mwenge Bigele. Get drunk on a ripe banana beverage, or just bask in the glory that is the Buganda culture. As its name suggests, the brewing process involves stepping. Mwenge is alcohol, Bigele is feet. But first, let me tell you about Ssalongo Kasanvu Kakeeto.
We met at the Buganda Tourism Expo where he had gone to exhibit Mwenge Bigere. However, something stood out that would soon switch our conversation from the drink to a thing. Elyato, which is its Kiganda name, is a very fascinating artifact.
A wooden boat-like article designed for brewing. Inside it, ripe bananas were mashed dutifully with bare feet till they morphed into overflowing sweet juice. The juice, then, would be fermented and turned into Toonto or Mwenge Bigele: the local brew. It’s one of the best brews ever invented by man. It’s strong, indigenous, sweet, and too hard a drink capable of flooring a grownup man.
These boats are still in existence in the rural areas even when the world moved on. Civilization is cutting through the rural areas like cancer, but these boats have remained. Nowadays, many families in the villages own them. This wasn’t the case in the yesteryears, especially among Buganda. It was exclusive to a few. The very rich to be exact. This begs the question, why? “This is because the process of making it was very demanding, both in terms of time and resources,” Kakeeto offered.
According to the Senior Administrator with Mutima Club, an association at the forefront of preserving Buganda’s cultures, it would start by felling down a mature hard-wood tree with a thick stem. Canarium Schwinfurthii, locally known as the Mpafu tree was of stronger preference as it never cracks even when over-exposed to sunshine.
Thusly, it stands the test of time. Using heavy-duty traditional tools especially axes and pangas, a craftsman with a reputation for paying attention to detail would shove a hole inside the tree, expertly, attentively yet artistically. The edges were/are sliced off and molded nicely. It is then smoothened on the surface. He would continue shoveling to create a hollow section with a wide base and narrow entrance. “That way, the stomp wouldn’t flow over when being mashed using the feet.” He says
Finally, a huge chunk is yanked out, leaving it (boat) somewhat hollow. It’s in that hole that the ripe bananas are later thrown and mashed with sorghum, a core ingredient of the beer. On the other hand, the outside skin would be repeatedly scrapped to give it a more appealing look. The outcome of this hard work was light and impressive boat edged by two handles known as Ensanda for easy mobility.
“Due to this complexity that comes with making it, only a few used to have it. In many instances, a village would have less than two.” As such, sharing was the way to go. This spirit of sharing created unbeaten solidarity among locals. In appreciation, the party who had borrowed would reward its owner with a reasonable portion of the final fruitage.
This attracted a great deal of respect. The ground upon which it was laid for mashing was always carpeted with banana leaves and stem. Partly, this practice was meant to lessen its wear and tear. At the end of the day, it would be kept on an elevated stand like a souvenir. From time to time, its outer wall would be smeared with cow dung for preservation. On the other hand, its inside was preserved using sup from the very bananas mashed inside.
Granted both sexes were free to savor its rich taste, but it was abominable for the female to participate in certain phases of its making. Such included the mashing phase. According to Mwami Ssonko Emmanuel, Secretary Njonge Clan, the exclusivity to men was because women don’t have as much strength as men.
They agreed that mashing the bananas required so much strength. “Short of that, it is bound to go bad in less than a few days or even hours.” he worries. That aside, many didn’t feel comfortable having women take charge of the process as they might do so while in their periods. Sexist as this was, they argued that they didn’t want to risk contaminating the drink.Read More
At the mention of Martyrs’ day, the location Namugongo is the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that Kampala has lots of other sites where more than 20 Christian martyrs lived and some later killed in 1980.
Assuming you didn’t, View Uganda through its tested contributor Solomon Oleny will take you through the various sites and the stories therein. Stories of not just martyrdom but faith and consistent belief.
Off Lubaga Road
This is the spot where St. Jean Marie Muzeeyi one of the last martyrs was killed in October 1884. Muzeeyi was killed for rejecting the role of being caretaker of the Kasubi tomb where Mutesa had been buried in the early months of 84.Jean was beheaded and his head was thrown in Jugula swamp, wrapped in plantain leaves. For the reason that he once served as one of Mutesa’s nurses, Jean is regarded as the patron of medical professionals like nurses, doctors, physicians among others.
It is here that Kabaka Mutesa met Stanley and the first missionaries Shergold-Smith, Rev. C.T Wilson, O’Neil, and Alexander Mackay. Mutesa ordered that the missionaries be settled at present-day Lungujja hill. Months later, Mackay was dislodged off the hill to the Western Side of Nateete hill for stalking Mutesa using a pair of binoculars. The hills would later be offered to the Catholic missionaries and shifted.
MacKay’s cave Nateete
It is believed that Mackay was transferred here to prevent him from using his binoculars to follow proceedings in the palace of a polygamous Kabaka that had 85 wives and 1,000 concubines. It is here that Mackay began his missionary work by establishing a worship center, putting up an education center, a printing press, and a medical unit.
Sserwanga and Lugalama, the two-page boys who attempted to escape across Lake Victoria into Tanzania with Mackay were killed in this spot. The boys were led out with a mob howling insults and throwing stones. They were led down Nateete hill towards the swamp where their hands were cut off with hideous knives so that they could not struggle in the fire. Their charred bodies were thrown in a swamp in Busega. Today, a church stands behind a giant cross planted at the spot where the bodies were thrown.Read More
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its eflection on the tropic.Read More
Picture this; you are a young girl expecting your first child conceived out of wedlock. You are woken up in the middle of the night, tied up and carried by the strongest men in the village.
You have no idea where you are being taken and to add to your confusion you get on a boat, disembark on an island, given just a pole for your own defense, and left to your means. Oh, and lest we forget, you have no phone because this was way back before technological advancement. One would hope that a smitten boyfriend would follow and rescue his girl but the circumstances were different. At that time, the no-nonsense Bakiga would also shove pregnant girls off a cliff. Therefore, if your sweetheart disappeared in the night, you would have no idea whether she had been drowned or abandoned on this small island, tied to a tree, and left to die of hunger.
The punishment was meant to show the gravity of engaging in premarital sex. However, some girls would be saved by men who had no cows to pay the bride price who would literally go fishing for women on the island. In the first half of the 20th century, the practice got abandoned but it is still possible to find women who were picked up from Punishment Island today living with the men who rescued them. According to Steven Tiwangye, 50, a tour guide at Lake Bunyonyi, the men who would rescue the girls and marry them would also be banished from their homes. “If a man married a girl from Akampene, he would never return to his parents’ home. It was a taboo to marry a ‘fallen’ girl,” Tiwangye explains. In his documentary, ‘The Bakiga – How We Throw Away Our African Culture,’ Festo Karwemera, an elder in Kigezi and an activist for the promotion of the Bakiga culture talks about the Akampene tradition with remorse. Much as the practice was barbaric and inhuman, it served its purpose and it was a good day when the Bakiga decided to abandon it.
Born in 1925, Karwemera lived through the time the tradition was being practiced and says that the Bakiga were not necessarily murderous but had a strong sense of morality and tradition. Being but had a strong sense of morality and tradition. Being no-nonsense people, naturally, the elders expected everyone to heed the customs and traditions and whoever failed to do so, was expected to pay for it. Akempene Island is one of the 29 islands dotting Lake Bunyonyi the scenic crater Lake located in the highlands of South Western Uganda, in Bufuka village. Due to the vagaries of nature, the island keeps getting reclaimed by the lake, and most of its land is already submerged by the water making it one of the tiniest islands on the lake. There are motorboats and local canoes that take tourists from the mainland to the island.
Today, the terror of the past has been buried and forgotten and the island turned into a peaceful and tranquil place for the discerning tourist in search of rest a communion with nature. You can have a family picnic or enjoy a swim in bilharzia-free clear water. An overnight experience in this beautiful setting is nothing but memorable. Just like the rest of the area, the island boasts of a rich birdlife for the bird lover. Enjoy the rich everyday life and culture of the Batwa, and the Bakiga who make the largest numbers in the area. A walk on the island is no ordinary walk because of the birds mixed with the sound of waves and the cool fresh breeze a no-nonsense people, naturally, the elders expected everyone to heed the customs and traditions and whoever failed to do so, was expected to pay for it.
Akempene Island is one of the 29 islands dotting Lake Bunyonyi the scenic crater Lake located in the highlands of South Western Uganda, in Bufuka village. Due to the vagaries of nature, the island keeps getting reclaimed by the lake, and most of its land is already submerged by the water making it one of the tiniest islands on the lake. There are motorboats and local canoes that take tourists from the mainland to the island. Today, the terror of the past has been buried and forgotten and the island turned into a peaceful and tranquil place for the discerning tourist in search of rest and communion with nature. You can have a family picnic or enjoy a swim in bilharzia-free clear water. An overnight experience in this beautiful setting is nothing but memorable. Just like the rest of the area, the island boasts of a rich birdlife for the bird lover. Enjoy the rich everyday life and culture of the Batwa, and the Bakiga who make the largest numbers in the area.Read More
The best way to really know the nomads is by spending a day with them as they go about their day-to-day life. A visit to their Manyatta homesteads will not only unveil to you their best-kept secrets but also unveil to you magnificent huts.
The outskirts of Moroto have so many of these. They have been preserved so well and still look as they used to in pre-historic times. They are carefully fenced off by a mix of thorn plants that are about a meter thick and head high. This barrier is purposed to bar cattle raiders from invading their cattle. The traditional huts are also known as ‘ere’ are incredibly beautiful and stay cool in the year-round heat. At the heart of these eco-friendly huts is a large kraal where the cattle are kept.Read More
Following the restoration of peace, the Karamajong is happiness reigns in Moroto. And happiness is synonymous with dance. You will be sorry to leave Moroto without experiencing their energy consuming dances.
One such is a Edonga, a dance that entails repeatedly jumping like the earth beneath one’s feet is ablaze with hot charcoal. Like it, most of the dances showcase the unconditional love that the Karamajong have for their cattle and how they wouldn’t hesitate striking gunning down anyone who attempted to raid them. Their love is so strong, a partial reason as to why they only kill the cows if they really must. In this case, they carry out the execution in a way that is less agonizing to the skinny cows.
At the moment, the District doesn’t have an established auditorium or setting where the dances can be seen. However, the locals are never hesitant to exhibit their dances at the request of a tourist. Regardless of where you bump into them, they will always put up for you a world-class-performance. In appreciation, you could offer them tips.Read More
In the animal Kingdom, the giraffe stands out of the crowd across many fronts. To say it is beautiful is an understatement. From head to toe, it is gorgeous, with yellow and orange mosaic style patterns.
It maintains a very humble personality despite being the tallest land animal, with a leg whose height exceeds that of many men (6ft long). Despite having an unmatched ability to strike dead any creature with a single blow, it is a peaceful animal that treats other herbivores with empathy. Considering all these qualities, it is no wonder that it comes across as the hallmark for Moroto District. Why? Like it, this semi-arid District whose name loosely translates as the rocky place is unique in many ways. Here are some of must-visit attractions and experiences in this first rising tourism destination, Writes Solomon Oleny.
Visit Edurkoit trees
As per to Karimojong region traditions, a home is only considered complete if it has a Faidebia Albida, a leafy-weather-resistant tree. One of the biggest wow factors about this species is that it can live for over 200 years without losing shape. Regardless of how old it gets, it eternally young. Locally known as Edurkoit, its roots sink deep in the ground anchoring it firmly, whilst tapping water.
Compared to trees in forests found in Southern and Western Uganda, its stem is less thick yet firmer. This helps it resist being broken by the strong cross winds that sweep through this part of the country on a daily. In contrast, its branches and leaves are very light and flexible enough to be easily swayed by the wind and rain.
Beyond its beauty, it has a historical and social significance in the lives of the dominant tribes living in Moroto. Such include Tepeth, Karamajong and Matheniko.
Longora John, a 71-year-old local Chief in the District explains that under its cool shades, elders from these tribes converge to find lasting solutions to whatsoever is troubling their communities. It could be settling disputes among its people, celebrating the lives of heroes who have contributed to the growth of their clans……
“Simply put, the tree has a very special place in the hearts of the Karimjong people, and that is why they are never cut it for firewood regardless of how desperate the situation at hand is.” says Longora
In agreement with John, Hellen Pulkol the Deputy Residential District Commissioner notes that; this is why the Edurkoit tree in the midst of Moroto Town was never cut to give way for the construction of the town’s main street.
The best way to see how different these trees are from each other is taking a guided tour around traditional homesteads. Each has the tree at the heart of the Manyatta.Read More
Ankole is a region rich in cultural heritage. Unique dishes, language, folklore, you can name them, it’s all there.
Originally known as ‘Kaaro-karungi’ loosely translated as ‘beautiful village.’ the area is inhabited by the Banyankole – a Bantu group. They inhabit the present districts of Mbarara, Kiruhura, Isingiro, Ibanda, Bushenyi, Sheema, Rubirizi, Buhweju, Mitooma and Ntungamo in western Uganda.
Today, Ankole’s cultural heritage is fast fading. What remains is in tales and a few traditional ceremonies. But not all is lost. Igongo Cultural Museum, the biggest in Western Uganda, is preserving the Nkole culture through various artifacts.
Located 15 minutes away from Mbarara Town at Biharwe Trading Centre, the museum has become a leading tourist destination. With many legendary artifacts safely tucked away in transparent glass rooms, one is ushered into the rich Ankole heritage.
The name Igongo is itself of historical importance. It is derived from Igongo hill found in Rwenjeru village in Mbarara District. It is said that during the reign of King Ntare – which was between 1587 to 1615 – floods in Ankole Kingdom claimed thousands of people and livestock. King Ntare was compelled to seek divine intervention.
The diviner ordered that a white spotless cow (ente njeru) be slaughtered and the rituals were performed at Igongo hill. Miraculously, it is said, the water reduced and collected to form present day Lake Mburo. Pleased, the king named one of those.
A sculpture showing a traditional Ankole bride wearing beads
His sons Kasasira (the forgiver). Kasasira also later ruled Ankole from 1615 – 1643. Since then, Igongo hill became an important aspect of Ankole culture. It’s no wonder the museum is named after it. The museum has different sections of historical importance including: Social stratification Here one learns that Ankole society was/is stratified into Bahima (pastoralists) and the Bairu (agriculturalists).
A caste-like system of the Bahima over the Bairu existed. There was a general belief that a hoe is what made a mwiru (singular Bairu) what he is. Similarly, the Bahima were identified with cattle. This kind of belief was not very accurate because merely acquiring cows would not transform one from a Mwiru into a Muhima. Nor would the loss of cows transform a Muhima into a Mwiru – this is very common currently as some Bahima have taken on digging and Bairu own cattle. Because of the different way of life, even their homes looked different.
Marriage There is a lot to learn about marriage in Ankole – from the function to the beliefs that marriage is a sacred affair. The bride was expected to be a virgin until the night she is deflowered by her husband. If the parents of the girl were aware that their daughter was not a virgin, they would formally communicate to the husband by giving the girl – among the other gifts – a perforated coin or another hollow object, in most times a cloth. A bride was also meant to dress differently from the everyday way of dressing and jewelry.
There was and still is a function called okuhingira (giveaway) which is the day a woman/bride is officially handed over to the boy’s family. Among the gifts a bride would take would be Omugamba. The Omugamba would contain various calabashes that a bride would use in her new home. It is still the case today. War Often, the kingdom of Ankole was at war with the neighbouring states. Sometimes there would be raiding expeditions to Buhweju Kingdom and Karagwe in Tanzania. The Banyankole weapons comprised of spears, arrows and shields. The Royal Regalia The royal regalia of Ankole consisted of a spear and drums.
The main instrument of power was the royal drum called Bagyendanwa. This drum was believed to have been made by Wamala, the last Muchwezi ruler. It was only beaten at the installation of a new King and had its special hut. It was considered taboo to shut the hut. A fire was always kept burning for Bagyendanwa and this fire could only be extinguished in the event of the death of the King.
The drum had its own cows and some other attendant drums namely; kabembura, Nyakashija, eigura, kooma and Njeru ya Buremba. Communication You will learn that the Banyankole had several forms f communication for different functions. If one brewed local beer, they would inform others by hanging a coil made from banana leaves at the road to their homestead. Whoever saw it would know there is beer in that home. To call for a meeting, the messenger would blow a trumpet locally known as enzamba or a drum.
Handwork was an important aspect of Ankole. It was through handwork such as carpentry, iron smelting, pottery, weaving, as well as making leather products that people got the different items for use in day to day life. For instance the milk pots (ebyanzi), emikarabanda (wooden sandals) were carved out of wood. Spears, knives, needles for weaving were all from iron smelting. Baskets, stretchers for carrying brides and sick people were woven.
Outside the Museum is the cultural village. This exhibits the ways of life of the two different Ankole castes – the Bairu and Bahiima. You are ushered into how they lived, stored food and the general arrangement of the interior of their house. A Muhima house, for instance, has a designated corner called Orugege. Here milk pots, calabashes to churn yoghurt and ghee as well as entsimbo – the special calabash for storing ghee, would be kept under strict hygienic conditions. In a mwiru house, there had to be obugamba – a rack made from tree stems where food and firewood would be kept. It was usually above the cooking stones.
Not only does Ankole have a rich culture, the region also has unique dishes one will not find anywhere else. One of the most important food is Eshabwe. This is made from cow ghee which is mixed with rock salt and water. It is often served with karo (millet bread) and matooke (bananas).
Another important Ankole food is Karo (millet bread). This is got from mingling millet flour. It is served in special baskets known as endiiro. This was formerly the staple food of the Banyankole until matooke infiltrated the region.
Enkuru is a special sauce got from cow skins (oruhu). After drying the skin, you peel the inside and the meat-looking pieces you get are dried and later boiled and mixed with ghee and hot water. It can also be served with eshabwe.Read More