Ker Kwaro Acholi Speaks out on Bickering and Disinformation to the President About Cultural Leaders on COVID-19”.

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Ms Mbayo handing over the 13 key points issued by President Yoweri Museveni for Ker Kwaro to use in sensitizing the community in Acholi community on COVID-19. @MegaFm Photo

Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi has today spoken out on the misrepresentation of the Kingdom over the recently concluded culture of “EXORCISM” dubbed “Ryemo Gemo” in Luo that seems not to have gone well with the President in a struggle to combat COVID-19.

This witnessed the President send a strong warning to Rwot Onen David Acan and the other concerned parties to desist from these acts immediately.

Northernews Wire managed to get a copy of the statement presented to , Esther Mbayo, the Minister for Presidency today as presented below.

Greetings from Ker Kwaro Acholi and best wishes to all, as the world is at peril with COVID 19.

A lot has been doing rounds regarding a concern brought before His Excellency the President during his briefing on COVID 19 on March 31, 2020 that stated that some media houses were misleading the Acholi public that cultural leaders consider COVID 19 an evil spirit and are mobilizing the community to cast out the evil spirit and consequently the President issuing a warning to cultural leaders in Acholi.

The position of Ker Kwaro Acholi has been clear right from the beginning His Highness Rwot David Onen Acana and the Prime Minister Olaa Ambrose came out clearly to state to the public in their communication on COVID 19 that all must comply to the directives by HE The President. In no instance has any of the 57 chiefdoms in Acholi issued counter directives or appeared in any media platform. Ker Kwaro Acholi participates in most COVID 19 district task forces and reports its activities. Ker Kwaro Acholi has gone further in its communication to simplify the understanding of the Presidential directives using analogies that Acholi for centuries have used in epidemic or pandemic control and management in Acholi. Tradition in Acholi further bars traditional chiefs from engaging in acts that relate to evil spirits. Ker Kwaro Acholi believes that COVID 19 is a concern to all and that there must be a common understanding in dealing with it. It reminds us of the concerted efforts fighting Ebola, Nodding Disease Syndrome and other afflictions in Acholi.

It must however be understood that for generations and centuries traditional Acholi has developed elaborate methods of handling epidemics and other forms of crisis like conflict. This was as part of the key social, political, economic and religious structuring of the society. Over the years the understanding of these traditional practices have been affected by the conflict

eliminating the knowledge, time and space for a large section of the community to learn, inherit and practice these practices. Other factors like type of education, religion have eaten into this space and tried to undermine the values in tradition. However, the social, political, economic and religious formations remained somehow functioning and executing their responsibilities. Socially the Acholi existed in related clusters in chiefdoms, clans, extended families and households. In these structure there were key responsibilities to guarantee society’s survival. These responsibilities included: those for production were the production chiefs a male and female (Rwot Kweri and Rwot Okoro), there were deities and oracles that guide the religious lives of the people, diviners and medicine men to take care of community health. In principle every aspect of Acholi life was catered for within society’s structure. Within this arrangement Acholi developed codes that translated into norms, values, taboos, practices. This formation is common in many African societies.

With the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic and the associated threats that comes along, all the units of traditional society responsible for protecting the people from such calamities thought it wise to evoke traditional epidemic control practices to support presidential directives. Fortunately, most of the traditional practices were very similar to the presidential directives and people were knowledgeable about. This was important because it would help to translate and communicate the presidential directives in a way people understood.

One particular incident created a fundamental misunderstanding that was wrongly relayed to the President. A deity Lagoro conducted a traditional prayer and pronounced that people should perform a ritual of cleansing the land (ryemo gemo). This act is performed individually in household where noise is the primary tool used in anticipation that this noise will throw out all bad omen and warn people of an impending danger. There is an epicenter and the action snowballs all through the land. So everybody got whatever could make noise including shouting to send away evil or bad omen. It is also used as unique communication method to warn people of an impending threat and that people should be prepared. We remember in Uganda during the HIV/Aids pandemic how the drum became an effective tool to warn the public of the pandemic.

Traditionally in Acholi the banging of things and shouting is done when there is an impending threat or when disease or pestilence has befallen the society this is commonly referred to as gemo or ayweya. In Acholi, gemo or ayweya can be characterized in three ways, the physical affliction on people and their life sustenance means these include diseases like leprosy, measles, yaws and others. It also includes pests like locusts (in fact there were rituals performed in Acholi to cast out locusts recently). The second relates to psychological or mental affliction largely resulting from trauma this in conventional term is what is considered Post Traumatic Stress Disorders when it occurs in large number like today where there is rampant suicide, social deviance, GBV, rituals as therapy are performed. The last aspect of gemo is spiritual affliction on people mainly resulting from a curse, an abominable act that evokes anger of God and our ancestors and they apportion punishment accordingly. In the COVID 19 case the consideration that COVID 19 is a physical affliction obtained. Often time ryemo gemo at any one moment is intended to take care of all these aspects.

Therefore, reference that Acholi consider COVID 19 as an evil spirit is erroneous, Acholi recognize that there are physical afflictions that exist and has to be dealt with. That ryemo gemo involved congregating people is also fallacious instead it relates to focusing people as an individual towards a threat that confronts them. That ryemo gemo is an end in itself and that it solves the problem at hand is also fallacious, there are several precautionary or management actions that people take before and after ryemo gemo to make it effective, these include:

When an affliction happens society is required to do the following depending on the circumstances:

Quarantine or isolate the patient in a house at least 100 m from all other houses, with no visitors allowed.

Social distancing was strictly advised and observed and termed “gwok iguda” meaning don’t touch me was used to effect the space required between people.

A survivor of the epidemic should feed and care for the patient. If no survivors are available, an elderly woman or man should be the caregiver.

Houses with ill patients should be identified with two long poles of elephant grass, one on each side of the door.

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