Wang-Lei, the place where Gipir, Labongo parted ways

River Nile, on which banks Wang-Lei is located. The area is where Nyipir and Nyabonogo parted ways.PHOTO BY DEAR JEANNE.

Nebbi-To many, it is Wang-Lei, a place of wonders and miracles where an axe comes out of the River Nile when it so pleases.
Yet to the Nilotes, who came from Bahel-Gazel and settled in the current day West Nile region before separating and covering three countries, it is a historical site where their centuries-old conflicts and hatred is dated back to.
And to Uganda it is a tourism site that tells a culture rich of African tradition, conflict resolution and revenge.

It is the separation point of Nyapir (Gipir) and Labongo (Nyabongo), the forefathers of the Luo, who are spread across East Africa.
Under the management of the Jonam Kingdom in Nebbi District, though located within a UPDF military detachment, Wang-Lei is located as you enter Pakwach District, 100 meters from the Uganda Revenue Authority checkpoint and about 50 meters from the main road.
Though it is one of the most accessible historical sites in the West Nile region, little did I know that it would take me three days to access the place.

After seeking permission from the head of the military unit, it was now time for me to get clearance from the cultural leaders, who happened to be away in northern Uganda.
“If you want to see the axe, you will have to come in February when the winds are blowing to the north western,” Mr Odong Madir, the head of Puvungu Clan and also the Rwodhi of Jonam, told me.

Entering through the Pakwach UPDF detachment, only a dilapidated structure can be seen at the area where the Jonam Kingdom prime minister, Mr Isaac Oucha, points for me.

Due to the cultural restrictions, the king and the prime minister cannot go close to the site unless a number of rituals have been performed.

Ten meters away from the site, I am told by my tour guide to remove shoes as I am stepping on holy ground.

“Some years back, these structures were a dormitory for military personnel, they failed to respect the ground and one day wind blew the iron sheets away. Since then, no one resides there,” says Mr Alfred Onen, the general secretary of the Albert Nile Conservation and Tourism Association, also acting as my guide.

After removing the shoes we move closer to the river bank.
With no proper demarcation, a bunch of logs have been put together to bar onlookers from falling into the River Nile.

The Jonam kingdom is planning to launch the development of the historical site in December 2013 with a reconciliation fete at the kingdom’s palace.

The fete is meant to bring back all descendants of the two brothers back to their routes and scrap away the ritual requirement for the Acholi when they come to the site.
The kingdom views the site as a revenue collection centre and an opening for other historical and cultural sites in West Nile to the international community.

“We have come up with a budget and plan for developing the site. We request government to come and support us in developing this site,” Mr Odong said.

The history

Nyipir and Labongo are believed to have been the forefathers of the luo people. The two brothers lived happy after moving from Bahel-gazel and settled on the current-day West Nile region.

One day after they had all started families and had children, Nyipir asked Labongo for his spear so he could go and hunt.
During the hunt, Nyipir aimed at an Elephant but failed to kill it and it ran away with the spear.

On reaching home, Nyipir tried to explain to his brother Labongo, but he could not understand him as he demanded that he brings back his spear.
Nyipir, having no other option, packed his food and went back to the forest. For days he moved looking for the spear. Luckily, four days later, he found a place where the elephant had dropped the spear as it moved.

He took back the spear and handed it to his brother.
Nyipir, being a beads maker, continued living normally until one day he had errands to do and he left the youngest son of Labongo in his house.

When Nyipir returned, he found one of his beads missing and after investigating it was concluded that Labongo’s son had swallowed it.

Nyipir immediately went to Labongo and ordered that his bead be recovered immediately. Labongo begged his brother that he be given time for the child to eat and pass the bead out while defecating.

Nyipir kept insisting and even though the child went to the toilet, the bead was not seen and it was after resolved that since Nyipir had to recover the spear when the elephant ran with it, his bead should also be recovered.
Labongo’s youngest son was thus cut through the stomach and the bead removed. The two agreed that they could no longer live together and through the mediation of a Jonam chief Uvungu, they were separated at Wang-Lei and an axe thrown in the river to signify the separation.

Nyipir and his family were ordered to move to the Western part while Labongo and his family moved to the eastern.
Nyipir became the grandfather of the Alur of Nebbi and the DR Congo and was buried at Lajudong in Nebbi, while Labongo became the grandfather of the Acholi and the Luo and was buried in Nwoya District.

Cultural conflict

Since the separation of the two brothers, the Alur and the Acholi have had a long running conflict.

Recently, a number of Alur were arrested in Nwoya for alleged trespass despite the district neighbouring Nebbi, the home for the Alur.
According to Mr Odong, it was agreed back then that for a leader of any of the two groups (descendants of Nyipir and Labongo) to pass near the separation point, ritual have to be performed and a number of cows paid, a tradition that stands till today.

About the Nilotes

Nilotic peoples or Nilotes refers to related ethnic groups mainly inhabiting the Nile Valley, the African Great Lakes region, and southwestern Ethiopia, who speak Nilotic languages, a large sub-group of the Nilo-Saharan languages.
These include the Kalenjin, Luo, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Ateker and the Maa-speaking peoples, all of which are clusters of several ethnic groups.
Nilotes form the majority of the population in South Sudan, an area that is believed to be their original point of dispersal. They also today constitute the second-largest group of peoples inhabiting the African Great Lakes region (after the Bantu peoples), with a notable presence in southwestern Ethiopia as well.
Most Nilotes practice pastoralism, and many are also known for a tradition of cattle rustling.
As with some Bantu groups, Nilotes in East Africa have through interaction adopted many customs and practices from neighboring Southern Cushitic groups. The latter include the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms.


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