Dear Readers and Friends: August edition out , Aug 17 2018

Happy Reading!

Last glance at graceful world of Acholi culture now disappearing

John Otim
John Otim is the Editor of Nile Journal

 

 

One hot afternoon a long time ago in a still young world six teenage girls who were best of friends set out in search of firewood and head for the forbidden forest beyond the farmlands. Lalam, a girl of great wits and great charms leads.

On their way back, bundles of firewood on their heads, she brings the rare, the others walk ahead. Danger if it came was unlikely to approach from the front and should it appear from the rear Lalam would be there.

Lalam was cool, the prettiest girl you could imagine, with a body to kill for and a face, fresh as dews. In the village people called her Laleng, the spotless one.

That afternoon the girls enter the forbidden forest lustily singing one of their favorite songs. Among the Acholi songs and music are the first line of defense against evil and evil spirits and by reputation this forest had more than its share. The girls plucked dried branches from trees so huge and tall their tops kiss the clouds.

A couple of times they surprised the hare and the hornbill. Each time they cheered loudly as bird and animal took to heel. They pantomimed the swift and smart movements of the creatures of the wild and wished they themselves were as free.

Soon it was time to go but some of the girls did not wish to leave at all but want to stay longer in the cool shades of the forest and tell more stories. Time to go, Lalam insists, so homeward they headed

The sky was blue, the day far from gone and now the girls were looking forward to the evening meal of olell and kwon that they knew their mothers were preparing, a treat in Acholi land. They looked forward to the get-stuck dance (myel moko) that they knew would follow at the great chief’s paelace as surely as night follows day.

There the youth of the village will assemble and there, the music, the drumming and the dancing was bound to fill pages if not chapters in the annals of the tribe, since their days long ago in the Bar el Gaza, before the tribe moved south to its present abode in Northern Uganda

Ka igal ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo
ka igal ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo
oo oo oo - ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo
oo oo oo - ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo

If you delay you’ll miss what God created
if you delay you’ll miss what God created
oo oo oo – you’ll miss what God created
oo oo oo – you’ll miss what God created

A translation could never do justice to a song like this, crafted as it were in the heat of the dance floor. In the patriarchal world of Acholi land, gin ma Lubanga oketo (what God created) can mean one thing only: pussy. The dance was always the great prelude.

The youth dance in circles; round and round. Boys dance in the outer circle, the girls in the inner. Circles move in opposite directions.  In the soft lights of the midnight moon, colorful lines of beads sparkle like diamond on the trim and firm waistlines of the girls.

As they dance the boys rise and fall in perfect synchrony. The choreography was the work of a master craftsman. They beat a rhythm on the little drums they carry. The fast and rapid movement of the girls especially about the waistline must be seen to be believed. You saw clearly the purpose of the beads so carefully arranged and adorned and artfully exposed around this most perfect region of the female body.

Drums throb; dust rises; the earth shakes. If a girl and a boy liked each other they broke away from the dance arena. They exchanged love tokens (beads, bangles, and rings). Shortly they resume their respective places in the arena. It is this Alice in Wonderland story that the 20 year old war of attrition in Northern Uganda, now mercifully come to a stop, put an end to.

But let us return now to the six carefree teenagers we left returning from the woods and who were now homeward bound. And here they are with heads in the clouds, feet that trade in the air; on their minds thoughts of the get-stuck dance that will take place later that evening. If anticipation could kill, the girls would be all dead.

But now as they turn the last corner that will lead them home a huge mountain drops out of the sky and blocks their way. They are thrown into a cold panic. It was the end of a dream.

The spirited and talkative girl that led the way had her face almost blown off by the falling mountain. She staggers momentarily. Lalam hurried forward to help and to see what she could do. Before Lalam could lift a finger or say a word, the girl finds her voice in a song.

Gotti, gotti lenga yoo
nyako maleng odong cen
Gotti, gotti lenga yoo
nyako maleng odong cen

Mountain, mountain, give us way
lo the gorgeous one is far behind
Mountain, mountain, give us way
lo the gorgeous one is far behind

Amazingly the mountain gives way and allows the girl to pass. Now the second girl likewise sings the song. She too is let through. And so is the third, the fourth and the fifth girl.

Now it is Lalam’s turn. She too sings the song. A do-or-die affair, and a perfect rendition she makes, As the elders say it would have melted a heart of stone.

Gotti, gotti lenga yoo
nyako maleng odong cen
Gotti, gotti lenga yoo
nyako maleng odong cen

Again the mountain parts, when Lalam makes to walk through, the mountain closes up and traps her within. Now safely on the other side her friends wait in vain. Hours pass, darkness was approaching and with it the lions and the other dangers of the wild. Sadly and reluctantly the five friends leave without Lalam. It breaks their hearts.

When they get home they relate their ordeal. Lalam’s mother is heart-broken; is inconsolable, what else? Years pass but Lalam does not return. Her mother languishes; gets wasted beyond recognition.

One bright sunny morning, resigned now to her fate, the old woman sat by her door when three excited and excitable little girls burst upon her and lovingly embrace her and call her our sweet Granny!

Poor woman! It blows her mind; she goes crazy and makes as though to strike at them.

The children burst into tears and scramble back towards their mother, the young woman who was now approaching the homestead. It is Lalam.

At first Lalam’s mother did not realize what was happening and when she does she dashes forward, throws herself upon her long lost daughter, embraces her and the two weep tears of joy.

And now the old woman hugs and kisses her granddaughters and dries their tears and now she speaks to them the Acholi words of blessings used specially for little kids.

Wu dong maber, wu dong maleng calo mama, wu kel ki wan yom cwiny madwong ki gum maber. La Cwech obed kwed wu, wun lutino mewa ma wamaro

Neighbors hurried, crowds gather, the good news spreads. Soon there is a huge celebration the likes of which the village had not seen for a long time.

Lalam was lost, now Lalam is found! Today the Acholi like Lalam seek to recapture the treasures of a culture that they once knew; in its heyday one of the most glorious in the whole of the Nile basin.