The Lord’s Resistance Army and the arms that brought the Lord

Amplifying polyphonic silences in northern Uganda


This article develops the notion of polyphonic silence as a means for thinking through the ethical and political ramifications of ethnographically encountering and writing about silenced violent pasts. To do so, it analyses and contrasts the silence surrounding two periods of extreme violence in northern Uganda: 1) the northern Ugandan war (1986–2006), which is contemporarily often shrouded by silence, and 2) the early decades of colonial and missionary expansion, which the Catholic church silences in its commemoration of the death of two Acholi catechists in 1918. Employing the notion of polyphony, the article describes how neither of these silences is a mere absence of narration. Instead, polyphonic silences consist of multiple, at times discordant and contradictory sounds, and cannot be consigned to single-cause explanations such as ‘trauma’ or ‘recovery’. Reflecting on my own experience of writing about and thereby amplifying such silences, I show how writing can serve either to shield or break silence. The choice between these modes of amplification calls for reflection on the temporal distance of silence, of the relations of power amid which silence is woven, and of the researchers’ ethical commitments and normative preconceptions.

Sep 20, 2019
How to Cite
Alava, H. (2019). The Lord’s Resistance Army and the arms that brought the Lord: Amplifying polyphonic silences in northern Uganda. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 44(1), 9-29.