As in many pastoral societies in East Africa, male social, political and economic life among the Jie and other Ngakarimojong-speaking peoples of northeastern Uganda is shaped by age set systems. While every society has different ways of organizing these systems, an age set system can be broadly defined as a method of social organization in which individuals are divided into cohesive groups based on age and seniority, which confer upon them common identities and social roles. Among the Jie, the age set system is known as asapan. Jie men are usually initiated into age sets around the age of 30, a process that signals the completion of their transition from youth into manhood. The most important part of the initiation process is the amuronot asapan, or “the sacrificial rite of initiation.” Each initiate must kill a sacrificial bull (sing. emaanik/pl. ngimaaniko) or ox (sing. emong/pl. ngimongin) by spearing it directly through the heart, ensuring a quick and painless death.
The Jie asapan system is very complex, and it took hours of conversation with elder Achuka Lokochil Apaturkan for me to begin to understand it, though there are many nuances that still elude me. Nevertheless, the asapan system represents a good opportunity to begin learning about both an integral part of Jie culture and Ngakarimojong words for animals and aspects of the natural world, since age sets and generation sets are usually named after particular animals or topographical features.
According to Apaturkan, the Jie asapan system consists of two generation sets, the Ngikosowua (sing. ekosowuan), or “Buffaloes,” and the Ngikoria (sing. ekor), or “Honey Badgers.” These generation sets alternate, with new initiates always entering the Ngikosowua if their predecessors had entered the Ngikoria, and vice versa. The ekor is the most spiritually significant animal in Jie culture, and many other Ngakarimojong-speaking groups have similar totemic animals. for instance, the Bokora people venerate the abokok (pl. ngabooko), or “tortoise,” while the Matheniko people hold the ekori (pl. ngikorio), or “giraffe,” in particularly high esteem.
Within each generation set, there are several age sets, into which men are initiated on a rotating basis. Once a group of initiates have entered the last of these age sets, the cycle begins anew.
The Ngikosowua generation set consists of seven age sets, which occur in the following order:
- Ngikosowua (sing. ekosowuan): Buffaloes
- Ngitomei (sing. etom): Elephants
- Ngingatunyo (sing. engatuny): Lions
- Ngikweei (sing. ekwee): Jackals
- Ngilobai (sing. elob): Hartebeests
- Ngikakerekeroi (sing. ekakerekerot): Woodpeckers
- Ngimoru (sing. emoru): Mountains
The Ngikoria generation set consists of eight age sets, which are ordered as follows:
- Ngikoria (sing. ekor): Honey Badgers
- Ngiemugeto (sing. emuget): Topis
- Ngirisai (sing. eris): Leopards
- Ngiwuapeto (sing. ewuapet)/Ngitiira (sing. etiira): Elands/Etiira Trees
- Ngigetei (sing. egete): Gazelles
- Ngikorio (sing. ekori): Giraffes
- Ngimuria (sing. emura): Klipspringers
- Ngitukoi (sing. etuko): Zebras