Acoli Marriage



Uganda is a popular country in East Africa, widely known for its agricultural products such as cotton, tobacco, and tea. The landlocked nation encompasses several spectacular mountains, lakes, and savannas. It is home to various wildlife, including mammals, primates, and reptiles. Uganda has various tribes; thus, every tribe has its own traditional ways of conducting marriages, making it unique and different from others. 


Acoli, one of the tribes in Uganda found in the northern part of Uganda and headed by the paramount chief, Rwot David Acana, has its own unique way of traditional marriages known as nyom pa Acoli. To the Acolis, marriage is not just people being together but a unique divine commitment, a traditional ritual of union that physically and spiritually brings two unrelated persons, a male and a female, matched conveniently by their interest in each other, to fulfil lives’ obligation of procreation and societal progressions. 


Traditionally, a person who is not married is regarded as somewhat inferior because of their marital status. They cannot partake in the decision-making processes in the society. This, however, is still seen in some parts of the Acoli land. Therefore, one must go through the traditional marriage in accordance with the customs of the Acoli people for recognition. Like any other tribe in Uganda, Acoli marriages have procedures to be adhered to. The procedures are explained below:

  • Courtship 

This is a process which involves the groom identifying his partner to be. He can approach the woman himself and clarify his intentions to her, or his relatives can approach the woman on his behalf. This involves carrying out background checks to know the character of individuals and families to avoid blood relations and genetic abnormalities. 

  • Declaration of Marriage Intent

Once this is done, the man declares his intention to marry and is introduced to the woman’s family in an introductive ceremony, which shows that the woman’s family has accepted the man to be their daughter’s husband. 

  • Permission to Visit

Before the marriage ritual begins, the groom’s family ask for permission to visit the bride’s family alongside a proposed date of the day they will come. Respectfully, the bride’s family may choose to decline the date stated and propose another date stating their reasons for refusal of the previous date as well. 

On the proposed date, the groom’s family is suppose to pay a certain amount of money, known as obal tic, as compensation for the time spent by the uncles and aunties during the preparations and meetings. 

  • Ceremony day

A rope is tied at the bride’s home entrance on the marriage day. Once the bride’s aunt sees the groom’s family coming, she makes ululations known as kigira, welcoming them into the home of the girl. Once done, the man dispenses respect to the aunt by paying some amount of money to her. The bride’s uncle then welcomes the groom’s family, and later on, the aunt gives a brief background of the bride’s life, her educational life, and her sisters. The groom brings in items like coats for the bride’s father, tong and gomesi for the bride’s mum and aunts, and cows, and they negotiate a bride price. 

The Acolis believe that nyom obedi wudui, the bride price, can be paid in instalments. The marriage is conducted in a grass-thatched home, and the groom’s family crawl on their knees until they enter the house. Once all these are done, the bride’s aunt makes ululations to indicate that the negotiations were a success (keny odonyo). After the negotiations have passed, the bride stays at her home for a week. The aunt with her sisters takes her to the husband’s home, a small celebration is done, and she is welcomed into her new home. 

They are registered with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau and have marriage forms for proof of marriage. Certificates of Acoli Marriage with the seal of the Paramount Chief of Acoli are availed to the parties.


However, Acoli marriages conducted as of late do not tend to uphold their cultural beliefs since they tend to copy the Western and central ways of conducting marriages. For instance, the ways of dressing where the Acoli people prefer to wear mushananas like the Westerners rather than the kikoyo and gomesis worn before. This new mode of conducting marriages has shifted the perspective of Ugandans. 



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