Kumam people


Kumam / Ikumama / Ikokolemu / Akokolemu

The Kumam (also known as Ikumama, Ikokolemu and Akokolemu referred to by the Iteso) are a ethnic group living in Uganda.

About 340,000 living mainly in the western areas of Teso sub-region and the south-east of Lango sub-region.

The Kumam are an ethnic group of people found in Kaberamaido district, district in Eastern Uganda.

Formerly they shared Soroti district with the Iteso and some parts of formerly Lira district with the Langi. In the Lango region, they are now found in Dokolo district which was detached from Lira District. They are found at the shores of Lake Kyoga (Namasale). In Soroti district, they are found in Serere, Asuret, Soroti town as well as the outskirts of Soroti district neighboring Kaberamaido.

Kumam people

They speak a Luo language similar to the language spoken by the Lango, with some Ateso vocabulary.

Kumam traditions say are part of the Iteso people. They probably lost their Eastern Nilotic Ateker language and took up the Western Nilotic Luo spoken by their Lango and Acholi neighbours – due to prolonged contact and intermarriages.



The Kumam are part of the Nilotic peoples.  They were part of those called Plains Nilotes, but now speak a language of the Lwoo group which expanded rapidly in recent history from the area of the Nile area of southern Sudan.  Kumam traditions say they were part of the Teso people.  The Teso speak a Plains Nilote language related to Karamojong and were part of the same early migration as the Kumam.



The Kumam speak a language of the same name, in the Lwoo (Luo) group of Nilotic languages.  Some linguistics classify it with the Dinka group (Sudan) and some with the Southern Luo group, which includes Luo of Kenya, Long'o of Uganda and Alur of Zaire and Uganda.  Kumam is very similar to Paluo (Dhopaluo) and Lang'o, more distant from Acholi: It is written in a Latin alphabet.

The Kumam, like the Lang'o people (Lang'i), were originally a Plains Nilote people who gradually accepted the Lwoo speech of the newcomers.  The Alur, formerly speaking a Sudanic language, also adopted Lwoo speech, as well as accepting Lwoo clans as royal.  There are radio programs in the language and literacy programs are underway.  There is no Bible in Kumam.



The Kumam were originally pastoralists, they lived on cattle and sheep breeding, had goats and chickens. Today they also live on agriculture, their staple food being millet, sorghum, potatoes, beans and peas served with sauces. The land was communally owned by the clan. The women made pots, plates made from clay as well as a variety of baskets and mats.



The Kumam descend from the early fishing, agricultural, and herding communities of Ethiopia. They migrated southwards towards Uganda because of land pressure around the 17th century. Today, they live on the shores of Lake Kyoga in the districts of Serere, Soroti and Kaberamaido.


History of the Kumam people

The Kumam were originally a Plains Nilote people, related to the Teso and Karamojong.  They were affected by the migration of the Lwoo Nilotic people group from the Sudan beginning in the 1400s.  As these Lwoo-speaking River-Lake Nilotes pressed in, the Kumam were one of the groups who gradually accepted the Lwoo speech.

Historians claim that they migrated from the north-eastern part of Ethiopia about the 16th century AD. They assert that their language derived from the Ateso dialect (Dum) and they later on adapted the Luo dialect (Lwo), when they came in contact with the Luo peoples from the area around Mt. Otukei and Wila in today’s Karamoja territory.



Religious adherents among the Kumam are difficult to determine.  Available statistics are based on geography, not ethnography.  Kumam population is too small a percentage of district population for the statistics to have much meaning.



Previously, the parents would arrange marriages for their children. Girls would be betrothed to boys at an early age. In effect, the young girl would become wife to a respective boy but she would wait to be officially handed over when she came of age. In some cases, the young girls so betrothed would be taken to the boy's home to grow up there. When she reached the proper age for marriage, a ceremony would be organised to formalise the relationship and the bridewealth. With time however the system changed. Today, the boy goes looking for a girl and without the consent of the parents and sneak with her to his home at night. After a week or so, the girl's relatives would begin to look for her. Obviously they had some prior knowledge of her whereabouts. On discovery, a fine would be exacted from the boy. Arrangements would be made to settle the bride wealth and the marriage would be formalized.

Whenever a woman was pregnant, she was not supposed to eat the intestines of any animal. After giving birth, a feast was organised. If the new-born child was a boy, he was given a spear; if the baby was a girl, she was presented with a calabash. This ritual is said to protect the child against bad omens. The name given to the child would reflect the experiences made in the course of the birth. Twins were considered good. Then special rituals were performed, and a lot of eating and dancing was performed. The ritual ceremony was intended to introduce the child into the society.



They do not believe in such a thing as natural death. Every death was attributed to witchcraft. When a person died, there was a lot of weeping and willing. Burial would wait until all the relatives of the deceased had gathered. Mourning could go on for a week. As it seems, they did not believe in eternal life but rather were convinced that the spirits of the dead did not die. They had the power to inflict harm on the living. For this reason, the family had a shrine for the ancestral spirits. Here they were laid and rested during their wanderings and visits to the family. In the event of sickness or before going on a hunt or a long journey, one would pass by his ancestors‘ shrine to ask for health and good fortune.


Political set-up

The Kumam had political structure under clan leaders known as wegi Atekerin. Other people of importance in the society were wegi ikodeta Cel (leaders of dancing groups), and leaders of Asonya(ancient) homes, wegi Cel. The wegi Cel were in most cases Dogolan or Odonge ikekoros (heads of part of a clan descending form one man). These clan leaders were responsible for the maintenance of law and order as well as general administration. They arbitrated in matters of politics and social affairs.


Social set-up

Music, dance and story telling played a big part in kumam lifestyle. At any time music would be made, at various functions, such as ceremonial, religious and political functions. In the evening, the old people would narrate stories to the younger generation as part of the oral traditions.