Ik people

The Ik people (sometimes called Teuso, though this term is explicitly derogatory) are an ethnic group numbering about 10,000 people living in the mountains of northeastern Uganda near the border with Kenya, next to the more populous Karamojong and Turkana peoples. The Ik were displaced from their land to create the Kidepo Valley National Park and consequently suffered extreme famine. Also, their weakness relative to other tribes meant they were regularly raided. The Ik are subsistence farmers who grind their own grain.

The Ik language is a member of the highly divergent Kuliak subgroup of Nilo-Saharan languages.

Community structure

The Ik people live in several small villages arranged in clusters, which comprise the total "community". Each village is surrounded by an outer wall, then sectioned off into familial (or friend-based) "neighborhoods" called odoks, each surrounded by a wall. Each Odok is sectioned into walled-off households called asaks, with front yards (for lack of a better term) and in some cases, granaries.


Ik Village
Ik village in northern Uganda, 2005

Children by age three or four are sometimes permanently expelled from the household and form groups called age-bands consisting of those within the same age group. The 'Junior Group' consists of children from the ages of three to eight and the 'Senior Group' consists of those between eight and thirteen. No adults look after the children, who teach each other the basics of survival. However, it is not certain whether this practice is typical Ik tradition or merely triggered by unusual famine conditions. Joseph Tainter proposes this fragmentation to be an artifact of the dire circumstances where each person must depend on their own resources alone to find food and the age peers band together primarily to protect themselves from older stronger children who would take their food.[1] He also argues that the present social fragmentation is the result of extreme deprivation on a more complex and functional culture,[1] an argument also made by Colin Turnbull.[2]

The Mountain People

In 1972, British-American anthropologist Colin Turnbull published an ethnography about the Ik titled The Mountain People. The book provides an examination of Ik culture and practices based on information he gathered during a stay in the years 1965–1966. He depicts the Ik as a people forced into extreme individualistic practices in order to survive. Using the few remaining elderly Ik as sources, he attempts to describe the former Ik society (including hunter-gatherer practices; marriage, childbirth, and death rituals and taboos; religious and spiritual beliefs, and other aspects). Much of the work, however, focuses on the then-current condition of the Ik people during a severe famine brought on by two consecutive drought years.[3]

On the Ik language:

Archie Tucker, the English linguist, accepted an invitation to come up and see just what this extraordinary language was, for it certainly was not Sudanic or Bantu. Archie finally pronounced, with no little satisfaction, that the nearest language he could find to this one was classical Middle-Kingdom Egyptian! – The Mountain People, Ch. 2, p. 35.

Turnbull became very involved with the Ik people, and openly writes about his horror at many of the events he witnessed, most notably total disregard for familial bonds leading to the death of children and the elderly by starvation. He does speak warmly about certain Ik, and describes his "misguided" efforts to give food and water to those too weak to provide for themselves, standing guard over them to prevent others from stealing the food. Turnbull shares these experiences to raise questions concerning basic human nature, and makes constant reference to "goodness" and "virtue" being cast aside when there is nothing left but a need to survive (even going so far as to draw parallels to the individualism of 'civilized' society). Overall, living with the Ik seems to have afflicted Turnbull more with melancholy and depression than anger, and he dedicated his work "to the Ik, whom I learned not to hate".

Criticism of Turnbull's work

While popular, the book was controversial, and the accuracy and methodology of Turnbull's work has been questioned. Turnbull himself mentions his sources' uncooperative nature and tendency to lie. Bernd Heine gives the following examples to support his claims that Turnbull's conclusions and methodology were flawed.[4]

  • There is evidence that Turnbull had limited knowledge of Ik language and tradition—and virtually no knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. He seems to have misrepresented the Ik by describing them as traditionally being hunters and gatherers forced by circumstance to become farmers, when there is ample linguistic and cultural evidence that the Ik were farmers long before they were displaced from their hunting grounds after the formation of Kidepo National Park—the event that Turnbull says forced the Ik to become farmers.
  • Some of Turnbull's main informants were not Ik, but Diding'a people. Lomeja, a local who helped teach Turnbull the Ik dialect, was undoubtedly Diding'a, and according to informants of linguist Bernd Heine (who studied the Ik in early 1983) spoke only broken Ik. Moreover, three out of the six villages Turnbull studied were headed by non-Ik people.
  • Turnbull's claim that Ik raided cattle and frequently did "a double deal" by selling information concerning the raid to the victims is not corroborated by the Dodoth County Chief's monthly reports, as well as records of the Administrator in Moroto between 1963 and 1969. Rather, these files and reports actually suggest that the largest number of cattle raids occurred in parts of Dodoth County where no mention of Ik raiding livestock can be found in any of these documents.
  • Turnbull's claims that adultery was common among the Ik is contrary to statements of informants interviewed by Bernd Heine in 1983. They reported that during the two years Turnbull stayed in Pirre there was only one case of adultery. Heine writes: "All Ik elders interviewed stated that there are no indications whatsoever in the oral traditions to suggest that adulterers were burnt in the past." (Turnbull's work itself expressed doubt as to the veracity of his source's claims to that effect.)
  • Heine adds, "...Turnbull's account of Ik culture turned out to be at variance with most observations we made—to the extent that at times I was under the impression that I was dealing with an entirely different people."

Heine endorsed the conclusion of T.O. Beidelman.[5]

This book cannot be discussed in any proper sociological terms, for we are provided with only snatches of data. Rather than being a study of the Ik, this is an autobiographical portrait of the author utilizing the Ik as counters for expressing his personal feelings and experiences in the field.

Turnbull also argued that Ik society was already destroyed and all that could be done was to save individual tribal members. Consequently Turnbull advocated to the Ugandan government forcible relocation of random tribal members (with no more than ten people in any relocated group).[6]

Cultural references

In 1975, Turnbull's book provided the source material for a play called The Ik, written by Colin Higgins and Dennis Cannan.[7][8] The play, directed by Peter Brook, premiered in Paris in 1975,[9] and was produced in London in 1976 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It also toured the United States in 1976 as a bicentennial gift from the French government.

Physician and poet Lewis Thomas wrote an essay entitled "The Ik"; Cevin Soling read this as a child, sparking an interest that ultimately led to his making a documentary, Ikland (2011). It was produced in the mid-2000s by Spectacle Films and directed by Soling and David Hilbert. The film depicts the Ik people in a positive light by showing how easily befriended they are, how they survive and live as families, their music and dancing and even their ability to step into acting roles. The documentary concludes with members of the tribe staging a performance of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, as a metaphor of redemption.

See also


  1. ^ a b Tainter, Joseph A. (2006). The Collapse of Complex Societies (15th printed ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 17–19, 210. ISBN 0-521-38673-X.
  2. ^ Turnbull, Colin M. (May 1978). Rethinking the Ik: A functional Non-Social System In: Charles D. Laughlin, Jr.; Ivan A. Brady (ed.): Extinction and Survival in Human Populations. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 49–75. ISBN 978-0-231-04418-9.
  3. ^ Turnbull, Colin M. The Mountain People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972. ISBN 0671217240.
  4. ^ Heine, Bernd, The Mountain People: Some Notes on the Ik of North-Eastern Uganda. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 55, No. 1, 1985, pp. 3–16.
  5. ^ Beidelman, T.O., Africa 43(2) (1973) 170–71, Review of Colin M. Turnbull, The Mountain People
  6. ^ Knight, John, "'The Mountain People' as tribal mirror." Anthropology Today, Vol. 10, No. 6, December 1994.
  7. ^ Turnbull, Colin (1 January 1976). "Turnbull Replies". RAIN (16): 4–6. doi:10.2307/3031968. JSTOR 3031968.
  8. ^ Higgins, Colin and Cannan, Dennis. The Ik. 1985. ISBN 0871293064
  9. ^ "Colin Higgins Biography". Bookrags.com. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2016-08-06.

External links

Cevin Soling

Cevin Soling is an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, musician, music producer and artist. He has two graduate degrees from Harvard University.

Soling writes articles and books in addition to producing documentaries, animations, short films, and feature films that engage in social critique. He is president of Spectacle Films and Xemu Records.

Soling produced and directed the well-received documentary The War on Kids, which argues that American schools are failing to educate and that perceptions of the dangers posed by and to children have become distorted. The New York Times described the film as “a shocking chronicle of institutional dysfunction.” It was honored as the best educational documentary of its year at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival, and received accolades from Variety and The Huffington Post, among others. He appeared as a guest on The Colbert Report to discuss the film.

Soling's other notable works include the following documentaries and animated shorts: A Hole in the Head, Urine: Good Health, Boris the Dog, The Bill Johnson Show, Great Moments in Rock, and Captain Stickman vs The Color Black.

Colin Turnbull

Colin Macmillan Turnbull (November 23, 1924 – July 28, 1994) was a British-American anthropologist who came to public attention with the popular books The Forest People (on the Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire) and The Mountain People (on the Ik people of Uganda), and one of the first anthropologists to work in the field of ethnomusicology.

Ik language

Ik (also known as Icetot, Icietot, Ngulak or (derogatory) Teuso, Teuth) is one of the Kuliak languages of northeastern Uganda. The Kuliak languages form their own branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. With the other two Kuliak languages being moribund, Ik may soon be the sole remaining language of its family. Ik is noted by UNESCO as "severely endangered".A comprehensive dictionary and grammar of Ik has been published in Schrock (2017).Ik is supported in Unicode, starting with version 8.0.0.


Ikland is a 2011 documentary film about a journey into the mountains of northern Uganda near the Kenyan border and a visit with the notorious Ik people. It was produced by Cevin Soling, and directed by Soling and David Hilbert.The Ik were famously described as callous and indifferent by anthropologist Colin Turnbull in his 1972 ethnographic book The Mountain People. Ikland recounts an adventure in travel, revisits Turnbull's description in the context of local circumstances, and reveals the Ik people and culture in a more sympathetic and up-to-date manner.

Mountain people (disambiguation)

Mountain people may refer to:

Hill people, or mountain people, is a general term for people who live in hills and mountains

Ik people, as described in The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull

National Book Award for Nonfiction

The National Book Award for Nonfiction is one of four annual National Book Awards, which are given by the National Book Foundation to recognize outstanding literary work by U.S. citizens. They are awards "by writers to writers". The panelists are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".The original National Book Awards recognized the "Most Distinguished" biography and nonfiction books (two) of 1935 and 1936, and the "Favorite" nonfiction books of 1937 to 1940. The "Bookseller Discovery" and the "Most Original Book" sometimes recognized nonfiction. (See below.)

The general "Nonfiction" award was one of three when the National Book Awards were re-established in 1950 for 1949 publications, which the National Book Foundation considers the origin of its current Awards series.

From 1964 to 1983, under different administrators, there were multiple nonfiction categories.The current Nonfiction award recognizes one book written by a US citizen and published in the US from December 1 to November 30. The National Book Foundation accepts nominations from publishers until June 15, requires mailing nominated books to the panelists by August 1, and announces five finalists in October. The winner is announced on the day of the final ceremony in November. The award is $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; other finalists get $1000, a medal, and a citation written by the panel.

The sculpture by Louise Nevelson dates from the 1980 awards. The $10,000 and $1000 cash prizes and autumn recognition for current-year publications date from 1984.About 200 books were nominated for the 1984 award, when the single award for general nonfiction was restored.

The Ik

The Ik is a 1975 play by Colin Higgins and Denis Cannan adapted from the 1972 book by Colin Turnbull about the Ik people titled The Mountain People.

It was devised with director Peter Brook.

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