July 23, 1972-1B Pokwo Church

01 Track 1B Pokwo church July 23 1972.mp3

Recording #1B

Place of Recording: Pokwo

Date of Recording: July 23, 1972


Informant: Paul Abulla and Agwa Alem

Date of Transcript: July 27, 1972

1 000 Obero.

Text: Praises of Jesus. He creates us again.

2 023 Obero.

Text: Only God whom we know.

3 034 Obero.

Text: He is among us and calling us.

Information: Fellow from Ebago.

4 056 Obero.

Text: Believe in only God.

5 074 Obero.

Text: When Jesus was nailed on the cross.

6 093 Obero.

Information: Written by Mary.

Text: Asking God to come and prepare us.

7 125 Agwaga.

Text: What was said by God is written in the Bible.

Information: Talks about the coming of God.

8 164 Agwaga.

Text: Looking for the coming of Jesus.

9 204 Agwaga.

Text: Word of God unites all the people.

10 220 Agwaga.

Text: You have to believe in God. If you believe in gods you are deceiving yourselves and will not go to Paradise. Don’t give beer to the gods by leaving it at the base of a tree.

11 249 Obero.

Information: Written by Mary.

Text: Jesus is the only one who can take away sins. Must believe in God before he returns so that you may go to Paradise.

12 301 Agwaga.

Text: All over the world, people believe in you.

13 386 Agwaga.

Information: New song. About the deliverance by Jesus.


(based on Interview of Missionary Contacts)

Retyped: July 25, 2019

This discussion will touch on a portion of the major thrust of my study. My major purpose was to record and analyze the music of these people and place it in the context of the social matrix. This is by no means a complete report. It is a report and study in progress and some of the views stated here will be subject to refinement as I continue to transcribe the interviews collected. But generally speaking, what is reported here is accurate to the best of my knowledge and is new information of a tribe that had been hitherto unstudied and unreported in any anthropological depth.

During the many hours sitting in the sun and listening to the recordings of numerous songs, various themes kept reoccurring. These themes deal with what is important to the Anuak. They deal with things that make the Anuak what he is. It is my belief that the music of the Anuak contains much of what is socially vital of the society. It contains much if not all of the history of the tribe. The music of the Anuak, I contend is one of the major sources of education for the youth of the tribe. By studying the music of the tribe, we can discover attitudes concerning many things. We can discover attitudes towards others, other clans, the other sex, the rich. We can discover what things are important to the Anuak: food, pride, fulfilling a pledge, status in a status less society. We can discover the Anuaks attitude toward God as they have come to know Him by the types of songs, they sing to him, the way the language is couched. We can discover the history of the various villages through their war songs, who was brave who was foolish, why they fought, and who was victorious. We can discover the attitude of the people toward the authorities by what is said in the songs. It is said that the Anuak will sing the truth though they might not tell the truth. If you really want to know what really happened, listen to their songs.

I will present the words of several songs and trace their implications as discovered by my interviewing and observations.


The Anuak are one of the few tribes, and to my knowledge the only tribe who have adapted their traditional music to admit words and music that is suitable for worship and praise. The overriding general rule has been that a missionary would forbid the signing of the traditional music and the playing of the traditional instruments and instead give the natives "something better" to sing which was to frequently the music of the West. Ignoring the fact that a particular tribe might sing with a completely different scale and that the words inherent in the songs may not apply at all to the experiences of the people., one finds these songs still relevant among the tribes of Africa. The tunes are generally bent out of all recognition, the words are frequently totally unsuitable (witness the singing of the Amhara young people who have been converted from the Orthodox faith, singing “Give me that old time religion” the very religion they have been turned from.

But the Anuak under the encouragement of the enlightened missionaries in the area have developed and continue to develop a hymnody based on Anuak idioms and sung to the accompaniment of not a reed organ but rather two or three drums which is the common experience of the people in village life. These drum hymns generally take two forms. One type is the Obero. An Obero is generally sung for the chief of a village. It is a song of praise to a chief either alive or dead. In the song, the singer will tell the difficulties of the person, his poorness and his need. The chief will be praised. His kindness, goodness and greatness will be expounded. Likewise, the Obero as used in worship follows similar patterns. But I this case, the Chief is not the chief if the village but God.

The other commonly found style of singing in church is the Agwaga. These are often war songs and speak of the bravery of the chief in the fighting and of the ones in fighting. The Agwaga is frequently used to request something from the chief as well.

The rhythmic aspects of these two forms of music is found in the music of the church as well. The Obero beat and the Agwaga beat are easily recognizable in the drums and they are similar in the same kind of beat used in the village for secular purposes. In our discussion thus far, we have found that the implications of the form of the music the Obero and the Agwaga, stipulates songs of praise to a chief of some type. These songs of praise discuss the greatness of the chief and discount and criticize his enemies. Likewise, these songs are frequently songs of request mentioning the poorness of the individual making the rust using the words, “I [m begging you…”

Further implications of these hymns can be found by a study of the words.

Tape 15A, Place: Pokwo, Date of the recording, July 15, 1972. Performers: Pokwo church congregation, date of transcript: September 16, 1972.

#4 092 Anuak hymnbook #85. Obero type, by Mary Akela.

Text: All people, let us ask God, confess to him that we have done. Jesus the son of God is the chief of heaven. But the Devil is a thief. He has no home or kingdom at all. You are the king of heaven as well as our helper. When the end will come, we will hear trumpets and odolla (a drum beat for a king). Because we were in darkness, we want you to take us into the light. You men and you girls pray to God for there you find happiness.

1A Pokwo, July 2, 1972. Transcript May 25, 1973, Obero.

14:260 Jesus is a sympathetic person and the son of God. He is the precious treasure in heaven. He is the chief all of all things and I’m begging him still, God unties all villages in the name of Jesus. When Jesus carried the cross, he carried the cross for our sins. I continue to beg you Jesus who is our father and mother at the same time.

1A 20 370 Agwaga. God who blesses, why don’t you clear away the sins so we can be clean and good. Any person who believes in Satan will be destroyed. Satan is the snake who cheats us. When the drum is beaten while we are praying, we are praising god who is the teacher. He gives us faith. All people must believe in him strongly. The devil is teasing those who are making beer for them. Refuse to believe the gods of the earth. Because you will suffer in the fire and painful death. The savior who is the father is in heaven. I will like to beg h15A 6 190 (same as above) Agwaga. These two songs are the same but were translated by different informants at different ties. Note similarities and differences: God, why don’t you destroy sins. Then we will become healthy or good. Satan, then you will be destroyed. A snake, the animal of the forest has deceived us. We have eaten the fruit. Still the people make beer and sing. When the drum is beaten, we sing to God. All of us, let us believe in him, and trust him. He’s going to return sometime. The Devil is a thief, He’s deceiving you. You are making beer for him. You love the worldly idols. You will find death pain, etc. but the savior is still in heaven. I will ask him, when he comes, he will wash our sins.

As was mentioned before, the statement of let’s ask God or beg God is very common in this culture. It is noted that begging is found in both the Agwaga and Obero type of song. There is little distinction between the types of the hymns with the form and the drum beat being the overriding distinction rather than the content of the songs which seem to be quite similar.

The begging of the chief is a characteristic of the Anuak. The Anuak by their very name are the people who share. It is considered very immoral to be selfish. Everything the Anuak has is held in common and no man can say that this is mine. Because the system is one of egalitarianism at the lowest level of equality, the system destroys initiative if one man is ambitious and may grow more than he can eat, he can’t claim that grain without the permission of the rest of the clan. In the meantime, the lazy can claim the grain.

The relationships between individuals is that of reciprocity. A person does something in order to make the person indebted because they can then be used. Individuals who are poor in the village will begin to hang around the chief’s compound seeking to make themselves useful to the chief in hopes that he may reward them. Likewise, a songwriter will prepare a song, teach it to the village and inform the chief that he is ready to sing it to him in which he praises the chief and begs him for his needs and for the needs of others. The chief then is obligated to reward the song maker and many of the village with a cow or gift of money or bride price. The chief is often the source of bride price for a poor man or the source of food and drink for the villagers.

"Then the time will come when we will hear trumpets and odolla." Not all villages have trumpets. That is Italian bugles left over from the war. But those that do have them take great pride in them and use them chiefly not as musical instruments but more as to create a blaring expression of happiness or attention. Whenever the chief walks he is preceded by fellows carrying drums beating them in a stately fashion in time to the stately walk of the king. In addition, the bugle will be blared to announce the arrival of the king or the chief. Each village has a chief and there is not much difference between the connotation of the chief or king except that in the Gilo river area it is more common to call the men in power kings and in the burra to call them chiefs. The Christian application of the return of Christ preceded by the blaring of trumpets with addition of the beating of the Anuak drums is quite fitting.

"God unites all villages in the name of Jesus." The unit of government in the Anuak area is the village. Each village has its own chief and hierarchy of leaders. Each chief determines that with the advice and consent of those who advise him, the rules for his village and mete out the justice for that village. In the past one clan would dominate a village with another village close by being dominated by another clan and would have little to do with each other. Fighting is very common in the area. Not so much now though as recently as 6 months ago, I heard reports of serious fighting between villages with several deaths resulting. The killing of one will result in revenge and frequently the killing of two with a spiral of harm done over a long period of time. It is a very real need for God to unite all villages.

“…who is our father and mother at the same time.” This seems to be a common statement in Ethiopia. My servants considered me as such. The Anuaks consider the chief as such. There is no sexual implication simply the matter or caring for and feeding the individual which often is the duty of the chief.

"Satan is the snake who cheats us. He is a thief." Satan is usually pictured this way. The people have close contact with the cobra and other land creatures in this humid and high grass area. These animals are feared and for good reason. The system of justice in this area is quite thorough and quick. The chief with his advisors acts quickly and a thief is severely punished by having to pay a cow or goat, or by beating or by ostracism from the village. Because the people have a little and because they are expected to share, what they have, thievery is especially condemned. (though we found it to be quite endemic against the white missionary).

"The people make beer and sing." One of the major problems in this area is the problem of drunkenness. The major crop is corn which is usually prepared as a mush as the staple food. In a time of plenty or relative plenty, the corn is rather prepared as home brew beer. This is the common drink, and the accepted beverage for all dances and get togethers held by the chief. Frequently the great use of beer causes shortage of corn for food and a resultant period of famine once or twice a year before the next crop is ready. In addition, beer is frequently the base of much of the fighting that takes place in the village particularly between age sets. The Anuak considers the firing of a gun to hunt birds to e a waste of shells but he will freely fire it off to celebrate at a dance with a full supply of beer mixed in, the combination becomes dangerous as the clinic attests.

"Refuse to believe in the gods of the earth." The creation story of the Anuak as well as information we mentioned by my informants imply that their lesser deities are importations from the Nuer though they are probably a part of their basic culture. The say, “We just worshipped God till the Nuers came and bothered us and the Nuers say, “We just worshiped God till the Dinka’s came and bothered us.” Nevertheless, the normal day- to-day religion is based on their concept of spiritual animism. Everything is animated with spirits. A table has a spirit. Because everything is animated with spirits that is why no two things in the world are alike. It’s not difficult to prove that everything has a spirit because you can hear it. Just hit the table and you will hear the voice of the table. To appease the spirit of the chair, the Anuak will spit on the chair (his spirit goes to the spirit of the chair) so he won’t fall off the chair. He will sit on his spear and perhaps dip it in blood so that it will hit the target. After the spear has left his hand, what could possibly control it but the spirit of the spear. The Anuak has no concept about dynamics or motion or momentum.