The history of Uganda is laced with rich folklore and legendary stories told to toddlers from time immemorial. The story of Gipir and Labongo, referred to as the Legend of the Spear and the Bead is one of the tales that throws light onto the history of the Luo of Uganda, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sadly for most adults today, the Legend of the spear and the bead is blurred from our memory because it is a tale told far back in Social studies classes in lower primary school. The context of the story is a sad one- a story about how the Luo, who originally existed as one people, were torn apart by the forces of jealousy, revenge, grief and disagreement.
Once upon a time, there were two brothers Gipir (Nyipir) and Labongo (Nyabongo), the latter being the elder who lived with their father. When their father was old and feeble, he knew that his time on earth was fast coming to an end and he would not live long so he called his two sons to his bed-side. He handed over a precious and beautifully adorned ancestral spear to Labongo because he (Labongo) was the eldest son and had the birthright to the Luo chief-Dom. The spear as a weapon, symbolized Labongo’s obligation to protect his people against any attacks from external forces.
Sooner rather than later, the father passed on, leaving the clan to the authoritarian leadership of Labongo. The clan lived in peace for a very long time, cultivating their fertile gardens and planting peas, maize and other crops with the help of the river Nile which provided them fresh water.
However, one fateful day, while Labongo was away on a hunting expedition, an elephant invaded the clan fields and begun destroying crops. All the natives scampered in fear for safety and the resultant chaos awoke Gipir into action, with a quick dash into the house, he picked a spear and courageously threw it at the gigantic beast, making it flee in panic.
What followed was a huge celebration by the natives who praised Gipir for his heroic effort, but in the middle of all the funfair, Labongo returned home. The latter was filled with envy and fury for the mandate to safeguard the clan which was his pride and had been bestowed upon him had been eclipsed. All hell broke loose when it was realized that the ancestral spear was also missing , Gipir had used it to stab the elephant which fled with it stuck in its back side.
What had started as a joyous celebration immediately turned somber as Labongo, filled with rage, was not about to pardon his brother, he demanded that Gipir go and search for his regal spear.
Left with no choice, Gipir left his home and family, and wandered the woods for years but never got any luck. Just when he was about to give up and die of hunger and weariness, he was rescued by an elderly woman who nursed and fed him back to good health.
After regaining his energy, the search and wondering still continued for him until one day when he finally got lucky. In a pile of mammoth elephant bones, he uncovered the long lost spear, still looking lustrous like nothing had ever happened to it.
Sadly, Gipir had to leave the elderly woman, to whom he had gotten so close, and get back to his home and people. As a sign of love, the elderly woman gave him a souvenir-a very beautiful set of beads to go with.
When Gipir got home, everyone was shocked that he was still alive after all those years he had been away and like the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Labongo was quite delighted to see his brother and threw a feast to welcome him back.
Gipir always treasured the beads that his friend had given to him and he usually strung up different ornaments with them. One day as he was doing that, one of the children playing around him accidentally swallowed one of the beads, and it turned out that it was Labongo’s youngest and favorite daughter.
Gipir, still filled with ire for what Labongo had done to him, looked at this as a perfect opportunity to get his revenge. He demanded that Labongo find his bead immediately and by all means whether it meant cutting the child’s belly to recover it, which is what Labongo had to do eventually.
Overcome by grief for the loss of his beloved child, Labongo could no longer stay with Gipir. They had to part ways so they planted an axe at a point where the Nile passes Pakwach at a place called Wang-Lei symbolizing their separation. Gipir and his family crossed over to the Western side of the Nile and there, established the Alur tribe. Labongo remained on the Eastern side and established the Acholi tribe.
These tribes continued to expand in subsequent generations and occupied parts of Kenya and Congo (DRC) to date. It is therefore little wonder that these tribes to date still share similar dialects and customs.