obituary of a Ugandan spirit-channeller

As I read the obituary of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in this week’s Economist, I remembered one of that magazine’s most memorable obituaries from last year.  Here is an excerpt:

Alice Auma Lakwena, warrior and spirit-channeller, died on January 17th [2007], aged 50

If you had visited Wang Jok [northern Uganda] in May 1986 you might have seen, sitting beside the water, a young woman of 30 apparently talking to herself.

People from Opit, the railway town where she lived, knew her as Alice Auma. She sold fish and flour with another woman and had had two husbands, both of whom had deserted her because she was barren. But it was not Alice Auma who was sitting by the Nile. She was possessed by a spirit called Lakwena, and he was holding a consultation with all the animals of the park.

They swarmed round him in a huge bellowing crowd, elephants and hippopotami and crocodiles and giraffes, many of them holding up wounded limbs to be healed. Lakwena asked them who was responsible for the civil war in Uganda, in which the Acholi rebels of the north were fighting the troops of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army. They replied that “the people with two legs” were the violators of peace and Nature. A waterfall and a mountain were interrogated too. They gave back the same answer.

Lakwena and Alice went on to form their own army, the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces.  No weapons:

Each man had burned his witchcraft charms, and had appeased the spirit of anyone he had killed previously; and as the army marched into battle, singing Catholic hymns and with their bare torsos smothered in shea-nut oil, the bullets of the enemy would bounce right off them. Nature, too, was on their side. Water, if they were polite to it and “bought” each river they crossed with coins and shells, would block the enemy or drown him. Stones, if they threw them, would explode like grenades.

If you want to learn more about the trouble in northern Uganda, here is a reading list.

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