Academic journal article Africa

The Teso Insurgency Remembered: Churches, Burials and Propriety

Academic journal article Africa

The Teso Insurgency Remembered: Churches, Burials and Propriety

Article excerpt


From 1986 to 1993 the Teso region of eastern Uganda experienced a violent insurgency. The insurgency was remembered as a time of brutality, when norms of respect and reciprocity were broken down. Younger men targeted and killed older men, and life retreated inwards. In the years since the insurgency a number of institutional developments have reflected on this experience. A growing number of Pentecostal churches have been established in the region, while charismatic forms of worship have been introduced in Anglican and Catholic churches. Burial societies have been set up and in the local courts the presentation of cases has undergone a change of emphasis. In all these different institutions there has been an attempt to draw a line under the violence of the recent past. A growing emphasis on notions of propriety and respectability--whether in church, in court, or at a burial--was a common theme in the life of Teso villages. In emphasizing new forms of sociality and obligation, churches and burial societies promoted a sense of fortunes restored; a belief that the past could be divorced from the present. At the same time, however, the attempt to draw a line under the past made the insurgency, or rather the memory of the insurgency, a powerful catalyst for change. The article examines the continuing influence the insurgency has over processes of social and political change in Teso.


Entre 1986 et 1993, la region de Teso, dans l'Est de l'Ouganda, a ete le theatre d'une insurgence violente. Le souvenir de cette insurgence est celui d'une periode de brutalite caracterisee par une desintegration des normes de respect et de reciprocite. Des hommes jeunes visaient et tuaient des hommes ages, et la vie se repliait vers l'interieur. Au cours des annees qui ont suivi l'insurgence, un certain nombre d'evolutions institutionnelles ont reflete cette experience. Les eglises pentecotistes ont ete de plus en plus nombreuses S s'etablir dans la region, tandis que des formes de culte charismatiques etaient introduites dans les eglises anglicanes et catholiques. Des societes de funerailles ont ete mises en place et, dans les tribunaux locaux, la presentation des affaires a connu un changement d'orientation. Dans toutes ces diverses institutions, il y a eu une tentative de tirer un trait sur la violence du passe recent. Parmi les themes communs identifies dans la vie des villages teso figurait l'importance croissante accordee aux notions de propriete et de respectabilite (que ce soit a l'eglise, au tribunal ou aux funerailles). En privilegiant de nouvelles formes de socialite et d'obligation, les eglises et les societes de funerailles favorisaient le sens d'un retour a la prosperite; l'idee que le passe pouvait etre dissocie du present. Or, dans le meme temps, la tentative de tirer un trait sur le passe faisait de l'insurgence, ou plutot du souvenir de l'insurgence, un puissant catalyste de changement. L'article examine l'influence continue de l'insurgence sur les processus de changement social et politique a Teso.


Over the past decade or so there have been a number of developments in the institutional landscape of the Teso region of eastern Uganda. These developments have taken place in the wake of a violent insurgency. Lasting from 1986 to 1993, it is remembered as a time of disorder, when life in the region was turned upside-down. There was a breakdown in the conventions and daily rituals that governed life at the local level. Rebels targeted and killed older men, usually from the same locality. These men were buried in disrespectful ways and the insurgency signalled a retreat inwards, away from the usual forms of sociality and reciprocity. Many of the changes that have taken place in the region since then have dealt with the memory of the insurgency. Life, both public and private, has increasingly emphasized displays of propriety.

Most obvious among the changes was the growth of Pentecostal Christianity. …

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