To be a ‘Big Man’ in Teso is earned not inherited

“The ideal clan elders were men of understanding and impartial judgement who saw themselves not as rulers but as the arbiters and mediators of their people … if a son lacked the quality of leadership, another among the sons, fulfilling the requirements of leadership, was chosen by the clan to take over. Courage and generosity, coupled with a sharp sense of good and impartial judgement were the ideal qualities of a leader.”

Okalany D. H. in ‘Mukongoro during the Asonya’ quoted by Dr. Ben Jones in “Beyond the State in Rural Uganda.”

Unlike some other cultures in which one can become a ‘big man’ simply because of his parentage, for example, within the central logic of Iteso culture, men must earn the position and the respect of the title ‘big man’.

Obviously, those who are borne to wealthy families, their fathers are ‘big men’, do have a head start. But within the central logic of Iteso culture, it is not enough for you to claim you are a ‘big man’ just because you are a descendant of a ‘big man’.

Doing observations in Oledai Sub-Parish in Ngora in Teso, as part of an empirical study, Dr. Ben Jones, for example, noted that in order to become a ‘big man’ in Oledai, at the time in the 2000s, one had to do so through his own initiative and entrepreneurship.

It is what you proactively do successfully, your entrepreneurship, that earns you respect. In other words, to earn and to command respect, within the central logic of Iteso culture, you have to be seen initiating something and doing it yourself.

@Emmanuel Owaraga II, August 202I

So, for example, whereas, Emmanuel Owaraga II is named after his father, the late Ejakait Engineer George William Obityo Owaraga, who was a chief of the Ikaribwok Isekelio Clan of the Iteso, Owaraga II cannot simply claim ‘big man’ status because he is named after a chief and is a descendant of the chief.

Owaraga II must prove himself in his own right. He must excel in his own field and in his own enterprise. He must make a name for himself as he carries forward and upward the powerful legacy of his name. Owaraga II, indeed, is seemingly doing so through his craft, being the best visual story teller.

Ejakait Emmanuel Owaraga II, son of the late Ejakait Engineer George William Obityo Owaraga, the Chief, and grandson of the late Ejakait Yosia Engatunyun, the Chief.

I conclude where I started. Just because you are an enterprising material wealth creator is not enough to make you among respected ‘big men’ among my people, the Iteso. You must have the additional qualities of being ‘a man of the people’. You must be seen and heard participating in activities and in discourse that matter to your fellows.

Dr. Ben Jones’ observations in Oledai, according to him, revealed how egalitarian and competitive the processes of becoming a ‘big man’ in Oledai was in the 2000s. It was how one participated, negotiated and demonstrated political authority that earned one ‘big man’ status.

Will Owaraga II comfortably fill the shoes of his namesake and add significant additional value to the legacy of being ‘a man of the people’? The jury is still out.

15 responses to “To be a ‘Big Man’ in Teso is earned not inherited”

  1. My dad says abig man in Acholi those days used to be someone who had integrity,married many wives in a properway, has many children,abig home and made big harvests and the title was for men only but nowdays people respect money, if you have the money,whether you are aman or awoman you automatically become the big man and I also concur with the last bit of it

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  2. In the past, lango culture used to treat the “big man” as that person who had many heads of cattle and also, people who were having vast land though the children from such families are less successful academically but these days to be a big man in my culture, you need to come from a family with a good education background and a working class and other people can also be a big man by acquiring wealth through innovation work like you find when someone has not gone high with education but ventured in to business and has got a lot of money, there you will find when he or she is being recognized everywhere and even elected as a leader without any leadership skills in them. So all in all big man is that person with a ‘ happy wallet’


  3. Initially in Kumam culture, being a big man was earned from inheritance. For example ,When the father dies , It’s the first born male child who inherits the cattle riches,Owned all the chanks of land and takes over the position of the late father and automatically that man becomes a big man at an household level. However,at the clan level they would look at the family linage ability to settle domestic issues, the number of wealth interns of animals, number of weman, children who are seen as security and the courage some one has to speak and face battle that may arise between different clans. This is not the case today. Today , to be recognized as abig man you must have a well established home with success story of children who have achieved in education and others being employed and for the case of middle age group they look at how hard working some one is , ability to influence and share what you have others, a certain level of education and owning more or owning what others does not have like investment , cars among others.

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  4. Some time ago as I was growing up as a young girl, “A big man in Teso” was classified as one who possessed a lot of wealth in form of large herds of livestock, extensive land, married many wives, had homesteads and granaries of food stuffs and produced many children.
    However this has changed in the recent years because of many factors, Now “A big man in Teso” is one with a lot of money and has political influence, can offer cash gifts for funerals, school fees, cash gifts for building churches, mosques, schools and so on. Age does not matter but somebody with ability to “shake mango trees”(meaning to give us money” is regarded as “A big man in Teso “toady.

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    • In the past the title of the “big man” was earned by patrilineal inheritance of name, of a big grand father who owned large heads of cattle, had many wives and children and with many married daughters, but today its about high level of education, and connection with government, or the number of business a person has because people think they will better connected for more development to the community and that way u will respected and called a big man in lango clans including local chiefs “Rwot”,women representative in clan “atel mon”. Were selected based on their connection and experience in hundling land matters and other cases, like one should be married or retired from a govement job or business.


  5. In Teso culture, though it used to be the elder son To be a big man. This days, big man is earned through seeing how you are moving forward. In my village some grandpa died, clan choose his second son to head the family because he was a Clan chairman


  6. In my village Atwar Ayabi subcounty Kwania district, my grandfather is recognized as one of the Big man in Atwar village because he has many hectares of land and cattle, up to today He is still a big man. But however since most of his strong and abled friends including his own children who are boys used to always run to him to seek for more help from him even after him marrying for them wives and also dividing for them some plots. He decided to add to his original name as ,”Gi Nono Pe Nayi” meaning Don’t get so used to free things. He even marked most of his assets like chairs, benches,etc with his new name. In 2020 after my graduation, I went to visit him and he told me, my grandson greatness is earned by working hard that’s why at my old age 95years l still do my garden work.
    In my clan also abig man title was also earned through marrying many wives..but currently they consider a man who has atleast managed to educate his children in school or given them some skills on welding etc and atleast also educated to the Ordinary level of education and also someone who has roles and responsibilities in the community, church, who has astable family.


  7. I can say being a ‘big man’ is earned through hardwork! In Lango culture, it used to be the eldest son always to be a big person but that ‘thinking’ is no more! At our home in the village, my grandfather died and his eldest son was chosen by the clan as ‘big man’ to head others but later, my Dad who’s the second born was seen by other siblings as their head and the elder son later said for him, he is now having some ailments and needed someone to help him, so my father has since then been seen as the ‘big man’ at our ancestoral home and in-charge of most family activities, though he can delegate where he is committed.

    In 2017, was appointed the secretary to our small clan system called ‘DOGOLA’ yet there are many people who would do that. During that time when the chief was making his appointment for me to be in his cabinet, some elders said the position of the secretary needs someone who is matured and married instead I should be given the position of youth leader. The chief told the meeting that he has seen some quality of hardwork in me, and I am better than many matured and married people! He said, “this young man has managed his business for more than 5years, yet many youth’s business don’t last for more than 6-months, he has skills in record keeping, he is educated, he is leading a Youth group in the village, he is also teaching, he is intelligent and anytime he will marry and even develop our clan PALAMYEK, so let’s not talk about marriage only in him!” From there, in 2018 I was again elected the secretary to the main clan council at subcounty level and by that time it was Lira Central Division but now city status has now brought in city East division with other subcounties annexed to central division.


    • Thank you so much James for sharing this interesting testimony. Challenging Categories indeed!


  8. In Lango here,the big man title is becoming confusing daily,according to news anchored over the local radio stations,in my own opinion,that title has been politicized alot and it’s influenced with the money to me


  9. According to Iteso culture, the Big man observes his children’s characters and behaviours as he raises them up.
    Ones character and behaviour earns him the privilege to be a ” Big man”. Sometimes the Big man can share his wishes with some of his brothers, sisters or elders in the community.


    • Certainly that used to be the case. And that is why some would get surprised with the elder children are by passed and the big man names the younger of his children as heirs … And so my late father became the heir to his father, my late grandfather, even though he was not the eldest son of his father.


  10. This is a refreshing read in an era where masculinity has become rather “diluted”. Mam bobo oni iyongit Ijaka ka kolo, where it was brought pride to the man, family and clan to be called Ejakait.


    • Abeit cut. And sadly for us in our clan, after my father, it was allowed to politicize the election of clan leaders similar to national governance politics. Ebe campaigns, then elections, etc. Instead of ijaka vetting one and ensuring they have the leadership qualities as per the Iteso central logic, we have imuyayen elected to be ijaka?!


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