Would you inherit that widow?

BY ALEX TAREMWA

As I approach her home, dogs bark in unison. A dog keeper myself, I gather that there must be three of them in the compound. She emerges from the garden with muddy feet, offers me a stool and takes her rest on the mat.

Margaret Kiwumulo was happily married to Richard Kaijuka and together they had produced two children until the night of July 4, 2002, when unknown assailants ambushed him as he left his bar for home, beat him to death and took his belongings.

Stuck with two children, Kiwumulo, then 27 – but currently 41 – struggled to fend for them as a single mother until Kaijuka’s brother Peter Ziryabareeta, a veterinary doctor stepped in to help.44_10155_d12s

He gave the family a much needed boost, gave the children a father figure and eventually, to the widow, he gave a husband in spite of the fact that he already had a family of his own.

Besides the children Ziryabareeta ‘inherited’, he has been able to father two more with Kiwumulo and she was vividly pregnant when TTM met her for an interview.

The case of Kiwumulo and Ziryabareeta is not unique, especially in the African context. It is a tradition that has seen days since the 1800s – fueled partly by culture with traces visible in Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Uganda and the rest of Sub-Sahara.

The arrangement, known as widow inheritance, allows for a male relative of the deceased to take over the guardianship of the deceased’s family, including the widow so that the deceased’s inherited property stays in the family.

In some clans, it is not subject to debate while in others, the widow has a say in whether or not she needs the stewardship and chooses the suitor among the kinsmen of the deceased husband.

The practice has however come under heavy criticism from politicians, clerics, civil society movements and “molarity protectors” who argue that widow inheritance has not only taken away widow’s rights to make independent decisions, it has also kept HIV/AIDS prevalence on a high.

With the coming of modernity and civilisation, the practice has lost popularity with most men rubbing it off as uncouth – a practical example of cultural practices that should be condemned by every right thinking members of society.

Given the intricacies of today’s world, Roggers Akanyijuka, a Visual Editor and Producer at Vision Group said he would not, for any reason accept to inherit a widow. This, he added, not only increases the financial burden he has to carry but also shoulders him more family obligations that consume his much needed time.

“It is an ancient mind-set. In today’s life circumstances, it is very inapplicable and not worthy of thought,” he told TTM.

Indeed, men who already have financial obligations of their own may not be open to widening them by inheriting more, unless of course there is something to gain.

As Suleiman Tiguragara Matojo Ssalongo, a veteran journalist and Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Lyantonde district explained, the practice was/is exploited by men, often seeking to “cheat” widows out of land, cattle and other properties left by the deceased.

Widows, he argued, often shackled by poverty, have continued to rely on inheritors to take care of them as a fulfillment of cultural obligations not knowing that their vulnerability is being exploited.

“Our senior citizens (elders) had their issues in the past. When a husband died midway the marriage, the widow, due to fear of losing all the property he left, would accept to marry one of his kinsmen,” he said.

Because some of the widows would have had children with their deceased husbands reducing their odds to compete in a market filled with single, educated, independent women, being inherited becomes better option to consider.

Bad cultural practice or just bad timing?

Although this writer could not accurately quantify the percentage of the prevalence of widow inheritance in Uganda, a survey he conducted portrayed how just unpopular the practice is in 21st century.

Of the 20 respondents he reached out in preparation of this article, all said they would not, whether wilfully or otherwise, inherit a widow although most indicated that they may be willing to help take care of the children, if any.

Does this mean that widow inheritance is a barbaric cultural practice or has it been merely overtaken by events?

When TTM passed this question to 67-year-old Richard Bahaburana, an opinion leader among the Bashambo, one of the largest clans in the defunct Ankole Kingdom, he had this to say: “We would be fools to say that everything practiced by Africans must remain so. But we are totally against abandoning our culture.”

He added that: “It (widow inheritance) was the tradition here. We are all supposed to do it. Church leaders don’t like it. The president may not like it. But it is our tradition.”

Bahaburana, a polygamist with three wives – one inherited – may be wrong about something – say- the president not liking the practice as he (H.E Yoweri Museveni) is not on record on the subject but he is right about church leaders not having kind words for it.

Speaking to TTM via email from the Vatican, Italy, Fr. David Kampiira, born in Kazo, Kiruhura district, argued that “when they become irrelevant as social changes take place, certain cultural practices must be allowed to die out.”

“This is one of the difficult battles to win. We have tried discouraging it but few seem to understand its effects especially in the era of HIV/AIDS. It seems some people are genetically wired to it,” his email response read in part.

Comparatively, in areas where widow inheritance is still secretly practiced, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is higher.

Since an inheritor already has his own family, he infects his first wife and the widow he has inherited. When he dies and men inherit the women he leaves behind. They, too contract the scourge and die and their widows are inherited, hence the increasing number of new HIV infections.

One, then would wonder, if inheriting a widows poses these economic, social and health threats, why is it still silently practiced and seemingly condoned? Logically, it is a matter of opportunity cost. To make a choice, something has to be foregone.

For Ziryabareeta, it was his way to guarantee that his brother’s children get the property their father left them when they are of age and to have them grow knowing they are part of a family, give them a sense of belonging.

“I felt obligated when he (Kaijuka) passed on to carry on his legacy. I didn’t want to see his property get torn to pieces by people who did nothing for it,” he said.

As the case is in most parts of Africa where customary law is still followed, upon a man’s death, his property is inherited by his adult sons. If they are still minors, it is repossessed by his family.

Luckily enough, all the children – including those fathered by Ziryabareeta – are in school. The eldest, whose name we shall not disclose, is already sitting her O-level examinations. She is 17 years.

For Kiwumulo, being inherited was a bitter pill but one she doesn’t regret swallowing. It may not have been the right thing to do but it has turned out to be a good thing in the end.

Ironically, all the men who denounced widow inheritance in the survey were open to the suggestion of having a wife’s sister as a “caretaker” when one lost a wife. In other words, they would rather be inherited but not to inherit.

alex.taremwa@yahoo.co.uk

Exploring the Batwa identity, culture and livelihood in Uganda

BY ALEX TAREMWA

A Batwa legend might explain the lowly status of the people found in Uganda, eastern DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. A man, Kihanga, had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu and Katwa. One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine.

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the  Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk; Kahutu’s receptacle was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it; he was to survive by hunting and gathering.

Many generations passed and their descendants multiplied. The descendants of Katutsi and Kahutu became so many that they could no longer be satisfied with what they had and ended up encroaching on Katwa’s forest. In the end, they chased Katwa’s descendants from the forest and made them live as beggars and landless people. The fate of Katwa’s descendants in the legend mirrors their situation in real life.

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from the forests they had lived on since time immemorial.  As a result, most were left landless and impoverished and, to survive, resorted to begging and life as labourers on other people’s land.

As in the legend, originally the Batwa were forest dwelling hunter-gatherers, living and practising their cultural and economic way of life in the high mountainous forest areas around Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa; today, the Batwa way of life, their cultural, spiritual, and social traditions, are at risk.

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

The Batwa History

The Batwa are widely accepted as the first inhabitants of the region, later joined by farmers and pastoralists. The Batwa are still to be found living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with an estimated total population of 86,000 to 112,000.

As their traditional forested territories were destroyed by agriculturalists and pastoralists or gazetted as nature conservation areas, the Batwa were forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. The Batwa, sometimes derisively to as Pygmies, became squatters living on the edges of society; some were able to develop new means of survival as potters, dancers and entertainers.

The dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Bakiga and Bafumbira, perceive them as uncivilised because of their former hunter-gatherer lifestyle which has led to their discrimination and marginalisation from the mainstream economy. Notwithstanding the numerous problems faced by the Batwa, they continue to value their forest based social system, culture, and traditional practices as an important part of their identity.

This existence on the margins continues to this day. For instance, their customary rights to land have not been recognised and they have received little or no compensation for their losses. The Ugandan constitution provides for the protection of the rights of minorities, yet the situation that the Batwa are living in clearly indicates that their rights are being systematically violated. For example they not only lack access to the health services offered to other Ugandans by the government but also lack access to clean water, shelter, and food.

Not surprisingly, the Batwa have a high HIV prevalence but access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for the Batwa is very hard. Not only do they have to walk for five kilometres (a long distance if you are terminally ill) and more to access them, but even when they reach the health centres, they are often segregated against by everyone, including the health care providers.

Accurate figures are difficult to determine and estimates vary, but the 2015 housing and population census showed that approximately 6,700 Batwa lived within the state of Uganda. They are mainly found in the south-west region in the districts of Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale, Mbarara, Ntungamo and Lwengo (Katovu township).

An elderly Mutwa climbing a tree to harvest honey. Photo: Batwa Experience.

Not only is the discrimination institutional, it also extends to the social and quotidian. The Batwa are seen as backward and childish, incapable of speaking or representing themselves (the only minority group not represented in parliament). They are presumed to be thieves and are considered dirty, ignorant and immoral. Often they are not allowed to draw water from a communal well, and intermarriage with other ethnic groups is frowned upon.

Faced with all these prejudices, the formation of a Batwa advocacy group was long overdue. So In 2000,the Batwa formed United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), an organisation which has mainly fought the dispossession of the Batwa from their ancestral land.

After the park creation in 1991, 82 percent of Batwa were left entirely landless, living either as squatters on private, government or church land. In 2004, 44 percent of Batwa had no land on which to build a hut. Data collected in 2007 by UOBDU show that the landless in Kisoro represent 50.4 percent, in Kabale 61.4 percent, in Kanungu 20.9 percent, while all of the households in Mbarara, Katovu and Ntungamo are landless.

The organisation has argued in the courts that the land for the national parks was unlawfully seized from the indigenous people, but the case is yet to be resolved.

Through UOBDU, the Batwa are fighting to secure land rights, the right to education and literacy, sustainable livelihoods, improved healthcare, and institutional development, says Elias Habyar’imana, the Chairperson of the Kisoro based NGO. To supplement all these efforts, their plight received international attention in 2014, when the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga came out, exposing the existential threat they face.

The Batwa case before the Constitutional Court

On February 8, 2013, the Batwa of Uganda submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda seeking recognition of their status as indigenous peoples under international law and redress for the historic marginalisation, dispossession and the human rights violations perpetrated against them. As I write this, the petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda involving the Attorney General, the National Forest Authority and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is yet to be heard in court.

The central issue for the Batwa is their land. To date, the revenues and employment opportunities arising from governmental exploitation of protected areas have not benefited the Batwa. Revenues generated from activities now taking place on the Batwa’s ancestral lands should go into a public purse. However, the Batwa have not seen any of these revenues.

Hunting was the primary source of food for the Batwa. Photo: Batwa Experience

While the courts drag their feet, the Batwa communities continue to suffer violence and discrimination from neighbouring ethnic groups. On Sunday June 7, 2014, Batwa communities in Ryabitukuru, Kisoro District, had their homes burned.

Out of the 14 households in the community, 13 were targeted, leaving many families destitute and homeless. The Batwa households are scattered over a large area of land, yet it took the violent mob only two hours to move from house to house.

Fearing for their lives, the Batwa fled to the Rubuguri Police Post for security. Because the post was small, the Batwa were shifted from there to an NGO building. It is from there that well wishers, including NGOs like UOBDU and Red Cross, have provided them with food, water, utensils, blankets and other amenities.

The Batwa Culture, Language and Livelihood

The Batwa are seen as shy, loyal to the traditional practices which define them as a forest people. Their Practices include hunting and gathering forest resources, eating uncooked food, worshipping gods in the forest, sleeping in caves, guiding forest researchers and tourists, dressing in leaves and animal skins, making fire using dry sticks. Caves, hot springs, rivers, hills, plants and animals are of special significance in their worldview.

The forests are a source of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and before they were gazetted as national parks, the Batwa depended on forest resources for food, medicine, basketry, firewood, marketable items, house construction, tools, rituals, hunting and recreation.

During our interactions, the Batwa spoke fondly about their culture. Jovanisi Nyinakayanje, 42, who was born and raised in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, spoke about knowing nothing else except these conditions: “I was born in the forest of Bwindi and spent about ten years there. My father used to go hunting and leave us with our mother who would go with us to collect fire wood (udukwi) and food (ibyokurya). Outside our home, we had a small hut for worshipping (uguterekerera) which was mainly done by our father who would sacrifice to the gods before and after hunting.”

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

“When they chased us from the forest, we started living here in Rushaga. We would go back to the forest to look for meat, honey, wild yams, firewood, weaving materials and medicinal plants. But later, we were told to stop going back to the forest. Many of our people died. We tried hard to survive in the challenging village conditions by begging for food from Bakiga,” she spoke in her mother tongue as George Wilson Mpakasihe translated.

Reminiscing about growing up, Steven Serutoke, a guide on the Garama Batwa trail in Mgahinga, said, “When I was a little child, I used to see my parents going to the forest. They used to tell us nice stories about the forest. They told us how they used to eat honey and meat from the forest. They also told us that they used to shift to many places including Rwanda, Burundi and Congo especially when they had conflicts and when food became scarce.”

Housing and Burial arrangements

Traditionally, the Batwa had three main types of houses: caves, omuririmbo and ichuro. The caves and omuririmbo were the main houses where Batwa lived. Ichuro was used for resting and storing food including meat, honey, beans and sorghum, all of which in makeshift grass thatched round huts that can accommodate about five people at a time.

The Batwa also had a special way of burying the dead. When a Mutwa died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in grass. The burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs such as omuhanga (Maesa lanceolata), enkyerere (Rubus sp.), and omufumba (Rhumex sp).

The Batwa elders would lead the burial ceremony and encourage all the family members to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from claiming more people from that family. After burial, they would migrate to a far off place and never return.

One of the Batwa huts set on fire in Kisoro. The Batwa are among the most marginalised and discrminated against minority groups in Africa. Photo: UOBDU

Marriage customs

According to Batwa customs, a Mutwa can not marry a non-Mutwa and getting pregnant before marriage was forbidden. Marriage was arranged by the parents. The parents of a Mutwa boy would admire qualities in a certain Mutwa girl and decide that she was the right partner for their son. They would then visit the girl’s family carrying gifts which included pots of honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and roast meat.

During the visit, they would negotiate the dowry to be paid to the girl’s family and the date for the ‘give-away’ ceremony. On the day of ‘giving away’ the girl, the groom would bring many gifts for the bride and her family. Such gifts included beads, new and well-oiled animal skins, roast meat, elephant tusks, honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and sometimes hunting dogs.

The groom would take the bride to his home and then live together while receiving advice from the groom’s parents. After some time, the young family would later migrate to a distant place to establish their new and independent home. When the woman became pregnant, she would be fed on meat, honey and vegetables and would drink many kinds of herbs for boosting her health and that of the unborn baby.

At the time of giving birth, she would be helped by other women who would use pieces of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord. The baby would be wrapped in clean animal skins and brought near a fire place for warmth.

This way of living is under threat or has already vanished. The Uganda Wildlife Authority continues to make millions from tourism annually on their land. For three decades, the Batwa have been struggling to have their rights recognised. The legal case is unlikely to succeed, so the Batwa remain stuck in a legal limbo with unpromising prospects.

This article was originally published in This is Africa (TIA), a leading forum for African opinion, arts and music available through the website thisisafrica.me, mobile phone apps and online radio channels.

Never should expectant mothers deliver in bushes again

ImageIt is 10:45 am and everybody is on his/her station duty busy attending to patients in Nyamuyanja Health Centre in Isingiro district. The Centre is packed to capacity because the health workers are available to the patients despite the challenges they face.

In 2008 exactly at the same time a lady had come to deliver her third child from the same health Centre but nobody was there to attend to her because the in charge doctor was not present, he had gone for further studies.

His deputy had not yet reported for duty and the ambulance which was supposed to take her to Mbarara referral hospital had no fuel, besides the driver also had not reported.

 The only alternative available for this lady was to deliver in the bush nearby and it made headlines in the local media. The embarrassing incident happened in the very eyes of the head of Millennium Development head at the UN Prof Jeffry Sucks and the then state minister for planning Omony Ojok (RIP) who were on fact finding mission of how to expand the millennium villages’ project into the whole country.

 It also moved some of the medical staff in the country and ended up landing a committed female doctor to move from the comfort of Kampala to this rural health center.

Dr Doreen Kenyangi moved from Mengo Hospital to come and work in the rural Nyamuyanja HC4 and has since turned this death trap to a functional Centre.

Dr Kenyangi says she is driven by passion and has not focused on money because she believes she can make money anytime she feels she wants. She says she is still young and can get employment anywhere in the world.

“After reading the story in the media I was moved and vowed that this should not happen again and the only solution was to go to that particular Centre. I also moved from Kampala to satisfy my ambition of serving the local people as a medical doctor. To me becoming a doctor is a calling and my target is not money because I can always make it” she says.

Since her arrival about a year ago, the situation has improved tremendously as the population has regained confidence in the services of the Centre it offers. Every day about 200 out patients visit the facility and most of them pass through her hands.

The number of inpatients has also increased from about 5 to 40 and mothers delivering at the Centre have increased from 10 to 40 per month.

After that big embarrassment government patterned with Ruhiira Millennium Villages Project (RMVP) and Medical Team International (MTI) to revamp the Centre and some of the bottlenecks have been worked on.

Dr Gerald Mutungi the program manager non communicable disease and special permanent secretary Isingiro district says government has moved in to solve some of the bottlenecks in the health Centre 1V’s in Isingiro district like having constant supplies of drugs, making the theatres operational and provision of a generator for each health centre.

“With the help of partners we have been able to operationalize the two theatres of Nyamuyanja and Rwekubo Health Centre 1Vs in the district and fully equipped the delivery rooms for the expectant mothers with new delivery beds and enough drugs for the expectant mothers,” he says.

 Joyce Unimana, 22, who was the first to have an operation at Rwekubo Health Centre 1V  was  overwhelmed by the treatment.

 After the tragic loss of her three babies in a row before, couldn’t control her emotions when health staff presented her with her newborn son, following an emergency cesarean section. “I am extremely happy to carry my son.” Joyce exclaimed. “I have sad memories after losing 3 babies.”

During her third pregnancy, Joyce had managed to get to Mbarara referral hospital, but the baby was dead by the time the surgeon could operate. “This baby is so precious to me,” Joyce continued. “My husband divorced me because I had no child, but holding baby Samuel in my arms brings so much joy. I can now be called ‘mama Shukuru’. He is called Shukuru Samuel.”

 

The head of medical services RMVP Dr Emmanuel Atuhairwe says the project has stepped in to help the government through improved maternal and child health services, management of antenatal and postnatal care, family planning and obstruct cases.

“To decongest the health centers, we are aiming at taking maternal health services from health center 1Vs to heath center 11s to be able to handle maternal and child health services and to strengthen the referral system from the peripheral health centers to health center 1Vs in Isingiro district ” he says.

This is to bring it in line with other health centers in Nyakitunda and Kabuyanda sub counties where RMVP is operating and has largely succeeded. The referral system has been strengthened with the provision of ambulance to manage complicated cases that are referred to higher centers up to Mbarara referral hospital.

He says the project has also strengthened the village health teams through trainings and support supervision to provide basic care at household level, diagnosing and treatment of malaria in children less than five years, improvement of personal hygiene, diarrhea and simple pneumonia among others. 

However Dr Kenyangi says despite the shortage of staff, lack of furniture, electricity, staff housing and lack of blood progress has continued to be made.

Despite delivering some babies at night, restituting children using torchlight, mothers have gained confidence in the health centers and since the theater began operational 13 caesarian deliveries have been handled safely and reduced the referral cases to Kabuyanda Health Centre 1V. Her resolve to work in the rural area has inspired some of the medical staff who have emulated her. Ms Pulkeria Kyasimire a midwife handles antenatal, postnatal and deliveries alone while at the same time she carries out immunization.

“I have been inspired by Dr Kenyangi to work hard to save mothers lives. For the last two weeks I have been managing the whole department of mothers and children because my workmate is sick and I cannot complain”, she said.

The district health officer Dr Edson Tumusherure says some of the bottlenecks the health centres are facing are crosscutting in the country.

“We find it very difficult to recruit and retain staff because of various reasons including poor pay and doctors shunning to work in rural areas opting for greener pastures”, he says.

He says blood shortage in health centres especially those that carry out operations is a serious problem that needs immediate attention and arrangements have been made with blood bank of Mbarara to supply these centers with Blood. “We are looking for fridges where to keep the blood to save any complicated cases that may arise during operations”, he says. Other challenges include lack of enough beds for mothers’ delivery and in wards. Some patients sleep on the floor while others share beds.

Dr Kenyangi is optimistic that with commitment from doctors the situation of expectant mothers can improve tremendously and is determined not to see mothers delivering from bushes again when doctors are available to avert the situation especially herself in the area where she operates.

Tales of ‘Tonto’, the Fading Ankole local brew

Tonto brew, the used to be cherished, unifying cultural factor of Ankole

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Tonto as was customary presented on cultural weddings and introduction parties in traditional Ankole kingdom. Credit: Flickr

 

If there was a cultural unifying factor among the people of Ankole especially, the agriculturally settled community that was a locally brewed beer made out of Matooke and sorghum called Tonto.

People used to rotate across families in the whole village, seating in circles and drink, deliberate on social issues and mostly  solve conflicts.

It used to be done communally and for free with lots of entertainment, dancing and singing.

But as modernity struck, it became a show of the past, not because the brew is no longer there but the purpose it used to serve, and the mode of consumption has changed or evolved.

Elifazi Rwabushaija, 53, an aristocrat, notes that today people have become more selfish and very individualistic arguing that that’s why the unity this drink used to encompass is no longer there.

“There used to forums where we could meet deliberate on issues concerning our society like  discipline, development and issues relating to strengthening our culture,’’he said.

Rwabushaija said strict discipline was maintained during these drinking gatherings for example, children were not allowed to join the elderly as well as women drank differently from men.

banana-beer-social

Residents also who misbehaved during these drinking gatherings were fined. They often were tasked to bring a goat that would be slaughtered and consumed during one of the gatherings.

Another culturalist, Zabroni Rwakaikara, 67, of Rwampara in Mbarara municipality, told The Transparent that even a resident who produced a brew that could not conform to standards, they too would be  fined.

So you had to ensure you maintain good standard during brewing like standard good measurement on the ingredients to be used during brewery.

He said that in the past, drinking beer used to play a very significant role especially in uniting and keeping bonds together unlike today when it is abused and has become source of evil to all ages.

“These days alcohol consumption has become a source of evil unlike in the past, whereas we used these drinking gatherings as a way to instill discipline in our societies, reflect on our cultural norms and values, these days it’s the opposite. The drinking joints have become hubs for thieves, rapists and murderers ,” said Rwakaikara.

Ceremonies like marriages, introductions never went without blessing of this brew.

“It was a must to have by the bridegroom’s entrouge as they went for introductions, we had special known people to test it especially on these occasions to ensure it was very good. Should one bring the ‘fake’ tonto, one that does not conform to standard, this could bring the function to a standstill,” Rwakaikara added.

He also said added during the helm days Ankole Kingdom, the subjects of the King used to brew tonto and bring to the palace. Those that did it best of it will be rewarded with land, exempted from paying taxes among others.

tonto

A man quashes bananas with his feet in oblate, a V-shaped trough made out of hard wood

Preparation

Tonto is a traditional fermented beverage made from bitter bananas (embiire). It’s also referred to as ‘mwenge biggele’

It’s made by ripening green bananas (embiire) in a pit for several days. The juice is then extracted mostly using feet in a wooden trough, filtered and diluted before being mixed with ground and roasted sorghum.

The mixture is fermented again a wooden trough for two to four days.

Meet Mr. Edson Nyerere, the magician who has won hearts of many

Nyerere in action amidst a swam of revellers

It’s rare these days for leaders to call a village meeting and residents respond positively but this is not the case with Mr. Edson Nyerere, the self-proclaimed magician (traditional healer) who has won hearts of the majority who believe in his magical powers. But in Isingiro District, when it’s announced that this man is visiting a particular village, work comes to stand still, those digging abdicate their gardens, shops are closed as people rush to where he is hosting a gathering to witness his magical powers. This is to an extent that he has even won confidence of the locals in handling criminality than the police and local authorities.

Daily Monitor trailed this self-claimed doctor on his way to Nyakitunda Sub County in Isingiro district. It’s 10.00am and in a convoy of three vehicles he arrives at Ruhiira village as hundreds of people are waiting to bring out their problems and witness his powers, he unfortunately tells them he has an appointment in another village in Kashara. Good enough a thing, he tells them he has an office at Ruhira town and will be there attend to those with problems as they come. He then moves to Kashara in Ntungu Parish where hundreds of residents are waiting. Here, he is moving to intervene in a conflict that saw unknown people slash (cut down) a banana plantation of one John Mugyenyi. With residents eagerly waiting, he brings the owner of the plantation (complainant) and tells residents this is a time now his spirits to bring to them the suspects who did this.

He moves meters way to his vehicle, dresses up in other attires, comes up with the things he claims are his tools and medicines he uses to administer his works, puts them in the middle of the road roaring like a lion as some residents looked on with mixed emotions; frightened and others cheering. The residents bear the afternoon down pour for they want to see things done. He begins playing with a calabash which he says is a way of calling spirits for intervention as he is dancing around the crowd.

“Do you want me to bring the one that committed this alive or strike him or her dead,” he threatens as the residents yell we want him or her here. He continues his magic for over 10 minutes, roaring like a lion, eyes wide, foam comes out of the mouth, now there is dead silence from the crowd but some like young children get frightened and chicken way.

Eventually an old woman emerges from the crowd and confesses being behind this ill motive. “I am pleading on behalf of the community, yelling don’t strike me dead. My children and I are the ones that did this,’’ Ms Manjeri Kyomuhendo pleaded with Nyerere. Ms Manjeri is the sister to the owner of the plantation that was destroyed Mr. John Mugyenyi. She kneels before Nyerere pleading for mercy and forgiveness from his brother. “You plead on behalf of your brother and to the community in which you committed this crime, and then pay Shs.1million for my work,” Nyerere says. She agrees to the conditions as the crowd poured curses to her as they cheer Mr. Nyerere.

“We believe in him ever since he came in this district he has performed wonders arresting thieves who used to be a village problem especially in Ntungu parish, people affected by a similar problem pour moneys to bring him for help,” said Benson Tumwesigye, Ntungwa village defense secretary.

“Last month we mobilized money, invited him and he arrested seven village thieves who have terrorizing us over thefts especially domestic animals and peoples produce,” said Mr. Ismail Otafiire, a resident Ruhiira parish, Nyakitunda. Mr. John Mugyenyi said he had heard the services of Mr. Nyerere for long and that’s why he went there. But other residents are still doubtful of his powers and what they called exorbitant charges.

“He claims he has powers to heal, arrest, thieves but I am not yet convinced because he has not treated me and he has not worked long here so some of us are yet to be convinced, said Mr. Edson Kalanzi,a resident. Mr. Asaph Kabareebe, a resident of Ruhiira village said.

“True he might be working but the charges are exorbitant, imagine if I lose two goats and to get me that thief who stole them, you demand for Shs700,000.” But Mr. Nyerere defends the charges saying after getting the culprits in crime they refund this money in addition he says the amount is determined by his spirits (Jajaa’s).

Who is Mr. Nyerere?

Mr. Edson Nyerere says he is 34 years, a resident of Kyarisama, Kicwamba in Bunyaruguru, Rubirizi district but adds that he was born in Tanzania. Nyerere who says he is a Primary two graduate reveals he began this job of healing people, catching thieves, fight against criminality at an age of 9 years working with his grandfather Paul Mulumbi (RIP).

“I left school in Primary Two after being attacked by the spirits (Jaaja’s). So I began helping my grandfather who was also doing the same job until when he died and I continued in his footsteps,” says Nyerere. Mr. Nyerere believes he has helped and healed many people, prominent especially in the army, police, politicians, cultural leaders and though says it’s not his mode of work to publically disclose his clients. Through his efforts he says he got a first vehicle at the age of 16; a small car UXK 605 from client as a gift for healing his wife who was bedridden for years after being bewitched.

On family, he says he is married two ladies and has two children, a boy and a girl.

Challenges

Some of his customers he says pose to him a big challenge because most times they want him strike dead their would be offenders. “Most people come demanding that I strike dead their suspected offenders even when I work my magic and tell them it’s not true, they begin saying I have been bribed. My work is not to kill people but bring sanity among communities, heal and end criminality,” says Mr. Nyerere.

He adds another challenge is attacks from the so called believers especially of Pentecostal and the Catholic churches. These have on several times attacked me and threatened me about my healing powers and performance. “Some two years back a catholic priest in Kabale concocted charges against me that I had raped his maternal aunt, authorities arrested me but with the intervention of residents I was released because the charges were flimsy geared to pull me down,” Mr. Nyerere adds.

He says despite these challenges he is committed to doing his work; ensure there is justice and people are healed. To accomplish his mission, he notes he has trained 10 people who are doing the same work in districts like Ntungamo, Rakai, Mbarara, Masaka, Isingiro, Kabale, Rukungiri, Bushenyi, Lyantonde, and Kiruhura among others. ……………………………………………………………………………………

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