‘Kings’ of Uganda’s heritage

Friday October 25 2013

George Kasedde Mukasa receives the Tangible Heritage Award on behalf of the Ham Mukasa family from the Minister of Tourism in the Buganda Kingdom, Rita Namyalo Kisitu. Photo/Paul Menya

George Kasedde Mukasa receives the Tangible Heritage Award on behalf of the Ham Mukasa family from the Minister of Tourism in the Buganda Kingdom, Rita Namyalo Kisitu. Photo/Paul Menya 


Festo Karwemera, a man who is passionate about preserving the Kikiga culture of southwestern Uganda, and an 108-year-old house built by the late Ham Mukasa, emerged tops at Uganda’s inaugural Heritage Awards.

Karwemera beat two nominees, Mwalimu Austin Bukenya and Petero Ssemwezi Kaboggoza in the Intangible Heritage category, walking away with a cash prize of Ush2 million ($776).

The ceremony, on October 3, was organised by the International National Trust Organisation (INTO) and the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), to recognise individual effort in promoting Uganda’s heritage.

“We started these heritage awards when we realised that there were many people doing exemplary work in promoting our heritage, yet their efforts were not being recognised,” said Emily Drani, the CCFU director. “We want to encourage others to do the same.”

Born in 1925 in Kaarubanda, Kabale District, Karwemera, a retired teacher, has written many books in Rukiga including Emicwe n’emigyenzo y’Abakiga (Kiswahili edition), Empandiika ya Runyankore-Rukiga: Egufuhaziibwe, Ija twevugye and Shutama nkuteekyerereze.

He established a museum called the “Home of Edirisa” (the window through which one can see the Kikiga culture), which targets the youth. The museum resembles a traditional Kiga homestead complete with the tools, utensils, a shrine, interior fittings and furniture.


Bukenya, on the other hand, started teaching oral literature (orature) alongside his contemporary, the late Pio Zirimu, in 1969 at Makerere University.

The two coined the term “orature” to explain the large body of African oral forms and its significance to literary aesthetics. He has taught at several universities in East Africa and beyond, and has published widely.

His works include Understanding Oral Literature (1994); Oral Literature Theory (1991); African Oral Literature for Schools (1983) and Emboozi Mukaaga (1970).

“I was thrilled to be recognised in this way,” said Bukenya. “I hadn’t expected it at all because people like us are never recognised in Uganda. Literary activities are put on the back burner.” 

The 85-year-old Kaboggoza, a hereditary chief craftsman and head of the Ngonge clan craftsmen, lives in Nsangwa on a five-acre piece of land about 80 kilometres west of Kampala. He and his family have diligently promoted the tradition of bark cloth making, by ensuring that the skill is passed on to younger generations. 

Ham Mukasa’s home, known as Akwata empola, won the Tangible Heritage category with a cash prize of Ush2 million ($776). On the nomination list was the Soroti District Hall in eastern Uganda and Masindi Hotel. Akwata empola, located in Nasuti, Mukono Town, was built using burnt bricks, while its walls are two feet thick. Mukasa put in three fire places which he had seen in English homes.  

Both Unesco and the Buganda government proposed to the family to preserve it as a heritage site for tourists. It has been opened to the public for research and tourism purposes. 

Mukasa was born in 1871 and died in 1956. He was the private secretary of the prime minister (Katikiro) of Buganda Kingdom, Sir Apollo Kagwa.

Constructed by the colonial government, the Soroti District Hall was originally built as the Teso District Headquarters, during the early part of the colonial period. The first colonial District Commissioner had his office there. The building now acts as the Council Hall for Soroti District Local Government. Part of the building houses artefacts of the Soroti regional museum. 

Located in Masindi Town, Masindi Hotel was built in 1923 by the East African Railways and Harbours Company. Masindi was then the gateway to the hinterland of Africa where goods and produce from West Nile, north-east Congo and South Sudan were shipped to Europe.   

After Independence, the hotel was taken over by the government and run as part of the Uganda Hotels chain for nearly 30 years. It was privatised in 2000 and its current owners, the Bhegani family, have done major renovations to it.