The Lugbara are an ethnic group who live mainly in the West Nile region of Uganda, in the adjoining area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and in Morobo County Republic of South Sudan.
They speak the Lugbara language, a Central Sudanic language similar to the language spoken by the Madi, with whom they also share many cultural similarities.
They are also found in South Sudan where they are known as Mundu and other names.
The cultural symbol of the Lugbara is a leopard.
The Lugbwara number a few thousand people inhabiting the southernmost part of Yei River County in central Equatoria. The nationality extends into the west Nile district of Uganda.
They are settled subsistence farmers. Cassava is now the traditional staple. They also grow millet, sorghum, legumes, pigeon peas and a variety of root crops.
Before cassava was introduced to the Lugbara to manage famine when the cereal [millet and sorghum] failed due to drought in the 1960s, millet and sorghum used to be their staple food. Chicken, goats, and at higher elevations, cattle are also important.
Groundnuts, simsim[sesame], chick peas and sweet potatoes are also grown. Maize is grown for brewing beer, and tobacco is an important cash crop. New emerging crops are avocado, pineapple, and mangoes.
Traditionally, local exchange of surplus foodstuffs was in the form of gifts between kin and barter with others. Small local weekly markets came into being during the 1920s, with the introduction of cash, maize (used for beer brewing), and consumer goods such as kerosene, cigarettes, and cloth. (As late as the 1950s, women wore only pubic leaves and beads, and elder men, animal skins.)
Most Lugbwara traditions regarding their origin begin with God’s creation of the universe. The first two human beings Gboro-Gboro(male) and Meme (female) are said to have been superhuman. Some traditions only speak of Meme whose womb God filled with the living things of the world. Then a gazelle made an opening through Meme’s womb by rupturing it with its hoof and all the worldly creatures came out. Man was the last to come out.
The first human beings are said to have been twins: Arube was a boy while O’duu was a girl. These twins, unlike their parents Gboro-Gboro and Meme, were believed to have been ordinary human beings. The tradition asserts that they were born in the ordinary way. Meme died immediately after giving birth to the twins. It is said that when these children grew up, married each other and produced children who through generations multiplied to produce the Lugbwara clans.
The Lugbwara speak a language categorised as being eastern Sudanic language related and very close to the Madi, the Keliko, the Logo, the Moru and the Avukaya.
The Lugbara are divided into many dialects which are easily understandable to each other. These include; Ayivu, Maracha, Terego, Vurra and Aringa. Tribes related to the Lugbara in dialect include Madi and Kakwa.
The highest social organisation among the Lugbwara is the clan; normally headed by the clan leader called the Opi. The members of the same clan claim a common ancestry and agnatic lineage. The clan elders exercised influence over political and social affairs and they had powers to curse and punish any recalcitrance. The Lugbwara had a clientage system (amadingo) whereby the poor and destitute would be looked after by the rich. Such clients could be given land and dowry if they wished to stay in the system.
The division of labor is sharply defined. Men and women share agricultural tasks, the men opening the fields and the women doing most of the remaining work. Men hunt and herd cattle; women do the arduous and the time-consuming everyday domestic tasks.
Formerly, men were responsible for the physical protection of their families and for waging feuds and war. Men hold formal authority over their kin, but older women informally exercise considerable domestic and lineage authority. Land is held by lineages, as land is traditionally not sold or rented. Women are allocated rights of use by their husbands’ lineage elders.
On reaching puberty, both girls and boys undergo two important rituals for tribal identification. These are face-tattooing and the extraction of 6 frontal teeth from the lower jaw, which serve as a way of decoration as well as initiation into adulthood. A person who had not had these operation would still be called a child and only those who have gone through initiation would aspire to marry.
Lugbwara society used to have marriages arranged by parents. The explanation was that the community was engaged in warfare that prevented courtship between youths. The arranged marriages could be made even when the children were of a tender age. When warfare subsided considerably, courtship became possible. The boy’s father would transfer bride-wealth to the girl’s home and thereafter, the couple was customarily named. Traditionally, divorce is rare among the Lugbwara except in cases of sterility.
The Lugbara recognized patrilineal descent, claiming a single origin from two brothers—Heroes—who entered the country from the north, found and cured many leper women, and then married them, their sons becoming the founders of some sixty clans. Genealogies from the founders to the present are usually between nine and twelve generations in depth.
Marriage is forbidden between members of the same clan or with a man’s or woman’s mother’s close kin. It is affected by the transfer of cattle bride-wealth from the groom’s to the bride’s close patrilineal kin.
Polygyny is a male ideal, about a third of the men having more than one wife; most secondary wives, however, are those inherited from their brothers or fathers’ brothers.
Divorce, which is relatively unusual, may traditionally be made only by the husband, the cattle being returned except for one beast for each child born; the most common grounds are adultery and the wife’s barrenness.
The household is a close-knit and mutually dependent unit. The socialization of children is traditionally by parents and older siblings. There are no forms of initiation at puberty, but children of about 6 undergo forehead cicatrization and excision of the lower four incisors.
The ritual linked to birth is the cutting of the umbilical cord. The attending midwife is required to cut the cord in 4 strokes for a boy and 3 for a girl. The mother would stay in confinement for 3 or 4 days depending on the sex of the child and was required to abstain from eating certain foods. She could only receive a few visitors because some might have evil intentions and might do harm to the health of the child. The ritual of confinement was followed by the festivities that end with the naming of the child. The name given portrayed some memorable experiences either of the parents or relative e.g. a child born during famine is named Abiriga.
The chief’s burial differs considerably from that of ordinary men. Once the death was announced people were not allowed to wail because ‘it was feared that if one wailed before burial, the corpse might turn into a lion or a leopard and attack people. A bull was slaughtered for the mourners and its hide was used to wrap the corpse. The burial usually took place in the middle of the night and the body would be placed in the grave with the head pointed northwards towards Mt. Lira from where the Lugbwara believed to have originated. After burial, a sorrowful song would be sung and the mourners would wail as they danced.
A bark-doth tree (lam) would be planted on the grave. Food could be served during part of the mourning. The paternal relatives of the late chief (opi) would give a bull (avuti) to the chief’s maternal relatives. Only wailing and absence of lam tree on the grave differentiates the burial procedure for ordinary from that of the chief. The recounting of the life history of the deceased (adi) and funeral dances were compulsory in Lugbwara burials.
The most important figure in Lugbwara society is the chief (ozoo-opi) who sometimes exercises both political, judicial and rainmaking powers in addition to being the custodian of the clan’s property. When the chief did not possess rain-making powers another individual (ozoo-ei) is entrusted with the powers of rainmaking. Succession of a chief is a peaceful affair.
The date of the succession was a very honourable occasion punctuated with a lot of beer and food and was attended by all the notables of the clan. The most senior Opi in the lineage presents the new Opi with a chiefly stool (anderiku) and the rest of the chiefly regalia - a spear, a bow and arrows, and a bracelet. The congregation of lineage chiefs would formally brief the new Opi on the qualities and rules of conduct expected of him as a leader and alert him to the heavy responsibility to shoulder.
The Lugbwara believe in the existence of a supreme being – God but they also entertain the concept of spirits particularly that some people transform into other animals on death.
The Lugbara recognize a single deity, Adroa (also known as Adro), who created the world and its inhabitants. Two Heroes then formed Lugbara society itself. Beneath Adroa are two categories of spiritual beings: the spirits and the ancestors.
Spirits are known as adro, a word of complex meaning that essentially refers to a source of power. The spirits are of many kinds and have different degrees of power over human beings.
First are the numberless spirits of sickness and disaster, their motives unknowable to the living (although female diviners are thought able to make some contact with them). Second are the spirits that inhabit the bodies of the living, together with the soul.
The spirit in the body leaves at death, dwelling in the forests with an immanent aspect of the Adroa. These spirits take the form of small human beings, and both they and Adroa kill on sight.
Ancestors who left male children are “ghosts”; they send sickness to their descendants as response to disobedience. Sacrifices of meat, blood, and beer are offered to the ghosts individually, by elders. The ancestors without male children form a collectivity to which grains and milk are offered, as do the spirits.
Living elders act as priests for their lineages and also as oracles who discover the identity of the ghosts sending sickness.
Today many people attend government and mission clinics to ensure physical healing, but the clinics cannot discover the underlying mystical causes of sickness. Diviners, mainly women, are possessed by—and can contact—spirits in order to ascertain the causes and suggest means of removing them.
Prophets have appeared at moments of crisis; they bring with them extremely powerful spirits who give divine messages regarding the reorganization of traditional systems of authority. The most famous was the prophet Rembe, who led an anti-European healing cult in 1916. Lugbara also believe in specters of the recently dead.
The most important rites of sacrifice are those to the dead, especially senior men and women; rites of birth and marriage are little elaborated. Sacrificial rites are a central aspect of the authority of the elders, who control them and so gain sanction for the authority given them by their dead forebears.
Death rites, mainly in the form of death dances, are highly elaborate; they reestablish the disturbed distribution of lineage authority. There is only a vaguest belief in a land of the dead, but none in a journey to it after death.
Lugbara beliefs in witches and sorcerers, which are clearly distinguished, are strong. Witches are men, especially elders, who pervert their legitimate lineage authority for their own selfish ends.
Sorcerers—women and young men—lack legitimate authority and are thus thought to use “medicines” and poisons. Both witches and sorcerers are feared but can be dealt with by diviners, who can identify them. Witchcraft is linked to the lineage system; as that system has weakened in the late twentieth century, beliefs in sorcery have been strengthened.
Christian missions (Italian Verona Mission and the Africa Inland Mission) entered the area soon after 1914 but made few converts until the latter half of the century; today most Lugbara are Catholics. There is little adherence to Islam except for the “Nubi” in the few small townships.
The Lugbwara culture is expressed orally in songs, poetry, and dance. There is nothing peculiar but like their neighbours they weave baskets.
The Lugbwara neighbour the Madi, Keliko and the Logo to whom they relate. Their other neighbours are the Pöjulu and the Kakwa.
The long running war affected the Lugbwara and caused their massive displacement into northern Uganda.
The bulk of the Lugbwara joined their kinsmen in Uganda and a large Lugbwara community exist in Arua and Aringa Counties in west Nile.