African Culture, Blood-Money & Death Penalty

First, as a Pan-Africanist, I celebrate the strength of African-Ugandan cultures, to the extent that they were not completely erased by English colonization of our people and territory.

Evidence of my assertion, for example, is the modern day application of the Acholi First Nation Justice System on Matthew Kanyamunyu, an accused that is not of the Acholi First Nation, but who is alleged to have caused the death of Kenneth Akena who was a member of the Acholi First Nation.

And, moreover, this is while simultaneously and in parallel, the accused is also being subjected to the justice system of our nation-state Uganda, which, essentially, is a bastardized version of the English Justice System; and yet it is the system privileged as the law of our land.

That the accused and his family, members of the Banyankole First Nation, the first nation to which the current President of Uganda, Yoweri Kagutta Museveni, belongs, and a family that in fact has close family ties with the President, found it valid to seek out and to be subjected to the Acholi First Nation Justice System, is an action to celebrate.

This got me thinking about the justice systems of other first nations of Uganda, and specifically, that which I belong, the Iteso First Nation. And so, without much ado, I consulted my favourite book: “The Iteso,” by J.C.D. Lawrance, which even though written from a colonisers perspective, provides a good reference from whence to piece together and to imagine Iteso culture pre-colonisation.

I found what I was looking for on pages 257-258, where Lawrence describes how in the 1950s, during the colonial period, Iteso settled “cases of blood-money, payable as a result of homicide.”

He went further and gave context of what used to happen among Iteso prior, presumably, pre-colonisation, by including the following explanatory note:

“Formerly cases of homicide were settled by taking the life of the killer or of a member of his extended family or clan; or by the gift of a girl by the relatives of the killer to the clan of the deceased; or by payment of cattle equivalent to prevailing bride-price rates to enable the deceased’s clan to replace the life lost by taking a girl in marriage from another clan. This last method of settlement still prevails.

J.C.D. Lawrance

Sadly, the commentary of many of my fellow Ugandans has sought to trivialize the paying of cattle and goats by Kanyamunyu to the late Akena’s family and clan. Such commentary, mostly coming from members of other first nations other than the Acholi First Nation, those with a ‘global-westernized-recaptives mentality’ and with high propensity for the PHD Syndrome.

Lawrence’s documentation of Iteso traditions, however, enables us to appreciate the context and the sound logic in which the penalty being paid by Kanyamunyu to Akena’s family and clan is likely located and premised.

Seemingly, Iteso culture, and perhaps also Acholi culture, did evolve from the practice of “if your clan member kills our clan member, we will also kill a member of your clan”; to a more uniting practice of ensuring that from death comes life; and, moreover, life that unites clans.

An evolution, arguably, that is much more desired than the provision of the death penalty, for example, as it is enshrined within the laws of the nation-state Uganda.

As a matter of fact, by the way, according to Lawrence’s account, in the 1950s, the practice among the Iteso was not to penalize the family and clan of a killer who was legally executed by the nation-state; and or whose life is taken for any atonement by death.

Me thinks, this is the superior logic within which Akena’s family and clan are handling the matter of he who is accused of killing their clansman.

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