The Iteso are part of the people who stay in eastern Uganda especially in the districts of Soroti and Kumi. Others are in Palisa and Tororo districts. The political uncertainty of the early 1990’s forced a great number of Iteso to move as far as Iganga district. Historians believe that they are part of the Lango group which is said to have migrated from Abyssinia. You can visit these people during our amazing Uganda Cultural Safaris. Before the first half of the 18th century they had occupied the shores of L. Salisbury.
Locally it is believed that the ancestors of the Iteso migrated from the direction of Abyssinia passed Karamoja. Historians have tried to change this tradition to state that the Iteso are a Nilo- Hamitic group with related origins as the Karamajong, the Langi, the Kumam and the Jie.
Traditionally, the clan was an essential social and political unit. The great respect for the clan was got from the administrative and judicial position that it symbolized. At first, Iteso society was made up of nine clans. The later clans are said to have composed themselves from the nine. Every clan had a head addressed as Akolon ka Ateker. He was usually nominated form other elders at a joyous ceremony referred to as Airukorin. Someone chosen as Akolon ka Ateker was normally a person of bravery, neutrality and intelligent. The real inauguration ceremony involved opening up a road that had been purposely blocked for approximately two weeks. Initially, the Apolon ka Ateker was very much respected. He performed the work of an arbitrator in the event of a disagreement. Throughout the British colonial administration, his position was lowered to that of a third grade chief and was addressed as Omusalatuo.
Settlement of Disputes the Traditional way
Just like any tribe in Uganda, a leader could not stand alone he was helped by a council of elders addressed as Airabis Aurianet. This council was concerned about cases like murder and debts. In case you are convicted for murder, compensation could be paid in the form of a girl or a cow. In the process of inter-clan settlements, the elders would come completely armed. This was to the other side showed uncompromising behavior; aggressive means could easily start off. Following the settling of a dispute, a an occasion known as epucit or aijuk was organized whereby a bull was exacted from the offending side and slaughtered, roasted and eaten immediately. This was for the purpose of performing as a gesture of renewed co-operation between the two clans. The suitable compensation in form of a cow or a girl would afterward be handed over. The girl given would have and iron ring put in her ear lobe. In case the girl was not very attractive; some cows would also be added to boost her worth. Following the ceremony and payment of the compensation, it would show that the murder case was totally settled.
If one was a bad debtor, the criminal was asked to refund the debt within a decided period. Incase he was unable or defaulted, he would be captured and tied to a log and left there up to the time his clan rescued him by paying back the debts he owed.
Traditional Military organization
The age-grades referred to as Aturio provided the foundation for the military organization. The war heads were called Aruwok and the army was named the Ajore. Prior to staging a war, the Amurwok (fortune teller) would be consulted. Incase he predicted success; war would be started after the collective approval of the elders.
Social set-up of the Iteso
The social system of the Iteso was based mainly on the clan system and they shared similar cultural elements with the Langi and the Karimojong. Also because of the influence of the Karimojong, the nearest Bantu societies, especially the Basoga, the Iteso women used to dress in barkcloth while the young girls dressed there bodies with itibire which were designed with beads and arobai.
Traditional Marriage among the Iteso People
Initially, parents could organize marriage for their children even without their consent. On the other hand, the boy could openly consult the girl. In case the girl consented, she would tell her mother and secretly move away to begin staying with the boy. Incase the girl’s clan got to know about this development they would complain about the illegitimate manner in which their daughter had been taken. Preparations would then be made and a date would be agreed on which the guests’ from the boy’s clan would visit the girl’s family for introduction. Plans for the payment of bride wealth would be agreed upon. At times, the boys would approach the girl and tender his wish to marry her. He would afterwards come with a delegation to the girl’s family for introduction. The bond would then be officially allowed after paying bride wealth. A traditional wedding would follow.
After all was organized and several people had gathered, a table was placed in the middle of the gathering. The suitor would place the present on it up. In case the girl agreed; she would pick up the gift, accompanied by cheers and claps. In case she did not allow it, she was not ready to get married to him. She would turn down picking it. This would be the closing stages of any more efforts by the boy to entice her to marriage.
When they came back home, the boy and his delegation would give his parents information concerning whatever had transpired. In case the girl had accepted, due preparations would be made to pay the bride wealth. This was settled using sticks to stand for the number of cows which were needed. All the clan members would congregate for the function. Among the Iteso, a child was raised by to the entire clan and not to a particular family. On coming to an agreement, one more day was set for the girl’s family to get the cows. It was stylish for the girl to go to the boy’s home and welcome her people as they came to collect the cows.
Following approval of the cows, one more day was fixed on which the cows would be taken to the girl’s home. This was the same day on which the girl would be escorted to the boy’s home to start her married life. Prior to going into the compound, the delegation that had collected the cows would ask for a hen to roast and afterwards there would be a lot of eating, dancing, drinking and having fun. Afterwards, an entourage (mugolen) would accompany the bride to her husband’s home. The accompanied with punctuated with singing and rejoicing. The bride was left at her husband’s home with two other girls, to assist her get along, as it were. After one month or so the two girls would return home and leave the newlyweds to control their own affairs.
Births and naming Ceremonies
Uniquely, the Itesots had a mythical belief that there were three types of births among the Iteso: the single child, twins, and the spiritual birth. The first two types were taken to be usual but the spiritual births was said to be in form of air or water. It was thought that such a child would from time and again show up in a home in the form of a cat or some other animal.
There was no definite formula for giving names to children. A child could be given names according to the situation in which it was born or the specific conditions which were felt by the mother during labor or pregnancy. A child could also be given a name basing on the season to reflect occurrences like famine, harvest or drought. It could also be given name according to the particular day of the week or the time at which it was born; in the morning, during the day or at night. Finally, it was common for a child to be named after an ancestor as a sign of commemorating him.
The new born baby would be initiated into the clan by carrying out a ritual ceremony called etale. It was after this that the child would be taken as a full member of the clan. Usually, this ceremony was limited to members of the clan but some clans would allow outsiders to participate. The roads and the paths leading to the compound where the ceremony was being conducted were lined with thorns in order to prevent outsiders from attending. It was feared that the outsiders would use their evil eyes or perform other evil acts to undermine the health of the child. Intruders were thus taken as agents of evil. Incase caught they were greatly fined or beaten up.
The etale involved a lot of eating and drinking. The food was made up of millet not mixed with cassava and unsalted peas with ground-nut paste and oil. Apart from that, people would also eat akobokob (a species of cucumber) and simsim paste. The use of pots was forbidden, so also was the use of tubes for drinking. Only calabashes called adere were used for drinking ajon. No fighting or quarrels of any sort were acceptable and any offenders in this respect were greatly fined in the form of goats and hens. The ceremony acquired a spiritual aspect due to the fact that it was believed that failure to finish it would be harmful and weaken the child thereby rendering it vulnerable to the wiles of heartless people.
Traditional Utensils and crafts
Men and women had different duties to perform in the home or community. This meant therefore that each had different equipments to use. The women’s utensils included baskets, gourds, calabashes, winnowing trays, grinding stones, pots, brooms, pestles and mortars, ekigo (ladle for stirring millet) and eitereria (the fishing basket). The men’s utensils included spears, hoes, clubs, arrows, bows and all the instruments which had to do with brewing and drinking.
The Iteso had a number of foods. Millet was their staple food. Other varieties included pumpkins, wild berries, groundnuts, peas, beans, meat of both domestic and wild animals, milk, butter and fish. The men were not allowed eat with women. They ate separately seated on stools, tree stumps or stones. Millet was served on one plate which would be shared communally. The women sat on mats in a circle around the food. It was considered good manners to join the circle whenever one was invited to partake of a meal.
The Iteso believed in a supreme being called Edeke. On the other hand, they were much more concerned about ancestral spirits which were thought to cause ill luck incase not well cared about. Each family possessed an ancestral shrine where libations were usually poured or placed to calm down the ancestors. The Iteso were a superstitious society and they believed in witch craft and wizardly.
It was a forbidden for women to eat chicken. Specific clans had specific taboos, especially animals they were not allowed to eat. The bush-buck (ederet) was prohibited to a number of clans.
Every time a mother gave birth to twins, she was styled toto idwe (mother of many). After that achievement, a particular type of drum was beaten and the people would congregate and dance their best. This involved a lot of eating, dancing and merrymaking.
One more type of dance was called Akembe. It was usually organized by boys who would call upon girls to join their company in some generally agreeable place away from homes. It was a get-together dance for boys to choose out their future spouses.
At times, when the need arose, a particular dance would be held to call upon the ancestors for consultation. An extraordinary drum was sounded and people would dance to and Iteso tune. As the dance goes on, some people would become possessed and begin communicating to the living, so they say, in the voices of the ancestors. This dance included shaking rattles. The other dances were general. Some were performed at marriage ceremonies, beer parties, visits and other feasting occasions. The dancing instruments included; lutes, akong drums and the emudiri, adigidig and amagarit.
Death and Burial Ceremony
The Iteso did not take up death as a usual consequence. Death was connected to ancestral spirits and witch craft. Immediately a person died, a witch doctor would be asked to diagnose the cause of the death. The corpse was bathed in the court yard and wrapped in abangut (barkcloth) and afterwards it was buried. The corpse of a woman was made to lie on its right side as that of a man was made to lie on its left side. It was traditional to bury corpses with objects needles or razorblades to put off cannibals who wished to use their witch magic to escarvet corpses from the graves. There was a belief that if the corpse had a needle for example, it would say that it was still busy sawing its cloths and therefore decline coming out of the grave incase it is called upon by a cannibal.
For more information about the Iteso, please visit http://gorillatrekking.org/