Anglican missionaries arriving in Uganda’s Acholiland in 1903 saw the local peoples as in need not just of Christianisation but also of civilising. This last consisted primarily of inculcating western notions of gender identities for both men and women, with an emphasis on the wearing of gender-appropriate clothing and terminating the practices of polygyny and bride-price payment. The first missionaries considered the Acholi to have high levels of gender equality but they still believed conversion would improve women’s status through domesticating them and instilling the notion of male superiority, despite the fact that local customary rituals did not distinguish on grounds of gender. Over decades, the population gradually converted to various Christian denominations, mainly Anglicanism and Catholicism, but without abandoning their customary rituals, using them as and when required, to ward off evil or ask for rain, for instance. The most significant impact of the civilising process was arguably the institutionalisation of the notion of masculine superiority now legitimised by appeals to what happened in the Garden of Eden. The paper is based on historical documents, both published and from the missionary archives, as well as on ethnographic research into gender in the region today.
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