Can the Acholi Ritual of Ryemo Gemo End Coronavirus?

By David Martin ALIKER

Credit: GULUspeaks Online Poster

The world is silently in tears, mourning and starring; hoping to make meaning from the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As Christians seek divine intervention, Scientist are busy in their laboratories inventing vaccines for the virus. Traditionalists, have resorted to their traditional cosmology to make meaning of the virus.

In Gulu,residents performed the Acholi cultural ritual of ”Ryemo Gemo.” This continued to many other districts in Acholi sub region.

Gulu’s silent streets were broken with noise from residents banging jerricans, basins and other loud objects from homestead to homestead cursing the demon  Corona virus (COVID-19) to go away.

Many good Christians questioned their wisdom and knowledge of science if this cultural ritual can help keep Coronavirus (COVID-19) away.

Gene Luen Yang once said, ”Religion and culture are two important ways in which we as humans find our identity.” Some millennials with shallow roots in their identity and cosmology treated this as modern-day madness.

So will this ritual ever help in the fight against Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

What is Ryemo Gemo in Acholi?

Different people understand Ryemo Gemo differently depending on how old you are, the source of your knowledge and your upbringing.

In this article, I will borrow from an Acholi elder, William Okidi(London)whose expertise in understanding Acholi cosmology is publicly reputable.

In his Facebook post, March 30 2020, he wrote  an in-depth and very insightful post.

According to Okidi, traditionally Acholi called pandemics that are not well known Gemo. Acholi believed they were caused by malevolent spirits.

In this case, elders in consultation with cultural leaders mobilized every homestead to prepare with calabashes, animal hides and skin, containers, saucepans and any other items that can make loud noise.

They would then begin to bang this item at a particular time and day from ones homestead, and it could cover miles and miles of homesteads and curse the malevolent spirits that brought  the pandemic.

As Charles Colson would say, culture is religion incarnate.Acholi believed, such pandemics come as punishment by malevolent spirits as a result of the immorality of individuals or the community.

It would urge them to cleans themselves with the living and spiritual world through rituals and keep away from social immorality.Likewise, some Christians also say suffering is the wages of sin.

Historically, this ritual were performed when measles, chickenpox, smallpox, and syphilis pandemics were experienced for the first time.

”The patients were not allowed to move and meet willingly. The public were cautioned from touching the sick, just like Coronavirus patients. As a result, chicken pox was called  ”gwok Iguda”(Okidi William, 2020). Gwok Iguda literally means don’t touch me.

Acholi referred to those who touched the sick with the pandemic who eventually got sick as , ”oyee nyac pa lakware.” Literally meaning, a patients sacrifice has led to syphilis from his grandchildren.

Normally, elders were the ones who sacrificed their proximity to patients which is similar to sacrificing to die while treating the patient; just like with Coronavirus, choices are being made on who can risk to die to keep others safe.

Understanding African cosmology?

African Cosmology is simply the way Africans perceive, conceive and contemplate their universe; the lens through which they see reality, which affects their value systems and attitudinal orientations.

It is the African’s search for the meaning of life, and natural tendency to arrive at a unifying base that frames meaning to them.

This thinking is what holds the African value system ,philosophy and concepts of life intact.

Gemo as Acholi Cosmology

In a report on Roco Wat I Acholi by Liu Institute of Global Studies,Gulu District NGO Forum, Ker Kwaro Acholi,  contends that  traditionally Acholi believe in the world of the “living-dead” and divine spirits hence malevolent spirits too.

Their belief in this world plays a significant role in shaping how Acholi see the role of malevolent spirits in upholding community values.

What is the Wisdom in Ryemo Gemo?

Why do Africans turn to their roots whenever faced with a challenge that seem to defy prayer and science?

Acholi cosmology and wisdom as evidenced above results from centuries of a historical experiences of  learning adopted to cultures and traditions.

The Acholi logic of Ryemo Gemo during pandemics is in its belief, wisdom, and logic tested over centuries.

The African Wisdom in Ryemo Gemo is that in the face of any pandemic, banging items mobilizes awareness of the community about the pandemic and reminds elders of every home to prepare for this pandemic.

Every homestead gets to know what the reasons for banging of items and what is being cursed. This information automatically prioritizes the pandemic just like the during Lockdowns.

The stay at home campaign is no different from ”Gwok Iguda” literally meaning don’t touch me; because by staying at home you limit contact in the community in the face of a pandemic which could increase prevalence.This has been successful in the past.

This is the same wisdom World Health Organization(WHO) is mobilizing us to stay safe by staying at home.

Ryemo Gemo calls on every one to be united, and listen to their cultural leaders. Similarly, in the coronavirus fight; we are called to unite and listen to our leaders.The theme is, let’s fight Coronavirus TOGETHER.

Conclusively, the WHO logic of Keep Safe, Stay Home and let’s fight Coronavirus TOGETHER is exactly the Acholi wisdom of Ryemo Gemo and helps in the fight of  Coronavirus.

The Blogger is an Opinion Leader based in Gulu. Email: mdaliker@gmail.com

Published by La’Gulu

Aliker is the author of My Mayor (The Political Story of a Poor Elite and Rich Illitrate). Aliker is well spoken, a Blogger, Social Media Geek and an Alumni of Makerere University, Uganda Management Institute, Gulu University and University of San Diego-USA respectively.

6 thoughts on “Can the Acholi Ritual of Ryemo Gemo End Coronavirus?

  1. Loki owoto kore ki kore omiyo anyang maber tutwal kabedo pa tekwaro wa I cwiny wilobo. Apwoyi pi bedo ki cwiny me moyo coc man atyer iwii yamo bot yalwak me Kare man. Apwoyo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good article Martin. The challenge with literal translation from Acoli to English is that true meaning of what is being translated is lost. You may need to explain rather than literally translate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Last night I heard the President in his Address cautioning Acholi leaders about these practices.

    “Ryemo Gemo,” I don’t think I can pronounce it well as my friend Apio. Be it as it may, We all are aware of the controversies science, religion and tradition carry against one another. The three barely dine together nor even never.

    I will relate the banging of sound instruments like jerricans, calabashes, saucepans etc to modern-day Advertising. The two create awareness on specified issue and the message is easily disseminated to the targeted audience. Traditionally, African Traditional Society used drums, flutes for communications equivalent to day’s Radio, TV, Internet, Newspapers n Magazines etc.

    By so doing, Ryemo Gemo is a basic medium channel to create awareness and sensitization of the people to fight against this novel corona virus pandemic in the Acholi region as long as the leaders the rules of social / physical distance are not violated

    Gwok Iguda too is as smart as the No Handshakes campaign. By practicing the Don’t touch me campaign, we limit the risks of the spread of COVID-19.

    What’s important is ensuring the Acholi leaders, People observe the guidelines as prescribed by the MoHUg, government, WHO and other stakeholders. I believe, they also love serving healthy people.

    For God and My Country

    Liked by 1 person

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