The So (Tepes, Tepeth) of Northeastern Uganda

Some Ethnographic Information

Elizabeth Allgeier and I carried out ethnographic fieldwork during 1969-70 among the So peoples (a.k.a. Tepes, Tepeth) of Northeastern Uganda.  The So live on three mountains -- Moroto, Napak and Kadam.  Most live on Mt. Moroto where we carried out all of our research.  The So are surrounded on the plains by the semi-nomadic Karamojong, Turkana and Suk peoples.  The population of the tribe during our stay was something like 5,000.

Karamoja District, Uganda

Much of So social organization was borrowed from the Karamojong.  They recognize a number of named, dispursed, patrilineal clans, divided locally into patrilineages.  The oldest male in each lineage is considered the head.  The So also recognize the Karamojong age generations, but the function of this system is quite different in So.  So elders do not "retire" from political activity and status when the age generation is retired.  The power in So is in the hands of a council of male elders that meets from time to time to settle disputes and plan activities.

For many pictures of the So , click here .

The So practice clan-level exogamy and obtain wives for their men by brideprice.  Post-nuptial residence is ideally virilocality, and most families are polygynous.  Wealth of the man's lineage is the most important variable in how many wives a man will have.  Most women welcome co-wives because they share tasks and provide a kind of insurance during times of illness.

The So were once subsistence farmers and supplemented their diet by hunting game and gathering fruits, leaves and other forage in the forests, which in the days before cattle grazing covered much of the mountain.  Today the So practice slash and burn agriculture.  Gardens are owned by married women who carry out the basic agriculture.  The So also herd cattle, a male activity.  The combination of slash and burn farming and cattle grazing has caused substantial erosion and de-forestation.

The So hold that every man and woman has a soul (metaphorically associated with the heart) that dwells in the body during life and that leaves the body at death and becomes an ancestor.  As age and social status are linked in So, the ancestor increases in status over any living being.  Quality of life depends upon the attention and goodwill of the ancestors.  This relationship between the living and the dead is maintained by the kenisan , or ghost cult.  The kenisan combat witchcraft, ward off catastrophes and disease, make rain, bless the crops and other ritual activities to protect the people.


Laughlin, Charles D. (1972) "Kenisan: The Economic and Social Ramifications of the Ghost Cult Among the So of Northeastern Uganda", Africa 42(1): 9-20.

Laughlin, Charles D. & Elizabeth Laughlin (1973) "Attitudes, Beliefs and Practices Relevant to Family Planning Among the So", in Cultural Source Material for Population Planning in East Africa (ed. by A. Molnos) Vols. 11 and 111, Nairobi: East African Publishing House.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1973) "Maximization, Marriage and Residence", American Ethnologist 1 (1): 129-141 and Review of Canadian Sociology and Anthropology 10(3): 199-213.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1974) "Age Generations in So", Africa 44 (3): 266-279.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1974) "Deprivation and Reciprocity". Man 9: 380-396.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1975) "Lexicostatistics and the Mystery of So Ethnolinguistic Relations", Anthropological Linguistics (October), pp. 325-341.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1977) "Adaptation and Exchange in So: A Diachronic Study of Deprivation" in Extinction and Survival in Human Populations (ed. by C. Laughlin and 1. Brady). New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, Charles D. and Elizabeth Allgeier (1979) An Ethnography of the So of Northeastern Uganda , (2 vols) New Haven, CT: HRAF Press.