Support our cultural rights! A call from the Babwisi, Bamba and Bavanoma


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Policy Brief 2014 Support our cultural rights! A call from the Babwisi, Bavanoma and Bamba Background The Bamba, Babwisi and Bavanoma are among Uganda’s ethnic minority groups. Together, we number 123,000 people (according to the 2002 national census) and we mostly live in the lowlands of the Rwenzori mountains and in the valleys of Bundibugyo district. Much of the land is occupied by Semuliki and Rwenzori National Parks. Originally, the three groups settled in the district, established blood relationships, inter-married and lived side by side peacefully. All have been agriculturalists, hunters and fishermen. Food crops are bananas, cassava, yams, legumes, sweet potatoes and cereals. Cash crops are mostly coffee and cocoa. There are also differences among our three groups, such as our languages and belief systems. But, apart from having lived together for several centuries, similarities bring us together: these include dances, traditional practices (e.g. circumcision), naming, marriage, foods, art and crafts. Traditionally, we have been governed by our clan and sub-clan leaders. There are 25 clans across the three groups. In August 2012, we created a non-hereditary cultural institution, Obudhingiya Bwa Bwamba(OBB), for identity, unity and development. This reflected our common sense of lack of recognition and our feeling of subjugation by the larger ethnic groups in the region. OBB brings the three groups together and Much of Bundigugyo’s land, at the border with the Congo, lies in National Parks was officially recognised by Government in 2013. Our first leader, Omudhingiya LtCol Martin Ayongi Kamya, was crowned on 30th May 2014. Our cultural aspirations and challenges We would like the positive aspects of our culture to be protected, revived and our three communities to be respected. We should not have any fear being identified as Bamba, Babwisi or Bavanoma and should for example be able to confidently prepare our traditional foods and effectively perform and express our traditional dances without prejudice. Currently, our cultural rights are not sufficiently respected and they have been negatively affected by: 1


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Policy Brief 2014 • External influences: this includes the influence of western culture, education that is not culturally informed, some government policies, new technologies, and religion. • Mixed culture: Bundibugyo is increasingly in contact with other ethnic groups in the country and, as minority groups, it is difficult to resist the influence from these other groups, whose cultures we may not all want to emulate. • Social differences: with increasing wealth and education, some wealthy and influential persons have a tendency to move away from our culture. • Inferiority complex: we are not always proud of our languages, and of other forms of cultural expressions, cultural ceremonies and practices. Key issues a. Safeguarding and accessing cultural sites Most of our cultural sites are unifying factors for the sub-clans, because they are important for worship, appealing for rainfall, peace, circumcision rites, and to remedy marital problems. Yet accessing them has become difficult for several reasons. First, they are restrictions by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and by the Dance is an important element of cultural expression for the Bamba, Bavanoma and Babwisi Bakhonzo in the mountain areas. Many sites are within National Parks, and our communities do not have permission to access them, other than for tourism. Several important cultural sites are in the Rwenzori Mountains, such as Bujumera, Muturumango (where god resides in Bupomboli); Ngite falls; Mpuliya; Busendwa; Bamaga, Bugalama; Bunyangule; Ndibanindola. In Semuliki National Park, girls due for marriage were taken to the female hot spring for blessing to have children or to be healed from menstrual or other reproductive problems. The male hot spring similarly served to appeal for marriage, produce children or cleanse of bad fortune. For the Bandimagwara clan, the Bhalingina tree – where god resides - is Cultural sites: the Sempaya hot springs and Wantonji’s shrine 2


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Policy Brief 2014 a site for male circumcision and to appeal for peace within the family, but the current generation does not utilise it as it is within the park. Secondly, some cultural sites are on private property and once sold the new owners do not respect the cultural value of the sites. Wantonji for instance is a cultural heritage site which is in public land in Humiya. Its owner says that, if the land is sold, the Wantonji is under threat and the Bandimagwara Clan who believe in it are much worried. Third, some of the cultural sites, especially shrines, have been destroyed by religious institutions, in spite of some church leaders having used the radio to tell the community that the Word of God is not an enemy to culture. When the Charismatic Episcopal Church for instance came to Bundibugyo District in 1998, its members destroyed some of the cultural sites for the Baseghiya clan after conversion. The forest was burnt down and people have now constructed houses and planted crops in its place. Fourth, in the last ten years, when people were displaced from the National Park, there was insufficient land to accommodate the increased population and spaces that were cultural sites were occupied by resettled communities for example in Nyangasa and Bhoobe (a sacred forest has been converted into town). In addition, cultural sites were originally protected by the elders but currently the youth have no time to spend with their parents, they do not know where the sites are or their value and therefore do not protect them (e.g. Bhalingina site in Semuliki Park). We are aware that, without access to these sites, our sense of unity can be undermined, resulting in conflicts; disbelief of healing resulting in rampant illness; and famine due to lack of access to rain making sites and practices. The Obudhingiya Bwa Bwambawas inaugurated in 2014 3


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Policy Brief 2014 The destruction of cultural sites: Bhoobe Bhoobe is a forest where the Babandi and Baseghiya clans worshipped the Nakweghanga Kaliya Musino spirit. Only nephews (Baahuwa) were allowed to go and carry the spirit (in a pot of water drawn from Bhoobe river in the forest. They would go with a chicken egg and a small spotted hen (Kongo Nkubha) and say “I have come for you; don’t refuse these gifts”, accompanied by chants. Whenever the spirit was brought home in the shrine the sick would heal, after further sacrifice of a goat’s blood. This is no longer practiced because of religious influence (especially by the Charismatic Episcopal and Anglican Churches); wars and poverty causing migration, arrival of immigrants and abandonment of cultural practices/sites); education (elders used to encourage the youth not to destroy the forest, but the educated no longer see the importance of cultural practices); new crops (cocoa) have displaced the spirit from the forest. Our request to: The Bakhonzo community: • Allow the three ethnic communities to access these cultural sites for purposes of cultural rituals • Ask the communities residing in the mountains to welcome members of the OBB communities. The Uganda Wildlife Authority: • Give authority and guides to access the cultural sites in the Mt Rwenzori and Semuliki National Parks • Ensure that the benefits of the revenue sharing scheme reaches the OBB institution and communities • Fully protect the cultural sites such as sacred trees and waterfalls from destruction Religious institutions: • Recognise African religions and their value to the communities’ beliefs and culture • Refrain from destroying cultural artefacts (ankle bells, pots, musical calabash, etc) and sites belonging to members of their congregation, which they are currently labelling as satanic. b. Recognising and promoting our languages We recognise that no language is superior to another, yet our 3 languages, if not written and more widely used, are likely to disappear. There is limited literature, and what is available is not much used in the community because of low literacy, intermarriages or use of other languages. None of our languages are examinable in schools and there is no District Language Board. Future generations are at risk of losing their vocabularies, their confidence to speak their language, and an important part of their identity. Some of the community members are suppressed and either are unable or unwilling to speak their language in public. At times, when the Bavanoma for instance speak on the radio, others groups call in and ask them to speak in Lubwisi. While some of us have shied away from speaking our language, with the recognition of the OBB, it is anticipated that the community will have more of a sense of identity and confidence to speak their respective language. 4


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Policy Brief 2014 Therefore, we request: Religious institutions and connected organisations to: • Use the 3 languages in religious services, including prayers, hymns, and sermons. • Language translation projects should translate prayer books, hymns, orders of service, liturgy, and other vital verses. District Education Department: • Train local language teachers to effectively use local languages in accordance with the Education Language Policy (Thematic Curriculum and Early Childhood Development). Local government to: • Establish the Bundibugyo District Language Board so that local language materials are developed and produced. District Community Development Office to: • Supply materials and monitor the teaching in local languages through the Adult literacy reading circles. Uganda Broadcasting Corporation to: • Avail time for programmes in local languages, including teaching programmes. Obudhingiya Bwa Bamba: • In liaison with local government, provide a reading table, avail materials and facilitate writers’ workshops to produce more materials National Curriculum Development Centre: • Approve the Kwamba orthography and recommend the inclusion of Kwamba in the thematic curriculum. c. Safeguarding other forms of expression Dances are an important way to express our cultural identity. We for instance have the Luma (ceremonial dance, rituals, mourning), the Makpu (male and elders dance leisure time), the Balimu (for treatment), the Muleedhu (social, circumcision, recovery from illness, surviving death, prison) and the Ligbaya (erotic dance performed at night by both married and unmarried couples, which is no longer performed). These dances are under threat for several reasons. The educated members of the community despise some traditional dances, such as luma and balimu, as primitive because they do not recognise their value and display an inferiority complex. This is aggravated where ‘saved’ people perceive some of these dances as satanic or, in the case of intermarriages, where partners are not sufficiently informed of the value of their respective cultural heritage. The youth tend to give more value to western-inspired dances and the use of modern musical instruments, although some people have capitalised on traditional dances and form troupes which generate income. Nevertheless, skills are getting lost with elderly knowledgeable dancers passing away and poorly informed teachers ‘modernising’ our dances. In addition, costumes are expensive, raw materials for some outfits (such as for the Luma dance) and musical instruments are no longer made because the raw materials were obtained from forests, such as Nyangasa, which have been cut down by the people who bought it. Finally, the government does not sufficiently support or invest in traditional dances (they are only recognised during official occasions, but not used as effective mobilisation tools) and our dances are not taught in Music, Dance and Drama courses in academic institutions. 5


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Policy Brief 2014 Craft making is another important part of our culture, but raw materials are hard to obtain (apart from clay). Many are found in Semuliki National Park and are currently not available to the concerned communities. There is also a lack of training to transfer knowledge to the younger generations and limited added value to existing craft making. The few craftsmen are not supported or encouraged and have no market for their products. As a result, the youth have not taken interest in craft making and there is a danger that, when skilful elders die, they go with all their knowledge. d. Traditional medicine Most community members of the three ethnic groups use traditional medicine, but this too is disappearing. On the one Our request: Obudhingiya Bwa Bamba: • Document and disseminate information on traditional dances, and raise awareness of their significance • Organise cultural dance competitions and cultural galas • Organise exhibitions, crafts workshops and other outlets for transfer of knowledge and skills • Advocate through the media (radio talk shows) about the importance of crafts • Organise exposure visits of craftsmen/women to improve their products National Forestry Authority / UWA • Establish a nursery in liaison with OBB for bamboo seedlings and other trees from the Congo and national parks for musical instruments such as the flutes • Provide authority to the concerned communities to sustainably harvest raw materials (e.g. palms for mat making; trees for drums) from the National Parks. District Education Department: • Emphasise music, dance and drama festivals and competitions and ensure that all schools are involved in these, with head teachers supported with available funds • Encourage open school days to exhibit cultural performances • Support training of MDD teachers in different cultural dances and practices • Encourage schools to hold school handicrafts competitions; reintroduce handicrafts in both primary and secondary schools Community • Use available local materials within their respective areas to produce art and crafts • Establish nurseries for some of the necessary materials Building skills and artifacts on display 6


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Policy Brief 2014 hand, undocumented knowledge vanishes when resourceful persons die ad some medicine becomes dangerous as important information on dosage also gets lost. Secondly, many medicinal trees and plants, such as the Musisiya tree, are no longer available because these are not sustainably harvested, as forests are cut to make room for cocoa plants . Some now only survive within the protected areas. Religious institutions are also very much opposed to African traditional medicine and associated practices which are labelled satanic. As one traditional leader remarked, “We are actually seen as wrong people and pagans, making it difficult to attend Church services”. Health workers also denounce traditional medicine, just as some traditional healers denounce western medicine, thus creating confusion in peoples’ minds. e. Cultural norms, values and customs “Eka etaliyo mukulu ehiya ntangaali” (a home without an elder burns away very fast). The culture of the Bamba, Babwisi and Bavanoma is rich in values, norms and customs. For example, the mode of greeting, the way to sit, to eat, the value of respect especially for elders and in-laws - and the Our request: National Forestry Authority/ UWA • Give authority to access trees in protected areas that are of cultural value, protect medicinal trees and plants Obudhingiya Bwa Bamba: • Bring herbalists together to share knowledge on the policies concerning traditional medicine and resource use • Support the establishment of nurseries for traditional medicinal plants and liaise with UWA and the National Forestry Authority to identify and access medicinal plants Private land owners, Bakhonzo community • Support our communities to access sites to sustainably harvest traditional medicine from the Rwenzori mountains Government • Support herbalists to validate, refine, process and package traditional medicine • Link local herbalists to the National Traditional Healers’ Association value of hospitality, e.g. for visitors. We also had ways to solve conflicts, to mediate and to reconcile. Although we recognise that culture has to change with times and we recognise for instance that gender equality and inclusiveness is desirable and was not present in earlier days, modernity has influenced the communities’ value of traditional foods, naming and other aspect of cultural identity. These are threatened by the way our culture has been distorted by outsiders, by the educational system and by a rigid understanding of human rights, including children’s rights. Naming is one way to give identity: names given to our children should be relevant to their situation/context. “Bad” names need to be avoided as they reflect negative effects and actions. Traditional food is often neglected, when it is despised and because of foreign influence and this can contribute to shortening our lifespan. Foods like ehoko, mutene, sobiyo, njumbu, mugbetele, teke, byalumembe, nswigha and others are hard to find. 7


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Policy Brief 2014 Therefore we request: Obudhingiya Bwa Bamba: • Through the Ministry of Culture, always engage the 25 clan leaders and spell ways of maintaining our culture without distorting it; to document the historical background, practices, values and norms of each ethnic group – and to liaise with the DEO’s office for dissemination of this information to educational establishments. • Engage the community to value traditional foods, advocate for their production and promote demonstration gardens by OBB members. • Through the Ministry of Culture, relate to the 25 clan heads and promote positive naming practices and naming ceremonies. Use radio talk shows about the importance of using our cultural names. District Community Development Office and health educators: • Avail materials in line with cultural norms, values and customs, and the National Culture Policy; mainstream culture in all its activities. • Emphasise to communities the value of local foods and their use. District Education Department: • Disseminate information as above to the schools in the district and ensure that the thematic curriculum takes into account local cultural norms, values and practices. Production department: • Promote kitchen gardens for indigenous foods. Efforts to conserve heritage: the OBB museum and the Kawamara square Who are we? The authors of this document are members of the Obudhingiya Bwa BwambaCultural Information Centre Management Committee. The centre promotes and protects the endangered cultural heritage of the Bamba, Babwisi and Bavanoma. It is situated on Bumadu Road, in Bundibugyo and is open to the public. Contacts: Wilson Mubulya (0772-966094) OBB Prime Minister and chair of the committee; Amos Asaba (0774-422322) Cultural Information Centre Manager. With the support of   Off Bativa Rd, Makerere, P.O. Box 25517, Kampala Tel +256 312294675



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