Daudi Okelo of Ogom Payira and Jildo Irwa of Labongo Bar-Kitoba

Generally speaking, one can never know with certitude of two things about African people: one is their naming and the other is their age. This is especially true of bygone times, because names were, and still are, given to remember a particular event or situation. As for the age, this was not date-recorded in the way western taught us to do today. Besides, African people always considered it bad luck to list names and to enumerate persons.

Okelo, in fact, is the Acholi name given to a child who follows a sibling born in a certain way or who has a special mark. Are considered such those children born by the legs first instead of the head or born with defects of any kind, like six fingers, and so on. Such a child is called Ojok if a male and Ajok if a female. Okelo, therefore, is a true Acholi name given according to an Acholi custom and with a traditional religious significance.

The martyr Daudi Okelo was born of Lode (father) and of Amona (mother) in the village of Ogom-Payira. The larger Acholi sub-clan, Payira, was headed by the sub-chief Awich, son of Rwotcamo who had been killed in battle while fighting the Padibe clan in 1887. Around 1830 the Payira clan numbered between ten to fifteen thousand people, spread in about thirty village-lineages, whose location was the central zone of Acaa river, east of the Nile.

One of these thirty village-lineages was Okelo’s Pa-Ocota village-lineage, situated in Ogom-Payira, a few km to the east of the mouth of the river Acaa. Here Daudi Okelo was born around 1902. This date is only a conjecture based on the mission baptismal register. Okelo’s parents lived and died in their traditional religious practice. Okelo’s world was more open than his parents’, since he came in touch with the white missionaries and other foreigners. Lode and Amona brought up Okelo very well and they would have loved to see him grow and settle down to form a family according to tradition.

Equally significant is Irwa [Ermene]Jildo, also an Acholi from Labongo Bar-Kitoba. Ir-wa’s literal translation means “of-us” or “ours”. It is an endearing name among the Labongo. Now, perhaps, the meaning of his name will take up a missionary dimension: that of belonging to a new people, as the whole Church would say of [Ermene]Jildo: “Irwa – One of ours”.

Born of Okeny, better known as Tongfur and of his mother Ato, Irwa lived in his Labongo village south west of Kitgum, in the same direction as that of Okelo. Labongo, like Payira, was a subdivision of the greater Acholi ethnic group. In about 1917 the Labongo people migrated to Olworngu, a short distance east of the present Bar-Kitoba, where previously the other Labongo village-lineages of Gem, Koch, and Parakono had migrated.

For the purpose of pastoral care, the missionaries had divided Kitgum Mission into two sections, at exactly the 32° latitude, so the whole eastern section would be looked after by Fr. P. Audisio and the western section by Fr. C. Gambaretto. Irwa’s village was situated in Fr. Gambaretto’s area. Naturally, it was Fr. Gambaretto who first met Jildo in the catechumenate.

Irwa’s mother, Ato, died when he was very young and his father Tongfur married again. Tongfur’s second wife, Akelo, brought up Irwa with great affection, as he was the only male. Akelo gave birth to four girls. Though orphaned at an early age, Irwa knew how to repay love with love. As he experience so much family love, he was able to share this love and even his life with others to the extent of martyrdom for the sake of Christ’s gospel. His great heart would meet yet another great heart, that of Daudi Okelo, and both together strived to share God’s love with all by bringing their people to WI-Polo, beginning with the marginalized and so-called inferior, living in the third district of the Nile Province.