The Alur are the biggest Nilotic people in the West Nile region mostly concentrated in the districts of Nebbi, Zombo and Pakwach but also having a sizeable presence in Arua.
Their kingdom is the most organised monarchy in this region dominated by segmentary societies.
The centralised system of governance headed by the Ubimu or king is a custom carried from Bar-el-Gazel many generations ago according to Mr Jalusiga Kerupenja, the chief adviser to the current king Phillip Olarker Rauni III.
Becoming a king in Alur
While reflecting on the tradition of rule by the king following the eighth coronation anniversary of King Olarker, Kerupenja gives a well woven tale of bewildering insight into the Alur culture and how to become a king.
He says in Alur it is nyakacwiya (god) who is the provider of leadership.
“Kingship is inherited. If no one in your family has been a king, you cannot become one. When a prince relocates to another place, he becomes a king for that area,” he says.
If a king has many children, the royal family sits and decides which child becomes the next king.
The king also has the privilege to identify a child to succeed him. He gives that child a bead as a symbol of anointment by the king.
Upon the death of the king, the bead is buried together with him and preparations to enthrone his chosen successor commence immediately.
The hair apparent is taken to a special room known as Kuvugu where he spends three days receiving instructions he must follow from people from Padere clan.
The Padere clan people are said to be blessed by nyakacwiya with extraordinary abilities that no other Alur communities possess.
They tell the new king how to make fire. They cut a piece of green wood, pray over it and prick continuously with a dry stick. That process to ignite fire takes them three days.
On the third day when the fire is finally ignited, all the people living around the palace come to get the fire to use at their homes.
The fire-makers are rewarded with a cow and the king gets out of the room for coronation. He begins work immediately ruling through chiefs and with the help of a royal council.
Alur kings over the generations
Kerupenja says King Opodo had many children but when he died, his son Gipir whom the Alur consider to be their grandfather succeeded him.
Kerupenja does not recall the names of Gipir’s immediate successors but says his third successor was Nyira. Other former kings he recalls are Nziri Aluorunga.
He says Aluorunga was killed by the Panduru people from the present day DR Congo during inter-clan fight.
His death paved the way for Amula Achamfua to become the next Ubimu. From 1941 to 1978, the Alur leadership was headed by King Jalusiga Rauni II.
Ubimu Valente Keruyoma Jobi II took up the leadership from 1978. However instead of choosing a son to be a successor, Keruyoma’s preference fell on his grandchild Phillip Olarker.
When the king died in 2000 there was a vacuum as Olarker was away in London for studies. That allowed the adviser Kerupenja to become caretaker until the new king was enthroned in 2006.
The king’s official residence has been at Atyak Wi Nam since Ubimu Nyira’s time.
Though its cultural importance remains intact, the Atyak palace building said to have been constructed by Ubimu Jalusiga is dilapidated and the current king does not stay there.
Nonetheless, his 77-year-old aunt, Ms Ruth Yanijo continues to take care of the building and its compound laced with shrines.
At the veranda on the eastern side is a collection of old royal belonging of past monarchs. They include spears, stools, chairs, drums, walking sticks, xylophones, arrows and Wer which is a wooden container used for serving meat during merrymaking times.
Behind the palace building, there are many covered clay pots some of which are buried in the ground and others put on stones.
These pots are said to be containing glittering rain stones used by rainmakers to end prolonged draughts.
Mr John Uluba, the chairperson of the royal council and kingdom minister for tourism, wildlife and antiquities says the rain stones can move on their own and when a person comes across it, that person has to return the stone to the palace and in turn be given herbal medicine to protect from bad omen.
A long drum used for entertainment hangs on the southern door of the building that directly faces the tyel, an oval structure simply erected using reeds but combining both the kitchen and palace abattoir.
Inside the tyel are cooking stones and a ficus tree having a branch used for trapping the head of a cow or bull at the time of slaughtering it.
The palace premises is surrounded by ficus trees that also provide shed for meetings. After the main entrance, there are two ficus trees where general assembly of subjects and court sessions are conducted.
It is also the point where subjects gathered their donations at the start of a new harvest season in order to be blessed.
However when the royal courts find a person guilty, it is also at this spot that such a person is cursed.
Choice of Atyak
A cow is at the centre of the story of the king’s relocation from Nebbi and the choice to stay on the Atyak hill.
Quoting from oral history, the royal informants say Ubimu Nyira was the first king to settle at Atyak.
He had many cattle but one of the cows would always leave the herd and go grazing from Nebbi all the way to Nyanzolo in Okoro Pamach where it found a tasty clay.
After eating and resting on the clay, the cow returned to Nebbi with some of the clay stuck on its body.
One day the king decided to follow the cow to see the location of the clay his cow loved so much.
He discovered that the soil surrounding the clay area was fertile, the cows could graze on lush grassland and easily reach the tasty clay.
From the top of Atyak hill, the king also enjoyed the beautiful serenity of the surrounding area. This was when he chose to settle there.