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Lendu to Hema: Speak Our Language If you're Indigenous People

The Lendu are an indigenous people in Ituri, particularly in Djugu Zone. Anthropologists usually describe them as belonging to the Sudanic stock, whose words are in single syllable. The Hema and Bagegere are Bantu-speaking people. They related to the Banyoro and Alur of Uganda. At one time they were a part of the ancient Bunyoro Kitara kingdom.
In the bloody conflict in Ituri in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Lendu warriors are reportedly asking people from other ethnicities like Hema and Bagegere to speak the Lendu language.

This is in an attempt to legitimize their full claim to land, the historical root of conflict in the restive but resource rich province of the DRC.

 

According to many refugees Uganda Radio Network spoke to, the Lendu warriors ask their victims to speak the Lendu language failure of which they are killed in the most horrible manner, some captured on camera.

 

The Lendu are an indigenous people in Ituri, particularly in Djugu Zone. Anthropologists usually describe them as belonging to the Sudanic stock, whose words are in single syllable. The Hema and Bagegere are Bantu-speaking people. They related to the Banyoro and Alur of Uganda. At one time they were a part of the ancient Bunyoro Kitara kingdom.

 

The linguistic difference between Lendu and the Hema and Bagegere languages are so stark that they largely don't hear each other. To make matters worse, there has been no real attempt between both sides to learn each other's language and culture and try to assimilate.

 

Although most Lendu are concentrated on the eastern side of Djugu Zone touching on Lake Albert and the Hema and Bagegere are concentrated on the western side, there are swathes of land on which they are mixed, and this has been for long time.

 

Despite living on the same land and sharing resources, intermarriage and other cultural connections between the Lendu and the Hema and Bagegere are not only remote but not mutually promoted and encouraged.

 

Amazingly, however, a significant number of Lendu can speak Hema, Bagegere and Alur languages. Some even have Alur names.

 

It is this linguistic and cultural difference that the Lendu are exploiting to paint the Hema and Bagegere as invaders of their ancestral homeland.

 

In terms of appearance, the Lendu tend to be shorter and sturdier, with a relatively darker skin complexion, and the reverse is true for the Hema and Bagegere.

 

Raphael Onen, a Mugegere and vice mayor of Marathatu B trading center in Kyangwali refugee settlement, says the Lendu warriors taunt their victims in the Lendu language, knowing well that most do not understand it.

 

Jeanette Shukuru, a Muhema, says the Lendu language is hard to learn, adding that many young people are now more conversant with Kiswahili than the local languages like Lendu, Hema and Kigegere.

 

In Kyangwali refugee settlement, a few moderate Lendu, also fearing for their lives, are resettled, but are reportedly hiding their identity.

 

Onen says they do not encourage raising ethnic sentiments in the settlement, adding that they prefer everyone to be called Congolese or Hema in order to protect the minorities. The Hema are the biggest ethnic group both in Djugu and the settlement.

 

A humanitarian worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the few Lendu in the settlement have registered as Hema, Bagegere or Alur.

 

The conflict, which started late last year, has killed an unknown number of people and displaced tens of thousands of people, with nearly 50,000 crossing into Uganda, 35,000 of whom are resettled in Kyangwali refugee settlement in Hoima District.

 

Eyewitnesses speak of unspeakable acts of brutality and savagery, in which Lendu death squads kill, maim, rape, loot property, burn homes and do other horrible acts against people from other ethnicities at will.