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Uganda Table of Contents


Yakan Religion

One of the most successful millenarian religions in Uganda was the Yakan cult, which arose in Sudan in the late nineteenth century. Leaders from Kakwa society (whose territory extends across the Uganda-Sudan border) traveled south in search of protection against epidemics, Arab slave caravans, and European military forces, all of which were sweeping Kakwa society in the 1890s. They returned home from the neighboring Lugbara territory with spring water they called "the water of Yakan." To those who drank it, they promised restored health, eternal life, and the return of the ancestors and dead cattle. In Kakwa society, Yakan leaders promised protection from bullets, and many Yakan leaders predicted the arrival of wagonloads of rifles to drive out all Europeans.

When sleeping sickness ravaged Lugbara society in 1911, Lugbara leaders sought out the Yakan prophets. One of them-- Rembe--traveled to Uganda and dispensed the water of Yakan. He was subsequently deported to Sudan and executed in 1917. With its new martyr, the cult flourished. When the British administration declared the sect illegal, people built shrines inside the walls of their homesteads, and believers used Yakan water to provide what they believed was spiritual protection against British patrols. The ban on the Yakan religion was impossible to enforce, and when it was lifted, Yakan believers felt their faith was vindicated.

As the religion developed, people began to use trance and speaking in tongues to strengthen and demonstrate their faith. In some areas, Yakan leaders appointed their followers to positions of prestige, and, as their power increased, a gradual reorganization of villages began to take place. Religious notables exercised political authority, and eventually they became so oppressive that their followers revolted. Colonial troops came in to restore peace, and the Yakan religion declined in influence but did not disappear. Promises of a millennium continued to arise in similar form in the 1980s.

Data as of December 1990