Jackson Twesigye Kaguri’s The Price of Stones #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 17:59

 Dennis D Muhumuza, one of my close friends on and away from Facebook loves books.  His love for books is visible in very many ways not limited to the book reviews he writes for The Sunday Monitor newspaper. A profile picture of Dennis with a book is not strange at all, knowing his love for books. It is indeed Dennis’ profile picture in which he is holding and reading Jackson Twesigye Kaguri’s The Price of stones; Building a school for my village that pricked my long-held interest in the book, thereby starting my personal experience of Kaguri’s story.

I borrowed Dennis’ copy immediately. He indeed delivered it to my workplace, (I am immensely grateful Dennis) and the experience I have since had is a fantastic one. I must note on the onset that Kaguri’s story was not entirely unknown to me before reading and experiencing the book. Kaguri is my friend on Facebook; I am a Facebook fan of the Nyaka page, Mr. Kaguri is a member of the board of directors of Global Batwa Outreach where I do volunteer advocacy and his name has come up many times in my personal conversations with my role-model and mentor, Mr. Johnson Karengye Mujungu as regards community development and social entrepreneurship.

Reading Kaguri’s book was an entirely new experience. I discovered that what I knew of him was less than 1% of who he is. By merely reading his book, I have an experience independent of the book. Kaguri’s life story is weaved with his award-worthy initiative of building a free school for AIDS orphans in his ancestral village in the book. It is not hard to locate the source of Kaguri’s inspiration to build his community as he ably juxtaposes his personal life experiences with his initiative and work for the Nyaka orphans.

In The Price of Stones; Building a School for my village, I met Jackson’s wife, an African American called Beronda. The two met in New York at Columbia University where Jackson did his postgraduate study and Beronda was then studying for her college degree. Jackson explains what attracted him to Beronda;

The first things that attracted me to her were her self confidence, openness and beautiful smile. She was everyman’s dream; smart, loving, kind and independent. After only three dates, I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry and have children with.

The story of Jackson and his marrying Beronda is one I recommend one should find in the book on their own. From step one; Beronda is at the centre of the dream for a school for Nyakagyezi village, as much as Jackson. Back in America, Jackson writes of the frustrations as he shared the dreams with others;

An immigrant friend from Ghana shook his head when I explained the idea to him. ‘This is America’, he said. ‘You work hard, buy a nice car and pay to bring your family here, forget your village.

The seed money for the school came from Beronda’s and Jackson’s savings for a house. They decided to build a school first for orphans before they could buy a house for their young family. What largely makes the book an experience on its own separate from the author’s are the minute details Jackson divulges about himself. He writes at page 95; “in America, I was a stay-at-home dad who cared for Nicolas and did house work …” My gender equality nerve could not resist the tickle. Doing house work does not make Jackson less of a man neither does taking care of their son Nicolas.

There are many times I fell into the trap of thinking that Jackson had it all well with the Nyaka project. However hard, after getting some money through fundraising and transparently putting up school structures, it should follow that any orphan would be dying to join the school where food is free, school uniform free and other school supplies. That thought cannot last the whole book. Sharon, one girl refuses school even with the quality of the education and holistic approach to education the school applies. Jackson writes of the disappointment he feels regarding Sharon’s choice and in a masterly done transition follows up with his own experience. He writes;

I prayed for God to protect her and hoped things would turn out for the best. One never knows about these things. I had learned that lesson first hand. It was 1982 and I was ten.

There are very many things to love about Jackson’s The Price of Stones, but his unmistakeable description of nature comes top for me. Of Kabale, he writes;

Kabale district has been described as the Switzerland of Africa, with interlocking hills, cool morning temperatures and beautiful scenery. Being positioned between two ridges, the morning fog could be so thick that children got lost.

Jackson’s own home is Kanungu, a neighbouring district to Kabale but his description of mornings in Kabale is so spot-on, I read it all over again and again.

Again, in another linkage of his own life-story to Nyaka’s, Jackson writes of the gap between rural and urban primary school pupils as regards the national examinations, a point he makes ably. He writes;

Rural children were at a disadvantage when it came to taking national exams. Some test questions assumed familiarity with city life. I remembered one question about people on the first floor above the ground floor. For children who had experienced only one-story houses it was an alien concept. They had little chance of answering such a question correctly.

The philosophy that drives Kaguri to the extent of dedicating lots of time, resources and efforts to help and build his community underlies his entire story. If I am reading the news correctly, Jackson left his job at the University of Michigan to concentrate on permanently and full-time working for Nyaka. One can find the core of his philosophy is a speech he gave at a fundraising event, he explains;

We are the ones with a choice – we can ignore the problem and let these children become victims of neglect and abuse or we can save them, one child at a time. We are the ones who must rescue our community. We are the ones who have the opportunity to save these children.

The extent of the impact of Kaguri’s putting his dream to reality is visible from how his philosophy spread to other members of the community. At a grannies’ conference in Toronto, he thought;

“Governments could pass laws, write legislation and send money that never reached them or only covered certain care, but these women held the power to make their own future. One way or another, the grandmothers were going to save Africa’s orphaned children.”

Kaguri must not have foreseen the potential impact Nyaka AIDS orphans school would have on the community. At the school’s graduation ceremony in 2008, seven years after the school’s opening, Kaguri wrote of the achievements;

Not only had we just graduated our first class, our clean water system had been expanded and we had our own educational radio program broadcasting from Rukungiri, and the grannies’ project. Our three-acre farm allowed us to grow maize, potatoes and vegetables and a grant from the Blue Lupin foundation was funding the first public library in western Uganda.

From the achievements, one would think that Kaguri lives in this village where the school is located. That he lives with Beronda and Nicolas faraway in Michigan but has managed to build a community around an AIDS orphans school should stand out as a challenge to those who live in and near the communities that need their initiatives and hard work. As Lucy Steinitz writes in the afterword;

Nyaka shows a whole new way to engage in community development. Nyaka’s concept is to create a holistic centre that starts with a school but extends far beyond a formal primary education to include agriculture and nutrition, cultural programs, life skills, psychosocial supports, healthcare and a home away from home. Local materials and people are employed; Nyaka is very much integrated into the rural life of south-western Uganda.

Nyaka and Kaguri through the book “A Price of Stones, Building a School for my Village” is an experience for everyone to live. Very many personal details of Kaguri’s life and the school will impact everyone in a unique way. That Nyaka, the dream is expanding is the highest point. There is now another school Kutamba built along the same concept as Nyaka.

What moves me most regarding my experience of Nyaka and Jackson is that we need to put our foot on the ground and start working. That we have to get involved. That we have to involve others to build our communities. That high sounding rhetoric is just that – RHETORIC. That we need to invest our vision, energy, single minded dedication in building our communities. Certainly, no one will build them for us.

That in us, in our experiences is inner strength that can better us and our communities. Jackson lost his elder brother Frank to AIDS, a sister Mbabazi to the disease hence became the obvious guardian of his nephews and nieces. His wife’s maiden visit to Nyakagyezi, their village saw a line of villagers at their home begging for support for widows and orphans of AIDS. Jackson certainly knew where he had come from; he knew the importance of the community that birthed him. All this metamorphosed into Nyaka. Our personal experiences hold our strength to bettering who we are and our communities.

To get information about the book and the schools, visit www.nyakaschool.org or www.thepriceofstones.com

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.  

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

Just how different is Rukiga from Runyankore and why does the Kavunuuzi deny?

Originally posted on Facebook

To many people, the difference between the Bakiga and Banyankore is unreal. Putting aside the hoax that physical attributes can help to tell the difference between any ethnicities, the cultural especially linguistic difference between the Kiga and the Nyankore peoples is what many consider as inconsequential. The Nyankore and Kiga cultures generally have wide differences from each other, but it is undeniable that the Rukiga and Runyankore languages are closely related. This close relationship is what has been mistaken for similarity and has occasioned a subtle linguistic erosion of Rukiga as a distinct language. Some friends insist that Rukiga and Runyankore are mere dialects of the same language. Some say that the difference is in the accent, while insisting that Rukiga is the same as Runyankore.

I spent my childhood in Nyanja, Maziba, punctuated with visits over the holidays to Kyanamira, all areas located in the Ndorwa county of Kabale district, in the Kigezi region. At my rural primary school, Nyanja Primary School, we learnt how to read and write the Rukiga language alongside English but this stopped at Primary Three level, from where we drifted to learning in English only. But we freely spoke Rukiga all times of our school life at Nyanja. English was limited to the classroom activity.

When I joined Kigezi High School for my secondary, I met many people who spoke Rukiga like me and I remember vividly that the school had no policy forcing us to speak English while on the school premises like other schools I have heard of. Indeed, many of our colleagues from other places knew how to speak Rukiga by the time they left the school. It is then that I learnt for the first time of the existence of Runyankore as a distinct language and its differences from Rukiga, my native language. Runyankore speakers at Kigezi High School often found some words we used in Rukiga strange at first the same way we found some Runyankore words strange.

Kigezi High School

Kigezi High School

However different many words in these two languages are, speakers of either language can hear and understand each other, even with the strange words. But I (a Rukiga speaker) can also understand a Rutooro and Runyoro speaker without need for translation! Yet, it is not necessarily said that Rukiga and Rutooro or Runyoro are the same language, or is it?

From the translation of the Bible, to many other linguistic projects, Rukiga has been lumped together with Runyankore, always mistaking the two for one language. In all these texts, the distinctive Rukiga words and phraseologies are often omitted in favour of Runyankore distinctive words and phraseologies.


Inside the Runyankore Rukiga Bible

As I have argued elsewhere, language is not merely the collection of words, but a core facet of culture and identity. People whose conventional economic activity is cultivation have a language that reflects the reality of their daily activities, just as those whose economic activity rotates around cattle keeping will have a language unique to their way of life. To stretch this further, we can say that the cultivator has a language he uses to speak to their crops and the cattle keeper has a language he uses to speak to their cattle. These languages can not be the same. The ears of the crops differ from those of cattle.

Further, physical environment has an impact on language, the same way it impacts on culture. The hills, valleys, swamps and the mountains speak and are spoken to by those who live on, in and with them. Flat lands speak as well. But there is no way the highlands can speak the same language as the lowlands. Language is thus not just about words, syntaxes, grammar and other technical bits of linguistics. A people’s Language is inseparable from a people’s culture and way of life. Our languages are related because mankind irrespective of which theory you believe in (evolution, creation etc) is related by nature. But as we know, migrations, settlements and other reasons have made us develop unique heritages from each other, and with this, distinct languages have developed for individual identities.


Kabale land is heavily fragmented

The differences between the cultures and languages of the Banyankore and Bakiga are so many I can not start listing one by one. However, over time, especially after the advent of colonialism and the demarcation of a border between Rwanda and Uganda in effect separating the Bakiga from their closer relatives the Banyarwanda, the written forms of Runyankore-Rukiga have taken on a Runyankore character and lost any “Kiga-ness” in it hence there has been a systematic subjugation of one language by another. This subjugation however is limited to written forms as the oral versions remain as different as they can ever be.

In the days of acceptance of our diverse heritage as Ugandans, projects like the writing of the Kavunuuzi y’Orunyankore Rukiga omu Rungyereza (Dictionary of Runyankore Rukiga into English), a translator of sorts, it is expected that the project would recognize the uniqueness of each language. The dictionary written by Yoweri Museveni, Manuel J.K. Muranga, Alice Muhoozi, Aaron Mushengyezi and Gilbert Gumoshabe in 2009 and published by the Institute of Languages, Makerere University & UNESCO Nairobi Office and financially sponsored by UNESCO and the Japanese government, in my view fails miserably if it ever considered the uniqueness of Rukiga from Runyankore. Rather than preserve the Runyankore Rukiga languages as the stated objective of the project, it seems to enable Runyankore suppress Rukiga as a distinct language on its own. Below, I intend to briefly show the narrow extent to which Rukiga is depicted as a distinctive language from Runyankore in a translation dictionary.

Let me start from dances. Different cultures have different dances and know their dances by unique words. Language is inimitably part of the dance and the culture. You can not use Luganda words to dance the Kikiga dance and vice-versa! For the uninitiated, the traditional dances of the Kiga peoples are different from those of the Nyankore peoples. The Kiga traditional dances include ekizino, omwemuriko, kakitaari among others, while the Nyankore traditional dance is the Ekitaguriiro. Ekitaguriiro is a noun that comes from the verb okutaguriira. The Kavunuuzi says, “Okutaagurira” is the act of dancing unique to Banyankore and Bakiga of south western Uganda. But the Bakiga do not dance the Ekitaguriiro. It is a Kinyankore dance! This is a typical example of how the Kavunuuzi misrepresents the heritage of the Bakiga by lumping them together with the Banyankore and assigning what is uniquely Nyankore to both identities. In Rukiga, the word okutaguriira to mean dancing does not exist, because the Bakiga call their dance okuziina hence the different dances, Ekitaguriiro for Banyankore and Ekiziino for Bakiga! But the Kavunuuzi overlooks that!


Dancing ekizino, the kikiga dance

In the Kavunuuzi, the strictly Rukiga words (those that Banyankore do not use/know), are marked with a‘usage’ connotation showing that they are Kiga and the strictly Nyankore words (which Bakiga do not use) marked with a Nkore usage connotation. There are however many strictly Runyankore words which the Bakiga do not use but are not conotated in the dictionary as of Nkole usage. Very few, if any strictly Kiga words have escaped the Kiga usage connotation on the other hand. This can be interpreted/misinterpreted to mean that some strictly Runyankore words should universally apply to Rukiga, where as strictly Rukiga words should not apply to Runyankore. If this be true, then the Kavunuuzi’s intentions are not noble. By treating Rukiga as a minor language and projecting Runyankore as the superior language, the Kavunuuzi attempts to subdue Kiga heritage, which we know is on its own as rich, I won’t say richer. Let us look at some of the words themselves as projected by the Kavunuuzi;

Ahansi adv. the place beneath, or under. Usage: Kiga. Var: ahaasi. The Bakiga do not use the ahaasiword to mean ahansi, ahaasi is conventionally a Runyankore word but it is not followed by a Nkole usage connotation.

Amashaza n. peas: a leguminous plant of the genus Pisum with small white flowers and long green pods containing edible green seeds. Usage: Kiga. Var: obushaza, amasaza. Sing: eishaza. I am not sure that the Banyankore grow peas, so it is as well possible that they do not have a word for peas.

Ekibiga n. a condition of feeling hot. Usage: Kiga. See: EKYOYA. The Kiga do not use the word Ekyoya to mean Ekibiga as the Banyankore. But the Kavunuuzi does not state that Ekyoya is of Nkore usage, the same way is states that Ekibiga is for Kiga usage!

Ekicuucu n. shed: dark area on the ground, wall, floor, etc. due to cut off of direct rays of light. Usage:Kiga. See: EKIBUNDA. Pl: ebicuucu. So, the Kavunuuzi rightly notes that Ekicuucu is a strictly Kiga word, but do the authors want us to believe that Ekibunda applies across the board? It is a strictly Runyankore word that is not universal!

I can go on and on and mention more words as Nyenkyakare, Okucuusya, Okufuura, Okuhenyera, Okukaakaara, Okusonoora, Okutonoora, Ruzimure among others, but I hope the few words above explain the point well.

It would be unfair of me if I do not approve the “stated” objectives of the Kavunuuzi project! But that is all I can do, applaud the objective which to me is not met, if I look at the matter from my perspective as one interested in the preservation of the Kiga heritage just as others. By subjugating the Kiga language with Runyankore, the Kavunuuzi does more harm than probably intended! Maybe the whole lumping together of Runyankore and Rukiga under the Runyankore Rukiga tag is wrong!

Republished on Ugandans At Heart on January 26, 2014