Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Bagisu or Gisu live on the western slopes of the now extinct volcano Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda. Lugisu (Masaba), the language of the Bagisu, is a Bantu language in the larger Niger-Congo group of languages. The economy is based on sedentary agriculture, with some raising of cattle, goats, and sheep. In pre-colonial days (prior to 1900) settlements were built high on the mountainside for defensive purposes. With the pacification of the region, settlements have spread into the valleys and plains. Traditional territorial units ranged from the neighborhood, to the village, the village cluster, and the district. The twentieth century socio-political unit is the parish.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection, and are reference by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Bagisu collection consists of three documents, all in English, covering a time span from the late nineteenth century to approximately 1989. A concise summary of most major features of Bagisu ethnography from around the 1890s to 1954, will be found in LaFontaine (1959, no. 1). This is further supplemented by the data found in Roscoe (1924, no. 2), dealing with information from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. While this latter document does contain some unique cultural data, LaFontaine questions the validity of some of Roscoe's information (e.g., the existence of cannibalism among the Bagisu). Roscoe also projects a certain degree of ethnocentrism in dealing with his data, as for example in his statement that "the Bagesu tribe of Mount Elgon is one of the most primitive of the negro tribes of Africa..." (Roscoe, 1924, l). Heald's monograph on the Bagisu based on the author's fieldwork in Central Bugisu from 1965-1969 (Heald, 1989, no.3), is a detailed study of the various ways in which violence is expressed in Bagisu society and the manner in which it is brought under control. This document presents data on the reputation and history of violence among the Bagisu, statistics on homicide, the association of violence with manhood and the expression of anger, the ordeal of circumcision, behavior and treatment of witches and thieves, hostility management in the community, and the establishment of vigilante groups and drinking companies to control violence.

This culture summary, synopsis, and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in June 2003.

BAFURU -- newly circumcised men -- categories 881, 304

BAGULO (BUKULO) -- a joking relationship between lineages -- categories 602, 613

BAKASYA -- men of influence and wealth -- categories 554, 556

BAKURU -- notables -- categories 554, 565

BAMAKOMBE -- ancestral ghosts -- category 775

BANALUKOOSI -- agents of order or peace (e.g., vigilantes) -- categories 625, 627

BASAMBWA -- ancestral spirits -- category 775

BAYAZI -- transvestites -- category 838

beer parties -- category 574 (sometimes with 527)

BISIMU -- hostile spirits of the bush, rivers, and paths -- category 775

BULOSI -- witchcraft, sorcery -- category 754

BUMASALA -- avoidance relationships (e.g., mother-in-law, son-in-law) -- categories 606, 784

BUTONGOLE (MUTALA) -- village divisions of a parish -- category 621

CISIMU -- life force or spirit -- categories 761, 774

District Native Administration -- category 634

districts -- the association of several village clusters -- category 634

drinking companies -- voluntary associations that provided a save venue for the drinking of beer (thus avoiding conflict); later developed into forms of credit organizations -- categories 452, 273, 575

GOMBOLOLA --sub-counties -- category 634

IFUMU -- women's witchcraft -- category 754

IMAKOMBE -- home of the dead -- category 775

IMBALU -- ancestral power -- category 778

ISAMBO -- custom -- category 183

KAMANYANYU -- shame, fear -- category 152

KIBAGA -- a traditional form of a cooperative work group -- categories 461, 476

KIGUGA -- lineages -- category 613

KIMISAMBWA -- ritual observances -- categories 796, 881

KIMISIRO -- ritual prohibition -- category 784

KIWELE -- evil nature spirits -- category 776

KONDO -- armed robbers -- categories 685, 674

LIBUBA -- a mild form of emotional arousal in a woman -- categories 828, 152

LILOKO -- witchcraft; incest -- categories 754, 835

LIRIMA -- strong emotions in a man -- categories 828, 152

LUKOOSI -- respect, order, peace -- categories 602, 571, 577, 576

MAGENDO -- black market-- category 437

Magistrate's Courts -- categories 634, 692

MUGASYA -- the institutionalized head of the village who was also head of the lineage on which the village was based -- categories 622, 613

MULUKA -- parishes -- categories 794, 631, 632

MUTALA -- a community of between 50-100 taxpayers drawn from various lineages and even sub-clans -- category 621

SAZA -- county -- category 634

TSISONI -- respect rendered as sexual reticence or inhibition -- category 834

UMUBINI -- night dancers -- categories 754, 535

UMUDYULI -- the medicine remover -- category 756

UMUFUMU -- the diviner -- category 791

UMUGIMBI -- the rain-controller -- categories 789, 821

UMUMAKOMBE -- ghosts or shades -- category 775

UMUXULU -- the senior man of a lineage segment -- categories 613, 622

vigilantes -- categories 625, 627

village cluster -- category 632

WERE -- the creator spirit; also unicorporated spirits with no kinship linkage -- categories 776, 775

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