Acholi: Wikis


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Ugandan children.jpg

Acholi children in an IDP camp in Kitgum

Total population
Approximately 2 000 000
Regions with significant populations




Related ethnic groups


Acholi (also Acoli) is an ethnic group from the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader in northern Uganda (an area commonly referred to as Acholiland), and Magwe County in southern Sudan. The 1991 Uganda census counted 746,796 Acholi; a further 45,000 Acholi live outside of Uganda.[1]



The Acholi language is a Western Nilotic language, classified as Luo, and is mutually intelligible with Lango and other Luo languages.

The Song of Lawino, one of the most successful African literary works, was written by Okot p'Bitek in Acholi, and later translated to English.


Acholiland or "Acholi-land" (also known as Acholi sub-region) is an inexact term that refers to the region traditionally inhabited by the Acholi. It is composed of the present-day Ugandan districts of Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader. While Acholi also live north of the Sudanese border, they are often excluded from the political meaning of the term "Acholiland".


The Acholi are a Luo people, who are said to have come to northern Uganda from the area now known as Bahr el Ghazal in southern Sudan. Starting in the late seventeenth century, a new sociopolitical order developed among the Luo of northern Uganda, mainly characterized by the formation of chiefdoms headed by Rwodi (sg. Rwot, 'ruler'). By the mid-nineteenth century, about 60 small chiefdoms existed in eastern Acholiland.[2] During the second half of the nineteenth century Arabic-speaking traders from the north started to call them Shooli, a term which transformed into 'Acholi'.[3]

Their traditional dwelling-places were circular huts with a high peak, furnished with a mud sleeping-platform, jars of grain and a sunk fireplace, with the walls daubed with mud and decorated with geometrical or conventional designs in red, white or grey. They were skilled hunters, using nets and spears, and kept goats, sheep and cattle. In war they used spears and long, narrow shields of giraffe or ox hide.

Acholiland, Uganda

During Uganda's colonial period, the British encouraged political and economic development in the south of the country, in particular among the Baganda. In contrast, the Acholi and other northern ethnic groups supplied much of the national manual labor and came to comprise a majority of the military, creating what some have called a "military ethnocracy". This reached its height with the coup d'├ętat of Acholi General Tito Okello in June 1985 (thus terminating the second regime of Milton Obote), and came to a crashing end with the defeat of Okello and the Acholi-dominated army by the National Resistance Army led by now-President Yoweri Museveni in January 1986.

The Acholi are known to the outside world mainly because of the insurgency of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony, an Acholi from Gulu. The activities of the LRA have been devastating within Acholiland (though they spread also to neighbouring districts and countries). As at September 2009, large numbers of Acholi people remain in camps as internally displaced persons.


Most Acholi are Protestant, Catholic and, in lesser numbers, Muslim. Nevertheless, the traditional belief in guardian and ancestor spirits remains strong, though it is often described in Christian or Islamic terms.

Notable Acholi people


  • Atkinson, Ronald Raymond (1994) The roots of ethnicity: the origins of the Acholi of Uganda before 1800. Kampala: Fountain Publishers. ISBN 9970-02-156-7.
  • Dwyer, John Orr (1972) 'The Acholi of Uganda: adjustment to imperialism'. (unpublished thesis) Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International .
  • Girling, F.K. (1960) The Acholi of Uganda (Colonial Office / Colonial research studies vol. 30). London: Her majesty's stationery office.
  • Webster, J. (1970) 'State formation and fragmentation in Agago, Eastern Acholi', Provisional council for the social sciences in East Africa; 1st annual conference, vol 3., p. 168-197.


  1. ^ Acholi: A language of Uganda, Ethnologue
  2. ^ Webster 1970.
  3. ^ According to Atkinson (1994).

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ACHOLI, a negro people of the upper Nile valley, dwelling on the east bank of the Bahr-el-Jebel, about a hundred miles north of Albert Nyanza. They are akin to the Shilluks of the White Nile. They frequently decorate the temples or cheeks with wavy or zigzag scars, and also the thighs with scrolls; some pierce the ears. Their dwelling-places are circular huts with a high peak, furnished with a mud sleeping-platform, jars of grain and a sunk fireplace. The interior walls are daubed with mud and decorated with geometrical or conventional designs in red, white or grey. The Acholi are good hunters, using nets and spears, and keep goats, sheep and cattle. In war they use spears and long, narrow shields of giraffe or ox hide. Their dialect is closely allied to those of the Alur, Lango and Ja-Luo tribes, all four being practically pure Nilotic. Their religion is a vague fetishism. By early explorers the Acholi were called Shuli, a name now obsolete.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Alternative spellings

Proper noun




  1. A people in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.
  2. A Nilo-Saharan language spoken by this people.

See also

Ethnologue entry for Acholi, ach



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