Anuak Legacy

I'm David Osterlund. After 11 years of public school teaching in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I and my family taught for 4 years (1969-1973) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia, I developed the first indigenous hymn book of the Amhara people. We also were able to live among the Anuak people for a very full summer and study their music and culture. Now, 50 years later I am able to share many of my cultural and musical findings of this complex and rewarding society. (After all, the word ANUAK means to share).

The Anuak are a crop growing, Nilotic tribe with population estimated at 50,000 who inhabit a territory along the southwestern borders of Ethiopia. In 1972-73 I spent a summer living in Pokwo (near Gambela) making audio recordings, taking photographs, holding interviews, and generally getting to know about this remarkable group of people. Now, many years later, I return to my field notes, interviews, translations, audio recordings, and photos so I can share this legacy with the Anuak living in the United States as well as those still in their homeland.

This Web site includes all that went into the research process. Additionally, the results of that research are now summarized in The Anuak Legacy, a 2022 updating of the thesis prepared in 1978. Here you can find more about the Anuak tribe, its long history connected to the ancient past, and its current history fraught with war and resettlement. You can explore the social and cultural characteristics of the Anuak people - discovering how they viewed and interacted with their world, and how their music revealed their history, beliefs, and folkways. There is material here for the linguist, the historian, and the casual reader.

I hope that you will find this experience to be enriching as you explore lullabies, hymns, love songs, dancing songs, boasting songs, songs in praise to the chief and war songs. You will find idea- for- idea translations of all of the songs and in several cases, word-for-word translations. In several occasions more than one translation is included. Most of the texts are as my informant stated - as the recording was played back in second language English. Those interested in research, culture, history, and language will find much to explore. I expect that the texts of the songs will reveal the culture and the history of villages and individuals, and be a source of discovery and pride for the present day Anuak culture. If you have comments that you would like to share with me, I can be reached at; or

July 27, 1972 - Village of Tierlul, Nyigwo Nyang singing Love Songs

  1. The Anuak Legacy of Music includes songs to be used as -

  • Hymns

  • Lullabies and children songs

  • Love songs

  • Dancing songs

  • Marching songs

  • Oberos

  • Agwagas

July 27, 1972 - Tierlul - I am recording a fine young (about 12) singer, Nyigwo Nyang as he sings love songs accompanying himself on a gallon gasoline-can being used as a drum. The men are sitting around watching me, this stranger, with his microphone and recorder - they have never seen anything like this before. When the tape runs out, I play it back so everyone can hear to their delight as Nyigwo sings and plays again on the tape. Day after day for 6 weeks, I did this over and over as musicians came to sing and play.

2. We can explore the use of instruments including -

  • Membranophones

  • Idiophones

  • Chordophones

  • Aerophones

3. We can review the complete collection chronologically


LIVING AND EXPLORING: From 1969 till 1973, my family lived in Ethiopia. I taught school at the American Community School in Addis Ababa for the first two years and at the Good Shepherd School also in Addis for the last two years. During that time, I was enrolled in the Music Education Doctorate program at the University of Illinois. In searching out a topic for a Thesis, I was drawn to the music of the Ethiopian cultures. With the permission and encouragement of my Advisors Dr. Charles Leonhard and Dr. Richard Colwell, I chose a tribe to study while I lived in Ethiopia. I determined that the tribe should have the following qualities:

1. The tribe should be accessible;

2. The tribe should have a body of musical expression;

3. The tribe should be in an area with well-defined borders and of a known and limited size;

4. The tribe should be little studied;

5. Acculturation should be minimal.

The tribe that met these requirements was the Anuak tribe of Southwestern Ethiopia.

RECORDING AND STUDYING: And so for a period of 6 weeks in 1972 and a follow-up week visit in January 1973, we lived in Pokwo and made our recordings. Then for a year, virtually every Saturday morning I sat with Agwa Alemo and Paul Abulla analyzing song content, translating every audio recording. Later, I transcribed interviews with area experts, and got melodic analysis assistance from Minnesota gifted musicians Joseph Waters and Ruth Stuck Landin. All of that and much more resulted in the publishing of my thesis: The Anuak Tribe of South Western Ethiopia. A Study of Its Music Within the Context of Its Socio-Cultural Setting, as a part of my degree of Doctor of Education in Music from the University of Illinois in 1977. Now with the invaluable assistance of Mark Henderson, (Academic Technology Manager at University of Northwestern, St. Paul, Minnesota) this website will provide the opportunity for many to learn more about this vibrant Anuak culture.

DISCOVERING AND CONNECTING: Now, almost 50 years later, I again live in Minnesota and have found that over 4,000 of the Anuak folk have moved to the Midwest and the Twin City area to begin a new life - after escaping from the unsettled Ethiopian conditions of 2003 when many of their relatives and fellow Anuak fell to the evils of genocide. I have had opportunity to play recordings (found in the Focus section of this Site) describe the music and show pictures to local gatherings of the Anuak culture. Excitement is present as the folks here recognize a relative or hear a musical form which is still being used in the present day.

RENEWING AND CELEBRATING: So now, in this year of 2020, a time of civil and ethnic unrest and in the midst of the Covid Pandemic, what can be more appropriate but to present to the reader and listener a piece of history which lives again in pictures, sounds and words. It is a history that has remained alive and has thrived not only in the folks along the Baro River on the border of Ethiopia and the Sudan, but thrives and grows in the folks who now live along the Mississippi River in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest. This is truly a LEGACY worth knowing about and worth encouraging and celebrating.