Holy Spirit Movement

A spiritual rebellion and military effort led by a Ugandan prophetess aiming for national purification.

Religion: Syncretist (Christianity and Folk Religions)
Founder: Alice Auma (Alice Lakwena)
Founded: 1986
Ended: 1987 (as a military movement, but remnants continued)
Location: Uganda
Size: Thousands of followers
Offshoots: Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
Other Names: Holy Spirit Mobile Forces, Holy Spirit Mobile Force, Holy Spirit Movement for the Salvation of Uganda

The Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), led by Alice Lakwena, emerged in Uganda during a time of significant political and social unrest. Following the collapse of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), several factions sought control over the northern regions, with the HSM among them. Founded in 1986 by Lakwena, the movement represented both a spiritual crusade and a military campaign, aiming to purify and uplift the Acholi people through a blend of traditional beliefs and Christian principles.The movement combined elements of Christian millenarianism, traditional Acholi beliefs, and political resistance, and played a significant role in the Ugandan civil conflict.

Alice Lakwena claimed to be a prophetess, directed by the spirit Lakwena, who instructed her to lead her people against perceived moral and societal decay. She attracted followers by proclaiming messages from various spirits, including an Italian spirit named Lakwena, who allegedly communicated divine directives to her. This eclectic spiritual guidance formed the core of her movement’s ideology, which combined elements of Christianity with local spiritual beliefs.

The movement’s beliefs were a fusion of Christian and traditional Acholi spiritual practices. Lakwena’s teachings were focused on purifying the Northern Acholi people and restoring their supremacy, eventually aiming for broader purity, including all of Africa and the globe. The group practiced rituals for protection in battle and saw Lakwena as a spiritual elder, providing cleansing rituals and enforcing strict moral codes, including prohibitions against smoking, drinking, looting, and sexual intercourse​​.

Although Lakwena had no military background and only completed primary education, the Holy Spirit Movement had a military wing known as the Holy Spirit Mobile Force (HSMF). In 1986, Lakwena and her supporters were armed by former officers of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). The movement conducted a significant but short-lived rebellion against the Ugandan government, , with notable battles in various regions including Corner Kilak and Lira, where Auma’s forces, armed primarily with stones and faith, confronted the heavily armed National Resistance Army (NRA)​​​​. The campaign culminated in a defeat in Jinja, after which Auma fled to Kenya in November 1987​​.

Under Lakwena’s leadership, the Holy Spirit Movement gained a reputation for its distinctive warfare tactics. Believing they were under divine protection, fighters often went into battle with sticks and stones, anointed with holy oil, and singing hymns. They believed that rocks would turn into grenades when thrown and that they would be immune to gunfire​​​​. Lakwena’s fighters were instructed in a set of “Holy Spirit Safety Precautions” that dictated not just moral behavior but also prescribed supernatural protection measures during combat, including the belief that blessed rocks could turn into grenades and that holy water provided immunity to bullets.

The movement faced a significant setback when Lakwena was arrested in Kenya in 1987. Her capture led to a fracturing of the movement, with various offshoots continuing under different leaders. The most notorious of these was led by Joseph Kony, who formed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continuing and amplifying the conflict in the region.

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