This a girls dance class. The youngest is nine and the oldest fourteen years old. They are dancing the traditional Dingi Dingi dance. This dance was performed by girls to attract boys. The movement is based on bird movements.
Every society develops and lives by a set of behaviors and beliefs developed over the centuries. These “mores” are the customs, values, traditions, habits, patterns, ethics, morals, and principles by which the society manages everything from daily family and clan life, to settling conflicts, to how courtship and marriage happen, to funerals, and all aspects of their life.
This is what defines their Culture, their identity as a people.
A woman elder exhibits and talks about Acoli artifacts she kept hidden from the rebels during the 24 year war.
The Acoli people suffered a 24 year armed insurgency perpetrated by warlord, Joseph Kony. Thousands of people were massacred, 35,000 children abducted and turned into child soldiers, hundreds and hundreds of women and girls were abducted and raped over and over as sex slaves. A whole generation of young people grew up in severely overcrowded refugee camps rampant with infectious diseases, and during this time so much of their Culture was lost, forgotten, or never passed on to the next generation.
The women lament during a funeral song giving honor to the dead and those who grieve.
The mission of the Acoli Cultural Revival Organization (ACRO) is to repair the current condition of the Culture through community mobilization of elders, community leaders and young people to revive traditions, rituals, and the values passed on by traditional dance, music and storytelling.
This work has been going on for the past three years with a very concentrated effort over the past 14 months culminating in a two day Cultural Revival Gala/Exhibition in Padibe, Lamwo District.
The only other organized cultural revival in Northern Uganda has taken place in Gulu, a three hour drive away and a town most people in Lamwo District will never visit because of the distance and lack of transportation other than walking. What is happening in Padibe is very unique and special and we hope it will spread to other areas as well. With 32 GB of photos and video, only a small portion will be included here.
Each day began with the entrance of the Paramount Chief of the Acoli people as he is escorted by men in traditional costume of animal skins and a headband made of ostrich feathers. Although plentiful at one time, ostriches no longer exist in this area of Uganda due to the war during which all animals were killed. The feathers you see were shipped to them from the US.
The War Dance performed by the group from Paloga is a favorite of the crowd. This group has been well know throughout the district for its talented performance of the war dance. This is the first time they actually had the traditional costume to wear during the dance.
The Dingi Dingi dance by the group from Pangiera was phenomenal!
One of the local chiefs that attended the festival demonstrates for the crowd the proper way to hold an elephant spear and shield.
The Larakaraka is a traditional courtship dance. A man will take a calabash gourd and place it on the head of the lady and she does a special dance just for him. If it all works out they will run off together and shortly thereafter the dowry negotiations will begin for the traditional marriage.
After the first day, Shawn and I were sitting outside enjoying a sip from the source of the Nile, and could hear music, drumming, and singing from the groups that had been trucked in for the event and housed in the area. They were celebrating the day’s success and getting ready for day two. We decided to take a walk in the dark and join in the revelry with them.
It was a fabulous day. What will tomorrow bring?!
Posted by deaconrob | February 11th, 2016 | One comment
There have been no posts for the past few days because life simply took over. That, and the difficulty of actually going through the process of creating and uploading the post, photos, and video from a USB cellular modem with a very iffy network connection made it difficult.
First I should say that a day or two after being with Mary Otema and her malaria stricken 12 year old son, things improved quickly. The next day he was awake, able to read and smile, and was recovering. The day after that he was released and Mary and he both could return to their home.
Today is Sunday and I am actually in Kampala waiting a brief time to board my KLM airplane to Amsterdam and then to Chicago, find the bus to Milwaukee and finally see my wife and partner, Mary, once again after 28 days. That is a long time when you have been married 46 years and are retired!
A group from Lokung demonstrate the traditional Funeral Dance that honors the dead and the grief of the family.
A great deal has happened since the last post, the most significant being the incredible success of the Acoli Cultural Revival two day Gala. Since I have much to say about that and need a much stronger connection to upload the video clips, those posts will happen after my return to Milwaukee on January 2.
I will say that the Paramount Chief of all Acoli made his first visit ever to Padibe and Lamwo distritct to see the Cultural Revival Gala.Here you can see hem flanked by traditional dancers and led by the personal assistant/prime minister. He came to both days, spoke to the people about the critical importance of their cultural heritage; and because he was there all the other chiefs also came.
This is my very good friend and co-director of the collaborative drama, Tommy, playing one of the traditional instruments we are using in the show.
It is around midnight in Milwaukee and 9 am here. By this time many young men are up and working at making bricks since 3 or 4 am. They begin so early in the morning because it is cooler during this very hot, dry season and brick making is back breaking work.
Bicycling one morning brought by these young men making local bricks.
This was probably his tenth trip to the borehole to get water to for the brick making.
Mixing the mu/clay for hours on end to get the right consistency to put into the molds is some of the hardest manual labor I ever saw.
A lot of water is packed in from the bore holes and the earth is mixed over and over and over again.
Although they mostly continue making new homes in the traditional round style, using bricks as the inner layer of the walls instead of woven, split bamboo keeps the termites from eating into the bamboo and destroying the hut way before its time is due.
Wooden molds are filled with the mud/clay mixture to form the bricks the they are knocked out of the molds and laid out in the hot sun to dry,
Hundreds of molded bricks laying in the sun to dry before firing.
then stacked in very tall piles about 8’ x 8’ x 8’. They kind of look like an ancient ziggart. This “tower” of bricks is covered in mud, left to dry and with a hole left open in the bottom center. This hole is filled with wood and brush which is set on fire and left to burn to harden the bricks as much as possible. Then the bricks are used to create the round walls of the Acoli hut. After the brick walls are formed a dark mud is applied that dries to a very hard substance. The Acoli hut is highly engineered for longevity in a harsh environment and for maximum comfort. It is always cooler and has excellent ventilation which provides much comfort in the hot weather.
The young men will use the finished bricks to build huts like the one in the background or sell them on the market to others who cannot make bricks but can afford to buy some.
I will leave Northern Uganda peacefully, leaving these people to an unbelievable daily grind to just survive. For 95% of the Acoli life is about day to day subsistence. Even one of the teachers told me after he gets his monthly salary, pays the children’s school tuition, they have money for about 2 weeks. The last two weeks they simply live from what they plant and harvest. It seems so unfair compared to other places in the world, but that seems to be the way the world works. All the pleasantries and conveniences of life we take so for granted were all earned by generations before who toiled much so we would not have to.
That is a lot of weight to carry on your head day after day and yet keep a smile on your face!
I wonder how many pounds this older woman has carried on her head in her lifetime?
Today our toil is different, but could it not also to be more enlightened. Africa has so many generations to go before it really comes into the next level of “comfortable” living. Even though all of this is really important to me, it is the human heart that really matters and the hearts of most of the people here are filled with humility, a real sense of friendship, family and connection to each other within the clan and between the clan. Of course there are disputes as in any human community, but it never ceases to amaze me to see so much joy in the midst of such poverty and very simple subsistence living on a day to day to day basis.
Caroline is one of the ACRO mobilizers who worked for the past year in one of the four parish zones.
Many of the people have no idea how people in the other parts of the world live, but television is changing much of their perception. One day it may also change how they vote and there may even be governments that care more about the people than lining their own pockets. We not only pray and hope for this day, we can also make personal sacrifices and come to Acoli land, to Padibe, Madi Kiloc, Paloga, Lokung, Potika, Madi Opei every year. We cannot afford to wait for governments. Each person can make a difference in helping others with so little.
Right now I am sitting outside on the veranda of the rectory. It is around 10 pm in Padibe on a Tuesday evening, which is usually pretty quiet, but many of the groups who will perform tomorrow have arrived and the air is filled with the sounds of many different styles of drums, flutes, whistles as they continue to celebrate and practice for the first ever big event tomorrow. They all know that the Paramount Chief, the King of all the Acoli clans will be at the Cultural Gala to witness their prowess. It is one of the proudest moments in their lives in the past 35 years.
I was so busy directing I did not get many photos of rehearsal today when we put in three of the traditional dances, but here is a shot from the Wang-oo scene.
The ancient Acoli ritual of passing on the tradition – Wang-oo
Wang-oo is one of the most highly significant traditions that have been mostly lost because of the long war. It is a time when the clan members gather around the fire and the elders settle disputes, pass on wisdom, teach the younger adults traditions and rituals, etc.
One of the rituals in the drama is one used for cleansing and healing of fear and trauma from some experience. The actors are making the final prop in this shot.
What used to be a common ritual for cleansing and healing most people have never seen.
In the ritual a girl who was abducted and now returned and a boy who was beaten by a bandit, need the cleansing. The clan gathers around with the elder in the middle holding a calabash bowl and a branch from a particular tree used for anointing. There is some water in the calabash bowl and all the members spit into it and the branch is put into the water and brushed on the girl and boy while certain prayers are said. Wait until you see the video! It should be posted a few posts from now.
This young man is playing one of the traditional music instruments used in the drama.
The actors putting the final touches on an animal hide used to sit on.
One of the props needed was an animal hide that is used for sitting on along with papyrus mats. So, I buy to buy a hide from a butcher, have it dried and then final preparation was made by the actors. Not bad for $17.
A million wonderful, beautiful children!
Even though we are in a walled in environment, we still attract a crowd that wants to watch rehearsal. Actually it has been very helpful for me to see their reaction to what is said and done in the scenes since I cannot understand one word of the dialogue!
The next post may be about the major activity during the dry season – brick making.
Being the day before the East Acoli Cultural Revival two day Gala, there is a great deal of set up and preparation happening at the venue, Padibe Girls Primary School. Although it is called a Girls school, it has actually been coed since the end of the war. It was chosen because of the nice grounds and it has a large brick enclose around the whole compound. There is plenty of room for the exhibition stalls and all the performance activity also. Many people from all over the district will be coming tonight by truck, bicycle, and walking to get set up and ready for the two day festival.
The first technical rehearsal for the collaborative drama.
One of the presentations is a Collaborative Drama that was developed by myself and a group of people over here. It began with eight workshops where myself and a group of eight local people devised a 40 minute drama based on an Acoli family’s story. It was a good enough start to have us continue working on the structure and then develop an actual script over the past three years. In first presentation all the dialogue was improvised in their language by the actors. It is an attempt to bring combine western dramatic structure with respectful use of traditional Acoli culture in order to honor the values of each.
Notice the backdrop which was designed by an artist in Padibe and painted in by the scenic artist at First Stage, Amy Larink, in Milwaukee.
The backdrop was developed from fifteen scenes from the typical Acoli life sketched by a local Padibe artist and painted by Amy Larkin, the Scenic Artist at First Stage in Milwaukee. It made its way to Africa in my suitcase.
Two of the actors are bringing materials to make one of the props.
The last three photos are of the first technical rehearsal of the Collaborative Drama and behind the moorcycle they are bringing in materials for one of the props.
This is the first time there has been any kind of major Cultural Revival presentation in East Acoli. Up to today this kind of activity has only happened in Gulu, which is really the only city in the North, is the center of the Northern Uganda’s activity, and is considered West Acoli. The Padibe festival is a wonderful achievement from a lot of work by the people in the ACRO organization and with a little help from the Global Solidarity Committee at Three Holy Women Parish, Milwaukee.
The Padibe Mission was first established by the Cambonni Italian Missiionarys in the 1920’s and turned over the Archdiocese of Gulu in the 1950’s as it grew and has had a diocesan priest ever since. The St. Peter and Paul Health Clinic was established in the 1960’s when the mission decided to build two new schools and had the old school buildings converted into the current Health Clinic.
Mother with her small child in the Children’s ward.
It operates very similarly to a non-profit corporation in the US. They simply try to balance expenses and income each year and take no profit. They do not turn away anyone who comes to them in need of medical help, which is very similar to most emergency rooms in US hospitals. Needless to say, without some kind of profit margin they are not able to build any excess funds which could be used for proper maintenance of the buildings, equipment, etc. The management team is made up of local volunteers from the parish and Two of the Sisters from the convent. Interestingly, most of the paid staff is paid by NGO’s and if the NGO changes its focus, the staff would be gone in a second. It is a very precarious business model, but is holding on and doing the best job they can for the people.
A father took time off from the field work to visit his sick child.
The first place all patients must stop is at the registration desk in front of the Clinic
The line waiting to be registered to see a nurser or “Dr” goes around the side of the building where there is a shade tree to stand under.
The mothers must stay on the floors of the wards next to their children and bring in water and grain to prepare food for them, bathe them and do much of what a nurse’s aid would in the US.
These two mothers are brining in the grain and water to make food for their children.
The eldest daughters are then responsible for the home cooking, grinding grains, and whatever else must be done.
This is where the food is prepared by the mothers for their children.
During the day most of them sit outside in the shade of a couple of trees.
The mothers staying out of the hot sun and holding the children that are able to leave the bed.
I met several fathers visiting their sick children
A father takes the time off from work to visit his sick son.
Even though it is the dry season and I have seen very few mosquitos, the Health Clinic is experiencing the third malaria epidemic in six months. The first was primarily children, the second adults, and now, the third one is mostly children.
A young child with malaria and a proud mother.
I walked into one of the wards and saw Peter Otema’s wife, Mary sitting next to her 12 year old son.
Mary Otema sits with her son who is very ill with malaria.
He was on and IV drip and very unresponsive, but her beautiful smile of hope and joy that I remembered from several years ago was still there.
Mary’s indomitable smile in spite of great worry.
Many prayers for him and all the sick children at the clinic this morning.
Mother holding her precious ill child.
If a case is not so serious they can be cured by quinine pills.
Mother sitting with her wonderful daughter.
But most of these children begin with an IV drip and then move on using the IV only when necessary but keeping the IV connection on the back of the hand.
Mother and child with the IV connection in back of hand.
Mother holding her malaria stricken child.
The Head Nurse checking in on one of the children.
This young man is so serious, he has not gained consciousness to eat or move or anything for days. The family may have waited too long before brining him to the clinic
The mother sits near her son who is extremely sick with malaria.
This man is called the, Dr. However he is actually clinically well trained, but does not have an MD degree.
The “Dr.” is examining the joints and other aspects of the very sick boy.
The mothers insisted on getting their sick children outside for a photo. Nothing I said could prevent them, they really wanted their photo taken.
The mother’s really insisted on a photo outside the ward.
The Health Clinic has quickly risen to the top of future projects we are discussing with Padibe Parish. MSOE, one of our local partners, is considering combining its Nursing Program students along with the appropriate Engineering students to work with us to make clinical and structural improvements to this wonderful facility that helps so many of poorest of the poor in and area where nearly everyone is poor. It will be an incredibly worthwhile project if we can make put it all together.