Uganda youth showcase heritage through artistic expression

Friday December 18 2015

Left, Roberta Ampurira’s ‘The Milk Pot’ won the bronze medal; centre, Joshua Muyinza’s ‘Brewing Beer in Buganda’ won the gold medal; and right, Ivan Ntale’s ‘The Gourd and the Calabash’ won the silver medal in Uganda's 2015 National Annual Heritage Competition. PHOTOS |

A colour illustration of the making of tonto (Uganda traditional banana beer) titled Brewing Beer in Buganda (Okuyiisa Omwenge Mu Buganda) by Joshua Muyinza, is the gold medal winner of the 2015 National Annual Heritage Competition organised by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda.

Muyinza’s piece shows two men at a traditional “brewery” in a banana plantation. One man is selecting the bananas to be used in the beer making while the other is kneading bananas with his feet in a wooden trough or canoe, to make a sludge that will eventually be fermented to make beer.

Muyinza is an Senior 5 student of Sacred Heart Kiteredde Secondary School in Rakai District.

In this year’s competition, young people below the age of 20 were asked to draw or paint cultural objects or activities that are important to their culture and explain why they are important.

The tonto making process and drinking according to Muyinza, promotes communal unity as they use the occasion to discuss politics, social life and community issues. Tonto is one of the gifts offered to a bride’s family during a traditional marriage introduction (okwanjulwa) in Buganda and Busoga. It is also offered to the ancestral spirits at traditional shrines in thanksgiving.

The traditional marriage introduction ceremony and the artefacts used are one of the most common culture practises and the community is proud to showcase how proficient they are in their language through the use of proverbs.


Muyinza gave the example of Ekita ekitava kussengejjero, y’emwankindo, meaning a calabash that never leaves the brewing place is full of cracks and stiches, as a lesson implying that the health of an overworked person suffers.

Muyinza was awarded the medal at a ceremony held at the Ndere Centre in Kampala on December 11. He said: “Tonto is today brewed in factories. But most people say that the traditionally-made tonto made using the bare feet tastes better. I don’t know how true that is.”

The competition’s goal is to enhance the appreciation of heritage in young people.

More than 350 entries were received, depicting the youth’s understanding and ability to appreciate the importance of culture in their day to day context. A panel of cultural heritage experts selected 14 of the best entries to feature in the 2016 national heritage calendar.

The silver medal went to Ivan Ntale’s entry titled, The Gourd and the Calabash, which tells the story of these important household items that are used to serve traditional beer during wedding ceremonies in Buganda. The gourd is called endeku and the calabash is called ekita. Ntale is a Senior 6 student at Archbishop Kiwanuka Secondary School in Kitovu, Masaka District.

Another Senior 6 student at St Mary’s College Namagunga in Mukono District, Roberta Ampurira won a bronze medal with her entry, The Milk Pot (Ekyanzi).

The ekyanzi is a traditional container carved out of wood and used mostly in western Uganda, to store and serve milk.

Vanitah Nakiyingi’s entry Mushrooms (Obubaala) is about the nutritional and cultural value of this item in Buganda. Nakiyingi, a Senior 2 student at St Joseph Technical Secondary School Kiteredde in Rakai District says: “This mushroom is a totem of clan whose names are Gjunju, Kasirye, Namulondo and Nakyagaba. This type of mushroom when boiled with ghee is used to treat measles. The same type is also used during traditional functions and rituals such as the ceremony to welcome newborns into the clan.”

Patrick Kidega’s entry was The Acholi Circle Game (Cubu Lwala), a game that uses curved reeds and a straight stick to teach Acholi youth how to handle the spear. A Senior 4 student of Kitgum High School in Kitgum District, Kidega says, “This was used to learn hunting skills and whoever could spear inside the circle was considered able to hunt and kill.”