Iteso Culture

The Iteso live in the East of Uganda in the areas of Soroti and the Kumi. The other Iteso are in Tororo and Palisa. The political unrest that hit the area in the 1990s made many Iteso to stretch down to Iganga. The Iteso are a section of the Langi group which is believed to have originated from Abyssinia. The Iteso had settled on the shores of Lake Salisbury by 18th Century. Regarding the origin, the Iteso came in from the Abyssinia from Karamoja. However, the historians assert that the Iteso are part of the Nilo Hamitic group who share the common origins with the Karimojong, Langi, the Kumam and Jie.

Regarding the social set up, the clan among the Iteso was the basic political and the social set up. The clan was also judicial and administrative. Formerly the Iteso society had nine (9) Clans but a range of other clans eventually broke off from the nine. The clan was headed by Akolon ka Ateker. The clan head would be elected by the elders in a function named Airukorin. The person selected was mostly a person of courage, wisdom and impartiality. The exact inauguration ceremony included opening up a road which was deliberately blocked for two weeks. The person selected often acted as arbitrator in the event of disputes. The position initially wielded a lot of power but with coming of the British, it was reduced to a third grade Magistrate level and named Omusalatuo.

Regarding the dispute settlement, the leader of the clan would be assisted by a council of elders called Airabis Aurianet. The council handled cases of debts and murder. In the event of murder, the compensation could be effected and this was in form of a cow or a girl. During the inter clan settlements, the elders would come to the event well-armed and incase of uncompromising behavior on one side, the fight would eventually break out. Following the settlement of a dispute, a ceremony named epucit or aijuk would be performed and the bull would be extracted from the offending side, killed, roasted and eaten there and then. Thus was a symbol of gesture and renewed friendship between the two clans. The respective compensation of a girl or a cow would then be handed over. The girl would have a pin or ring put in her ear robe. If the girl was not aesthetically endowed, some cows would be added to supplement her value. After all this it would be assumed that the murder case was fully settled. For the cases of a bad debtor, the accused would be asked to pay the amount within the agreed period and if she refuted or defaulted, he would be caught and tied on a log until his clan came to his rescue after clearing the debts.

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Regarding he military organization, the Iteso had different age grades known as Aturio which formed the basis for military organization. The army was named Ajore while the war leader was named Arowok. Before the war declaration, the fortune teller (Amurwok) had to be consulted. If the fortune teller predicted success, then the declaration of the war would be reached upon with the general approval of the elders.

Regarding marriage, the Iteso Parents arranged marriage for their children even with the knowledge of these children. However, at times, the boy would consult the girl directly and if the girl consented, she would have to inform her mother and secretly move away to commence her life with the boy. When the clan mate of the girl learnt of this development, they would complain on how their daughter was being used and then arrangements would be made for the introduction. The bride wealth would then be agreed upon and delivered accordingly. After all the people have gathered, the boy would put a present on top of the table that was placed on top of it. The girl would then pick it if she was in love with the boy and accepted their marriage but she would refuse to pick it if she was not willing to get married to the boy. After the girls’ refusal all arrangements would come to an end.

After returning home, the boy’s delegation would inform the boy’s parent s of what happened and in case of consent then the bride wealth payments could be arranged. On day of selecting the bride wealth, it was fine for the girl to go to the boy’s family and welcome her own people as they come to select the bride wealth. When the cows have been seen, approved and selected, they would be taken to the girl’s family on the specified date and this was the very day that the girl would be escorted to the boy’s home to commerce her marriage life. Prior to entering the compound, the boy’s delegation that had brought the cows would ask for a hen to roast and then would be followed with lots of dancing, eating and drinking. After this, the entourage would escort the bride to her husband’s home. The journey was marked by dancing and rejoicing. The bride and other two girls would be left that the husbands home and the two girls would go back home after a month or so leaving the newly married couple to manage their lives.

Regarding the birth and naming, the Iteso had three typed of birth and these included; single child, twin and the spiritual birth. The first two were considered normal but the third one would be in form of air or water. It was believed that such a child would always manifest in a home in form of a cat or another animal of the sort. The naming of the children followed a certain formula including the circumstances that surrounded their birth or the conditions that the mother experienced while still in labor. The naming of the child could also be influenced by the seasons such as famine, drought or harvest. At time the child could be named basing on the day of the week or the time of his/her birth like morning, day or night. At times, it was also common for the child to be named after the ancestors as a sign of commemorating them.

A ritual function called etale would be conducted to initiate the child into the clan and after this function; he would be regarded as the member of the clan. Though the function was restricted to the clan members, some clans would allow other people to participate. The roads leading to the compound where the ceremony would be conducted would be lined with thrones to prevent other non-clan members from attending. The out siders would be prevented from attending in fear that they would cause harm to the child and the intruders were considered as evil and if caught would be beaten seriously or fined. The function involved lots of eating and drinking. The food served included millet which was not mixed with Cassava, unsalted peas along with groundnut paste and oil. They would also consume Cucumber species named akobokob along with simsim paste. The pot use was prohibited and the use of tubes while drinking. Calabashes only would be used to drink ajon. The fights and quarrels of any nature were prohibited and the offenders would be fined by bringing goats and hens. The function had a spiritual attachment as it was believed that failure to accomplish it would result into the maligning and the weakening of the child.

Regarding death, the Iteso never considered death as a normal consequence. It was attributed to spirits and witch craft. When the person passed on, the witch doctor would be consulted to ascertain the cause of death. The body would be washed in the court yard and would be wrapped in bark cloth locally known as abangut after which it was buried. The woman’s body would be placed facing the right while that of a man would face the left. The corpses would be buried with objects like needles or razorblades to prevent them from the cannibals who used the magic to extract the bodies from the grave. If the copse was buried with the needle and when called upon, it would say that it was busy mending its clothes and would thus not come out to be eaten by the cannibals.

Regarding the religion, the Iteso believed in a supreme King named Edeke. However, the Iteso were more engaged in ancestral spirits which were believed to be causes of bad luck if not given the considerable attention. Each family had a shrine where drinks and other offerings would be poured and placed to please the ancestors. Among the Iteso, it was a taboo for a woman to eat chicken. The clans had specific taboos which were mainly animals and were not permitted to eat them.

Regarding the entertainment, when the mother among the Iteso gave birth to twins, she would be called the mother of the many (toto idwe) and a special type of drum would be beaten and people would gather to dance to their best. There was another dance type named Akembe and it was normally organized by two boys who would then invite girls to join the company in some generally accepted place away from home.     It was a get together dance where the boys would spot their future spouses. At time, when the need necessitated, a special dance would be held in order to invoke the ancestors for consultation. The drum would be beaten and people would dance and in the process, some people would be possessed and start communicating to living in the voices of the ancestors.