Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010
By Opiyo and Oloya

THE burning of Kasubi Tombs was an act of sheer wickedness. I don’t doubt for a minute that arson was behind it. But what really got my blood boiling to the brim was the charade of concern that poured only after this historic cultural heritage site was reduced to ashes. Suddenly, politicians discovered how important the tombs were yet its ongoing maintenance had been left to UNESCO to fund!

The preservation of our cultural heritage should never be taken that lightly. The Kasubi Tombs where past kings of Buganda are laid to rest should have been funded properly in order to secure it against accidental fires, arson and other calamities thereby preserving its unique architecture and irreplaceable one-of-a-kind royal artifacts. That some of these royal artifacts survived the fire is credit to the quick thinking of people who worked feverishly to secure them.

The rebuilding of the Kasubi Tombs must invest in fire-proof technology where rare items can be safely displayed. There also must be a plan to guard against future fires and thefts. Most importantly, the new plan must include adequate security for the site—you cannot leave such an important cultural monument to the whims of criminals. But, even as we show our absolute outrage over the burning of the Kasubi Tombs, we must also feel angry at the lack of leadership in preserving other national treasures that link us with our past.

Many cultural and heritage sites throughout Uganda need serious funding for restoration, preservation and general maintenance.

Here is an incomplete and random list of historical, cultural and heritage sites that need our immediate attention. In Bunyoro, for instance, we have the royal tombs at Mparo. In Toro, there are the Karambi Tombs where Toro kings are buried. In Buganda, there is Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, and Naggalabi Buddo coronation site for crowning the kings of Buganda. In Teso, the Nyero Rock Paintings near Kumi is the only known Stone Age rock painting in Africa. Not far are the lesser known Mukongoro caves.

In Amuru, the Guruguru caves where Lamogi leaders sought refuge when they defied British colonial imposition of unreasonable gun control laws in 1911-12, and Patiko Fort established by Samuel Baker are neglected.

I am confident my readers can name many other sites that link Ugandans to their rich and diverse history, culture and heritage. Now, I have not even started talking about preserving our living heritage that so many take for granted. Traditional customs and cultures need to be preserved especially our many and varied beautiful languages. According to UNESCO, close to 6,000 languages worldwide are either doomed or on the verge of disappearing in the very foreseeable future. Do you know the Tepeth language? Do you know anyone who speaks it? Tepeth also known as Soo is spoken mostly by elders in Karamoja, but many young people do not speak the language anymore and it is on the verge of disappearing altogether.

There are many Ugandan languages in the same category. Using modern technology, these languages must be preserved so that long after we are gone, they will remain available to future generations.

Other living heritage requiring preservation includes the traditional dances, music and music instruments, traditional dresses, and traditional cultural ceremonies. The beautiful traditional cultural dances from the various Uganda ethnicities must be nurtured and preserved.

You may not think about these as worthy of preservation, but then you have not heard the story of the American Crow Indians. The Crow, a proud warrior culture, gave up their beautiful Sun Dance, used as prayer to prepare for battle, around 1875. They felt they had no more use for it since they were now confined by the American government on reserves. More than half a century later, the Crow wanted to reintroduce their Sun Dance. The problem was that no living Crow at the time knew how to dance the Sun Dance anymore. Lucky for the Crow, though, their traditional enemy, the Shoshone Indians had copied and preserved the Sun Dance from the Crow with the hope of becoming just as powerful as the Crow. Crow elders had to go borrow the idea of the Sun Dance from the Shoshone. True story.

I like the suggestion from DP President Norbert Mao who called for the creation of a national heritage fund to which ordinary people can donate and designate funds toward the preservation of our heritage. But I would go further and say that the Government must make the preservation of culture and heritage a priority by strengthening the Ministry of Culture and Community Development with a new mandate with matching funds specifically designated for preserving our heritage.

However, if the ministry is not capable of doing the job, then create a whole new ministry, and call it the Ministry of Heritage. I hate the idea of a more bloated government, but the issue of preserving our heritage is such an important and urgent matter it requires a new approach and fresh thinking, not the same tired logic that says let our cultures take care of themselves.

In the meantime, the destruction of the spiritual and cultural site that is Kasubi Tombs has diminished our rich history as Ugandans. How else can we move forward, if we do not have our past?