Categories History

The Socio-Political History Of The Langi 1750-1909

By Benson Okello


The Langi (Langi is the plural of Lango. Lango refers to an individual Langi. The term Lango also refers to the country of the Langi) are one of the ethnic groups in the present-day northern Uganda. They occupy the districts of Amolatar, Apac, Dokolo, Lira, Oyam Kole, Otuke and Alebtong. It is believed that they belong to the ateker (ateker are a paranilotic people e.g. here are karamajong, toposa, iteso, turkana and Jie) group yet they speak Luo language. They share a lot of material cultures with the luo stalk in east Africa.
The two districts are bounded by lake kyoga and river Nile to the south. The two water bodies constitute a natural frontier between the Langi and the neighbours, the Bantu speaking peoples of busoga, Buganda and Bunyoro.
No such boundaries separate them with the Acholi to the north, Iteso and Kumam to the East. All these neighbors live to a similar condition of land and climate.
The Lango country forms part of the extensive plateau North of lake kyoga with an elevation of about 1,050m. The country is generally flat with gneiss and sighting out crops and these can be identified by the names of the hills, which are mainly situated north of lira town today.
The land rises very gradually towards the watershed with Aswar (River Moroto) in the north, falling away more abruptly on the northern side of the rift valley. The northern demarcation of the Lango therefore is marked by the Otuke and Opit hills.
The question of the origin of the Langi of northern Uganda has been one of the most baffling subjects to the pre-colonial historians and anthropologist upto date. Many writers (westermann 1012, Driberg 1923) have tried to link them with the nilotic groups like the Acholi (gang), jo
padhola, alur and the jo aluo (luo) of Kenya, meanwhile other writers (Tarantino 1946a pp. 1-18) have always contested such classification as being historically incorrect and forth with linking them to the ateker groups of Uganda, like the Iteso, Karamajong, the Jie and the Turkana, Toposa, Dime, Bako of Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia respectively. Recent authorities (Webster JB 1972, Okalany DH 1980 Ogot BA, Crazzolara 1960, Mugane BR, 1972) have tried to solve the problem by concluding that the Langi of northern Uganda are as a result of fission of several ethnic groups involving the Luo, Sudanic clans and the ateker. But these theorists are not yet so convincing as their assumptions are based on similarities in names of places, people and even the clans. This therefore leaves a lot to be desired as far as the origin, the migration and settlement and the their social organization of the Langi are concerned.
Driberg, one of the colonial masters who worked in Lango during the second decade of the twentieth century wrote about the Langi and linked their origin to the luo, who migrated from Sudan in the fifteenth century to the present day Uganda, Kenya. He quoted westermann as follows: –
To revert the question of the Lango, however, they are nilotic tribe whose language shows close affinities with Shilluk and their movements must be coordinated with those of other tribes of the same family, which exhibit a strong centrifugal tendency… the shilliks migrated in three directions: south, south east and northwest. The division wandering south is now known as gang (Acholi). From the gang a number of smaller divisions have branched off into south west, south east, south; the lur (alur), jo palu (Jo paluo), ja luo (Driberg 1923)
The above quotation qualifies the Langi to be exactly one of the shilluk people. The shilluk are the branch of the Luo people who separated from the legendary Olum group from Wipac and settled in the present day central Sudan (westermann 1912). It is a clear testimony that these earlier anthropologists were more than convinced that the present day Langi (called by the Acholi as Omiru or foreigners (Tarantino 1949) b p145 were no doubt part of the Nilotic group of people that found their way into east Africa during the fifteenth century. Driberg argued that the original home of the Langi comprised of the Giriki, Wera, Oburyu, Kito and Morokani of which Kito was the highest rock. This Kito could have been Kauvie hills on the east of the Dindiga Mt” (Driberg ibid p27) at the same time; he added that the name Kito is an Ateker word meaning mountain (Driberg Ibid p27). Apart from this assumption that the Langi should be related to the Shilluks, no any other evidence was given by these early writers to substantiate their theory.
Tarantino, a catholic priest who worked in Lango in 1940s and 1950s, seriously contested this theory about the origin of the Langi by both westermann and Driberg. He stated that the Langi are completely different from the Luo since there was completely no evidence to prove that they were indeed akin to them. He therefore associated the Langi with the groups like the Bako and Dime in Ethiopia, Toposa, Dongotono, Lutuko and Lango in Sudan, Suk Turkana, Wendi and Masai of Kenya, Iteso Karamajong, Kumaam, Abwor, Dodoth, Jie or Lango Olok of Uganda (Tarantino Ibid 1949b p145. In order to justify his stand, reverend father Tarantino argued that if the Langi were a kin to the Acholi then the Acholi could not again refer to them as Omiru, meaning foreigners, or people of other tribe, this was therefore a clear testimony that the Langi
of northern Uganda are not in any way akin to the Luo. To him, the Langi speak their present “Lango, lwo (Okot B’tek 1971 pp.34-36) just because they find it convenient for their survival, otherwise their original language still remains in their dialect, Tarantino argued that the names of animal’s body parts still testify that the Langi are of the Ateker stalk. He further argued that the Langi came from Abyssinia, from the land of the Opobo people, a land of great mountains, where there was abundant rain (Tirantino Ibid 1949b).
While responding to these arguments by Tarantino, Crazzolara, who did wide studies on the Luo, responded with some contempt to Tarantino’s presentation, he said,’ …I cannot for a moment entertain the supposition that all the present lano Omiru people are descendants of those invaders [Arak, Atek and okarowok clans], clans such as the ogoora, oima, abwor are found in many parts of the Acholi land. Aboke, Agwata (Cf p’agwata, aluur), Ayer pi of Acholi/aluur, madi. Oloa (jo alwaar), oromoCforom of the galla … (Crazzolaral lwo part 3).” This assertion by crazzolara shows that there are a lot of similarities between the Langi clans, Langi villages or names of places with other people like the Acholi, Alur, and even the Galla, showing that the Langi were not one people but they are as a result of the fission. His noted on the Lango at all, but that they are just Luo like the Acholi. He said that Lango Omiru are not Lango at all, but that they are just Luo like the Acholi (Crazzolara 1960 pp174-214). On the other hand, Crazzolara believes that Lango omiru absorbed some other population, which was settled already in Lango. Possibly of madi origin, such that the Lango are not Lango at all. He further argued that the Ogora clan in Lango possibly came from the Agoro range, that they migrated to the present day Lango through Terenye and settled around Ogur in Lango, that these people were of madi origin. Crazzolara writes that tentative inquiring made by him at Oguur in Lango district clearly alluded to the fact
that a good number of clan groups, who consider themselves to be the owners of land were from the northern part of Acholi or roughly from Agoro region, so most likely they were just madi not Lango (Crazzolara Ibid; p.504)
Crazzolara’s argument about the origin of the Langi was supported by B.A Ogot who strongly believes that, without beginning from Crazzolara’s work, then the Langi would have no history. He said thus…my thinking on this problem has been influenced by an article by J.P Crazzolara… in which he advances a new theory about the origin of Lango…there are little doubt that no history of the origin and early migration of the southern Luo which ignores the body of evidence adduced by Crazzolara in histicle, can be complete…” (Ogot B.A 1967 p27). This hypothesis that had been advanced by Crazzolara about the Langi made Ogot to criticize Tarantino curiously accusing him of ognoring other clans while gathering his information about the origin of the Langi. He asserted that Tarantino only limited his source of information to the three clans of Teso that had migrated and invaded Lango in AD 1750, “if he had interviewed members of Oyima, Atiko or Lira clans, he would have obtained traditions which traced the migration of the Langi from the north-south west…” (Ogot Ibid p53)
Both crazzolara and Ogot therefore believe that apart from the three clans of Iteso (Arak, Atek, Okarowok) Crazzolara Ibid pp174-214, which invaded the Luo, all the clans of Lango are of the Luo origin. Although this conclusion would sound so elaborate in situation where there is no alternative view, prominent questions still stand. Why do the Langi always refer to them as “we are Langi (Tarantino 1949 p145) why do the Acholi refer to the Langi as omiru or foreigners, if some of their clans are the ones constituting the whole the whole of Lango except the three clans
of Teso above? The issue of the Langi is so complex and so intertwined but no single assumption like that of crazzolara and Ogot can solve it (Tarantino 1946 p145). Okot P’Bitek argued that although the Langi are of the Luo and the Kumam speak dialect related to Luo, they do not claim any relation with the Luo (okot Ibid p5). How did crazzolara and ogot come to the conclusion that the Langi are of the Luo origin? This conclusion is a mere assumption based on flimsy similarities of names and the language, for one reason that even the Luo the Langi speak is not completely Luo, for they are still distinguishable from other Luo speakers (Okot Ibid p34).
Moreover, even the three Teso clans that invaded the Luo above became known as Langi, the reason as to why they became known, as the Langi was not expounded on both by Ogot and Crazzolara. Yet referring to them as Teso clans above may not be correct although the Iteso have those clans. For the name Teso alone seems to be some recently coined term for the Ikumama (Odada M 1977 p32) who left their karamoja region to settle in the present day land. Gulliver P.H, writing about the Iteso and the Jie in 1956 said, “…ideed to this day in both Jie and Turkana countries, the word Teso is not recognized, and modern inhabitants of the whole sorotii region are only known as the Kumam…” (Guiliver P.H 1956 p.214). So equating the origin of the Langi as being from Teso clans and Masses of the Luo that had settled in Lango is too simplistic Yet most of the writers who came after Crazzolara and Ogot are mostly entangled into believing them as being authorities “de facto” whose lines should not in any way be ignored.
Webster J.B, while reconstructing the history of the migration and settlement in the interlocustrine region never escaped the line that has been preceeded by Ogot and Crazzolara, he hinted on the Nyamudere famine (c 1580) which could have started a series of migrations and
fission of different ethnic groups giving birth to new tribes in the region. He said that during this period, the Iseera (Iseera means pioneer or the living ahead, Okalany DH; 1980.p4) and the Luo were absorbed into the new pastoral oriented ethenic groups creating some bilingual group which moved and settled around Kotidany river and that by 1760, they moved into Labwor hills which the Puranga (Luo Clan) had evacuated and that the bilingual group concentrated around Otuke hills and that other clans of Opalamyek, Alira, Alaki and Ogora mostly Luo speakers of Sudanic origin joined them. And that as a result of this fission, a new ethnic group Lango omiru was born (Webster JB 1972 p.136). Webster further argued that the Lango clan names indicate the fission, which took place at Otuke. For instance, he cited the following clans as being of the Luo origin, omolo, Oyima, Malakwanga, Okii and Inomo. Ogora, Opalamyek, Alira and Alaki as being of sudanic origin.
The okarowok, Atekok, Otengogo and Okadameri of being Iseera, meanwhile the Oyangabura as being of paranilotes. According to Webter, the paranilotes-speaking people comprised of northern para nilotes, Iseera (Ateker) and pastralist (ateker) meanwhile the Luo speaking comprised of those of Luo in Origin and those of sudanic origin but Luo speakers. The northern paranilotes include: – Padzulu, kuku, Bari, and Lutuko ethnic groups. Meanwhile the ateker belongs to the paranilotic speakers. By inserting the Ayangabura clan as being a northern paranilote, then Webster had all the reasons to prove hat such a clan is common to those other members of the northern paranilotes, but he never dared to give any example. Such a clan as oyanyabura does not exist at all among other paranilote groups. For example, according to the Bari clan list (Crazzolara 1950 p.344), oyangabura does not exist.
Moreover even the so-called Iseera and the pastralist Ateker that he sited to validate his fission theory are just one people. As already noted above, Iseera means, “ those who go ahead” or pioneer. Going ahead does not make one ethnic group to be different from origin with those left behind at all. Webster presented ogora, Opalamyek, Alira and Alaki as being of the Sudanic origin, that they only joined the biligual Luo and Iseera at kotidany. Neither did he prove that the above clans left behind some other people still known by such names. The idea of the Sudan element in the Lango clans is echoed by Odada (1978) when constructing the history of the Kumam. He asserted that, while the proto Kumam (Lango) were in Didinga area, they were in close contacts with the Olango people (section of the Lango left behind). And that it was the grand children of the Olango mixing with other Sudanic elements within Sudan that gave rise to the present day Langi.
As to which Sudanic elements the sons and daughters of the Olango mixed to present day Langi,. Odada tactifully did not elaborate much.
The lexicon linguistic studies carried out by Greenberg on the east Sudanic languages reveal so many vocabulary resemblances in fundamental nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verb stems. This therefore forced Greenberg to believe that the evidence of vocabulary and morphology indicates genetic relationship of the great lakes and Nilotic languages (Greenberg 1955 pp 67-71). This conclusion would therefore show that the Langi and the Luo are of the same origin. But attesting to such conclusion, Okot Bitek writes, “…This conclusion by Greenberg cannot, by, itself, be taken as a conclusive evidence that the people speaking the eastern Sudanic languages, in particular Lango and kumam and the Luo were physically related. But it settles one issue, which is that when the Langi and Kumam met the Luo; the former did not completely lose their
language in preference to another totally different dialect. It was a case of one language influencing other dialect of the stock…” (Okot Bitek Ibid p.34).
The frustrating question of the Lango origin therefore just made southal to retort, “”—whether the Langi are in fact of nilo hamites [current title northern paranilotes] who came into such a close touch with the Luo groups during their migration that they adopted their language, or whether they are a group of Luo by origin which acquired various customs and structural features, from Nilo-hamites can not be certainly proved. But because of the dominating Luo tongue among the Langi, the Langi are Luo-ized nilo hamites of the karamajong group…” (Sout 1956.4).
It is against this background that the researcher has tried to establish the truth on the origin of the Langi, their social political organizations basing on the primary and the secondary sources. Even most of the literatures in existence about the Langi have always stated that his society was non-centralized, (acephalous) yet they existed as a people. Moreover, they had a supreme leader called Awitong who was a political and military leader. They could lead the Langi to wars against their enemies.
There are even a lot of similarities between the Langi and the Iteso of easetern Uganda. For example the Arak clan in Lango is called Iraraka clan among the Iteso. Could it be that these Langi just adopted those names yet they are Luo by origin? There are certain important ceremonies like Etogo, Wiro moo, Kayo Cogo that was very important in the society. What relationship did such social ceremonies have on the political organization of the Langi and even
in their ceremonic life? It is because of the above confusing and yawning gap in the History of the Langi that this research was undertaken.
The origin, migration and settlement of the Langi of Uganda

To be continued….

The author is a Lecturer at Kyambogo University.


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