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Small grant projects
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Performing Pain: Mnemotechnologies of remembrance in Abia and its impact on informal (music) education, memory, peace and recovery

Investigating how the community of Abia, in northern Uganda, who experienced a horrific LORD’s Resistance Army massacre in 2004, perform their pain through mnemotechnologies of remembrance, and its impact on music education, memory, peace and recovery.

This project examines counter-memory of the war in a space dominated by hegemonic state and foreign narratives.

Main aims:

  • To assess the impact of the LRA war on the cultural ecology of Lango.
  • To examine how the communities perform their pain.
  • To examine the impact of these performances on memory and remembrance, recovery and justice, as well as informal music education.


  • To encourage the artistic community of Abia by amplifying their voice.
  • Documentation of the Abia massacre is a critical part of understanding the past and the present in order to shape the future we want.
  • Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge.
  • Contribution to the larger body of ongoing research in memory studies, peace justice and reconciliation.


  • A published academic article.
  • A mini-conference to disseminate findings
  • A dissemination meeting with Abia communities.
  • A showcase dance festival in Abia
  • Video clips of the dance sessions/ mini-documentary will be developed and uploaded on the EdJAM website.

“Yi wa yom matek me winynyo ni otim ikweda me Lira University abino Abia me niangngo kit ame lweny Ototong owunu kede jo Abia kede pollere wok me nenno kit ame myel tekwaro oballe kede acalo adwoggi me lweny. Omio wan oniang ni wii jo kara pe owil kedwa kom atwalli, dok yii wa yom me titiwu kit a wan oneno kede can, kede dang dok me wero rem cwinywa kede myello amyela karacel kedwu; cwiny me Abia; Cwiny tuku me Abia ame pe tye cannoro onyo colpinyoro me kare okato ame twero nekko.”

Shagon Smith Okello , Amyel, Apwony Myel, kede Atel wi Kampuni me Abia Boys.

“We are quite excited to learn that Lira University researchers are coming to Abia to investigate the impact of the LRA war on Abia community and especially on the dance industry. We feel like we have not been abandoned after all, and are happy to share our memories, to sing our pain and to dance with you as we celebrate the spirit of Abia; the creative and resilient spirit of Abia that refuses to be crushed by dark memories of the past!”

Shagon Smith Okello , Dancer, Dance Trainer and Manager, Abia Boys


This project examined how the Abia Community of the Lango subregion of northern Uganda who suffered a horrific LRA massacre on February 4th 2004 remember their dead and their suffering and find healing through their music and dance, both as individuals and as groups in light of official remembrances and commemorations. In-depth interviews were also conducted with key primary and secondary witnesses to corroborate the message of the songs and reports in news media. The message of the songs and paralinguistic features were collected through a dance showcase recorded live on video for later analysis and for use in the mini documentary film.

120 artists from 10 different dance groups and one drama group were selected for the dance showcase. During the focused group discussions, members from the different dance groups were selected and mixed to form different focus groups according to their areas of expertise. A set of questions were used to guide the discussions. We also conducted in-depth documentary interviews with government officials and key stakeholders outside Abia, to understand the history, complexity and impact of the LRA insurgency on Abia.

Our research showed that the LRA insurgency impacted the Abia music industry very negatively through the loss of reknowned artists, the collapse and weakening of music bands and the destruction of musical instruments. At the same time, Abia music shot to greater prominence as a result of the aesthetic afterlives of war performed widely on radio stations, television, and social media and live in Europe and North America by Moris Sirikinti Ekuka Ogwal Adongo.  Abia artists use their music as portable libraries and archives, news outlets, and forums for analysis of the past and present. They use their music to tackle psychological distress emanating from the war, and to preach peace, and demand for justice and reparation. Informal music education, though greatly disrupted by the massacre, is nevertheless flourishing as parents continue to pass on the secrets of their creativity to the next generation. There is also a growing interface between traditional music performance, formal school music education and church choir.

There is need for clinical therapy, psychosocial and economic interventions in Abia to handle their brokenness and poverty. Abia musicians need support with music instruments, legal aid, and opportunities to perform beyond Abia Subcounty like a few others from Abia have already done.

The key outputs of this project are; the Abia dance showcase, public lecture/ workshop, the Lira University Education, Justice and Memory International Conference (EDJAM) (September 2023), two academic articles, and a mini documentary film (film will be available here in 2024).

Two academic articles (links will be added here when published):

  • Performing Pain: Mnemotechnologies of Remembrance in Abia and their Impact on Informal (Music) Education, Memory, Peace and Recovery
  • “Transitory Memory and Aesthetic Mutations: New Dynamics in the Performance of Pain in Post-War Abia in Northern Uganda”

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Meet the team:


Dr. Okaka Opio Dokotum

Assoc. Prof. of Literature and Film, and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Lira University.

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Dr. Laury Lawrence Ocen

Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Museum and Heritage Studies

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Anamo Modester

Outreach Director, Curator and Archivist at the Lango Tourism Board

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Akullo Emily

Research Assistant/Monitoring & Evaluation, Director, CRIID Consults

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