Anthropological Narratives of Nodding Disease among the Acholi of Northern Uganda

Alexander Paul Isiko, Keddy Olanya Acayo


Despite the scientific and specific medical interventions, nodding disease with neither a cure nor plausible explanation to its cause continues to affect the people of Acholi sub region. The disease continues to be a mystery to both the medical professionals and its victims. The World Health Organisation (WHO) affirms no known aetiology. It is so mystical that it affects only children between the ages of five and fifteen years; the disease has only been reported in Acholi sub region in Uganda without a previous history of existence in the area. In spite of the disease’s association to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war and Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps, other areas like Lango and Teso sub regions affected by the same have not experienced this disease. Nodding disease, therefore, seems to have defeated Western science of biomedicine and needs a different approach to explain its existence. Overtime, African societies, the Acholi inclusive, find solace in their cultural and religious beliefs to explain the existence and treatment of diseases. Using an ethnographic methodological approach as well as cultural construction of disease theoretical perspective, this article analyses the way the people of Acholi visualise, understand and interpret nodding disease in relation to their cultural and religious beliefs.


Illness; Sickness; Disease; Nodding Disease; Cultural Construction; Uganda; Acholi; Spirit Possession

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