Lira University Museum of African Culture and Traditional Medicine

Modesta Anamo, Andrew Ojulong, Ekkehard Doehring

*The Trio are Lira University Academics


Worldwide, within universities, museums have for long supported education in a number of disciplines both in the sciences and in the arts. Through their extensive collections museums have made available historical objects and artifacts crucial to learning and research.


University museums as repositories are unique in themselves. The origin of university museums can be traced back from around the 17th Century. Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University was started in 1683. It is considered as Britain’s first public museum, and it is the world’s first university museum. 

Between 17th -21st century, the accumulation of innumerable artifacts and specimens within university museums took place. Their traditional role is to collect objects of cultural, religious, historical and scientific importance, preserve them and through research, explain the meaning and significance of such objects and artifacts. Museums affirm the principle that, knowledge of the past enables an understanding of the present, and provides critical foundation for shaping the future.

In practical health science education, University Museums display history of medicine, act as a health science library, and archive. They offer opportunity for medical students, staffs and the general public to learn about traditional medicine, diagnosis, treatment, preventions and management of diseases, illnesses, suffering and health care in different settings.

Lira University Museum

Lira University Museum is a nonprofit institution established to serve especially the people of Northern Uganda. It started in 2010 under the initiative of German Senior Expert Service lead by Professor Ekkehard Doehring of Hanover University, whose research activities and publications cover anthropology and tropical medicine.

Lira University Museum is among a small but growing number of museums in Uganda. This includes the National Peace and Documentation Centre’s War Museum in Gulu, and Moroto Museum in Karamoja. Lira Museum is the first Museum of African Culture and Traditional Medicine in Uganda. It is a pioneer university museum opened to promote learning and knowledge about the rich past of this region. Today the museum supports the university’s program in health sciences, with their strong emphasis on indigenous and traditional health practices.

The museum contains a collection of objects of historical and cultural importance drawn from different communities and cultures across Northern Uganda. The museum is located at a corner of the university library, which on this quite new campus has quickly grown to become the meeting point for staff and students who daily converge here. It contains over 750 pieces of ethnographic objects, which include household objects, farm equipment, herbs, jewelries (such as beads, necklaces, head dress, lip plug, bangles finger and earrings), body wear (women’s and men’s wear like aprons, breast wear, headdress and foot wear).

Some of the objects in collection include those used for official functions and ceremonies, objects used for defense, for leisure and entertainment, a variety of unique historical stones, shells, animal bones, pottery, historical metals, body protective objects such as historical foot sandals. There is a collection currency including coins from different countries. 

The artifacts are inventoried, objects are named and grouped according to functions, and are displayed in wooden and glass shelves. Electronic data entry for museum objects is ongoing and when completed will be available online at the museum site.

Uses of Lira University Museum

For the moment the museum is used primarily as a teaching tool

The objects and collections that make this museum hold information about the cultural wealth in the region of northern Uganda, with the potential to tell a number of stories, serve as didactic aids, specimens, illustrating specific subjects, disciplines and contributing to research, particularly in life science, archeology and history. The Museum can thus help to preserve the natural cultural heritage of Uganda

Artifacts in the museum are used to aid teaching and learning in different disciplines of the University. They support the University to meet its target priority in the education curriculum, given to teaching cultural and historical backgrounds, for a better understanding of local traditions. It can also support medical students to learn about the use of traditional medicine, teaching them to better understand, the history of medicine, diagnosis of diseases and complications within the communities.

Fieldwork and Outreach

The museum has repeatedly used outreach and collection tours as means of building its collection. In the middle of December 2018, a team of scholars and researchers from the museum made just such a tour of Karamoja north-east of Uganda. Lead by Professor Ekkehard Doehring, the team was lucky to have the presence and expertise of Dr. Andreas Schlothauer. In the end the tour realized enough objects to be able to donate a few to Moroto Museum as well to the National Museum in Kampala.

More collection tours are planned for the future, alongside museum related research, and the possibility of developing a curriculum for museology. Plans are under way to create an internet platform for documenting and displaying the museum’s contents.