Odokonyero is here

In July, last year, Madhu Krishnan and I convened two creative writing workshops in Kampala and Gulu, taught by Nick Makoha and Jennifer Makumbi, respectively.  Moses Odokonyero and Jacob Katumusiime were very central to the secondary school teachers’ focus group discussions we held alongside the workshop. The results of the workshop are eighteen short stories, written by emerging and young Ugandan writers, now available for public enjoyment in an anthology, published by Black Letter Media.

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Alongside the workshops, in the same month last year, Noosim Naimasiah and I collaborated on a documentary film project on the question of social media and its impact on creative writing. For the film, I interviewed five major Ugandan writers, namely, Jennifer Makumbi, Stella Nyanzi, Nyana Kakoma, Ernest Bazanye and Acan Innocent.

The July days spent with Noosim, Zahara Abdul, Lewis Ainebyona and Esther Mirembe were enjoyable and I am proud of the product of our labour. I am personally grateful to Henry Brefo who has been the key strategy man for Writivism since 2016, Roland Byagaba who has been the man in charge of all things Writivism since September 2017, Rukundo Joschua, and Mulialia Okumu for their labour, and unflinching support.

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The final version of the documentary film is on tour in the United Kingdom next week. The film will be screened in Brighton, London and Birmingham. The Uganda screening news will be released as soon as they will be available. I want to be there, obviously. While I wait anxiously to travel to Kampala for that screening, and the launch of Odokonyero, the anthology, enjoy four of the eighteen short stories in the anthology, below.

Candano by Fred Sunday Mugisha

Tendo by Esther Mirembe 

My Name is Ojwiny by George Ocen 

Let me Write to Dad by Jacob Katumusiime 

It was a pleasure doing these things, to celebrate five years of Writivism, no wonder my electronic self passed out in August, and I missed two weeks at the beginning of the semester. I am happy to see the fruits of all that labour.

On Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”

There is no story that has made it hard for me to review without spoilers as Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”. It is hard to compare it with another short story by a Ugandan, without spoiling too much. But I will try. This is afterall an experiment in writing very brief reviews and not spoiling.

 

“Chief Mourner” is published in the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, A Memory This Size and other stories. It is the very last story, and it is such a powerful way to end the anthology. It is a story that stays with you.

 

“Chief Mourner” is a story of our times. As the trend is when it comes to African literature in English, every single short story is read as representative of Africa, as carrying a burden to paint an image of that country, Africa, and Nyana starts hers thus: “There is a lot to be said about finding out that your boyfriend, Jude has died via Facebook.”

 

Nyana’s Africa is in the technology era. It is an Africa with Facebook. An Africa dominated by social media, that you can read all about African life on the social network. Lives are lived online as much as they are, offline. And news of death travels online faster than it does offline.

 

The protagonist in the story, lives in Mbale, a country town on the Ugandan Kenyan border and her boyfriend Jude dies on his way back to Kampala, from visiting her. Reading this story brought me memories of the days Mateos was a popular hangout place, and Ban cafe was the coffee shop of choice in Kampala.

 

It is a short story that captures our times. By ‘our’, I mean Ugandans who came of age in the social media era. We were born in the 1980s, we were joining university at the time blogging was the thing to do, indeed, Nyana’s tribute to Joel Ntwatwa captures what I am describing. Ntwatwa, whom we lost recently was one of our generation.

 

“Chief Mourner” has a place among the short stories that mark our stamp on Ugandan literature. Nyana is a luminary of our generation. And Jude represents those we have lost.

 

While Ntwatwa died this year, five years after Nyana’s story was published, I feel the story is a literary tribute to him and others of our generation who have passed on. I have here in mind, Hillary Kuteitsa and Boaz Muhumuza among others who died in their 20s and 30s respectively. “Chief Mourner” is told from the perspective of the girlfriend who wasn’t introduced to the family as a girlfriend and how she mourns, and what she finds out about her deceased boyfriend during the vigil and other mourning rituals. When he can no longer answer, as Weasle sings of Mowzey Radio.

 

It is a great story, to which I will return when I dispense with the restraint on including spoilers in the review.

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The 2013 Caine Prize anthology was published by New Internationalist, Jacana, and Sub-Saharan publishers.

Okot p’Bitek’s White Teeth #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Saturday, 30 July 2011 at 19:01

Okot p’Bitek is known largely for his poetry, for his “songs” than for his prose. In fact, one friend of mine once wished the man had written a novel. Well, he did write a novel and it was his first major work. He was twenty two years old when he did. The novel turned out to be the only novel he wrote. It was first published in 1953 by the East African Literature Bureau, Eagle Press, and written in Acoli language under the title Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wilobo (White Teeth make us laugh on earth) shortened as Lak Tar (White Teeth). Even when Okot always noted that translation of his works from Acoli to English made them lose the flavour they come with in Acoli, there is a lot of Acoli-ness that stays.

Just as Lawino berates the invasion of African culture by new Western ways in Song of Lawino, in White Teeth, Okot disparages the changes which were taking place in the custom of bride wealth with the increased monetization of the economy during colonial times. As Okeca, the main character in the novel discovers when he reaches Kampala; the colonial monetization of the economy had also wrecked the once tightly-knit clan system of the Acoli people, introduced massive corruption in society and also saw the callous exploitation of African workers by Indians on sugar plantations.

It would not be fair for those who have not read White Teeth or any other work of Okot if I do not give them a taste of the beauty of the language Okot writes in. We will do with a few excerpts;

At page 14; describing Cecilia, the girl whose hand in marriage Okeca longed for;

“That girl in front of the others was spotless. Tall but not too tall. Brown, yet not brown. Her skin was tender like the young grass shoot. It was soft and tender as if she used Lux bathing soap. This must have been the case, for her brother had just come home on leave from the army.

She was leading the other girls to the market like a bull antelope leading others to the drinking place. She had draped her tender frame with a soft silky dress and on her crested crane neck was a single giraffe-tail hair necklace. Her hair was carefully combed and pressed, and on her head was balanced an abino, earthen jar, whose neck was like that of its carrier.

Faultlessly beautiful.

Spotlessly clean.

The leader of the girls bore abino.

Cecilia Laliya, chief of girls.”

At page 22-23; describing a conversation involving Okeca, Cecilia and Otto at an Orak dance to celebrate the marriage of the son of Timotimo;

“Cecilia Laliya, sister of Otto, Laliya the chief of girls, was there in front of all the Paibona girls, leading the dancing beauties. She was wearing a nylon dance skirt, her breasts barely covered. The breasts were ripe like a pair of ripened tugu fruits and the tattoos on her back were like olok fruits. Her heels sparkled as she danced; her hair shone, black and thick but not bushy. Cecilia was there in the arena! She was dancing, challenging and provoking all! I beckoned her out of the arena so that we would converge a little. She obeyed. A perfumed scent she exuded filled my nostrils. The glowing sunset light made healthy sweat flowing freely on her smooth skin look like strings of glassy beads. She stood there, smiling, exposing teeth and a gap in the upper row of teeth. The teeth were white beyond compare! What a haunting beauty Cecilia’s teeth were!

“How’s it with you today? Why aren’t you dancing today?”

She ventured to ask me after seeing I could not bring myself to say anything to her. But could I answer her? Where could Okeca Ladwong get the voice with which to say anything to Cecilia when her beauty had dazzled and robbed him of words!

Otto Luru had to come to my rescue:

“Today we have decided to come and feed our eyes on pretty ones like you.”

“Okeca, you better tell me quickly what you have called me here for. I want to go back and dance,” she said, dancing.

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the seventh post.

Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 16:00

Qualification: My opinion on a number of issues, especially on literature associated with FEMRITE’s early years and on diaspora life, have since changed so radically, from when I wrote this, but I reproduce it faithfully as it was, on original posting.

After reading a few of the publications by many of Ugandan female writers published by FEMRITE (Association of Uganda Women Writers), the predictability of their themes in a way put me off. Notably because the portrayal of men in many of the FEMRITE published stories as villains, as oppressive, as selfish, as brutal, as the sole cause of all problems of the woman became too much and to an extent unnecessarily sensational. In a way, my vigour regarding Ugandan fiction was affected by the FEMRITE spin to the Ugandan experience that blames the Ugandan male for all wrongs in society and the female portrayed as the eternal victim. It used to take a very good commendation from a friend for me to read a FEMRITE book, especially when the friend would tell me what the theme of the publication was.

For some time therefore, I did not pay attention to many female writers published by FEMRITE because I was pushed off by Mary Karooro Okurut’s novels (notably The Invisible Weevil and Child of a Delegate) that portrayed the Ugandan man as hell itself. This attitude however started changing with time as some female authors even when groomed by FEMRITE started writing beyond the anger, beyond the outbursts the earlier FEMRITE authors were known for.

There is no reason why I should bring FEMRITE up when talking about Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish; Tales from Entebbe. Not only because it is not published by FEMRITE but also because Baingana’s book should not be compared to Karooro’s Child of a Delegate for example. The two are so many miles apart. Now, that sounds very harsh to Karooro, but yes, it is my subjective truth. I blame the bias about female writers FEMRITE created in me, especially the first FEMRITE releases, for my late acquisition of Baingana’s book.

So, this history of my bias aside, I bought Baingana’s Tropical Fish, Tales from Entebbe on Friday, 8th July, 2011, and several years after it was published. Praise for Baingana’s novel, or can we safely call it a collection of eight linked short stories told by three sisters, arrives ahead of the book. From the moment, I devoured the first story in the collection, about a last born child’s imaginations of her parents’ master bedroom, I was glued to the book until the last story, Questions of Home! There are many stories I had to re-read and I am sure I will read them again and again. Two stories stand out for me, A Thank You Note and Lost in Los Angeles.

I have read quite a bit of Ugandan fiction about HIV/AIDS but Baingana’s A Thank You Note really deserves my own Thank You Note to her for pulling off a difficult story so effortlessly and so emotionally without the stereotypical tired storyline many writers usually adopt on writing about the impact of the disease. The preachy way the disease is written about mostly bores than delights. Today, it is not HIV/AIDS that I am picking from Baingana’s page-turner though. It is something about her story on an African’s life in America, Lost in Los Angeles. Sometimes I do not want to use my own words to make the points she makes in the story or to try to re-describe what she describes so excellently, so I will extensively quote parts of the story that moved some sense into my head, as regards life in the diaspora.

I must first of all put a disclaimer that she also puts, that there is nothing autobiographical in her book. I must add that I have never lived beyond the borders of Uganda for more than one week, so, definitely I do not directly relate with the story, except that a larger part of the people who influence the quality of my life at this moment live in the diaspora – no big deal, someone says. Maybe they may relate to the extracts below.

Lost in Los Angeles

Pages 122 – 3

It’s the small things that bother me most. My teeth aren’t white, straight, and perfect, like everyone else’s here. My teeth disturb people; they frown when I smile. Small children stare up at me, puzzled. Look Mummy, a freak! I imagine they’ve been taught to say. I have to repeat myself two or three times; it’s easier not to talk. Even black people don’t look straight at me or talk, gesture, or act the way I do. I am just as strange to them. I want to ask why, but don’t dare to. My skirts and blouses, are they too long, too loose, too bright and flowery, out of date?

(…)

Page 124 – 127

I’ve heard Africans who’ve been here too long talk in the same nasal way; it grows on you, unbidden. I swear never to, if I can help it. Like a good colonial subject, I like to think I have a British accent, the proper one.

Luckily, because everything works and is automatic, there is less and less need to talk. My salary mysteriously enters my account; I don’t need to touch money itself, or go to the bank. I find a window-like machine and punch in some numbers. They mean something: out slips money, silently, smoothly, it must be mine. I take it. At the supermarket, I don’t even need to use cash; I give the person at the counter my card and she lets me take the groceries, which are all wrapped up in four or five layers of crinkly paper and packed in coloured boxes with pictures as though they were children’s toys. There’s no need to talk to anyone. In the supermarket, everything is laid out for you; you walk through chilly bright aisles, read the labels, pick out food. The fruits and meats smell of nothing, taste of nothing. A machine tells you how much, and the person at the counter smiles mechanically. She may say, how are you, ma’am, smiling on and off like a switch, but is she really talking to me, me, or to a body buying food? The price is fixed anyway. There is nothing to argue about, nothing to say.

I swipe my card through the metal box, my food rolls down the rubber plank, is packed quickly, efficiently, and I roll it out, down to the garage, a cement cage of cars upon cars, immense and lifeless. No one drives small cars here, and there are very few old ones. Most of the cars are huge and shiny and prosperous-looking. I have a ticket that slipped out of a metal box all by itself; it knew I needed it, it knew I was there. I took the ticket and somehow a long pole rose up, letting me into the garage. The same thing happens in reverse as I leave, only this time there’s a person hidden behind a glass cage. He or she doesn’t glance my way, and after I’ve done this enough times, neither do I. I slip my ticket and a few dollars into a metal drawer, which slips not the glass cage, slides back out with change, and the long pole ahead of me rises up. Smoothly, soundlessly, straight and narrow. Metal, metal everywhere, and I need a drink.

The same thing happens at my apartment. After the side flat perfect roads, I click my garage door open; the metal rises up, disappearing into the wall. I slip not the cement womb of the building, enter my car slot, get out, and press a button. The elevator doors slip open soundlessly, then close. A metal box lifts me up, but it’s so smooth I can hardly feel it. It opens again and lets me out. I wish something would go wrong. I wish things weren’t so perfect. My mouth is sticky from not talking, my face sticky with silent tears. I am home I crawl into bed and try to remember the dirty smells of Kitooro, the dark swirling mud after an hour of rain like vengeance, hard fast rain that means it. The rotting fruit and swarming flies of Nakasero market; the unkempt, uncut grass that creeps, uncontained, uncontainable, disruptive, across any kind of man-made borders. I have been torn from natural living chaos that wrapped itself strongly around our lives. I am alone and trapped in metal. I am lost.

III

My cousin Kema has left for Uganda. I live by myself now. She did a lot to help me settle in, got me my first job, and introduced me to her friends, who are all Africans. They live the Southern California suburban life while saving money to build houses back home, educate their kids, make money, live well, what’s so wrong with that? They are very nice people, all shiny with cream and fatty food, and they welcome new Africans with open arms – those who are educated and ambitious, that is. In America, we are nothing, but Africans: lumped together, generic, black. Our voices get whiny and nasal too, but we can’t erase the African lilt. Our children are American, though: noisy, demanding, insolent, confident, and fat.

Every weekend there is a gathering at one house or another, and we talk about home. When we were there last, five years ago, ten, even twenty. We are going back for good, eventually, but not anytime soon, oh no, who wants to live with the insecurity, the rule of army men and guns, the magendo – black market – such a tough way of life. Here, we have grown soft and comfortable with steady salaries we can live on; why go back to desperately running around chasing deals, sweating in that dusty heat? Someone, another recent arrival (not me I only observe, and smile if anyone happens to look my way), tries to protest.

(…)

Page 128 – 132

We escape our American lives on the fringe and take centre stage again. At these moments we are so far away from America, we might as well be at Sophie’s Bar and Bakery in Wandegeya, sitting on wooden stools out in the open, eating roast meat and drinking Port Bell beer, swatting away the flies. Or maybe up on the Diplomat Hotel rooftop, washing away the day’s sweat with sundowners. It feels that good.

“Daaad.” The child’s petulant cry swiftly brings us back. We are here in America, and we all need our reasons to stay, despite our vows not to die here, oh no! Alone in an apartment where your body may rot for days and no one will miss you? Here, where no one knows you even exist? Imagine ending life in a retirement home, where you have to pay someone to look after you, as if you have no children no family? What disgrace! We are going back home in two years, home is home. Five years maybe. No, for us, our kids have to get into college first; you know the schools at home. When I finish my house; when I’ve set up my business; when I get the UN job I’ve been promised. That’s the only way to survive, you know, to get paid in dollars. If when, if, when, but in the meantime … oh, here’s the food, let’s eat.

We rally around the barbecued chicken, limp salads, meat stew and rice, posho made with semolina flour. It’s the same food every time; not quite home food, but close enough. It’s better than sandwiches or macaroni or some other fake food, and so we eat. The talk subsides to contented murmurs and grunts of appreciation. Afterwards, the women clear up, bustling up and down, their big hips swaying heavily with each move, as purposeful and confident as the huge swathes of bright-colored kitenge wrapped around them. What a warming sight to see. I don’t help much; I prefer to watch. But the single men take note and cancel me off their lists; not to mention, my hips aren’t big enough.

(…)

The fast, syncopated, guitar-energized Congolese music is another way to go back home. It’s a relief from battling the alien world that envelops us the minute we step outside our doors. We cluster together and dance to break away from the self or non-self we have to be at work, among foreigners, in the white world (even though there are blacks there). It’s a difficult act, a tiring one. So why not let the wails of Lingala, well-known oldies played again and again – Franco, Papa Wemba, Kanda Bongoman – why not let them take us back to that safe, known place? Sure, we left it willingly, and it wasn’t haven. Now, it seems like it was.

We know the dhombolo, we love doing it together, churning our waists and hips, arms flung up in the air as if this will save us. But I tire soon. Some of us (“Oba, who do they think they are?” I imagine the others thinking) danced more to zungu music than Congolese hits back home. Black American hits actually, not white zungu; Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, the Commodores.

(…)

Page 136

Raab says he likes my large lips, and I instead of replying, “Everyone I know has ‘large’ lips,” I say, “You can have them,” and we kiss. It’s even easier, smoother, after that. Really, I think, as we explore each other’s face, men and women don’t have to talk; we should just rub faces, eyebrows, noses. Sniff each other like dogs. We do, and end up in his bed (an especially long one), panting and entangled. His long, hairy legs and arms are everywhere, under and over me; it’s like I am making love with an octopus. A warm, furry, active, attentive octopus. I remember an old TV cartoon of a one-octopus band: it played all the instruments, its tentacles wriggling gracefully everywhere. I tell him. He laughs and winds tight around me. I bite his large nose gently, smooth his eyebrows hold on to his long abdomen. Here I am, mind and body together, in this boy’s bed, in Los Angeles. This is new. Let me turn away from the past. I am so tired of it.

Raab is friendly in the morning, as if it’s perfectly normal to wake up with a stranger, an African woman who is hangover and silent, in your bed. He offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to eat anything – maybe some coffee. He gives me aspirin and juice and is casual and sweet. We exchange phone numbers, and then he drives me home in an old Volvo his parents gave him. “Take care,” he says, kissing my check. “Of what?” I ask. He laughs, and waves his large hairy hand.”

 

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the sixth post.

Bright A Ntakky’s 7:77 … theirs was a race against time #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 12:47

It is eighty four pages long, but it is a comprehensive tale of death, disillusionment, suffering, love, hope, grace and happiness. Ntakky A Bright’s first book does not only have a peculiar title, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” which would easily pass for a movie title but also tells a story very common with Christian writers but in a uniquely witty and cheeky style.

I have known Bright A Ntakky (the A for Arinaitwe), since our school times at Kigezi High School. We did more than study together at the school, we at one time stayed in the same house – Lwamafa House. In 2003, when The Inspiration magazine and ministry was founded, Bright was among the formidable team members that made it possible, drawing hilarious cartoons for the magazine and on one occasion participating in a drama performance of the group (I was once a preacher of the gospel, you see and my first play script was a Christian drama).

Bright was more than that at school, he was our deputy Head Prefect, the chairperson Scripture Union and had several other community oriented roles. Bright’s Head Prefect-ship campaign is one of the most successful I have ever been at the centre of. He was an easily saleable and likeable candidate, the content of his character being the core of our message. Bright amazingly and annoyingly volunteered on the campaign team of his opponent out of his brotherly love and friendship a day to the polls, as many from far and wide made sacrifices to see him (Bright) win the election. I can go on and on about the amazing character Bright is but today is for his debut novella, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” not his personality.

Bishop Zac Niringiye in a foreword to the book writes that “7:77 … theirs was a race against time”, is a story of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, gripping because it is your story and my story, our story hence ordinary. Bright however manages to tell an ordinary story extra-ordinarily. Bright, the writer inherits the humorous nerve; Bright the personality is known for. He employs his descriptive signature style in the novella so much that reading the book in many ways becomes a conversation with the person.

At page 47-48, he writes of Amnon’s shoes, “His shoes were looking up and glorifying God for the many seasons they had endured. One was breathing from the side and the other would drink water from the sole”. Typical hilarious Bright, if you ask those who have talked to the man. It is not only Bright’s distinctive expression that creates a conversational mood; he actually talks directly to the reader at several moments in the book. As early as page 2, he writes; “Slowly, he pulled a lollipop out of his shirt pocket and put it in her mouth, then rubbed it across her lips. They kissed. (Reader, continue reading. Stop imagining).”

“7:77 … theirs was a race against time” starts with a graphic narrative of an adolescent romantic scene, hence Bright’s warning. Bright goes a step ahead of other Christian writers who gloss over love-scenes and deny them any descriptive touch. Of course he has limits, I would not X-rate his novella, he keeps the descriptions rich but decent enough not to distract the reader, and to be sure he warns the reader to stop imagining.

The use of anecdotes is not lost on Bright. At page 60, he writes;

He remembered a story of a man who died and his family was denied gratuity, because the officials reasoned that since there was nothing to show that the man had lived, then most probably he had not existed at all and therefore might as well have never died.

Death is undoubtedly one of the re-occurring themes in the novella. It is the hovering shadow over the moments of happiness, triumph, excitement and glory in the book. Probably aware of the risk of monotony, Bright’s depiction of death is varied and unique, though the use of epitaphs is persistent. In fact, the novella ends with an epitaph, marking the death of the novella’s protagonist. “This tablet in-laid here by his relatives and friends, in loving memory of Ijuka Brave, Died on 31st, Dec 2023 on his 29th birthday. He’s interred in the city cemetery.”

That I bring up how the book ends on a sad note is not fair at all. The book has its own worthwhile moments of happiness, hope, grace, triumph and excitement. The description of Dove, a childhood friend of Brave, the major act of the novella is one of the good moments. Bright writes at page 66,

Her silk hair flowed over her shoulders like a water fall. Her elliptical lips opened to reveal a perfect set of snow white teeth. Her body was a pure work of art, chiseled to perfection, nooks and cervices in all the right places. There was no extra ounce of flesh on her adorable body. Her cheery smile could easily light up any room, however dark.  She made every man who set his eyes on her miss a step. If such a man was holding a cup in her hand, he would put it on his nose instead of the mouth.

Like any other Christian book, the core message in “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is the love of Christ for mankind and the ordinary stories of ordinary people as Zac Niringiye writes. Bright however manages to make the novella less preachy and witty enough for a non-Christian reader to enjoy without being bored. It is a good start for Bright as a writer as he finds a common ground between secular fiction and Christian literature.

To Primah Atugonza, whose copy of the book I have read, twice so far, I am grateful. To Bright A Ntakky, where can I get copies of the book? I want to have some on my shelf for refreshing reading and also to give as gifts to friends. “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is a book for everyone, Christian or non-Christian.

 As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the fourth post.

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33

If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.

Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.

Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.

Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;

And while those inside

Eat thick honey

And ghee and butter

Those in the countryside

Die with the smell,

They re-eat the bones

That were thrown away

For the dogs

 

And those who have

Fallen into things

Throw themselves into soft beds,

But the hip bones of the voters

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

And they cover the ulcers

On their legs

With animal skins.

 

And when they have

Fallen into things

They become rare,

Like the python

With a bull water buck

In its tummy,

They hibernate and stay away

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

Originally posted  on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03

Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.

In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;

I was made chief of the girls

Because I was lively,

I was bright,

I was not clumsy or untidy

I was not dull,

I was not heavy and slow.

 

I did not grow up a fool

I am not cold

I am not shy

My skin is smooth

It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.

 

When Ocol was wooing me

My breasts were erect

And they shook

As I walked briskly,

And as I walked

I threw my long neck

This way and that way

Like the flower of the lyonno lily

Waving in a gentle breeze.

 

And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang

For my breasts shook

And beckoned the cattle,

And they sang silently:

 

Father prepare the kraal,

Father prepare the kraal,

The cattle are coming.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

When you saw the tattoos

On my breasts

And the tattoos below my belly button

And you were very fond

Of the gap in my teeth!

My man, what are you talking?

My clansmen, I ask you:

What has become of my husband?

Is he suffering from boils?

Is it ripe now?

Should they open it

So that the pus may flow out?

 

(…)

 

My husband says

He no longer wants a woman

With a gap in her teeth

He is in love

With a woman

Whose teeth fill her mouth completely

Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.

 

*

 

Like beggars

You take up white men’s adornments,

Like slaves or war captives

You take up white men’s ways.

Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?

Didn’t Black People have their ways?

 

Like drunken men

You stagger to white men’s games,

You stagger to white men’s amusements.

 

Is lawala not a game?

Is cooro not a game?

Didn’t your people have amusements?

Like halfwits

You turn to white men’s dances,

You turn to musical instruments of foreigners

As if you have no dances;

As if you have no instruments!

Does one need to add anything, to this?

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the third post.

Nick Twinamatsiko’s The Chwezi Code #UgBlogWeek

Originally Posted on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 13:45

By now, those I have shared with about Ugandan literature know that I consider Nick Twinamatsiko’s second novel, The Chwezi Code, originally titled Mugu as the best novel that portrays contemporary Ugandan social realities. Since 2010, when this novel was released and when I acquired myself a copy and read it, I have been thinking of writing a review of it. I have however severally failed to sit down and get the business done. What I am doing here is not necessarily a review, in fact it is not. I am merely sharing excerpts of the novel that I have loved and highlighted for several reasons which I will or will not share but I hope they help justify my observation that the novel is the best I have read regarding our contemporary Uganda society.

Here we go, the start of the novel, page one, the protagonist of the novel, which is written in the first person takes us through the origins of his journey to Chwezi priesthood. Let me quote;

My journey to Chwezi priesthood began at an examination desk in the Tanzanian university I attended. For the last paper of my three-year course, Providence, or Fate, or Destiny, or whatever you call it, contrived to make me share a desk with Josephine, the gorgeous classmate whose heart I had, for long, vainly hankered after. As I wrote the exam, I cast furtive glance after furtive glance at this stunning neighbour. It is as if I was determined to make the most of this apparently last opportunity to admire her delectably curved chin, her divine eyes, her exquisite nose, her slender neck, her perfect complexion, and the alluring hands that she occasionally raised to her chin. Then my eyes rammed into hers.

The book starts with a cheat for a student who gets fired from a university for helping the gorgeous classmate. Nick describes the scene so well, he must in real life have seen how examinations cheats do it. I mean, Nick is a university lecturer, maybe he has caught some students do the cheating because you can’t beat the accuracy of his description.

Mugu’s departure from the Tanzanian university on the count of cheating in many ways keeps appearing in the entire story. Whether sexually, spiritually, commercially and morally the stain of a cheat keeps hanging around Mugu’s name. Mugu itself as a name is a cover of sorts, a brand which when exposed will reveal several aspects of this cheat of a man, his real name is Emmanuel Arinaitwe. When chased from the university, Arinaitwe (Mugu) enrols in a freedom-fighting group aiming at dislodging Idi Amin from the Ugandan presidency. This group is not only disorganized but is also too ambitious! The attack Arinaitwe was meant to be part of ends catastrophically. Arinaitwe ends up as a Chwezi spiritual medium of sorts as he attempts to escape the notorious state security system hunting down remnants of the failed attack. Mugu’s work as a Chwezi spiritual medium is a great work of deception and human ingenuity. His lustful self is still very dominant, in one scene in his shrine he describes at page 30;

I was transfixed. Then I withdrew. I figured that she was in cohorts with the spirits, or at least had some clue about what had transpired. I shuffled back to the bed, and anxiously looked her in the face. I wanted to whisper a request for enlightenment, but something told me that even a whisper might be too risky. She discerned the questions in my facial expression, and, as a way of answering them, said in a hushed, timid voice: ‘It’s my ancestral spirits that brought me.’

Mugu had probably thought the Chwezi spiritual powers which he was using to exploit people were a creation of his mind. Mable, Rugambanengwe’s wife managed to confuse the false spiritual medium that the spirits were real. A typical tale of where a person thinking they are fooling others also ends up being fooled. Mugu’s own words at page 31 expose the confusion and the extent to which he was fooled by Mable. He says;

The Chwezi had decided to show me that they weren’t as imaginary as I had assumed. they lit fires on the hills through their living descendants! There was a trace of lingering doubt somewhere in my being. But I had to concede that, if I didn’t believe that it was the Chwezi that had contrived this, I couldn’t find a logical explanation.

Typical of Nick’s writing, bearing his first novel, Jesse’s Jewel in mind, Chwezi Code pays attention to the poor reading culture in the contemporary Ugandan society. Somehow, Nick has consistently argued that a reading culture can in a way deal with some problems we face, particularly corruption. That is an interesting view, but you have to be keen regarding what the society is reading if we are talking of eradicating corruption by implanting values embedded in the books we read. In Chwezi Code, Nick acknowledges that the book-carrying and reading culture needs substance. At page 68 Mugu tells us;

I soon discovered that some of the scantily clad, lip-stick wearing, powdered girls that occasionally strutted into the shop to purchase Bugu-Bugu novels never found the time to read them. They saw the books as fashion accessories, and felt sophisticated when they strolled through the streets clutching them in the hand. The bugu-bugu novel wasn’t really different in function from the big, dark sun-goggles that these girls wore, even at dusk. They took an interest in the cover design and material, and in the name of the author, because these were important factors in the real utility that the books had. It was fashionable to appear acquainted with certain authors, whether or not one actually read their novels.

What emptiness, one must be saying, or can we call it nothingness, but I should disclose that Mugu had opened up a bookshop and discovered that selling classic novels and books was not good business like selling bugu-bugu books. People who bought books were not interested in books that explore values, dogma and themes as vice and virtue, might and right among others. Buying books was a hobby, not reading them. Mugu, being the genius he is also cashed in on the emptiness.

Mugu’s rendezvous with the Chwezi spirits is the core of Nick’s tale. It will remain in the background of every sub-plot you meet in the novel. The Chwezi spirits were very much part of Mugu that he even thought they had taken his carnal abilities with them. Remember the scene whose description we quoted above? In the scene, Mugu had just slept with a man’s wife, who had tricked him into believing that she was an embodiment of the Chwezi spirits. Mugu had known that he had slept with the Chwezi spirits themselves, a belief that shaped his thinking about his own body a lot. At page 92, Mugu tells us;

But I discovered, as I began mounting the stairs, that carnal desires had deserted me again. Perhaps it was because I had just been intimately recalling Mable and the Chwezi during my talk with Rutafa. Somehow, I knew, as I turned the door knob of our rendezvous room, that I would embarrass myself if I tried to make love to the girl. And knowing girls, I knew she could subsequently litter the whole town with the information that I was not the man that I seemed to be – that a goat had knocked me, as our people put it.

Mugu and his sexual desires!!! Or am I being too harsh on the man?  As his own mind-set on the probable effect of the Chwezi spirits saved Mugu from sleeping with a young girl who looked to him for financial support of a music career in exchange for bodily pleasure, he (Mugu) discovered a man with more heated sexual passion than him, this time a preacher and pastor. Somehow, the same preacher that Mugu had observed in compromising scenes now wanted to preach to Mugu whose response to the man heavily changed the said preacher’s poise, Mugu describes; “He was smitten speechless. He became a bundle of squirms. Perplexity was all over him as he rose, and made to leave.”

The preachers of these days are not preachers per se. They preach wine and drink water or do they preach water and drink wine? Soyinka’s original phrase in The Trials of Brother Jero sometimes plays tricks with me. But yes, this preacher was pretty much the same as brother Jero of the Soyinka play. Mugu’s thinking as regards religion and spirituality is one thing that will tickle the reader’s mind into profound thinking about our times and how we are fleeced by all sorts of religions. But the Chwezi spirits will impress the reader more. Mable, the woman Mugu had slept with, she who had claimed to be an embodiment of Chwezi spirits had appeared to Mugu as a village woman. He was however slowly discovering that she was more than that, a matter that made her more mysterious. Mugu had engaged the Chwezi spirits thinking there were non-existent, their existence however continued to prove itself in his mind. Mable’s arguments were far from the typical village woman’s. Mugu attributed that to Chwezi spirits. He writes of her views;

I recalled her argument that the Chwezi religion and Bacurera’s herbs were being bundled with witchcraft simply because they were native; that Hinduism and Buddhism wouldn’t be classified as witchcraft by the villagers. I had later repeated this argument in an intellectual discussion with Rutafa. I had plagiarized her thought! And Rutafa, with his characteristic flamboyance, had later plagiarized it in the Constituent Assembly, after he had stunned the nation by refusing to take his oath using the Bible or the Koran, arguing that he subscribed to the ‘faith of our for bearers’.

Nick’s views on plagiarism are well-known. Even in Jesse’s Jewel, his first novel, some views on plagiarism appear. But so are his opinions on language, specifically the English language and its role in a Ugandan society. At page 153, in a discussion with Ophelia, some hints on Nick’s view are evident;

‘You think he is extraordinary?’

‘Not really. No extraordinary person would effusively praise a foreign tongue. But he is intelligent and eloquent.’

‘I think language always has values and beliefs embedded in it.’

That discussion above stemmed from a discussion of a work of art around the theme of religion among others. Mugu was an avid reader, at least he tried to read and had found a novel called the Chwezi Country which he had decided to act in real life using real human beings without briefing them on the script and making money from it. Religion is a business, Nick tells us through Chwezi Code, a business that even exchanges hands. Mugu had by the end of the novel profited from both the Chwezi religion when he operated a shrine and towards the end bought a Pentecostal church and operated it as a typical business. The core of the Ugandan society is about materialism and emptiness. Mugu tells as much at page 192;

It seemed that, in organising big weddings, most of the couples were driven by a desire to impress. It was impressive to hold a bigger wedding than one’s friends, and the fact that one begged in order to achieve the grandeur didn’t subtract from its impressiveness. There was no dishonour in begging or soliciting donations, to use the politically correct language. After all who wasn’t doing it? the government was begging so as to pay its over-sized cabinet and idle public servants. The churches were begging so that the pastors could live in mansions and drive big cars. Why shouldn’t young people beg so that they could hold big feasts?

I can quote the whole book to make the point that this is a book I prescribe for every Ugandan, in and out of Uganda if they want to understand the extent of shallowness, evil and immorality of our society. But that would not make sense for me to quote the entire book. There is much I have not quoted. I have not even told of how the story evolves, of the plot summary as we used to call it in literature classes in high school. It was intentional, this is not a proper review. That Nick hits the nail on the head of the corruption vice in our society is obvious. There are also political undertones in the book. I have to tell you that Nick prophesies that the current NRM government will collapse like the Prosperity Towers in the novel because it is built on a lie, on materialism, on emptiness and greed! Nick can dispute that, but it is my understanding of the theme of the book.

It would be unfair to finish this piece without telling of how the novel ends, at page 206, Mugu laments; “The Chwezi had given me, the Chwezi had taken away”. All lies give and take. Materialism, religion, emptiness, corruption name them (the evils of the Museveni regime) have given him longevity in power, even untold personal wealth, but if we follow the moral of Nick’s story, they will take away.

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the second post.

 

Austin Ejiet’s Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories #UgBlogWeek

Originally Posted on Saturday, 8 January 2011 at 19:55

Austin Ejiet’s name is perhaps better known for his excellent Take it or Leave It column in the Sunday Monitor newspaper. When Ejiet still breathed this same air with us, I read his column in the Sunday Monitor religiously. Ejiet’s wit was so accessible, whether the reader was taken by the gymnastics of Victorian English or not. My memory of Ejiet, and the fact that we lost him forced me to look for his literary work, besides the column.

 

Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories, published by Fountain Publishers in 2004 is what I have so far found. And it was worth the energy I expended in looking it up. I did not put it down, once I got hold of it and I have so far read it three times non-stop in a period of seven days, finishing it and re-reading it, and I will read it more! The fifteen stories are that hilarious, beautifully written and outright entertaining. I have to date not seen a Ugandan writer describe human physical features as ably as Ejiet. If I did not disclose that Ejiet also wrote three children’s books in Ateso, his mother tongue, I would be behaving in a dishonest manner. Yes, he did but beyond that, I am yet to find anything else.

 

Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories is a revision of the original collection, Hurray for Somo and other stories. Ejiet in introducing the new edition says that he dropped two stories from the original, retained ten and added five brand new stories. Thus, by reading Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories, one would have read the original Hurray for Somo and other stories, save for the two stories he dropped. I must admit here that I long to see those two, someone who bought their Hurray for Somo and other stories before the revision should help me here.

 

Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories is not like the collection of short stories on the next shelf. The fifteen different stories are uniquely knitted with one thread, that the transition from story to story is almost unnoticeable save for the headings. Yet the stories remain independent of each other due to the varied setting in geography, time and the identity of characters. Some reviewers say that stories are about the different aspects of life and its absurdities, I prefer four words to give a sneak-peek into what I can say the collection is about; Madness, Blood, Beliefs and Nature. You will meet one if not two, or three or even all of those four things in each story you touch from the fifteen.

 

Ejiet’s work strikes one as proudly Ugandan from the start. In Aida (the first story you meet), Ejiet uses Luganda phrases to bring out the effect of the hero-turning-villain process on the story-teller’s old friend, Kassim. Blood is introduced so early in the anthology, as we are told of how Kassim came to shouting “Mbadde ntaddeko busatu!” to everyone. Indeed, it is with madness that the collection ends as Kokota mutters her tragic refrain, “It’s him! It’s him!”

 

The way in which Ejiet deals with infidelity and the human reaction to it leaves the reader amazed at the author’s mastery of satire. In Namakwekwe, we see trickery turning infidelity into blood as one man turns to sleeping with another man’s wife to revenge on the same man who had slept with his, a tale that ends in tragedy. The clever use of the symbolism of rain is not lost on the reader. And yes, there was blood involved, I found my mouth open on finishing this particular story.

 

Ejiet travels as far as Rukungiri in South Western Uganda in setting his stories. There, a human elephant is floored with a concerted clever effort of village men using a forbidding coil of faecal matter of organic brown colouring already turning black. Give it to him, the medicine man was treated with his own medicine in the most interesting of ways. From Rukungiri, we travel to Wakiso where an expected groom never turned up and again, blood is involved.

 

Ejiet does not hesitate to corrupt the English spellings to bring out particular pronunciations of words by certain characters. Thus Sarah becomes Saala, statements as “Eat, dlink and make melly. Tomollow …” are not results of poor spelling, but aspects of Ejiet’s style. Later in another story, you literally hear an Indian speaking when Ejiet writes, “Vhat do you …” and an Acholi becomes visible when one reads; “… s’ould … what, shmas’er (smasher) of a girl. S’e …”.

 

The Teetotaler who believed that the medicine for hangover is to drink more beer because you become immune, incidentally does not drink because the same beer turned him into a ghost, when he emerged from the mortuary! It’s in The Ringed Moon that Ejiet won all that was left of my emotions.

 

Sex and its struggles with the marriage institution is not an isolated theme of only one story. You will meet it tormenting those below the marriageable age, as the girl who left school for Kisangani which she later realised was a hut in Nebbi, you will find it with the single daughter whose ways were caught by the father because a storm was threatening to spoil a cassava harvest and from the effects of this sex, we meet flies all over the place.

 

Operation SuperGlue is easily the most satirical of all. That Indians are part of us, yet never really part of us is not the only interesting thing about the Operation. The Indian who needed a pat on the butt to get himself free of someone’s wife could not amuse you further when he brings out what we publicly know as the legendary “meanness” of Indians. He says; “You tink money it grow on trees? Vhat you are saying, my prend? African wagina very tamu, but where do you tink I’m going to get all that money?” Well, the whole Indian community got all the money to get their colleague separated from someone’s wife! I was in stitches on finishing this story.

 

I am yet to physically see a man distributing kisses to every beautiful woman he meets on the street but The Kiss of Death creates the picture that I will meet the man. His name may not be Rwatangabo and he may or may not have seen a kiss stolen from him on his wedding day. I must add that I had no part in writing Mistaken Identity with Ejiet, I actually never met him while he lived but reading that story brought live my personal stories of being mistaken for who I am not.

 

I may not bring this piece to an end if I go further than this paragraph. I have not told you of the confession of a one Okalebo Felix who took a comely, ravishing little thing called a nun to bed to earn himself abuses from the priest to whom he was confessing! Have I even told you of the beauty of that one who was sylph-like, as if she has no bones… that one with a long neck, a small pointed nose, a full honey coloured mouth … You will probably not capture the sadness of Louisa’s history including being a genocide survivor because of Ejiet’s generosity with words in describing her beauty.

 

And, those who know my obsession with nurses should laugh at me now. Night-Duty seems to be more than that at the hospital. That is what I read from Ejiet and The Pipe and the Lesu just ends everything and leaves you wanting more. But can we reject the fact that it’s Him? I mean It’s Ejiet himself, who died at 58, and surely left us wanting more, like his child Aida, Hurray for Somo and other stories leaves us wanting more, but agreeing that It’s Him!

 

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the first post.

A 2011 Look-back on Ugandan Literature: Introduction to a #UgBlogWeek series

In 2011, I was twenty three years old. While I was formally a post-graduate student at the Law Development Centre, my mind was at the verge of deciding to pursue creative writing dreams and a life of letters at the expense of a career in legal practice. This was the proverbial career cross-roads for young me. I have not exactly resolved the conflict between a career in the law and in literature, I have decided that both will find a home in my mind and life. I will have my cake, and eat it at the same time. Of course I am equipping myself with enough ammunition to deal with those who think in narrow frames, about the boundaries of the legal and literary endeavors.

In 2011, I was very close to Dennis Muhumuza, who knew of my interest in creative writing, and who kept advising me to read and read more. He brought me a number of books to read. He lent me some, and sold me others. I took to reading a lot of Ugandan literature at the time. I remember visiting as many bookshops as I could find in Kampala and buying as many Ugandan books as I could afford. I was also very close to Kyomuhendo Ateenyi, under whose influence I attended the then weekly Lantern Meet of Poets’ Sunday meetings at the National Theatre. My old friend, Alex Niwamanya kept insisting that I go with him to the FEMRITE Monday club. I was always lost in discussion group sessions talking law things I never found time to go.

In 2011, Beatrice Lamwaka was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. The Ugandan literati were excited about the achievement, they congratulated her, they wished her well, and they publicly took pride in her achievement. But not all Ugandan men among the literati were happy. I remember an email that landed in my inbox one day, calling on Ugandan men writers to rise and challenge the women. I was a 23 year old, who did not know enough, who was reading as much Ugandan literature as I could because I believed as I do now, that the best way to train oneself to be a writer is to read. I wasn’t a Literature graduate. I did not know the sender of that strange email personally. I had not been on the scene. I was trying to know about the scene, to even know what a scene is.

In 2011, Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu had not yet come into the Ugandan literary life. Dilman Dila hadn’t published A Killing in the Sun. Melissa Kiguwa had not yet published Reveries of Longing. Daniel Kalinaki had not published Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. Nyana Kakoma hadn’t started a publishing house. There was no festival, focused primarily on celebrating literature. Alex Twinokwesiga hadn’t started Turn the Page. Nevender’s blog wasn’t yet holding Uganda’s flag in the African literary blogosphere. I do not know where Esther Mirembe of Subtle Royalty was, then. Roland Niwagaba, of the Muwado fame, where was he? What about Kirabo Byabashaijaof The Rising Page and Sydney Mugerwa? Things were different from today, in 2011. I wish I could be 23 again, in 2016. It was a different experience being 23 in the Uganda of 2011 and being at law school wanting to be a writer and lawyer simultaneously.

In August 2011, I left Uganda to pursue further studies. It was a way to merge my interest in Creative Writing and Law. I saw the pursuit of a Master’s degree in Human Rights as a step towards my fuller self-actualisation as a lawyer-writer. The year I spent in Budapest would change everything. The story of the Budapest days and what came after will be told another day. This month’s Ugandan blog week, I am revisiting my exploration of Ugandan literature in the first seven months of 2011. I am re-posting the reviews of, commentaries on and excerpts from some of the Ugandan books I read in those months.

It is no longer 2011. Five full years have passed. This is why I am looking back at my perspective on life and literature at the time. I am embarrassed grossly by some of the opinions I held at the time. I am grateful for the lessons that came of my being a rookie aspiring writer in 2011, while also pursuing legal education. I hope you enjoy the seven posts from the past, I hope you laugh at my naivety. I hope you get agitated at my biases at the time. I hope you see some hope in my younger self. I hope you sneer at my ignorance of certain things. I hope you mock my inexperienced voice. I hope you see where my reading is coming from, for what it is. I hope the past makes you feel better about the present. I hope you share your thoughts about the books I read at the time. I hope I read from you, as well. I hope you find the books fascinating.

We want to preserve Rukiga – Rukiga: Prof. Manuel Muranga

Dear Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire,

I am seeing for the first time your comment on “Kavunuuzi”. (I cannot see its date, I am afraid!) It is very well written, and as one of the authors, I wish to register my acknowledgement of your critical remarks. Indeed the dictionary needs some, and in places even much, revision. If you know anything about the history of dictionary writing worldwide, you will appreciate that this is not an easy task. “Kavunuuzi” is one of the very few Runyankore-Rukiga dictionaries that exist, and I would suggest that your criticism be a little tempered. Is there nothing good at all in the dictionary, apart from the intention, which you say was never achieved?

Using expressions such as “failing miserably” is certainly not edifying for me as one of the authors: allow me this I hope understandable level of sensitivity. Did you not at least notice the effort to follow the official orthography of Runyankore-Rukiga, which is generally not known and so not observed, with words being written arbitrarily or instinctively? (Indeed, have you learnt the orthography yourself – one of the best achievements in the history of Runyankore, Rukiga and other Ugandan bantu languages? It was not invented by us, and though it leaves something to be desired here and there, it still is a remarkable achievement and we thank those linguists for it.)

But of course you are free to adopt the critical stance that you deem best, but being an old pedagogue, my take is that it is generally wiser to look for something good or at least fair in a work – and be it ever so paltry; thereafter, you may proceed to point out the weaknesses. Even this pointing out should be as humble, yet at the same time as clear as possible – in one word: constructive. This is a difficult art in criticism and scholarship, but it constitutes the difference between serious criticism and the itch for sheer polemic.

Let me add a few terminological matters for your consideration: The term “Runyankore-Rukiga” automatically suggests that there is more Runyankore than Rukiga in the concept or reality that is conveyed by that term. Thus a “Runyankore-Rukiga” “Kavunuuzi” announces itself in its title as Runyankore-dominant. What would “Rukiga-Runyankore” be like? My idea, indeed, is that the Rukiga we in the northern and north-western half of Ndorwa County normally call “okuhorora” should be called “Rukiga-Runyankore”, while the Rukiga whose grammar (especially) is clearly distinct from Runyankore, Ruhororo and what I have just called Rukiga-Runyankore should be called Rukiga-Rukiga, or simply Rukiga. Mark you, the “Rukiga” spoken in the southern and south-western parts of Ndorwa County, i.e. large parts of Kyanamira and Kitumba Subcounties, plus most of Buhara, Maziba, and Kaharo Subcounties, as well as – in Rukiga County – large parts of Bukinda and all of Kamwezi Subcounties: the “Rukiga” spoken in those places is indeed what I would call “Rukiga-Runyankore”, or, even more accurately, “Rukiga-Ruhororo-Runyankore”.

Mr. Bwesigye, clear distinctions between Rukiga and Runyankore “culturems” or culture-based specifics in the vocabulary (as you correctly refer to them) notwithstanding, the major “heritage” you and I want to preserve as far as Rukiga is concerned is the heritage of “Rukiga-Rukiga” grammar, which is quite distinct from Runyankore/Ruhororo/Rukiga-Runyankore grammar. Thus, whereas Rukiga-Runyankore (as I have called it) and Ruhororo and Runyankore – or, in a word, what is currently called “Runyankore-Rukiga” – all say, for example, “Nooyenda ki?” (and, more colloquially, “Nonda ki?”), what does Rukiga-Rukiga say? Rukiga-Rukiga says, “Orenda ki?” (and this happens to have no colloquial form known to me).

Your concerns are apparently more about vocabulary – understandably since “Kavunuuzi” is a dictionary. But I tell you those words that are typically, almost inalienably, “Kiga” are easy enough to identify and this will be done in the next edition of “Kavunuuzi” – which we are already working on, by the way. Other vocabulary is quite fluid between Rukiga and Runyankore, and with more writings in Runyankore-Rukiga or Rukiga-Rukiga coming into being and circulating, this fluidity will become more clear to you. The fluidity also touches on culture, though I too am, by and large, an advocate of cultural preservation.

But, as I have just said, what is more inalienably “Kiga” – and what I would soonest die to preserve – is the grammar, and of course the “sound”, of Rukiga-Rukiga, manifest though this is in at least five dialectal forms, namely: “Rukiga-Rusigi”, “Rukiga-Runyangyezi”, “Rukiga-Ruhimba”, “Rukiga-Rusaakuru” and “Rukiga-Rugabira”. Yet, even within each of these there are differences: thus whereas many speakers of Rukiga-Rusigi would say “okugambiisa”, “okunagiisa”, “okwegyeesa” etc. in constructing the causative forms of the root verbs “okugamba”, “okunaga”, “okwega”, elongating the vowel sound in those critical positions, other Rukiga-Rusigi speakers (e.g. myself from Nyakagyera in Subcounty Kyanamira) would – like the Bahororo and Banyankore – not effect that elongation.

I hope this is a useful exchange, Mr. Bwesigye.

Prof. Manuel J.K. Muranga