Minorities in Uganda find their voice

Friday June 12 2015

By Bamuturaki Musinguzi

Rarely do we hear the voices of Uganda’s ethnic minorities through their artistic and cultural expressions because of marginalisation, intimidation, prejudice and stereotyping by the dominant communities.

There are 21 ethnic minorities in Uganda with a population of 3 million.

Now 13 of them, under a creative writing initiative by Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, have published a collection of stories, folktales, proverbs, poems, riddles and songs in their indigenous languages, with English translations titled Speaking Out.

The minority communities are the Babukusu, Babwisi, Bahehe, Bamba, Banyabindi, Basongora, Benet, Ethur, Ik, Kebu, Lendu, Nubi, and Paluo.

One volume subtitled Creative Writing by Uganda’s Ethnic Minority Groups contains contributions from the minority groups.

The Benet (also known as the Ndorobo, Ogiek or Mosop) live on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda near the border with Kenya. Their entry consists of a short story and proverbs, authored and translated into English by Moses Mwanga, a Benet from Kapchorwa District.

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Mwanga’s short story is called Ceptyankocetap Cerweg Ako Pelyo — Kiyiiy Kinte Kiyiiy Mooy! (The story of the hare and the elephant, where a bull produced a calf!) The story warns about dishonesty and wrongdoing.

The entry by the Babukusu includes songs, a folktale, proverbs, a poem and riddles written by John Simiyu and Scola Namalwa, both Babukusu from Kigumba in north-central Uganda. The Lubukusu circumcision song Siwoyayo pleads with Namutu, the spirit of fear to leave the circumcision candidate.

In 2014, CCFU invited ethnic minority groups to participate in a language competition. The initiative aimed to raise the profile of their literary achievements.

According to CCFU, the right of expression — and cultural rights generally — are often a neglected dimension of the development agenda. Uganda’s rich diverse culture has intrinsic value for development, social cohesion, justice and peace.

CCFU said that in addition to suffering from unequal distribution of national resources, minorities have lost land due to civil strife or to government policies on forest and wildlife conservation, with few alternatives provided.

Ugandans belonging to these minorities have resorted to using the languages of the dominant groups in order to survive.