation of their daily life conveys the opposite impression. It must be that the stern enforcement of minimum rules of conduct on rare and exemplary occasions during maturation is sufficient to fix observance of these minimum requirements by the majority without any further reminders and with infrequent need for punishment. The tempo of their life is slow, their physical stamina is great, and they endure spells of exhaustingly hard work, but the greater part of life among the Alur consists of tasks that are monotonous but not exacting, which enables the young to have great freedom and yet to be inducted into adult life without any striking period of tension or ritualized initiation. Legitimate authority, both in the family and in the political system, cannot be directly challenged, but it can be evaded. In family life, the escape from authority, although usually more or less temporary, is also an integral part of the system and brings into play various categories of kinship without challenging the legitimacy of familial authority as such. The introduction of spheres of activity beyond the direct control of Alur society, such as schooling, migrant labor, and professional careers outside Alur territory, constitutes a much graver threat to the integrity of the Alur system of socialization.

Religion and Expressive Culture

The central religious concept of the tradional Alur was jok, which could be perceived either as a pervasive unity or as a composite entity of innumerable particular entities that were associated with prominent or extraordinary manifestations of nature, rocks, trees, wells, and streams and also with the ancestral spirits of the lineages. Every family head built one shrine for his patrilineal ancestors and another for the spirits of female and cognatic kin. The shrine that was built by a lineage head was more important, and the shrine of the ruler, although also dedicated to his ancestors, virtually amounted to a shrine for the polity as a whole and received the largest attendance for seasonal sacrifice and celebration. The diviner ( ajuoga ) and the witch ( jajok ) or sorcerer (not terminologically distinguished) were thus linguistically linked to jok and were manifestations of the same power. There were various methods of divination, whereby the ajuoga diagnosed the nature and discerned the cure of a patient's afflictions and ascertained the cause of a death. Accused witches were subjected to ordeals in which poison was administered to chickens, which were watched to see which suspect they pointed to in their death throes. Witches convicted in this way formerly were put to death, and they still may be forced to move to another community. Many afflictions emerge in the form of possession by spirits, which are also various manifestations of jok. Possession is dealt with by having the appropriate diviner exhort the patient with drumming and by dancing on the part of those who have previously been cured, in order to accept and welcome the spirit, allow it to come out, and "dance" in its honor. This is called idho jok, "to climb jok."

Cuts were made in certain parts of the body for the insertion of medicine, and foreign bodies implanted in the body by sorcery were said to be extracted by sucking them out through horns. Curative bloodletting was also practiced.

The death of prominent people is marked by a mourning "dance" ( ywak ), which allows the free expression of grief and also of aggressive hostility toward death and its presumed human mystical instrument. The real dance ( myel ) of the Alur is a joyous celebration that brings together people of many neighboring corporate groups in a mystically enforced truce, secured by ritual, that provides an opportunity for young people to become attracted to each other and proceed to courtship and marriage.

Alur artistic expression is evinced in singing; dancing; playing drums, harps, and horns; and making aesthetically pleasing objects of practical use. Herbal medicine is part of the practice of diviners. The Lendu who have been incorporated into Alur society have contributed a rich body of herbal lore. Cicatrizations were made by girls on the forehead and belly, and by the young men of some areas, in patterns that varied regionally. Because the latter tended to spend long periods away from home under foreign influence, they discontinued this practice long before girls did.

Death is marked by sacrifice, feasting, beer drinking, and inquisition into the causes of death, involving an extensive rehearsal and a sifting of all the accumulated tensions, disputes, and witchcraft episodes that have marred the harmony of the local community.