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Lango people

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Title: Lango people  
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Subject: Ethnic groups in Uganda, History of Uganda (1971–79), Lango, Okello Oculi, Nilotic peoples
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Lango people

Lango sub-region

Lango people live in the Lango sub-region (politically Northern Region, but geographically north-central Uganda), north of Lake Kyoga.The Lango sub-region includes the districts of Amolatar, Alebtong, Apac, Dokolo, Kole, Lira, Oyam, and Otuke. The population is about 1.5 million people according to the 2002 population census.


  • Lango of Uganda 1
  • Early History 2
  • Similarities between Lango and Shilluk 3
  • Government 4
  • Odyek Owidi 5
  • Bua Atyeno 6
  • Owiny Akulo 7
  • Ogwang Guji 8
  • Military 9
  • Education 10
  • Land Tenure 11
  • Political violence 12
  • References 13
    • Footnotes 13.1
    • Sources 13.2
  • External links 14

Lango of Uganda

The term "Langi" is not the plural of Lango, but is used by Lango and non-Lango. Lango leaders (scholars and Lango Cultural Foundation) have not questioned and/or challenged the use of "Langi" as plural of Lango. The term "Langi" is recent (Tosh, 1978), and not found in earlier written records of the Lango people[1] (Hutchinson, 1902; Kihangire, 1957). Kihangire (1957) in “The marriage customs of the Lango tribe (Uganda) in relation to canon Law”, interviewed Lango elders for his dissertation, and "Langi" is not mentioned in the text, but Lango or Lango people. In addition, anthropologists and explorers who traveled the Lango country (Uganda) used "Lango nation", "Lango country", and "Lango people" to refer to Lango of Uganda.

Person (Lango), Country (Lango), People (Lango), and Language (Leb-Lango).

The history of Lango is complex, and by using "Langi", you are limiting "Lango race" to an ethnic group. Odwe (2011) states “Lango people exist under many categories of ethnic names of identity. There was at least a root name or the etymology that eventually recognizes that all these varying ethnic groups are of Lango origin…” He adds “when the British colonialists arrived in 1862, it was only Lango of Uganda and a smaller group in Agoro of Southern Sudan who retain the name Lango as their ethnic name.”

The Lango symbol is Amuka (Rhino). Amuka is independent, strong, and peaceful unless disturbed.

Lango speak Lëblaŋo, a Western Nilotic (Luo) language like their northern Acholi and Alur neighbors, but share many cultural characteristics with their Ateker (Eastern Nilotic) neighbours to the east.

Some anthropologists assert that they are part of a group that migrated from Ethiopia around 1600 A.D. and split into two groups, with one groups moving to present day Kenya to form the Kalenjin group and Maasai cluster. The other groups, called Ateker, migrated westwards and entered Uganda from the north-east. Ateker further split into four groups to form the Karamojong, Iteso, Kumam and Lango. The Lango migrated further to the west, and there they encountered the Acholi, who they pushed northwards from the northern part of Lake Kyoga. Through prolonged interaction with the Acholi, Lango lost Ateker language and took up Luo spoken by their Acholi neighbors. However, many Lango identify with the Luo, refuting the theory that they are Ateker.

Early History

A Lango chief with elaborate headdress. Photo published in 1902.

Many scholars and anthropologists agree that Lango traveled southeasterly direction from the Shilluk area, and settled somewhere in the east (Otuke Hills) where Lango met the Ateker speaking group and Luo before moving to their present home. According to Driberg, Lango reached the Otuke Hills in eastern Uganda after traveling South-easterly from the Shilluk area.[1] The movement fits the Luo mythology "Lwanda Magara" where Luo and Lango were neighbors somewhere in the east (Otuke Hills). According to the Luo mythology, there were several wars and raids between the two groups, but also marriages. The Luo warrior "Lwanda Magara" himself married many Lango women. When Lango arrived at their present home, they were already speaking a language close to other Luo languages. The south-easterly movement of Lango from Ethiopia to their present home also fits the Shilluk mythology where Nyakango and his followers traveled up north after Nyikango separated from Dimo, and the other Luo peoples in wic pac, somewhere in Bahr el Ghazal. The oral history of Lango origin points to east "Got Otuke" (Otuke Hills).

Another written record about the origin and movements of Lango. Hutchinson (1902) states “One of the chief nations of the late kingdom of Unyoro are the Lango (Lango, Longo) people, who although often grouped with the Nilotic Negroes, are really of the Galla stock and speech. They form, in fact, an important link in the chain of Hamitic peoples who extend from Galla-land through Unyoro and Uganda southwards to Lake Tanganyika. Their territory which occupies both banks of the Somerset or Victoria Nile between Foweira and Magungo, extends eastwards beyond Unyoro proper to the valley of the Chol, one of the chief upper branches of the Sobat. They still preserved their mother tongue amid Bantu and Negroid populations, and are distinguished by their independent spirit, living in small groups, and recognising no tribal chief, except those chosen to defend the common interest in the time of war” (p. 360). Hutchinson (1902) adds “The Lango are specially noted for the care bestowed on their elaborate and highly fantastic head-dress. The prevailing fashion may be described as a kind of a helmet. ..Lango women, who amongst the finest and most symmetrical of the Equatorial lake regions, wear little clothing or embellishments beyond west-bands, necklaces, armlets, and anklets” (p. 360).

Similarities between Lango and Shilluk

1) Lango numbers are similar to Shilluk numbers. For example, (1) in Lango is ""Acel", Shilluk (Akyɛlͻ)); and (2) in Lango is "Aryo", and in Shilluk "Aryɛwͻ", etc.

2) The Shilluk military commander emerges by virtues of military powers and valour but has no administrative functions or authority just like Lango military.

3) The Lango paramount chief has under his authority clan chiefs, similar to Shilluk political organization.

4) The Shilluk and Lango are monotheistic and believe in the Supreme Being (Jwok) Shilluk and (Jok) Lango who lives in the sky where people do no evil. Lango marriage, birth, naming, initiation to adulthood, death and religion/beliefs are similar to the Shilluk people (Gurtong Homepage, Kihangire 1957).


Lango people had a government before British rule. It consisted of Won Nyaci (Paramount Chief), Twon Lwak (Military Leader), Awitong (Supreme Clan Chief), Rwot (Chief), Won Paco also called jago singular or jagi plural (Head of Homesteads), and Awi-Otem (Head of Family Lineage). The British government was aware of this and used the counsel of these chiefs when they wanted something done. In Lango, there was no hereditary king or supreme chief as practiced in Buganda or Bunyoro. The Lango government system was through elected clan chiefs with authority over the people of their clans. Chiefs were hereditary in some clans, so when a clan chief died, elders from the clan would choose one of his sons to succeed him (Kihangire, p. 21). Famous Lango Chiefs were Odyek Owidi, Bua Atyeno, Owiny Akulo, and Ogwang Guji. Please add Obol Ario as one of these great warriors. There were a lot of Lango traditional songs containing his name (more will be added later)

Odyek Owidi

Ruled over the Atek clan around the present day Agoma Parish in Alito subcounty in Kole District. Odyek Owidi is said to have been so brave and fierce and this created a lot of fear among his people who even changed the clan name Atek to Atek Odyek Owidi meaning Atek of Odyek Owidi. He was born to a Karamojong father who was killed in a battle between the Lango and the Karamojong, and as was the custom then his mother together with the infant Odyek Owidi were taken as ransom by the victorious Lango warriors. It is said that when Odyek Owidi's father was hit with a spear by a Lango warrior he rotated several times before falling down and dying. In Lango language the "rotation" is called "widi widi" thus the creation of the name Odyek Owidi meaning Odyek. His widowed mother together with infant Odyek was given as a prize to a Lango man of the Atek clan where she got to start a new life with her son. Odyek Owidi grew up as a hard working young man who soon started going to wars with senior warriors and within a short time excelled and earned the trust of the Lango people who now valued him as their own due to the fact that he protected them from their enemies.Odyek Owidid rose to become the supreme clan leader of the Atek Odyek Owidi clan, a clan the exists to date among the Lango people. The present supreme clan chief of Atek Odyek Owidi is Omodo Aling who took over in 2011. Due to migration and economic factors, clan members are now scattered to various districts in Lango region, others are outside Lango region but maintain their unity and culture through the set structures (Odyek Owidi section needs citation)

Bua Atyeno

Owiny Akulo

Ogwang Guji


Driberg described Lango people as "brave and venturesome warriors who have won fear and respect of their neighbors...not being idle witnesses to watching of the misfortunes of their neighbors...treating facts of life with no sense of false modesty...".[1] The Lango army was united under one military leader chosen from available men, and all had to agree to be led by him. These military leaders would lead the Lango army against other groups. Their authority ended when the war was over, and they all returned to their clans and resumed their daily occupation and were not entitled to any special benefits. Famous military leaders were Ongora Okubal who brought Lango to their present land, Opyene Nyakonyolo who succeeded Ongora Okubal and was followed by Arim Oroba, and Agoro Abwango. Agoro Abwango led his men to fight the Banyoro and was killed in Bunyoro, (Kihangire, p. 22). The Lango oral literature has it that as the soldiers who went to help Kabalega retreated towards the Nile, they helped Kabalega and Mwanga, the deposed King of Bunyoro and Buganda respectively cross the Nile River. They were moved along the northern corridor of Lake Kwania. At the time, a warrior called Obol Ario who had conquered much of the northern part of the lake was there at the time. It's believed he helped smuggle the two deposed kings towards Dokolo where they settled at Kangai subcounty. Obol Ario of Apac Okwero Ngec Ayita Clan eventually settled at Amac where he later died and was buried.


Pre-colonial education was both formal and informal. Children were taught by their mother or siblings morality and how to address their relatives and respect other people. When they got older, boys were taught by their father or male relatives, and girls by their mother or female relatives. Games, folk stories, myths, proverbs, and riddles played a very important role in Lango education. In addition to mimicking adults, children games fostered a sense of domestic responsibility. The proverbs contain moral and social maxims, and riddles stimulate the activity of the mind (Kihangire, 26).

Land Tenure

Land in pre-colonial era was common land, and any untilled area belonged to the first person or family who tilled it, and it was passed on to the eldest son.[2] According to Kigangire, "land which had not been cultivated in the past could be tilled by any family, and, when once it had been tilled, the community regarded it as the property of the family whose ancestor first cultivated it." (Kihangire, p. 22). The traditional land tenure is still widely used in rural areas.

Political violence

Lango have often been victims of the volatile politics of Uganda. The first Ugandan prime minister and two-time president, Milton Obote, was a Lango. During the 1970s, state-inspired violence by the government of Idi Amin was used to decimate the elite in Lango and their Acholi neighbors. The 19-year-long war between the government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) caused massive population displacement in the region.

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance Army



  1. ^ a b c "The Lango: A Nilotic Tribe of Uganda".  
  2. ^ Elders, Shades, and Women: Ceremonial Change in Lango, Uganda Written By Richard T. Curley


  • Kihangire, Cyprianus (1957). "The marriage customs of the Lango tribe (Uganda) in relation to canon Law"
  • Curley, Richard T (1973). Elders, Shades, and Women: Ceremonial Change in Lango, Uganda.
  • Shilluk
  • Tosh, John (1979). Clan Leaders and Colonial Chiefs in Lango: The Political History of an East African Stateless Society 1800-1939.
  • Hutchinson, H.N., Walter, J., & Lydekker, R. (1902). The living races of mankind: a popular illustrated account of the customs, habits, pursuits, feasts and ceremonies of the races of mankind throughout the world.
  • Julius P.O. Odwe. Proposal to Celebrate a Tricentenary (300 years) of Lango Existence, Importance and Contributions to Uganda. A conference proposal presented to the Prime Minister, Lango Cultural Foundation, Lira (Uganda), November 11, 2011.

External links

  • Uganda Bureau of Statistics
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