ARUA. When the British established their colonial dominion over West Nile in 1914, they found a well organised Madi chiefdom with a distinguished and skilled worrier of legendary status as the paramount chief.

That was chief Ajai, the son of Lei, the man who according to folktales led the Madi people from their cradle land in Egypt to present day Arua district.

Mr Phillip Dratibi,82, the chairman of the Ogoko elders’ association, one of the key drivers of the revival effort says Ajai’s escapades did not only include marrying 100 wives but also waging numerous military campaigns to drive away people they found near the bank of river Nile so as to get land to settle on.

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He subdued some of the people such as the Ullepi, Pawor and the Rigbo who have different ancestry to become part of his territory that stretched up to Obongi.

Ajai’s powerful physical built-up struck fear in potential challengers and strict rule by both military means and cultural rituals such as rainmaking and hefty punishments allowed him to ensure harmony, peace and stability.

Such tenets became a source of pride for the Madi, reason for respect from neighbours and attraction of admiration from the British that West Nile’s first district commissioner Arthur Evelyn Weatherhead made him the colonial chief of Madi County when administrative boundaries were demarcated in 1918.

But he asked Ajai to cede some parts of his territory such as Obongi to other counties to reduce the administrative burden on him, which he obliged to.

Dratibi says when Ajai died in 1952, ostensibly due to witchcraft by brothers over succession dispute that began the decline of the Madi chiefdom.

But this was when he had already anointed his son Yonisan Toliva as hair to the throne and thus automatic successor.

Toliva was succeeded by his son Bua but by this time roles such as rainmaking had stopped.

Why revival

Revival would promote qualitative cultural growth according to William Candia, the interim committee chairperson.

He said out-of-date practices such as using draught as punishment, and rainmaking will no longer be practiced as focus is meant to be solely on promoting development.

Mr Alex Mambo, a member from Ajai’s nucleus family in Payawe clan in Ogoko has been identified as chief designate for eventual coronation while the council of elders to work with him will come from the families of former representatives of Ajai era.

Rose Abiko, a resident of west jawura village, Olali parish in Ogoko Sub County says the women welcome the idea or cultural revival because the drafted constitution provides for women representation in leadership.

Women are also expected to actively participate in social development such as promoting education and health.

Dratibi expounds that the revived cultural entity will cover nine Sub counties-Anyiribu, Ofaka, Okollo, Ullepi, Pawor, Ogoko, Rhino camp, Rigbo and Ewanga.

They plan to construct a palace at Ajai’s former base in Degia village, Olali parish and rebuild Ajai’s tomb near Aca River to add to the diverse tourism attractions of Ajai game reserve as part of the revival activities.

Who are the Madi

Renowned for goat keeping (Madi ndri) the Madi comprising three original clans came from Egypt under the leadership of Lei. Dratibi lists these clans as Olali, Ali’ba and Adovu.

They entered through northern Uganda and crossed to West Nile via Mutiri in present day Pakwach district.

The group eventually split into two due to a quarrel over sitting shade. Those who migrated to upper Madi were then referred to as Odraru and Akino and those that stayed put where called Ogoko because they stood still.

Rich culture

The Madi boast a richly endowed cultural heritage that is preserved and transmitted to the younger generation through folksongs, tales and traditional practices.

They had songs to mark both good and sad moments.

When a person dies, the mourners performed Jenyi, a dance formation similar to what the born again Christians use today. Except that for the Madi, the men gather around five drummers in the middle while women rove around in cycles.

The drums are classed as three small drums, one big mother drum and one long drum. After burial, the Madi performed Kejua dance in the evening.

Here a big cycle is formed by the singers and the drummer of the big mother drum keeps rolling it on the ground while dancers followed him.

This is followed by Drato dance where Men do the singing while the women danced. The last dance performance to close a mourning ritual is known as Ojuke. In this one the men played shakers while women danced to the tune.

During happy times such as celebrating heroic killing of leopard, lion or an elephant, the Madi danced Mure in a day-long fete.

The dress code for such a dance required men to wear anklets (mgbiri), animal skin on their body and the tail as hand ring. For female dancers, they wore rope strips that were finely woven to cover their private parts.

The organiser of the fete must prepare a lot of kpete, a local brew made of millet and sorghum but which these days are prepared using maize flour.

“The infiltration of western culture has killed these local practices as people prefer to waste time in disco hall but revived cultural institution would bring back some of these identities,” Dratibi observed.

Socio-economic lifestyle

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The Madi cherished goat keeping, hunting and cultivation as major economic activities that heavily influenced social way of life such as courtship and marriage.

They acquired defence weapons such as arrows, spears and knives and farm implements like hoes and from the Kebu through batter trade in game meat.

The Madi liked killing hippopotamus, buffaloes and sometimes elephants for meat. What they did not eat were the coveted White rhinoceroses that were only hunted when they wanted to sell the valuable task to Congolese buyers.

Their staple food was millet and cowpeas. They also grew sorghum and simsim.

To show interest in courting a girl, potential suitor gave a rake like hoe to begin the process.

Goats were kept for paying dowry where the bridegroom paid not less than 30 goats per wife. This was crowned with 100 or more arrows and cowry shells.

Divorce would occur if the woman was discovered to be a harlot, infertile or a witch but polygamy and having many children was considered prestigious for men.