A food to annoint Lango’s leaders

Left, A woman cleans crushed pigeon peas at Te-Obaya market. Right, pigeon peas prepared with Photo by Billi Oketch

What you need to know:

Angara. Dek agira apena. The pigeon peas may pass for just any other legumes required for a healthy protein diet, however apena is a culturally treasured food in Lango which is used to shower blessings on leaders.

Soon after Uganda gained Independence in 1962, the man who led Ugandans to this unforgettable historic moment, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) was subjected to traditional rituals. The former president, who ruled Uganda for two terms, was subjected to eating food ritual, which included among others dek agira apena (crushed pigeon peas). Traditionally, pigeon peas are prepared by elderly women qualified to perform a traditional ceremony in the Lango culture. One requirement though is that apena should not have been bought from a nearby market or from the neighbourhood.

The making of a sacred dish
Apena is crushed on a stone. The food is prepared using a pot in an open-air kitchen where the ceremony is taking place. When the pigeon peas are crushed, the pods are put aside and washed with clean water. This water is put aside.
The crushed pods are re-washed then the first water which was used before is poured in a saucepan or pot and then put on fire. There after kodo apige (local salt solution squeezed out of ash from burnt simsim and beans stems) is mixed with it. When the pods have cooked, its soup which is not seasoned is served to people who sit on mats, logs and wooden stools.

In case chicken is prepared, it is seasoned with simsim paste. Sauce seasoned with simsim is customary on the menu during such traditional ceremonies in Lango. The sauce must then be eaten with kal (kalo or millet bread).

The food and water are usually served in a calabash. People who come here are expected to submit to whatever rituals are performed even if it involves smearing one’s face with ash. This is done as a form of cleansing and welcoming a clan member back home before any activity takes place. Mzee Nasuru Ogwang, the UPC party chairman for Alebtong District, says when Obote’s son Jimmy Akena returned to Uganda in 2005, he was first taken to St Augustine Church of Uganda in Lira where he was prayed for by Rev Alfred Acur Okodi.

Mzee Ogwang says Akena was then blessed together with Mzee Mila, who calls himself a “permanent youth”, and Joseph Ochieno, who was general secretary of UPC’s external bureau in 1995. The Member of Parliament for Lira Municipality and his colleagues were taken to former party headquarters in Lango which was located at Too pe yero house in Lira town after the church service. They later attended a brief meeting chaired by Ogwang before moving to the shrine located in Obuto Welo ‘B’ village in Ojwina Division. It is less than a kilometre from the heart of Lira Town.

Akena’s team was then given some traditional food that included boiled pigeon peas seasoned with simsim paste and kal. Usually water is sprinkled on the candidate using oboke olwedo leaves after eating the food ritual. This symbolises that you have been cleansed.

“When a woman gives birth, she is kept in the house for three or four days; if she has given birth to a baby boy, she is supposed to take three days and four days when the baby is a girl. There after she is brought out and subjected to eating this food ritual,” Janet Agoro, 55, of Te-Atat Market in Lira Town, says. The food is also eaten during traditional marriage.

Many believe that a great leader can also be cleansed or blessed by making him or her to eat the ritual food. “Milton Obote was also given the same food to eat; if you are not subjected to this kind of food ritual it means people do not love you and you cannot take long in leadership,” Agoro adds. This kind of traditional ritual which was used by the Lango tribal group to cleanse its great leaders is fading away giving room to western culture.


cooking apena

  • To cook apena for daily consumption, you will need.
  • Pigeon peas (apena) this can be bought from a local market. Water, peanut/simsim paste ( odi)
  • Put the apena in the water, add rock salt (magadi) and set to boil.
  • When the pigeon pea are soft, you can either chose to fry it like you would beans by heating oil, adding onions and tomatoes and then the apena.
  • Or to have it pasted with Odi (simsim and peanut butter paste) as it is traditionally prepared.
  • Simply drain some water from the apena and set aside.
  • Add spoons of the paste to the apena and mix to blend until it forms a thick sauce.
  • Keep adding more paste or water to reach a desired thickness.
  • Place on fire to heat a little bit as you continue stiring, take note not to let it boil.

special meal

Token of love
Being served Dek agira apena, is considered a token of love from the people to their leader. It is believed to give such a leader a longer term in service.