Country Listing

Uganda Table of Contents



The Iteso (people of Teso) are an acculturated branch of the Eastern Nilotic language speakers. With roughly 8.1 percent of the population of Uganda, they are believed to be the nation's second largest ethnic group. Teso territory stretches south from Karamoja into the well-watered region of Lake Kyoga. The traditional economy emphasizes crop growing. Many Iteso joined Uganda's cash economy when coffee and cotton were introduced in 1912, and the region has thrived through agriculture and commerce.

Traditional Teso settlements consist of scattered homesteads, each organized around a stockade and several granaries. Groups of homesteads are united around a hearth, where men who form the core of the settlement gather for ritual and social purposes. These groups usually consist of patrilineally related males, whose wives, children, and other relatives form the remainder of the settlement. Several groups of lineages form a clan. Clans are only loosely organized, but clan elders maintain ritual observances in honor of their ancestors. Men of the clan consult the elders about social customs, especially marriage. Much of the agricultural work is performed by women. Women may also own land and granaries, but after the introduction of cash-crop agriculture, most land was claimed by men and passed on to their sons.

All Iteso men within a settlement, both related and unrelated, are organized according to age. Each age-set spans fifteen to twenty years, providing a generational framework for sharing the work of the settlement. Age-sets exercise social control by recognizing status distinctions based on seniority, both between and within age groups. They also share responsibility for resolving disputes within the settlement or among neighboring settlements.

The small population of Kumam people living on the western border of Teso are historically related to the Iteso, but the Kumam have adopted many cultural features of their neighbors to the west, the Langi. The Kumam economy is based on mixed farming and cotton, but little other information was available regarding their culture in the 1980s.

Data as of December 1990