Suncolor's Blog

acholi love, modern pop, and indians

Posted on: December 28, 2010


Pre War Life in Northern Uganda
by john otim

Acholi love is a game in which two young people of the opposite sex encounter and engage each other in a series of mock battles. They size and eye each other. They circle each other as though they were two prize fighters in the ring.

They pull and tug and push. They pull and tug and push. And finally they come up close and wrestle each other till the first falls to the ground, and rises again to carry the contest forward, or is finally subdued. Acholi love is vigorous and prolong. Here there is no quickie. Acholi love, wrote the poet Okot p’Bitek, is not for the faint of heart. Not for the Acholi, Dona Summer’s sweet surrender. Oh I surrender! Oh sweet surrender.

For the Acholi, for that matter for the Langi, for the Karamojong and for the peoples of northern Uganda, the idea of a love tryst is nearer that of a sporting event in the ring. The idea is the maximization of touch. It is the celebration of youth. Strenth and valor is at the core of love.

In love there is always talk. There is nothing like a silent tryst, a robourst Indian girl once boldly proclaimed. And here too there is talk but it is tough talk. “An pe amiti do laconi. Awachi ne adegi do laconi. Cit cen! wot cen! dok cen!” (Who said I needed you Mr. Man. I hate you Mr. Man. Go back! Get back! Get lost!) In the place of sweet surrender is tough challenge flowing like honey.

Yes tough is the word. If I were asked to put it all into lyrics in the manner of Dona Summer or Diana Ross, it should turn out something like: Oh oh oh I challenge! Oh oh oh tough challenge! Here the challenge comes not so much from the tough talking language of the girl. As from what as a matter of fact the girl is, in the eyes of the boy. Very much in a  manner like the Beatles themselves once put it:

Something in the way she moves
something in the way she woes me
attracts me like no other lover
I don’t want to leave her now
I don’t want to leave her now

Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye once put it this way. You are everything and everything is you. The Acholi drummer boys put it this way. Ka igal ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo, oh oh, ikeng gin ma Lubanga oketo. (If you delayed you will miss what the Lord has created).

Halt! Who goes? A strong male voice breaks the silence star lights. In the distance, royal drums roll, dancing feet beat the dust off the earth. All roads lead to the chief’s compound where tonight the mok dance (the dance of courtship) is already underway. Halt!

Yes I halt! and who are you? It is a feminine voice, but equally strong. A challenge met by a challenge. Not for the faint of heart is Acholi love. Throbbing drums play to the tensions. There is magic in the air. To night I celebrate my love for you.

She stops erect like a fighter in the ring awaiting the bell. Really there is not one, but any number of ways of issuing the challenge. The idea is to call attention and to demand it in the most commanding way. The challenge once issued cannot be ignored. You can’t walk away. You can’t live to fight another day. It is now or never just like Elvis Presley once said.  Anyone could issue a challenge, the boy would, the girl could.

Once at school campfire I committed the stupidity. In the heat of the evening’s fanfare I smelt the hair on my head burn. Was I on fire? I was scared. But really it was no big deal, some loose strands briefly set alight. That was all. But I was shaken and the offender was all smiles. Come on, she seemed to say. It was a command.

I came close to swallowing her. But instead I escaped, I walked away, in double quick motions. I believe I broke the sound barrier. But soon I paid for it. From my former position as a high flying kid I became overnight a joke throughout the school. Mr. Wouldn’t, everybody called me.

In the wrestle and the play, at the end of the day, the boy may and could walk away with a token. A necklace or a bangle, a string of beads, bestowed by the angel, a declaration of love as a matter of fact.

In reality very often the boy walked away with nothing at all but the smiles on his face. But he carried away something more precious – the  sweet sensation of having been a part of something holy. Often he probably won, but not necessarily. Girls could and did win. In this the northern girls come very close to their Nigerian sisters, sweet sturdy Amazons. Look out! Northern girls are coming.

Once when I was home on holidays at Dokolo, in the small town where my father taught. I watched a young Indian confront the challenge. Will he walk away, will he escape like I did? Did he know it was a challenge? Yes he did.

Indians in small towns and rural areas were better integrated with local communities. They were familiar with local customs. They spoke the language as well as any one did.

They did not go to the local schools. They had their own schools, a colonial legacy carried from the British. Policies that the new authorities and the Indians should have droped like untouchables upon the approach of independence but they didn’t.  It turned out a big mistake.

So I watch now the young Indian ponder the challenge flung at him by the young African girl. For the Indian the situation was delicate even critical.

Here he was surrounded by a group of his young African employees, age mates and pals really. The Indian was deputizing for his father or some uncle or grand father. Even more than Africans Indians lived in large communal groups.

Now the Africans teased and baited him in the way only Africans could. The Indian did not disappoint. He rose to the challenge. But he was no match for the sturdy local girl.

"Acholi girls"

Acholi dancers

She soon floored him and when he rose to try again floored him again. A small crowd had gathered. They were hilarious. The Indian smiled bravely. In his defeat he seemed to triumph. His companions saluted him, a reward for his perfomance. It is all about valor.

The girl walked away from the scene, a goddess followed by her train, her feet barely touching ground, at that moment she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Pretty woman walking down the street, pretty woman I am in love with you … pretty woman. I sang with Roy Orbison as I cycled away in the direction of the setting sun towards the marshlands and fairyland of Aminkwach.

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4 Responses to "acholi love, modern pop, and indians"

Acholi Love has reminded me of the Sharo Stick Fighting bouts of the cattle Fulanis of northern Nigeria. It too forms part of the brave requirements of a would-be husband. Get the the cane’s struck straight to your chest, brave it away with smiles and take the girl away. Any show of pain on your face says you wait till next year’s turn. And of course, a different girl!

Lawal you know, I spent my days in northern nigeria fascinated by the culture and the traditions of northern nigerians, especially the hausa/fulani. their graceful charms. expressed in songs, dance and dress. and oh the beauty … the elegance of the women

I can imagine how your mind now chews the bits, pieces and fragments of the images and imageries of the raw essence of rich cultural mix of the Hausas!

you know i used to love it as little kid. watching the trees in the forested landscape of uganda. run the opposite direction as the bus speeded along. wonderful are the images we experience. how is the photography coming along? could you in feature share with me some of the images. have fun john

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