The Ruoth Obima of Alur

The late Jobi II – Rwoth-Obima

Approaching Nebbi, the big bus jumps up and down like a beleaguered little boat in its final moments on a troubled sea. This is where Rwoth-Obimo (Paramount Chief) Valente K. Oyoma Jobi II reigns in a small and humble way. Alur Chiefdom is probably the only one that was unaffected by the ban on traditional institutions in 1966

For two reasons.

First, it was just a small time affair and more importantly, they presented no threat to any government since they were purely traditional. The Alur are not the anti-establishment type. They are naturally peace-loving people and prefer conformity to dissent.

So when Rwoth Jalusiga Raoni died in 1978, Idi Amin readily allowed Oyoma, now a retired civil servant in his 80’s to succeed his father.

Poverty must have been invented in Nebbi; for that is the people’s understanding of lifestyle in a district buckling under the weight of poverty. Little wonder Jobi reigns over a stunted chiefdom that has nothing – except the respect of its subjects – to show for all the years it has existed unperturbed.

“It really means a lot to the older folk but the younger generation do not understand what it is all about,” says a member of the Rwoth Obimo’s family.

Jobi is finding problems even maintaining his vehicle, a tested and trusted pick-up double cabin donated by President Museveni. Presently the little chiefdom is pervaded by crisis. Jonam County (one of three) wants to be recognised as a different tribe.

Three sub-counties, Orusi, Parombo and Akworo in Okoro County owe allegiance to Rwoth Nga of the Warr Palara chiefdom in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is only recently that these are beginning to accept Jobi’s lordship.

And Nebbi may be just a small partly semi-arid locale, but there is a struggle for who is the biggest fish in the pond. Six of 56 chiefdoms have rejected Jobi. They are led by Omua Okongo Ceru II, a young, intelligent and hyper-active lorry turn boy-turned-chief in Paidha.

His group comprises John Ombidi II of Panyimur, Owacho Ali of Ragem, Dominic Omac of Paroketo, Michael Mandir of Puvungu and Onesimo Otober of Amor.

The struggle gained fervour in 1993 when the Dikiri Ker Alur (Union of Alur Chiefdoms) was formed, an attempt to integrate all Alur chiefdoms into a confederation with Jobi as the head. The six formed their own group, the Association of Alur Traditional Chiefs.

Some argue that Jobi lineage was just imposed by the British colonialists who made them rulers of all West Nile under a semi-federal arrangement. They want the Obimoship to be rotated. History favours Jobi.

The Alur are part of the Luo mainstream and originate from Southern Egypt from where they migrated in 970 AD to Wau, Bahr el Ghazal in Sudan, fleeing religious persecution from the Arabs.

From 990 to 1125 they were in Sudan. They arrived in Uganda in 1225 at Bungatira. In 1290, led by Rwoth Olei, they moved to Pajao (Murchison Falls).

In 1330 Kyebambe ascended to the throne and attempted to kill all his brothers, a move that led to a mega-dispersion that resulted in the Kumam of eastern Uganda, the Jopadhola, the Luo of western Kenya and the Banyoro.

In 1365 Kyebambe was succeeded by his daughter Nyilak, whose incestuous relationship with Kyebambe’s brother Opodhu had yielded triplets – the famous Giipir and Labongo (called as Nyipir and Nyabongo in Alur) and Thiful in 1347. Nyilak handed over power to Nyipir in 1390, with Nyabongo as Prime Minister and Thiful as chief elder.

But a power struggle resulted in enmity between Nyipir and Nyabongo and culminated into that famous separation over a spear and bead, in 1450.

Nyabongo moved north to give rise to the Acholi and Nyipir crossed the Nile near Pakwach and settled at Locjudongo to give rise to the Alur. He died in 1490 and was succeeded by Omyer Amor whose group moved to Owinyo Pyelo in 1590.

In 1630 they migrated to Yothu in Atyak which remains the seat of the kingdom and this the lineage from which Jobi directly descends. But those in Ragem reject him saying they are not descendants of Nyipir. That they are only related to the Alur through Oluo the father of all Luo tribes. Ovungu (father of Puvungu people) was Nyipir’s high priest and has no claim to royalty.

The Paroketo folk received the first European missionaries in Alur and are said to see no reason why such important people as they should bow to Jobi. Those in Panyimur say they are descendants of Kwonga, brother of Kyebambe and crossed Lake Albert from Bunyoro to settle in Panyimur so they are not descendants of Nyipir.

The rulers of Paidha are direct descendants of Nyipir. On the trek from Owinyo Pyelo to Atyak in 1630, the Okebo Orabo, Kaya and Avono people grabbed Prince Magwar (son of Omer Dhyang) and whisked him off to rule them (by force) in Paidha.

They wanted to be organised under an able chief because they were being bullied by other Okebo clans. Apart from prestige at stake, the power struggle is a fight for privilege which chiefs here enjoy. They get many animals in fines whenever they arbitrate in disputes.

More importantly, President Museveni’s habitual generosity to traditional leaders has not gone unnoticed.

“I think the other chiefs also want to be respected by government as chiefs in their own right,” says Chombe Mucek, LC5 Secretary for General Purposes. That is the quickest way to get a double cabin from State House.

No blood has been spilled yet, no curses uttered, but the rivalry is flourishing nicely, sometimes to embarrassing proportions. Last year when President Museveni visited Nebbi, Jobi gave him a huge ram, and Omua donated a she-goat.

This year Omua, probably convinced there was something about Rams that impressed the President, donated a Ram. But disaster struck as the President moved over to Jobi for a good long chat, leaving Omua standing with his Ram. The power fights have caused little stir.

The Alur are a casual, pleasant and soft-spoken easily domesticated breed who avoid trouble when they can. When government forbade interference in political matters by traditional leaders the Alur complied just fine – as the other tribes complained furiously.

As the political big wigs in Kampala pulsate with anxiety whenever the Kabaka sneezes, hereabouts there is peace and conformity roundabout.

As the Kyabazinga of Busoga grapples with an indifferent citizenry, the royals here are happy to juggle public sentiment whichever way they like and exact abounding, unfailing respect.

Probably not really surprising for an area whose location at the back of beyond has kept them safe from the marauding wild west and its values which have disrupted the socio-cultural configuration of the relative south and central Uganda.

Away from the internet, crazy TV channels and other media that peddle invidious western values generously laced with an anti-Afro tinge, the Alur are a class apart.

They are cocooned in their own little world of poverty, strong socio-cultural values and hearty superstition, all interlacing beautifully to give their royals an attentive, caring and obedient citizenry. That has proved useful.

“Jobi has helped to curb the insecurity,” says LC5 Vice chairman Okwir Amula. “In Alur culture people believe that if cursed by traditional leaders you suffer the consequences.” “We talk to the chiefs and they in turn talk to the people who respond positively.”

A little insecurity did crop up in the late 1980’s, but it died a natural death. That is why Nebbi has for many years been an island of peace in an ocean of war.

“The chiefs are also helping to settle land disputes – it is recommended in the Land Act, and there is great improvement in land distribution” says Okwir.

The chiefs are also mobilising the community for agriculture and disseminating government communication. “We have found them very useful in the development of our district,” says Okwir. The royals are fully aware that nobody listens to a poor king and that in their case, development must first come before culture can flourish.

So the chiefdom has tray-fulls of plans: a goats farm in Jonam, agro-forestry in Padyere, Coffee and tea estates in Okoro are all in pipeline.

They are planning a palace for Jobi in Nebbi town and build their cultural sites to a standard that can attract tourists. And they also want to begin a publicity campaign nation-wide to market the institution so that the Alur too can contribute to the conversation when other people are bragging about their kings.

For now Jobi remains the biggest spoon in this little kitchen where too many cooks have failed to spoil the soup.

That’s because what the chiefs have here is respect, not necessarily loyalty. And in such cases people seldom allow power struggles to spoil their peace and fun. When Jobi moves around he is received with respect. They turn low the boom and blare of Lingala music, remove their shoes and hats and bow or wave respectfully. But when he is away nobody seems to miss him.

Ojanga Asego


10 thoughts on “The Ruoth Obima of Alur

  1. Omenya

    That story about the spear and beads is older than that date. Luo of Kenya give that story to explain why they left Uganda separating from Lango – app 1400 AD; Alur use it to explain separation of Nyipir and Labongo; Anywak of Ethiopia use it to explain the separation of Gilo (Anywak) and Nyikango (Shilluk) – app. 1000 AD

  2. Joseph Ogana

    I wish I could get someone to tell me and connect the dots, I have heard of the Kenyan Luos’, the Ugandan Luos’ but I haven’t heard extensively of the Tanzanian Luos’ of which I am part of, are we forgotten from the Books of Luo Chronology? Just Curious

  3. Omenya

    The assumption here in Kenya is that when we speak of Kenyan Luo we include Tanzanian by default. they speak the same dialect


    @ Joseph Ogana, my understanding is that there is no much difference between the Luo of Kenya and the Luo of Tanzania since those in Tanzania can trace back their roots to Kenya. In Tanzania you will find those who trace their roots to Kagwa and in Kenya we have Uyoma Kagwa. You will also find others tracing their roots to Kano. Those who found themselves in Tanzania – Mara Province was as a result of migration in the early 1900s when some of the Luo clans moved to occupy vast lands in South Nyanza (Kadem). They continually came and were further referred to vast lands ahead. This made them move further deep south and that explains how they found themselves in Tanzania.

  5. Oryema Edison

    as per the story of nyabongo & nyipir we the luo are one people regardless of the nations then we need to come together for common course.

  6. omenya

    If we make it our pleasure to unite the southern Luo (Alur, Achol, Lango, Adhola, Ken-TZ Luo) we will be stronger for it. It might simply start by having language experts to study these dialects and come up with a common language (Denmark did it 60 years ago). Already the vocabulary is common, only a few tweaks to syntax and we will be home and dry

  7. W'ojok Dekoda

    All Luo’s originated and migrated from bar-el-gazel, though they have moved into different countries like Uganda, Kenya, Congo etc which still doesn’t changed there origins. proud to be a Jaluo(Alur).

  8. tom onyango

    I have it that the Tanzania Luo, mostly came from Central Africa (known as Walulu there) and this is further explained by the way they set their main doors. Kenya Luos have it being opened towards the main bedroom (kor mach) while Tanzania Luos open it away from this.

  9. Rorisang

    Could you kindly share the different family clans in the Alur tribe. Im looking to find my origins. Was only told that my grandfather is a descent from the Congo. When I read through the lifestyle that the Alur people lived it matches the lifestyle of my grandparents. Thanks.

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