Agwagas & Oberos

AGWAGAS A dominant traditional form of music among the Anuak is the Agwaga, frequently a song of war. these are robustly sung by the villagers and have several uses.

  • A War Song. The Agwaga may be a war song commemorating the fighting of some time in the past, indicating the bravery of the fighters and including warnings to the defeated village about the strength of the victorious village. Village pride is encouraged by the Agwaga. The Agwaga provides a medium to ridicule the village that has been defeated, it may talk about the greatness of the victorious village, the people that live in it, building village pride. After a battle has been fought, the Agwaga will include the names of those who exercised themselves valiantly in battle, providing a catalog of the brave.

  • Praise to the Chief. The singer, in an orderly fashion dictated by hierarchy, praises the chief, the chief's wives, the members of the Jo Burra, advisors, and other important people in the community. In praising the people, the singer hopes to gain something for himself and for those who are participating in the song and the attendant dance and ceremony.

  • Warnings and Advice. As other songs, the Agwaga is not performed by itself. It is connected with an event of dancing, drinking, and feasting. The Agwaga may also include warnings and instructions to the people about upcoming fighting or contain words of advice to the chief and to the leaders about the proper running of the village. The Agwaga can be a vehicle for recounting various social ills, such as the presence of liars and gossipers in the community. The Agwaga may be used as an advice-giving method that is accepted and sanctioned.

  • An Historical Record. The Agwaga records and relates history. It is used as a means of transmitting cultural norms. It has educational value. Agwagas recount the history of only the village in which they are sung. Names of important people and their lineage will be traced backwards. The Agwaga commemorates the fighting of the village and its success in the past. The history of the tribe does not extend back much further than the memory of the oldest singer and so one cannot go back much before the Italian occupation (early 1940s). Nevertheless, the Agwagas do contain the history of the tribe in a vital and still living way.


OBEROS The other dominant traditional form of music is the Obero. The Obero is a song for the chief. It is usually in praise to the chief but may also praise others in the area, particularly those of influence and importance. An important function of many Oberos is that of a lament for a dead chief or king. One way or the other, the Obero is a vehicle by which the chief and important personages can be remembered.

  • Praise and Lament: The chief is praised as well as others in the circle of the chief. The others are specified in order of priority and are expected to reciprocate the singer for this honor. The singer makes his own poorness known to all who hear. The Obero is a part of the larger dancing situation and therefore provides an opportunity for recreation and celebration for the people. Oberos are composed for a chief who is old or for one who has died. In this form, oberos become laments, eulogizing the greatness of the chief, and his deeds of valor.

  • Accepted Criticism: Oberos may contain portions of advice to the chief and the villagers. They may contain comments on the condition of the chief's rule, on the shape of his village, and what he should do about the various social ills that the singer perceives to be present. The singer may suggest to the chief that he could improve in his running of the village. He may suggest that there are problems in the village, that there are certain ones who are causing difficulty and should be dealt with. The singer has a socially accepted way to give advice to chiefs and others, and to alert the people to certain social ills in the society. The singer acts as a critic and advisor from the inside and yet with a voice that is heard loud and clear. What he says is accepted because it is sung.

  • Historical Record: Animal names are mentioned throughout the songs. This process is a form of praise and provides a way of naming not only the individuals present but a way of remembering their ancestors. The texts of Oberos are filled with the names of villagers. In fact, entire songs can be built on the names of individual's with praise and the requests of the singer entwined. The texts of the Obero may also contain references to the brave of the village and comment of battles that have been fought. Therefore, the Obero is used basically as a song of praise or remembrance for a chief but also serves peripheral functions as do all other songs among the Anuak.