Uganda: Karimojong, Akiriket – Joint Togetherness

According to the setting of the Karimojong social organisation, an ethnic group of agro-pastoral herders living mainly in the north-east of Uganda, every neighbourhood has its own sacred ground, called ‘akiriket’. The assembly of initiated men takes its name from these places. Each generation has its special tree under which to sit in the assemblies, in a semi-circle.

Neighbourhoods have their own ceremonial grounds for the requirements of the villages of that particular area, while sub-sections and sections of the tribe also have their own, which are used when needs of the entire sub-section or section warrant it. Akiriket means to join together, but it also means to guide, and to lead. These terms indicate quite clearly the role which the Karimojong attribute to the elders in their society.

Elders sit under their sacred tree, in a semi-circle opened towards Apule (the place of their dispersal into their present territory), following a strict order of precedence based on their seniority of initiation. The first of the elders sit at the centre, right under the tree, and then side by side all the other members of the senior generation-set. They are followed on both sides of the semi-circle by the members of the junior generation-set, whose duty is to listen to what the elders are saying, and to execute their orders.

Women and people who are not yet initiated, if present, must stay at a certain distance. The herds of those who take part are gathered nearby. When the elders are gathered, one or more of the oxen are singled out and killed with a spear’s thrust in their right side, so that they can fall on their left one, by the owner of the beast in question.

A flap of sub-anal meat, elamacar, is cut with a spear and put aside for the elders. It will be roasted and eaten by them before the litanic prayer starts. Then a cut is made in the belly of the animal in order to remove the intestines and the stomach which are put on a bed of leaves of epye, terminalia spinosa, exactly in the same position as they were in the animal, so that the diviner may inspect them. Only if the signs are favourable, the ceremony will go on, otherwise a new animal will be killed, and then another, until favourable signs are detected.

The ox is skinned and its right side removed, so that all the blood is collected in the left half of the carcass. It is then drunk by those present, starting from the elders, directly from the cavity. At the end, what is left is collected into half calabashes and mixed with milk. The mixture, called ecarakan, will be drunk later on in the ceremony.

The ox is then cut into pieces. First of all, the thighs are severed from the rest of the body still joined together and brought to the elders. They will remain near them throughout the ceremony till the prayer, akigat, is finished. All the other pieces of meat are brought to the elders and they will distribute them according to established rules. They will keep for themselves the thighs, part of the liver, and the large intestine. They will give the front legs, ribs, intestines, and genital organs to the members of the junior generation-set. The rest is passed on to the women waiting at a distance to take home and be consumed by the people there, after having been boiled.

The elders then cut the stomach of the animal and extract the chyme with, which those present, in order of precedence, will smear on their own bodies, head, shoulders, and breast. Those not initiated, if they so wish, must ask an elder to do this for them. This over, the trunk of the sacred tree will be smeared as well. Then the cattle present are also smeared by their owners.

The akigat follows, started by the first of the elders followed by the other elders who wish to do so. Then the important ceremony of the separation of the thighs and the extraction of the gland called angarue starts. Only the elders can separate one thigh from the other, this being their exclusive prerogative. In doing this, the first of the elders will remove a gland from the internal side of the right thigh, with some meat around it and after being roasted will be passed on to the elders, in order of precedence. Each one will cut a piece of meat, paying attention not to touch the gland itself. This blunder would need the killing of another ox, in order to repeat the action. The last one, after having cut his share, will bury the gland under the sacred tree. Part of the right thigh, from which the angarue has been removed, is sent home to the ekamoran (lit. brother-in- law, but it can simply mean friend) of the first elder, where it will be eaten together with the other elders, the other will be roasted for the elders. The same is done also for the left thigh, but this can be shared with the members of the junior generation-set.

Once the ceremony is over, the eating of the meat starts. The pieces are brought in front of the elders who will direct the members of the junior generation-set to roast them on the already prepared fire and then to distribute them. Half calabashes of blood mixed with milk are brought as well. And then, when everything is finished, everybody returns home.

This ceremony is the very centre of Karimojong ritual activity, because all other major rituals are modeled on the akiriket. Its symbolism is, therefore, a sort of pattern for the understanding of all the other ceremonies. As we have already mentioned, there are different occasions and reasons for holding an akiriket. Basically the procedure followed is always the same, but in each one of them it is possible to find peculiarities linked to the particular reasons for which the akiriket was called in the first place.

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