Although listed in the third schedule of the constitution as one of the 65 indigenous communities in Uganda as of February 1, 1926, the Lendu were a relatively unknown people.
However the deadly Lendu-Bahima intertribal conflict that erupted inside the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2000 and spread to engulf parts of West Nile in 2002 propelled the Lendu on to the limelight.
Following the nasty war that also sucked in the Alur, the Lendu decided to revive their foregone centralised system of cultural governance under the paramount chief known as Paydja, a feat achieved in 2005 with the help of cross-cultural foundation.
The Lendu are currently under the leadership of Paydja Manasi Njuni Rapiya II, whose palace enclosed by a circular fence of ficus trees and dry reed is situated 2km from the Uganda-DR Congo border at Ullu central village next to Galaju market in Akaa Sub County, Ora County in Zombo district.
Who are the Lendu?
The original name of the Lendu people is Ndruja according to Mr Mark Utuga, a teacher who is also spearheading the translation of the New Testament from English to the Ledu vernacular known as Ntrulo, a Sudanic group of language closely related to Lugbara, Madi and Kebu.
He says it was the Alur who gave the now popular nickname Lendu to them to mean the neglected people.
Delving into oral tradition, Mr Utuga traces the origin of the Lendu to Ethiopia. He says their ancestors moved from the horn of Africa to Bar-el-Garzel, then to Northern Uganda and eventually to Eastern DR Congo.
He describes the Lendu as fearful people who migrated at night using moonlight in order to avoid coming into contact with hostile people.
They crossed the river Nile via Wadelai under three groups, two of which went deep inside the DR Congo. These were the Nyali and Vira while the last group comprising the Yaa and Ruu under the leadership of Chirr remained in Uganda.
When the Alur arrived later on under a more centralised and powerful organisation, they subdued the Lendu who became palace workers.
Legend has it that the Ledu, Kebu and Madi ancestors were brothers and all iron workers. However the Lendu and Madi ancestors liked drinking alcohol so much that one day they went on a drinking spree, leaving behind their brother who became the ancestor of the Kebu.
When they came back, they found that their place for blacksmithing had burned down. They therefore took to cultivation, leaving blacksmithing and iron working to the Kebu.
The Lendu grew pumpkins that were their staple food. They also specialised in crafts making such as winnowing pans, food covers, wooden stools and four cornered baskets.
It is this handcraft that the ageing queen Elsaba Oroya has perfected as her lifetime passion.
However the establishment of the Lendu forest by the colonial government as a result of an understanding with the Rwoth of Alur in 1943 severely affected the Lendu way of life as the forest largely took all their cultivable land.
It displaced people without compensation that some of the Lendu had to migrate to Buliisa, Hoima, Masindi, Pakwach, Arua, Nebbi and other parts of Zombo.
Those that persisted to live on the fringes of the forest have remained in a state of constant tension with the National Forestry Authority.
The Lendu had a strong belief in deity known as Guw (god). They practiced traditional religion characterised by offering of sacrifices.
When a new baby is born, the mother would carry the baby and move round the homestead as the local religious leader accompanied her with a flame of fire.
They cycled the homestead three times if the baby was a boy and four times if the baby was a girl. This was done as a way of confirming that the baby was indeed a Lendu and not a child conceived through extramarital affair with a non Lendu fiancé.
If the child’s father was a non Lendu and the mother did not reveal his identity, it was believed that such a child would die after this ritual.
For every new-born child, a shrine was constructed near the door and at the appearance of the new moon, the child was taken to that shrine and fire hoisted above his or her head to prevent demons from attacking the child.
At the beginning of the harvest season, the first harvest was taken to the shrine and offered to the Guw for thanksgiving.
To seek blessings for a person or a child, the parent brought food that elders would eat and sprinkle the water they used for washing hands on that person seeking blessings.
This same ritual was conducted for a girl getting married.
Courtship and marriage
The Lendu viewed marriage as a uniting factor. It was the aunt or the uncle of a boy who identified a bride for him.
The boy had no right to object to any identified girl but rather married her without any complaints when the girl accepted the marriage proposal.
The boy’s family was required to pay dowry of either 12 heads of cattle or granaries of pumpkin before the girl was handed to the bridegroom to consummate their marriage.
Divorce was permissible if the woman turned out to be a witch otherwise a girl already married was not allowed to separate with the husband as culture prohibited refund of dowry.
When a husband dies his brother becomes the next husband of the widow with the expectation that he would look after the orphans.