The Teso (or Iteso, people of Teso) are an ethnic group in eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Teso refers to the traditional homeland of the Iteso, and Ateso is their language. The drinking and sharing of Ajon.
In the land of the Iteso, one cannot claim to be a clansman without testing Ajon, a local brew, made from dry millet. It takes a week to mature for drinking. Ajon can be enjoyed using a calabash or drank from a pot in groups where drinking tubes are shared from person to person.
The Iteso introduce one to the practice of Ajon at birth, thus, when a child is born, the excitement and happiness of the newly born is celebrated by a drop of Ajon in the child’s mouth; the rest of the drink is then enjoyed by the clan members. Even the clan giving of the child’s name is followed by drinking of Ajon to welcome the newly born into the world.
In the community, etai (enjoy after work) and ebole (enjoy after harvest) are words synonymously used. These practices of solidarity by helping one another in the fields are strengthened by setting the drinks in the evenings after work. This form of appreciation after sharing work and working together is a value the Iteso take pride in.
The spirit of working together and celebrating the hard day’s work through the circled gathering of all is very vital. It is a form of celebrating the bounty of high yields. Likewise, after harvesting millet, the Aikony agwe (welcoming the new millet harvest) is a ceremony one cannot miss.
After harvesting, the Iteso make Ajon in routine form, from family to family. During this time, they discuss how to use what they have harvested and what to keep for the next season. The role of the elders in the community is respected. The elders’ meetings (aurianet na ateker) where the clan leaders are chosen and elected is accompanied by the drinking and sharing of Ajon to celebrate their success and effort in deliberating on important issues in the community.
Misbehaviour is condoned in the community and cleansing of the culprits is characterised by preparing the drink, cooking a good meal and slaughtering and roasting of a goat.
Ajon is very crucial during marriage ceremonies. Besides being enjoyed on the day of the ceremony as a source of happiness, the drink is prepared by the bride for the in-laws as a form of respect. During the initiation ceremony of the newly married woman into the clan, rituals are performed by clan leaders to make her part of the family; thereafter, Ajon is enjoyed. Likewise, when a married woman gives birth, her family upon hearing this prepare food, clothing and Ajon to be taken by the in-laws.
This is meant to welcome the newly born into the clan and as a way of showing their happiness upon the blessings. When a clan member dies in the community, before removing the ashes that was used for cooking and keeping wake, the family that lost a dear one prepares food and Ajon to appreciate those who stood by them most during that time of loss; after which the ash is cleared.
In addition, the dead are not forgotten for their diligence in keeping together the community. When one passes on, at the funeral rite, prayers are held and enjoyment of Ajon to accompany the spirit of the deceased to its destiny.
Till now, Ajon is enjoyed during relaxation and leisure moments. The Iteso during their free time sit together and enjoy Ajon more especially late evenings after work as a way of resting from the long day’s work.
Nowadays, Ajon has gone commercial and is prepared and sold to get money to cater for family needs as a source of income and reducing poverty. Ajon helps in the development of the clan and unites all. It is through it that developmental ideas are crafted; knowledge of each other and knowledge of core values are shared at the place of Ajon.
One could say Ajon is the beginning and the end of every celebration in Teso. It does not only bring happiness and excitement among the tribe, but it binds all together. However, although the Iteso often drink Ajon, the elders’ advice drinking in less quantity as one may become a nuisance in the community when drunk.
– Akite B. Wanyama