The Ghosts of Dictators in Bukoba

Some places are like pages of a book that preserves history. Bukoba is one such place. It boasts of something from every chapter in human history; Stone Age rock art in Bwanjai, ancient foundries in Katuruka, a colonial palace in Kanazi, and ruins from one of Africa’s first inter-state wars in Kyaka. I went to Bukoba to look at our distant  past, intrigued that the Bahaya could make high-grade steel 2000 years ago, and oral lore has it that they constructed an iron-tower that reached the heavens.  But I failed to get a decent look into that past because ghosts of two dictators blocked my view.

Hermes, a descendant of Kahigi,
he was kind enough to show me the ruined palace.
One of these was Omukama Kahigi, who I had not heard of prior to my arrival in Bukoba. I heard about his palace by pure chance. I had run out of places to visit and I was idling on the beach, chatting with a local woman, who mentioned that I might want to see this colonial palace. I jumped at the opportunity, hoping I would stumble upon something grand. Instead, I got a lot of oral stories that have survived for nearly a hundred years.

The German’s built the palace for an omukama, Kahigi of Kainja. He was the weakest, and the most looked down upon, of the eight kings who ruled Buhaya shortly after the collapse of the Karagwe kingdom in the 1800s. Each had his own autonomous territory, but Kahigi struggled to hold on to his authority, and he feared being defeated and subjugated by one of other seven. He paid tribute to the Kabaka of Buganda, who helped him cling on to the throne. When the German’s invaded, he found a new ally
The house the German’s built Kahigi. Oral lore has it that
a maze underneath was a torture and death chamber.
At school, when we are taught about colonialism, they say Europeans did not meet resistance, and yet listening to anecdotes like that of Kahigi suggests otherwise. The Bahaya passively resisted. Though they did not take up arms, they refused to cooperate with the colonialists, and this made it difficult for the Germans to gain a foothold. They needed the support of the local leaders, and clever as they were, they saw an opportunity in Kahigi. Being the weakest, hungering for power, Kahigi quickly ingratiated himself towards the Germans, and they used him to conquer the Bahaya.
 
“He was the first to realize the power of the Germans,” his great-great grandson, Hermes Balige Nyarubamba, apparent heir to the all-but-dead kingdom, told me when I visited. As other kingdoms resisted colonization, Kahigi welcomed the Germans. Warmly. They gave him what he wanted. Power. They made him ruler of the region, and to thank him for his help, they gave him a lot of land, and they made him a German officer, and they built for him a palace in 1905, the ruins of which I was visiting.
 
When I saw his photos, I at first thought I was looking at a German. I could not see an African man from that period dressed up like that. Hermes told me that his great-grandfather loved the German’s so much that he behaved like a German, he dressed, and ate, and walked, and talked like a Germany. After Germany lost World War 1, Kahigi became lost. He did not know to relate to his new masters, the British. He committed suicide rather than serve another master, some sources say, but Hermes said it was because a British officer mocked him for his love for Germany, that the British officer called him a ‘German pet’ or something to that effect, and Kahigi could just not live with that insult. He was in a worse place than when the Germans found him. 

 

German boy: Kahigi, in German uniform.
It took me a moment to realize he was African.
“Was he loved?” I asked Hermes.
 
Hermes shook his head sadly. “He was like your Idi Amin,” he replied. He told me that the Germans built a maze under the palace where they tortured and killed people, with the full cooperation of the omukama. After their defeat, the maze was closed. “There is a secret door,” Hermes added. His father, who passed away in 2010, once opened the door, and took him into the maze, but they quickly retreated because the horrors from a century ago still haunt it. He says he saw a huge spirit-snake that roams the tunnels, and he heard ghosts of the people who died in there. “We want to open the maze to the public,” he told me, “but we have to first conduct rituals to cleanse the place. It’s not nice in there. It is terrible and full of horrible memories. It’s still haunted.” After his father passed away, he tried to open the door again, but failed. He cannot remember how to open it.

Nor would he show me the doorway to the maze. “It is a secret,” he explained. “Before we open it to the public we have to first explore it. There might be buried treasure in there.” 
 
There are three buildings in the palace. According Hermes, after the Germans constructed the first, a mbandwa – prophet, or shaman, – warned the king that he had used the visitors to gain power, but a time would come when that power would fade away, when his reign would weaken and die, and he would not have even a house for his children. He would have nothing valuable to give to his children. So Kahigi asked the Germans to build a new house for his son. They did. Kahigi however did not tell his son, Alfred Kalema, the full prophecy, so when Kalema tried to enter the new house, he saw a fire, and a giant snake. 

“Is it the same spirit-snake that haunts the maze?” I asked Hermes, interrupting his story.


“Maybe,” Hermes replied. “You see, the prophecy had it that doom would come soon, and Kalema would not enjoy the fruits of his father’s gamble with the Germans.” So the snake prevented Kalema from entering the house and Kalema had to build one, the third house, for himself. No one was able to live in the original palace until Kahigi’s grandson, Peter Nyarubamba, born in 1958, came along.

 

A shrine within the palace, where ancestral spirits are worshiped.
Some rooms in the palace are also used for spirit worship.
The family now lives in near poverty, partially surviving on fees tourists pay. The Tanzanian government banned all traditional kingships, and gives royal families no allowances. This palace had fallen to ruins. It resurrected and opened to tourists following the efforts of an American professor, Peter Schmidt.
 
“There is German treasure hidden away somewhere in here,” Hermes tells me as he explains the family’s financial situation. He thinks that because of the prophecy, Kahigi asked the German’s not just for a second building, but for treasure for his descendants. “They gave him a lot of treasure,” Hermes added. “We don’t know what kind of treasure it is, or how much it is, but the German’s buried treasure somewhere here and we are still looking for it. That’s one reason we can’t open the maze to the public, or reveal the location of the door.”
Ruins of a Rugaruga guardhouse, outside the palace at Kanazi, Bukoba.
Just outside the palace, are trenches, which Hermes said were dug during the 1978 Uganda-Tanzania war. I paused to think about the significance of these trenches, and them being so close to the palace. It put two kinds of people who I think are responsible or Africa’s current socio-political crisis in the same geographical location, two ghosts who are a symbolic representation of how things really fell apart in East Africa; how colonialists easily subjugated our grandparents, and how post-independence misrule and corruption stifled our opportunity to rise. Two people who hungered for power and used it selfishly. I’m superstitious, and I wonder if the ancestors were sort of preserving history by having these two things, the palace and the trenches, exist side-by-side to this day.
 
Bukoba still talks about Idi Amin’s invasion, even those who were not born at that time give animated narrations of tales from the war, and maybe this is because the Tanzanian government made efforts to ensure the people of the region never forget the war. Bukoba town bore the brunt of aerial bombings, most of which were thankfully wide of the mark. Some historians say Idi Amin’s pilots were not properly trained, and Tanzanian anti-aircraft guns brought down a number of the planes. People display pieces of metal in their offices (at least one that I saw), which they claim was from Amin’s planes. In Kyaka, a town an hour’s drive from Bukoba, Amin’s forces did considerable damage to some buildings, and the Tanzanian army keeps one as a monument to the war.

 

The ruins of a church in Kyaka, Tanzania,
destroyed during the Uganda-Tanzania war of 1978-79
Before the war, this building belonged to the Lutheran Church (ELCT). At first, there were two parishes, Kashasha and Kituntu, which joined to form Kyaka Parish and it built this church in 1960. The church stood on a hill, and must have been a majestic structure in its prime. Then, in 1971, Idi Amin started a feud with Nyerere, and there was talk of war. The Tanzanian army asked the church to vacate the hill, for it was of a strategic military importance. Whoever controlled the hill would control the town, and the main highway between Uganda and Tanzania. The church then shifted to what was supposed to be a temporal location, but which is where it stands to this day, because in 1978, war broke out and Idi Amin bombed the hill. By that time, it was a purely military post, with heavy equipment. The war left it in ruins, but Amin failed to control the hill, and hence could not control the town of Kyaka, and the highway, and thus he lost the war. 

Or so the oral tales have it.
 
I looked at the new church, and I saw symbolism in the bombed out structure. The new building is nothing compared to the one that was destroyed, it is no architectural wonder, and is not magnificent. Even the ruins is grander than the replacement church. There in I saw the legacy of African leaders, they destroy, and what they destroy, is replaced by things of far less value.
~~
 
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Seven Tricks Ugandan Girls Use to Hook Men

A man has a lot of tricks to seduce a woman. Some are outright crude, like using his middle finger to scratch her palm when they greet. Some are outrageous, like whistling at her as she walks down the streets. Others are ludicrous, like telling her lies about his wealth. Because of the gender power play in society, boy-tricks are almost everyday happenings, they are out there in the open. Often, when a woman sees them she knows what’s up, and either slaps him in retort, or kick his balls, or plays along. But the girl-tricks are not always obvious. Sometimes a man has to look real hard to figure out what she is saying. Here are some that I experienced. If you know any, leave a comment below.
A scene from my film, Cursed Widow Blues
 1.      Sing Me A Song
A long time ago, a certain girl would sing Marc Anthony’s ‘I Need You’ every time she saw me. I always wondered about that, but I never got the hint. She was still a teenager, maybe nineteen, and I had just started working. She was my neighbor. I had a computer, a rare thing in those days, and boasted of a large collection of mp3 songs. She would always urge me to play her that song. Once she came to my room, sat on my bed, and made me play the song seven times in about thirty minutes. I never got the hint. Several months later, she came again to my bed, and she was very angry. She asked me to play for her Ciara’s ‘If that boy don’t love you by now…’ and that is when I got the hint. By then, another neighbor (a married man) had ballooned her, and I could only bite my lips in regret.
 
2.     The Panty-Flash
Some girls however not so coy about it, and one bold trick I encountered many times is the ‘panty-flash’. This first time it happened I was in university. I was alone in my hostel room, reading a novel, when a lady walked in. I don’t remember what she said to me, or what she was looking for, but she bent down to pick up something, and in that moment, from the corner of my eyes, I saw her panties. White. I looked up from my book, and she was smiling, talking, but I did not understand what she was saying. Then she dropped what she had picked up – all these years I try to remember what it was and I can’t! – and again she bent down to pick it up, turning her butt to me, and showing off clean white panties. I did not know how to react. I sat frozen, just staring at her, and she was there smiling at me for a long time. You see, I was still a virgin and I was still very terrified of women. After a while and I did not respond, she jeered and stomped out.
 
The next morning, I saw her get out of my roommate’s bed. My roommate obviously knew how to read the signs and he took the opportunity without hesitation when she repeated the ritual for him (I think she was in a certain mood and had no boyfriend). I slept through their tryst, didn’t even wake up to notice something wild was going on just a few feet away. Only when I saw her walking out, without so much as a ‘good morning’ to me, did the significance of her pant-showing antic strike me.

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Later, I heard another story, of another guy whose girlfriend had bought new panties and she wanted him to see what they looked like. She hid behind a curtain, wore the stuff, and then strutted around the room showing it off. This poor guy was obviously worse than me, for this was his girlfriend, and he did not even read it right? I mean, she tried on like seven panties, or so I heard, and he never made a move. She dumped him straight away.
 
A few years later, I was in living in Kamuli town. I rented the boy’s quarters of an old bungalow. One day, I looked out of my window to the landlady’s backyard, where the house girl was cooking a meal in the veranda. She sat on a three-legged stool. She saw me looking out, and then her legs parted, slowly at first, hesitantly, then full wide until she could show off her panties. Green with black dots. She left it wide open for about a second, and snapped it closed shut so quickly that if I had blinked I wouldn’t have noticed. When I did not react, she repeated it, the slow, hesitant, teasing opening, then the quick close. I could clearly see what she was up to, but I did not pursue the matter because I had a girlfriend at that time. Besides, this house girl was underage, about sixteen. A few hours later, she crept to my window and whispered “Coward!” and ran away before I could respond. Every day for a week, while she was fixing lunch, she showed me that green piece with black dots (Did she have only one, or many of the same color?), and after lunch she would creep to my window and whisper-shout “Coward!” I was so much relieved when they fired her. Apparently, the landlady caught her doing something with a banana….
Actors do selfie while shooting my horror/sci-fi film
What Happened to Jilted Lovers
3.     Selfie
These days, with a proliferation of smart phones, a woman does not have to flash her panties. Last year, I was at a friend’s shop and I saw this girl looking through the racks. She was a beauty, with a natural, short hair-do and hardly any make-up. Her jeans were tight and the friend caught me looking at her. Apparently, he was her good friend. He called her over and said, ‘Hey, you both are single. Why don’t you check each other out?’ We exchanged numbers, and a few days later went for a movie at Acacia mall. As we waited outside the theater, she started to take selfies. Then she showed me the selfies, commenting on how she looked weird in each. As she scrolled through the pics, I saw a nude one. She quickly snatched away the phone and she screamed.
 
‘Oh gash! You weren’t supposed to see that!’
 
She looked really terrified that I had seen it, and she looked around to see if anyone had seen it. Out of politeness, to calm her down, I said, ‘Oh, I really did not see anything. What is it you are scared about?’
 
Her face folded from horror to a frown. ‘You did not see it?’ She asked, full of doubt.
 
‘No,’ I said. ‘I did not see anything.’
 
‘Okay,’ she said. She took some more selfies, and started to scroll again. The selfies came up, and then the nude came up again. This time, she did not snatch away the phone. Pic after pic came up, some with Desire-poses, and others – well, she was screaming ‘Oh god! This is so embarrassing! Please don’t look! Please look away! What are all these nudes doing on my phone? Oh my god! Don’t look!’
 
Of course I did not look away. But I was not thrilled either. I bit my lips, and cursed myself: ‘Did I really have to buy overpriced 3D tickets to get into these pants? I could have done it with a rolex!’

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We watched the movie, we ate at Sky Lounge, and then I bade her goodnight. She was genuinely surprised. I think she wanted me to say something other than goodnight.  But being the good girl that she was, she said, ‘Okay. Let me take a farewell selfie.’
 
I knew exactly what she had in mind. She would take the selfie, then start scrolling…. At that time I was a little angry. She was treating me like a kid who did not know anything, I mean, you know how you would show a child how to peel a banana?
 
‘That won’t be necessary,’ I replied, and walked away.
 
A few days later, I told the shopkeeper friend what had happened and he explained it all. ‘Sorry about that. She asked me how to approach you, and I advised her that you are the shy type so she should take a lead in everything. I guess she scared you off with her boldness.’
 
I agreed. I wish she had taken the lead in a less subtle manner. She looked nice :-))
Does he look innocent?
Filming Cursed Widow Blues, a horror sci-fi film. 
4.     I’m A Virgin
The most common trick, and probably the most effective still, is when they claim to be virgins, or to have never been kissed. It that excites a certain instinct in men. You see, men want to have bragging rights – Speke: ‘I was the first man to discover River Nile!’ Masaba: ‘That’s nothing. I was the first man to climb Mount Elgon!’ – and so when men hear of an innocent place waiting to be explored…..
 
The first time a girl used the trick on me, I fell for the trap, and was utterly disappointed to find that she was not a virgin. I was really disappointed. The second time it happened, the girl looked the innocent type, but when we kissed, hmm, she was an expert. I didn’t bother to find out if she was a virgin. I swear I did not!
Monica and Favor, play man and wife,
in my short film Cursed Widow Blues
 5.     I’m Married
Closely related to that is them saying ‘I’m single but not searching,’ for men want women who are free, absolutely free. But again, some women know men go for married women, for it’s a bang-wham without a lot of attachments, and even if you end up ballooning her, well, she has a husband at home to blame. A while back when I had a day job, I shared an office with a certain woman and so we spent nearly eight hours together every day. After five months, I knew everything about her husband, and especially how he could not satisfy her, and how she had always wanted a dark, tall guy who did not tuck in his shirts…. I got the hint, but nothing happened. Believe me. I was so relieved when a third workmate joined our office.
Smell that baby. G’dah and Philip perform on stage
Kampala International Theater Festival, 2014
6.     Perfume
Another date. Another disaster. This one a little bit of a spectacular disaster. You see, I have a poor sense of smell. Unless it is really, really very strong, I can’t notice it. Sometime in 2014, I was dating this bombshell, and it went on for a few months without things moving forward. Remember, I’m the shy type, the cowardly type; I fear rejection so much that even when a girl is so obviously into me I’ll hesitate to ask her to take things a notch higher. And so this time, we were at a fancy restaurant (I won’t tell you which one), enjoying a nice evening, and I was jittery, wondering how to tell her I wanted to be her boyfriend. I did not know she was thinking the same thing, and that she had decided to let me know with a perfume. But I have a poor sense of smell, and so I did not notice her perfume.
 
‘This smells nice,’ she said, sniffing at a bottle of mineral water.
 
I frowned. Mineral water? I wondered if they had started producing scented water. I sniffed at my bottle. Nothing. So I explained to her, ‘I have a poor nose.’
 
Shortly after, she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she came back, she again picked up the water bottle and sniffed at it. ‘Can you now smell it?’ she asked. I did not know that she had added a bit more of her perfume to tickle my poor nose, so I said, a little confused, ‘No. I still don’t smell it.’
 
And again, she went to the bathroom, and again she asked if I noticed the smell, and still, I didn’t realize it. Honestly, I did not know she was hinting at her own perfume (I’m very slow in these things, which is why I’m still single) and all along I thought she was indeed talking of the scent of the mineral water. I did wonder why she thought the mineral water bottle would smell differently after she visited the bathroom, yet it stayed on the table. If she had taken it to the toilet, that would have been a different matter, I would have thought she had peed in it or something, but she left it behind, and believe me, her question troubled me a lot. I nearly told her that I noticed the smell, out of politeness, for she seemed very eager for me to realize the water companies had started packing scented water, but I am the honest kind, so I said I did not notice the smell. If only she had spoken directly of her perfume, I would have pretended I noticed it and the disaster wouldn’t have happened. But she kept talking in metaphors, and so she kept going to the bathroom, and adding the perfume, and adding, until eventually everyone in the restaurant was sneezing.
 
Okay, at that moment, I did realize there was a new smell in the air, a little different from the fumes and dust that wafted in from the streets, and I asked her; ‘Are you wearing perfume?’
 
Before she could reply, a waiter approached us. He had a handkerchief over his nose, and he spoke firmly. ‘I’m sorry, your perfume is bothering everyone. You have to leave.’ When she hesitated, the waiter grabbed her by the arms and dragged her out of the chair. Poor girl.
 
I caught up with her on the pavement outside the restaurant. She was trying to flag down a boda, but oh gash, each boda who came close to her rode off very quickly without even bothering to ask her anything. She was in near tears. ‘I did this to show you I want to be your girlfriend but you are too stupid!’ She slapped me, a real hot slap that I still feel to this day, and then she stormed off into the night. I wonder how she got home. I haven’t heard from her since then.
 
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Africanized Christianity and Enchanted Places of Kenya and Uganda

This Christmas, I can’t stop thinking about how Christianity in Africa is gradually morphing into a hybrid religion spiced with local traditions, just as it did in pagan Europe. One strong indicator of its future is visible in Legio Maria. I first heard of them in my childhood, after a neighbor’s child fell off a tree and died (apparently). A group of Legio Maria prayed for him and he resurrected. A few years later, we planted a moringa tree in our home. They have something against that tree, so one day they showed up at our fence and said prayers to curse the tree, and the tree grew so big that it threatened the house and we had to cut it down. In spite of these strange happening, I never bothered to find out about them until I visited Western Kenya in March of this year.
 

I only wanted to see rocks. People think Stonehenge is a human structure, but are quick to dismiss the beautiful formations in many parts of East Africa as works of nature. I think these rocks have something about them worth looking into, and so I went to the famous ones in Kisumu, not like an archeologist, but to get a sense local views about them.

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The Crying Stone, Ikhongo Murwi.

After finishing some business in Nairobi, I took a bus to Kakamega and then a boda boda to the Crying Rock, a pillar-like structure about forty meters high with a smaller rock sitting at its top. It is so named because water runs down its sides, leaving a tear-like stain, from a mysterious source at the peak. The boda guy said it was far outside town, but it was only a short ride, and it would have been quicker if the road was good and if he knew exactly where we were going. He did not, in spite of the rock’s alleged fame, because, he said, he did not see its use. In the past it was visible from the road, but the family that owns the land planted trees around it, and now the only way to see it is to go right up to it. Not a difficult journey, though the road petered out and I had to climb the hill on foot. Good for exercise. I met an old woman who insisted I pay for seeing the rock. I gave her 200 bob. She showed me a cave at the foot of the rock, which she claimed Legio Maria use for worship, but I saw no evidence of this, no candles, no pictures of holy people. Then she told me the secret of the Crying Rock. “I’ll tell you because you are not a mzungu,” she said. “We tell wazungu something different.” It’s hollow at the top. When it rains, water collects, and overflows. Since I came during the dry season, there was no overflow. That was the end of the visit. I felt cheated. I asked her about the significance of the rock to the local community, for I read somewhere that they held rituals there, to end droughts, to cleanse those who commit incest, and such, but she said the only people who bother to go to the rock are tourists, and Legio Maria (of which I saw no evidence). If you want my advice, don’t go there. It’s a waste of time. A place whose essence is consumed in less than ten minutes is not worth visiting.

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I jumped on a bus, and sped off to Kisumu, to explore Kit Mikayi. I arrived at about one o’clock and had lunch at Kit Mikayi Hotel, where a girl with a charming smile served me dry fish, sukuma wiki, and ugali. It was great to feast on a local delicacy. Her name was Qintar. Not sure how she spells it. I asked her about Kit Mikayi. “I went there once,” she said. “I prayed and fasted for three days for a good husband.” She is still waiting, but is hopeful that soon he will come along.
Qintar, in Obama t-shirt, at her hotel, Kit Mikayi, Kisumu.

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I must note here the importance of folk history attributing the rock formation to human activity. Why this set? Why not all the others around? Does it allude that an earlier civilization or probably humanoid species constructed it? Sadly, colonialism and Westernization has taught us to treat this lore as hogwash not worth of archeological investigation (I sometimes relate such legends to Krishna’s submerged city of Dvārakā).

If you visit Kit Mikayi, walk around the village. It’s worth it. John was kind enough to host me at his home for a few hours. It’s a very beautiful place. You’ll enjoy the scenery, and the rocks.

An old man I met, John Obuyo Ngeso, who lives near the site, and serves as a tour guide, told me it became a shrine a long time back during a severe drought. The leaders consulted a shaman, who said the rock had ‘tied up’ rain. To perform rituals to end the draught, they smashed a hen’s head against the rock, then slaughtered a goat. They grilled and ate these without ugali, then threw the goat entrails mixed in chicken blood into a crag in the rock, where the shaman said certain prayers. Within a day, rain fell. Apparently, every other place got rain, but not this rock. He added that in times of drought, the rock ‘cries’ and water flows down to save the land. I wondered how to relate this tale to others about the origins of the rock. He could not explain.

One ritual closely related to origins goes like this; when a young man marries a woman who is not from the area, they have to perform certain rituals inside this rock, to not only make the woman part of the community, but to ensure she never leaves. That is why there is hardly any divorce in the area, Obuyo said. He took me to the cave where they take the girl, and he demonstrated the ritual; it involved the woman making ululation sounds, or maybe screams. He was an animated storyteller.

Two Legio Maria faithfuls rest under a rock after a long pilgrimage to Kit Mikayi. They were part of a larger group.

Oddly, these rituals take place in a cave that has Christian artefacts – pictures of a European Jesus alongside that of a Black Jesus. That is the magic of Kit Mikayi. All kinds of religious sects consider it a very holy site. During my visit, I saw two: A group of Legio Maria rested under a shade after a trekking over ten miles in a sort of pilgrimage. Behind a rock, a group of Roho Mawa (sic) Christians sang, prayed, and meditated. I asked the Legio Maria why they worshipped at a place associated with ancestral spirits. “God is Everywhere,” they replied.

Inside the cave, where Legio Maria pray. Notice the candles, the potraits of a white Jesus, a black Jesus, and a black Virgin Mary. Locals worship ancestral spirits and perform cultural rituals in this same spot.
Legio Maria faithfuls in a procession, holding portraits of their founders, Mama Maria (right portrait), black Mary and spiritual mother of Ondetto (left portrait) the black Jesus.
The next day, when I went to Luanda’ Magere’s grave, I was not surprised to find a photo of Melkio Ondetto, the black Jesus who founded the sect. According to lore, Luanda Magere was made of stone. He never lost in battle, until his enemies sent a Delilah to figure out his powers, then they killed him. He turned into a rock on the spot upon which he fell. His rock, for all his legend, is a tiny lump half-buried in the ground. In the past, the place was bare, but a man (they didn’t tell me who) got a dream in which Luanda complained about being out in the rain and sun, so this man built a house over the rock. There’s a second house in the compound, for Luanda’s mother, because Luo sons build their homes to the right of their parents. Locals worship in the shrine, seeking blessings and, in the past, warriors would sharpen their spears and knives on his rock for good fortune. It is not uncommon to see both Legio Maria and ancestral spirit worshippers in the same room, kneeling in front of the same rock, praying to the same god.
 

One of the Legio Maria followers, also a caretaker at Luanda Magere’s grave, told me they believe Luanda Magere reincarnated as Dedan Kimathi, that Luanda Magere’s spirit keeps possessing different people. I wonder if they’ll make Dedan Kimathi a saint, or if he is already one of their saints.

After Luanda Magere’s site, I proceeded to Angoro Bethlehem (they have so renamed several villages in Western Kenyan that are significant to their faith), the village where Legio Maria’s founder, and the black Jesus, Melkio Ondetto, was born and raised. The brother of Melkio Ondetto, and the second Pope of the sect, had passed away and was due to be buried the next day. I sadly could not stay to witness it, for I had work back home. It was a fascinating place, with and the Legio Maria are warm and welcoming, humble and unassuming, their Cardinals are not pompous. I intend to visit Angoro Bethlehem another time, maybe when there is nothing going on there like a huge funeral.

Luanda Magere’s shrine. The rock is in the shelter on the right. The portrait of Melkio Ondetto, founder of Legio Maria, hangs at the entrance to the shelter above the grave.
Christian grafitti at Ssezibwa falls.

I am sure all over the continent, there are other such sites, places where both Christians and traditional African spiritualists worship, just like places in the Middle East that is holy both to Muslims and Christians. I wish I could live into the future to see if Christianity and ancestral spirit worship morph into one, and if these sites will become some kind of temples.

If you enjoyed this article, consider support me so I can bring you more like this. Follow me on youtube.com/dilstories, watch my films, share my films, share my articles, or you could donate to me via patreon.com/dilstories

 
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Hats and Feathers: The Fashionable Men of Karamoja

Every time I visit Karamoja, it feels like I’ve stepped into another world. I particularly like the colorful attire, which reminds me of Nepal, in many ways, (strange that they both love colorful clothing, and they both worship cattle). The one thing I can’t get enough of while in Karamoja, however, is hats, especially those with feathers attached. I can’t keep my fingers off the camera each time I see one, and I am never able to capture what it is that fascinates me about this fashion. I keep wondering if they adopted it in the recent past, or if it is something that evolved from ancient days. I would sure love to investigate it with an afro-futuristic lens.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Why I Started a Literary Magazine

Many say it’s madness to start a literary magazine. Such a venture, especially one that focuses on African literature, can’t make money because, they say, there is no market to sustain literature on the continent. When I mooted the idea of Lawino to a friend, her advice was, ‘Don’t start it. All work and no pay makes Ojok a poor boy.’ It was discouraging, hearing that I would have to put a lot of energy into the magazine, and maybe never get paid for it. Still, I had this burning urge, for I wanted a journal to promote new writing from Africa, with particular focus on Uganda. ‘Haha,’ this friend laughed. ‘Promote Ugandan writers? You are wasting your time. They never submit their work.’

But I believed that Ugandan writers don’t send out their work because they have nowhere to submit. I think my career would have kicked off a lot earlier if I had somewhere to submit my writing, somewhere close to home, with editors who understand my environment and with readers who live in the cultures I write about. As it is, I had no platform to build a career on.

I started actively writing fiction at an early age, sometime late in September of 1993. I was in Senior Three. St. Peter’s College, in Tororo. End of year examinations were around the corner. Students were panicking, terrified of ‘winds’, slang for failing. If you got ‘blown by winds,’ it meant you were expelled from school for very poor academic performance. However, while other students panicked, I lolled on my bed, legs hanging up in the air, as I read The Stand, by Stephen King. That was the first adult horror I was reading. I just couldn’t put it down. A friend, Tusubira, stopped by my bed on his way to class. He stared at me for many minutes. I became uncomfortable.

‘What?’ I asked him.
 
‘Kale you,’ he said. ‘It’s a two weeks to exam and you are reading a novel.’ I only smiled at him. ‘Do you cheat?’ he added. ‘You don’t even have notes, yet you are going to pass. Do you cheat?’
 
I had skipped many classes, to read novels. The school had a big library, one of the largest in Eastern Uganda, with thousands of books that were gathering dust, unread, begging me to read them. I spent a lot of time in the library, and I stole many books as well, but all the time reading novels. The previous year, I had run around begging friends for notes. Sometimes I read their notes as they took a break from revising, especially as they ate. Yet I passed the exams with such decent grades that I maintained my place in ‘M’, a stream reserved for the brightest students. But this boy knew I never cheat. It was easy to think I cheated. In retrospect, I now know I easily passed exams because I read a lot of novels.
 
‘God is so unfair,’ another boy, Emukule, said. ‘Some of us spend sleepless nights in class but we fail. Yet this one wastes his father’s money on novels and he passes.’
 
Then, a third boy, Bruce, asked, ‘But why do you read a lot of novels?’
 
And I replied, ‘Because I want to write them one day.’
 
I had tried writing the year before. The central character was a superhero, modelled on The Phantom but with Ninja-like abilities. I never got beyond the first page. I tried writing a play for the Scripture Union, and for the church at home. I remember buying two books about writing drama for churches. I was a devout born-again Christian at that time. But both the SU and the church were not interested in original stuff. They rehashed Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames. So I gave up. Though I had toyed with the idea of writing, until that moment I didn’t know that I wanted it as a career.
 
Bruce laughed. ‘You? To write a novel?’ He laughed so hard that tears came out of his eyes.

So I started writing. It might have been that same day, or the day after, but certainly it was before the exams. It was a crime book, about a rich woman who hires her childhood friend (his name was Rob, Robert Rugunda) to find robbers who have taken her stash of dollars. ‘Why me,’ the protagonist asks her. ‘I’m not a cop.’ And she replies, ‘You are a good detective. Remember you used to catch pen and pencil thieves while we were at school?’ So Rob takes the job, and it’s gunfight after gunfight, as he uncovers a plot that goes beyond mere robbery into one that involves a government take over. I blame that plot on the likes of Robert Ludlum, Fredrick Forsythe, and James Hardley Chase.
 
When this Bruce found me on my bed, writing, he frowned in puzzlement. ‘What are you going to call it?’ he asked. ‘Chase the Dollar,’ I said. And he laughed again. This time he laughed so hard that he fell on the floor, holding his sides. He went round telling everybody, and soon the whole dorm was laughing at me. They changed the title to ‘Chase the Adhola’ and they mocked me, ‘Why do you want to chase the Jop’Adhola from their home?’
The First War, the first story I published.
Their laughter didn’t stop me, nor did that of my parents and brothers. ‘You are simply copying another book,’ one said, trying to convince me to abandon the project and stick to my studies. I was not copying any book, but I didn’t tell him that. I passed the exams and stayed in M. I continued to write during the holidays. I lost my faith in organised religion, and became a backslider, as the Pentecostals used to say, and it would be ten years before I went to church again. I wrote, and wrote, and in July of 1994, as the World Cup raged in the US, just before my Senior Four mock exams, I took the train to Nairobi and gave the book to East African Publishers. I had enjoyed their book, John Kiriamiti’s My Life in Crime. I believed they would like Chase The Dollars even better. Well, my Nairobi adventure deserves a whole book of its own, but I got a harsh rejection. They didn’t even read the book. The receptionist gave me one look, saw how dirty I was, and said, ‘We don’t accept handwritten material. Get it typed.’
The second story that appeared
in the Sunday Vision
I returned home one week to exams. Luckily, they didn’t expel me for absconding from school. I passed in second grade. Then I continued to write, but I never managed to get the manuscript typed until the early 2000s, and even then, I only managed to have the first chapter done. I burnt that book, and wrote another, which I called Osu. I typed it up neatly.
I had just finished university. I didn’t want to work for a salary. I wanted a career in writing. I searched for a publisher, and then reality struck. I had nowhere to submit my work. Most publishers, including East African Publishers (who I learnt that their full name is East African Educational Publishers), preferred text books. None wanted a novel. The best option I had was Fountain Publishers, in Uganda. I gave them Osu, and they gave me encouraging words. I’ve never heard from them since then. I couldn’t go to FEMRITE for they favoured women writers.
 
For the first time since I started writing, I realised that I might be chasing childish dreams. By 2001, after eight years of trying, I had published only one short story, in The Crusader, and the newspaper collapsed before they could pay me the ten thousand shillings for the story. I wrote another story, novella length, for The Monitor to serialize, for they had done it with Mary Karooro Okurut’s The Invisible Weevil. One of their editors (I forget his name, but he was a Musoga) told me, ‘We can’t serialise your work. We ran Okurut’s book because she is famous. You are not.’ Ngrrr. After all those years of trying to write, I was like a blocked sewage pipe. I needed an outlet for the stories bubbling in me or else I would drown in that shit. But no one cared. No publisher was interested.
 
I would have given up. I nearly gave up, for who wants live like a malfunctioning sewage pipe? I got a day job with an NGO, and started to work as a volunteer, interviewing HIV-infected people on their death beds. A horrific job. It filled me with more stories, but I was severely constipated because I simply had nowhere to send these stories.
 
Until I saw a piece of fiction in The Sunday Vision, and they wanted more. I thought I could write better than what they had published. I sent them one, called The First War, which they printed under the title Cowards Live Longer. Well, I have already written before about how Simon Kaheru, Joachim Buwembo, and a lady whose name I forget (it started with A), how they patted my back and gaped in wonder at the story. I have already said how much getting such a pat from these editors gave me the energy to dream on, to persevere. I wrote three more short stories for The Sunday Vision. Those were the happiest days of my life, at that time at least. And then, they closed the fiction section, along with the joys I got from seeing my name in print.
 
After that, came another phase of constipation. I again wondered why I bother writing yet there were no publishers of fiction in Uganda. I joined an email group, which had people like Binyavanga Wainana and Kinyanjui Wanjiru. I suggested that someone should start a literary magazine, and the idea caught fire, and so Kwani? was born. Yet I never got published in Kwani? for at that time I thought I wanted to write horror stories. I don’t think they liked anything I sent them.
 
Soon, the constipation returned. I was again a blocked sewage pipe. But this one was short lived, not just because of the encouragement I got from Simon, Joachim, and the Sunday Vision team. I discovered the internet, and a plethora of ezines to which I could submit my horror work. I plunged back into writing, and soon got published. Yet I did not derive much joy in seeing myself in print again, for these ezines were based far outside home. I think I even stripped my stories of overtly African cultures to make friendlier to these alien magazines and their alien readers. It was a very demoralising, and I soon stopped bothering to write for them.
 
Instead, I wrote with the hope that one day an African magazine that published the kind of stories I wrote would crop up. I wrote and wrote, for I had hope that things will improve. Indeed, time changed. One of the stories I wrote back then, A Killing in the Sun, which is a horror fantasy, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013. Today, many of these stories are part of my first full length book, a collection of speculative short fiction, thanks to an adventurous South African publisher, Duduzile Mabaso, of Black Letter Media.
Here it is. My first collection of stories.
Today, the African writer does not have to feel constipated as I did, nor does s/he have to feel like a blocked sewage pipe. There are many platforms one can submit to, like AfroSF, Saraba, Jalada, Sooo Many Stories, KalahariReview, Kwani?, Short Story Day Africa, BN Poetry Awards and Writivism, and book publishers like CassavaRepublic, Fox and Raven, and Black Letter Media. Yet I still remember those dark years, and I don’t want other writers to go through such trauma. One more litmag, one more platform, won’t hurt. Rather, it expands the options available. Writers do need a platform that has roots in their lives and cultures. A writer cannot grow if this platform is far outside their community.
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Potraits from Kampala’s Literary Scenes

She runs the Ranchers Seafood and Steakhouse, where many literary events take place.  This was during a Commonwealth Writers event.

Melissa Kiguwa, a feminist and poet, with Helen Nyana, a writer and publisher.
Helen Nyana, writer, publisher, photographer
David Kaiza, Writer and Editor
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014. She was not asleep.
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Patricia, writer.
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
A participant during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Jackee Batanda, writer.
Rosey Sembatya, writer and board member of FEMRITE
Daphne, a poet, attending the readers and writers club at FEMRITE

 

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, writer, and winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014
Goretti Kyomuhendo, writer, and founder of African Writers Trust
A participant at the Commonwealth Writers Conversation.
A poet performs during OpenMic at the Uganda Museum
A poet after her performance during OpenMic at the Uganda Museum
Participants during the Commonwealth Writers Conversation, Kampala, 14 June 2014
Kelsey Claire Hagens
Beverly and Melisa, during a panel discussion at the Writivism Festival 2014
At FEMRITE readers club
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Writer, Poet, attends the Writivism Festival 2014
Clifton Gachagua, Poet, Writer, Editor at Kwani
Billy Kahora, Managing Editor of Kwani

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Call for Actresses and Actors

Dilstories is in the pre-production for a TV comedy series, tentatively titled The Love Makanika. We are seeking actors and actresses for the lead roles in this offbeat comedy. We will not hold an open-call audition. Rather, interested persons should send us an email (see details below), and we shall then contact potential candidates to audition. The series will be filmed in Kampala, and so interested persons must be able to travel to, or reside within, this city.

LEAD ROLES
MAGGIE (late twenties, early thirties): She has a bachelor’s degree in commerce, but became a hair dresser on failing to find a job. She works from home. She loves African hairstyles, and wears a big Afro. She likes spending on clothing, cook books and food. Her business is struggling. She becomes a relationship counselor to supplement her income. She has never been in a relationship, following a traumatic event in her teenage years, but she believes she knows a lot about love. Many people seek her advice. Though an honest woman, she ends up being something of a con artist. The advice she gives her clients are sometimes outrageous, out of this world, and sends her clients into hilarious adventures as they struggle to find love, and to hold on to their messy relationships.
What Maggie might look like.
Picture borrowed from http://life-reflexions.blogspot.com/2011/07/inspirational-afro-hair-styles-fashion.html

BITU (mid twenties): She likes her hair natural, and is sometimes bald. She has been Maggie’s employee and friend for many years. She grew up in a small town, until Maggie brought her to the city to braid hair. She dropped out of school because of a pregnancy. Her child lives with her mother upcountry. She is unmarried, but is keen on a village pastor, the father of her child, who she wants to get rich before she can accept to be his wife. She has a sharp tongue, and her witty punchlines put her in trouble. She is flirty, but not promiscuous, many men bring her expensive gifts, but she never gives in to any.

What Bitu might look like.
Picture borrowed from: http://www.goodenoughmother.com/2011/11/ask-rene-my-husband-hates-my-hair/

SUPPORTING ROLES

PASTOR (mid twenties to mid thirties): He comes from a strict religious family. After his father dies, he steps into the helm of the village church. It is a broke church, and he is looking for American sympathizers to inject money into it so he can become rich and marry the love of his wife, Bitu, with whom he has a child. When this money doesn’t come, he wants to leave the church and find a real job, but his mother will not hear of it. He still lives with her and she rules his life.

What might pastor look like? You!

If you would like to be part of this, please send us an email with the following information:
      1)     A professional bio-filmography. No more than  200 words.
      2)     A sample of your work, either as a link to youtube/vimeo, or on DVD.
            Post the DVD to Dilstories, P.O. Box 59, Seeta, Uganda.
      3)    A headshot. Jpg files no larger than 1mb.  
Send the email to productions@dilstories.comwith ACTOR/ACTRESS APPLICATION in the subject line.

Only those who get in touch before 15th April 2014 will be considered for the pilot, the shooting of which is scheduled for the last week of April, in Kampala. Those who get in touch after this date will be considered for roles in future episodes.

For more info about dilstories, please visit http://www.dilstories.com/

Enjoy our hilarious web series on YouTube: The Total Agony of Being in Love

The Total Agony of Being in Love

A few days back, my facebook status read: Dear God, please help me. I want to be funny, but the only jokes I can come up with have either sex or poop in them. I don’t know why I’m fascinated with the two, but I also do not know why they are taboo. It’s something everybody does, and both are vital to human life. Still, they do not seem to be something people want to talk about. Or joke about. So recently, I set out to make a series of funny videos, for distribution via youtube. In this series, I will try very hard to make only clean jokes that can be enjoyed around the family dinner table, in front of your children.

That I called it The Total Agony of Being in Love should tell you where I got inspiration. Love Actually. That film. I loved it when I first watch it, sometime in 2004, and I loved the way they portrayed sex, and relationships, and it made me want to tell funny stories. I believe many stories I’ve come up with were inspired by this film. I have made four episodes of the series, and I plan to make more. Like the title says, the series will revolve around the pains of being in love.

The episode I love the most is When An African Man Cheats. I first heard a similar joke in secondary school, and it made us laugh real hard at that time. It is a man’s joke. I don’t think women will find it funny. Well, I adapted the joke, and added a whole new punchline to it. You can enjoy it below.

The other episodes include this one, Why do Men Make Love. We were one time having a chat, a few mornings ago, and a woman was complaining that her husband only makes love to her when he wants to go to sleep. He uses her as a sleeping pill. I at once thought it’s something worth talking about. I wonder, how many men use women in this way?

One of the first episodes we did was about a Lonely Girl. It is based on a poem by Rashida Namulondo, who won the BN Poetry Prize in 2013. I have had this wild idea for a long time now, of turning poems into videos, the way they make music videos. It’s not an entirely new idea, and several people have already made video poems, but I’m thinking it could be a way to help poets earn cash from their creations.


Well, so there we are. A few videos to give you a great laugh, and you should expect more. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and you won’t be disappointed!

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A Statement On the Sex-Tape Hoax

This is a public apology to Mathew Nabwiso and Tibba Murungi Kabugu, whose reputation is suffering because of a misconception over a video I uploaded on YouTube, a few months ago. The video is being taken out of context. It is not porn, or a sex tape. I appeal to all media houses and tabloids in the country to desist from spreading the lies around this video.

Mathew and Tibba in a scene in The Felistas Fable

I first met both Mathew and Tibba when I was working for The Hostel, a short lived stint that lasted only two months or so, late in 2011. I saw they were fine actors, and since I had a feature film project, The Felistas Fable, I invited them to audition for parts in the movie. I was glad to work with them in this film. It is not a pornographic film. However, there involved a sex scene between the two characters that they would both be portraying. This scene was not simply for the sake of having graphic displays of sex, but it was a plot device and it was also for comic purposes.

It maybe not be possible to show you how we used sex as a plot device or for comic purposes, but I will invite you to watch another short film that I made, in which we use it to great effect. What Happened in Room 13 http://youtu.be/RZnpN86hPzo

Filming sex scenes are the most boring part of making a film. Anyone who works in the industry knows that. There is a certain degree of undressing, to make the audience believe that it is an actual sex scene, but the actors will remain decently clothed throughout the filming process. However, during one of the takes of this scene, our cleaner interrupted, saying she wanted to wash dishes. Being a low budget production, we were filming on location, and therefore any noises in the kitchen would interrupt us.

During the editing, I saw this clip, and I thought it was funny. I laughed every time I saw it. I thought it would be a good tool to promote the film, especially on YouTube, because there was humor in it, and we are trying to market the film as a romantic comedy. Please note that I have already uploaded other behind the scenes or unused sequences from the film, which are not sex related, but which have humor in them. For example this video clip, http://youtu.be/TxBYThXl2Ew.

Unfortunately, after I uploaded this behind-the-scenes clip, some people mistook it as a sex video. They did not see beyond the characters re-enacting the scene. This forced us to remove the video from YouTube. It’s also unfortunate that the moment we removed the video, after it was online for about three months, some people uploaded illegal copies on social media. I think that it’s because we removed the official video that the false rumors began to spread, and I’m sorry about that. It was been online for more than three months.

I would like to now clarify two things.

1) The clip being spread is not from a pornographic film, nor is it a sex tape. It is from a decent film. That YouTube permitted it to be uploaded testifies to the fact that it falls within YouTube guidelines of acceptable family entertainment. You can watch the trailer of the film here. http://youtu.be/prPKiv0NIqw

2) The scene was not shot in The Hostel. The Hostel, and the team behind The Hostel, have nothing to do with the video.

I would like to apologize to Mathew and Tibba, and to their families, for the hurt this has done. It was not my intention to profit from their embarrassment. The moment the video was misunderstood, I removed it. The video clip was misunderstood and is being spread out of context. I do not understand why, nor why they are associating it with The Hostel, because the clip has text files identifying the true film from which it was taken. My apologies to Fast Track, and the team behind The Hostel.

I would like to end by appealing to all Ugandans, to media houses and to tabloids, and to social media platforms, to please verify the truth behind a rumor before spreading it. It is your social responsibility to spread only what is the truth, and not to take things out of context.

For more details about the film, you can contact me via this website. http://www.dilmandila.com/ 

I remain yours,

Dilman Dila
Writer/Director/Producer
The Felistas Fable.

Street entertainment from my childhood

I never knew how much we remember from childhood until I wrote this story, The Puppets of Maramudhu. One reviewer, when talking about it, said “Dilman’s story is unique, not that it is alien or experimental. It is neither of these. In fact, it is the kind of stories we love to tell, orally, but which we rarely ever write, unfortunately, perhaps because of our quest to remain realists.” I always wonder why we endeavor to remain realists, yet our socialization process conditions us to believe in the supernatural, to point at spirits and unknowable forces when explaining strange phenomenon. As children, the stories we loved to hear the most were those with magic in them. Why is it that as adults we shy away from them?
Razor Blade, a street child rapper, and his audience.

Even if we didn’t have such a socialization process, in the name of religion or science, it is hardwired in our systems to believe in a world that we cannot see, a world with powers we cannot explain, simply because we have never figured out what happens when we die. I became fascinated with this world at an early age, like every child, but I think I have not outgrown it. The characters I met back then still haunt my dreams, and every now and then they creep out into my stories. These characters were so weird that they furnished our childhood fancies with wild imaginations.

I think every child will come across a story of a real-life person who resurrected from the dead, long before they ever encounter Lazarus. It is the same with folk tales, for you will find narratives in an African society that are similar to those of a South American society that it has not had known contact with. These similarities often arise because all human beings share the same fears and emotions. If you look into your past, into your childhood, you will remember hearing about a person, maybe who lived down the street, or in the next village, or in another town, often someone you know, who will become a bogeyman of sorts, and you will remember that such a person once died and resurrected.
 —
In my town, we had such a guy. They say he was buried for three days (why three days, like Jesus?), and one time a group of children were picking mangoes from a tree near the public graveyard when they heard something knocking under the ground. They fled. The knocking did not stop for several hours, until a few brave men dug up the grave and found the man alive. We called him Bubu (or was it Abubuna), which was not a polite word, for it mean deafmute. He could not speak, could not hear, for it is said what he saw in the world of the dead had to remain a secret. It’s probably because of him that I’m always fascinated with the living dead, like the jothokwo in The Terminal Move, and like Maramudhu in The Puppets of Maramudhu.
 
We would follow Bubu around the streets, trying to make him speak, and often he would ignore us. He was docile, non-violent, and I sometimes feel bad for pestering him. We used to follow ‘mad people’ around as well. I say ‘mad people’ in quotes because it is not the politically correct term to refer to people with mental disorders. I think most of these people were schizophrenic. They offered us a daily dose of entertainment, with their oddities. We followed them to eaves drop on the conversations they were having with the imaginary creatures bothering them, but often we followed them to provoke them into a fight.
A woman with a mental disability poops in the streets.
Banepa town, near Kathmandu, Nepal.

I especially remember one woman, I forget what we used to call her. She had made a home in the disused stands at the bus park. We loved to throw stones at her for she was particularly fierce, and would throw missiles at us in return. One day, she did not fight back. She ran, fleeing our missiles. But then, she stopped and, even as stones fell all around her, she dumped a huge pile of poop right in the middle of the road. Not a stone hit her. The moment we realised she was pooing, we stopped stoning her and watched in excitement. 

After she had eased, she resumed running away, though we were no longer chasing or stoning her. We crept to her poop. It had a variety of colors, almost like a rainbow. I had never seen such colourful poop, and never have. We were so enthralled by her poop that we kept watch over it for a whole day, until it decayed and lost its brilliance. For a moment, we thought the poop had magical powers. We wanted to scoop it up and keep it somewhere safe, where we would discover what powers it had and – well, I don’t remember what stopped us.

A Street Child Rapper Entertaining Women in Kampala
An Acrobat Entertaining in Kyaliwajala town, Namugongo, near Kampala.

While we tortured these poor fellows for our entertainment, every once in a while a real entertainer would drop into town. Being a small, almost ghost-like town, unlike a city, these street traders would not attract much money, or stay for long. Most would hang around for a day, or just a few hours. But some kept coming back, every few months or so, on their way through. There were dikulas, clowns who dressed like women and told silly jokes (dikulas have made it into another story, a novel, if it gets published, you will be reading a lot more about them, but they sure aren’t like the evil clown in Steven King’s IT), acrobats, musicians, dancers, and puppeteers. (I wonder how children these days entertain themselves. They seem to have a lot more (TVs, Internet, video games) competing for their attention.)

There was even once a man who came with a TV show. This was the 1980s, a time when the TV set was a mystery to many of us. Our family got its first TV set in 1990, because that is also the year the world cup was broadcast live to Uganda (I think), but we got the bonus of watching the Gulf War live as well. It was a black and white thing, and when the pictures when totally fuzzy, we sat and watched anyway for nobody knew how to get a clear signal. So when this guy came to town and said he had a TV show, a small crowd gathered. It turned out that he had only a set of still photos, which he hid inside a big black box, and he only allowed you to look at these photos through a pair of eye-holes. He did not make much money, once people figured out he was a big con. We thought we were going to see moving pictures, not a slideshow. His box show ended up in The Puppets of Maramudhu, as the cart the evil sorcerer dragged around.


What this documentary I made, about a family of street musicians

The puppeteer who stuck to my head, and who eventually become the title character in the story, Maramudhu, was Abe Mukibuga (I think that was his name). Or I might be confusing him with another one. Maybe there were two puppeteers, I cannot remember well, but I remember the song they used to sing, as they made their puppets to dance. It went ‘mayo ni mayo, mayo ni wempe’ (whatever those words mean) and then another line ‘sasa wewe kijana moses, shika bibi yako’, one of the puppets was called Moses, and he had a female partner with whom he danced. Well, this song ended up in the story as well, not the same lyrics though, but the same tune. I wish I could make a film out of it, to preserve this song that has never left my dreams. 

The stories behind Mukibuga (that should mean town-man, or an urbanised man) were weird, as well. Nobody knew where he came from, even though he used a show name from Buganda. Nobody knew his age. He seemed to be the same age for decades, from the seventies when he started to pass by the town, to the late eighties when I first saw him. They said he never traveled in vehicles, that he pulled his cart on foot, from Kinshansha to Mombasa, staging shows from town to town. This particular detail impressed me so much that I had to write a story about him.I feel guilty for making him an evil man, but I guess I was only trying to make the dreams go away.

I feel I have not exhausted the story, of a showman who walks across the continent entertaining people. I think he will come again, sometime in the future, and maybe this time he will not be evil.

If you enjoyed this story, follow me on facebook and on twitter and YouTube.
 

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