Time check 9.45pm Thursday, darkness filled with distant screams covered Lira town, a lively Lango principal trading centre as locals banged their doors, saucepans and jerrycans in a desperate attempt to scare away coronavirus.
Children ran around hitting saucepans and drums, as women threw their doors open, shouting and crying, the noise reaching far as more joined in.
Security operatives enforcing the 14-day curfew were left perplexed as the banging of drums, jerrycans and saucepans erupted almost everywhere across Lango sub region in a traditional ritual to kick out “the devil pandemic”.
Two enforcers seemingly familiar with the ritual could be heard telling a friend that, “that is our culture. It was necessary to carry out gato two ideke” – scaring aware the devil pandemic.
This time, the devil pandemic was COVID-19, which has so far infested 48 people in Uganda.
“My son told me in his little voice ‘mum I’m so scared’. I explained to him what it means to our tradition and he later joined as well,” Ms Obich Awio, one of the residents told this reporter.
But the Thursday night episode that lasted for more than 10 minutes in Lira Municipality was greeted with mixed reactions.
Sons and daughters of Lango tribal group took to Facebook to convince the world that their version of the traditional ritual is the ultimate truth.
“They won't stop us. They should know science existed in our tradition long time. We were treating sicknesses even before the western medicine came in place,” a Facebook user, Denis Oringo Komakech wrote.
Another Facebook user Mitkom Bosco Opio said: “Acholi people if you are still waiting for permission from Museveni, you are lagging behind. Lango people are already on it right now. Its 10pm as I write this post and the entire Lango sub region has suddenly broken into a deafening noise.”
However, the conversation soon caught fire when one Olet Charles provoked friends by referring to the traditional ritual as barbaric.
JD Ongwen fired back: “I have since learnt not to look down upon anything Africans practice that may seem primitive and superstitious. There is always a profound scientific reason to it that we with our so called 'modern' minds can't even grasp.”
Local politicians and cultural leaders in Acholi had earlier given a nod to the practice, which they said would complement government’s efforts to echo social distancing in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
But the government warned that such a practice would attract punishment because it fuels the spread of the coronavirus as people will not take government precautions serious. The Ministry of Health has so far confirmed 48 cases of coronavirus in Uganda.