Cultural Resources in Acholi

As you progress in your communication abilities in Acholi, it is also important to deepen your understanding of the larger culture within which the language is situated. Doing so will give you a picture of how language is used by native speakers and, importantly, the meanings that are infused into language based on customs, traditions, histories, etc.

Below is an annotated list of video and text-based resources that can help introduce you to Acholi history and culture

Ronald Atkinson’s The Roots of Ethnicity.

This book by historian Ronald Atkinson is probably the most comprehensive description of how the Acholi people formed a common cultural identity over the course of centuries. If you want the big overview of Acholi history, start here!

Introduction to Cultural Dance

In Acholi, almost all children learn common traditional dances that are performed at school and in the community. Two of the most prominent are the Larakaka dance of courtship and the Bwola dance for honoring leaders. This video introduces you to both of these dances.

Contemporary Music as Cultural Fusion

Today, there are many musicians actively fusing traditional and modern day conceptions of Acholi culture and sound. One of the most prominent is Lucky Bosmic Otim. This music video from one of his most famous recent songs, Acholi Mito Dongo Lobo (The Acholi Want Development) provides great views of Gulu Town, the main urban center in Acholi, and shows how traditional dance is fused with a modern sound.

Accessing Culture through Proverbs

Most languages have wisdom statements, or proverbs, that reveal accepted truths in the culture. Acholi is no different. Okot Bitek, one of the most prominent Acholi writers ever, published this book of Acholi proverbs. It provides a great window into Acholi ways of thinking and moralizing.

Long Form Poetry

Okot Bitek is best known for two long form poems he wrote in Acholi. The first, Song of Lawino, is a sort of lament by an Acholi woman at how her husband has changed as he has gotten wrapped up in westernized labor systems. The second, Song of Ocol, is the husband’s response. These two poems make for difficult reading, but they provide an important window into the tensions Acholi people experience between the forces of tradition and the forces of modernity.

Documentaries on the Northern Uganda War

Over the last thirty years, the primary variable affecting Acholi culture has been an ongoing war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the national government of Uganda based in Kampala. The documentary War Dance tells the story of the war in a thoughtful way while following a group of war affected youth that win a national music competition. Fortunately, the filmmakers allowed their interviewees to speak extensively in Acholi, so the film is also a great language learning resource. And, the entire movie is available for free on YouTube! Click here.

Sverker Finnstrom’s Ethnography of Life in the War Zone

For a more academic take on the effect of violence on Acholi culture, see Sverker Finnstrom’s book Living in Bad SurroundingsFinnstrom spent years with Acholi children and unpacks how they have navigated the war zone to find ways to survive and thrive. The book provides great historical chapters as well that might provide a quicker historical overview than Atkinson’s Roots of Ethnicity.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.