28 March, 2009: Bakka, Uganda
This rock might not look like much, but for members of the Ffumbe clan it’s a historically and ritually significant place. Hallowed places here are often covered by bark cloth or some other type of cloth. This one is covered with olugoye, a generic cloth that women use for a variety of purposes, including carrying babies (in which case it’s called engozi). It covers this rock, where the oral tradition holds that Ffumbe women used to give birth. The rock is discolored from afterbirth where Ffumbe ancestors began their lives.
Nakayima has brought me here today as a kind of double-duty outing. She knows that my host family calls me Kigozi, a name they gave me three years ago from the stock of names appropriate for Ffumbe clan. The other lady we came with is Nakigozi, also of Ffumbe clan, so we call each other mwanyinaze, meaning a sibling of the opposite gender. This place is significant to our clan for another reason apart from the rock you see above: this is where Walusimbi stays. Walusimbi is the title for the mukulu ow’ekika, or head of the clan (for lack of a better translation), named for the progenitor of the Ffumbe clan. The acting head of the clan still bears this title. Though I will not meet this person today, Ffumbe folks still get excited about this place.
The other reason why she brought me here is to see the burial site of Kabaka Mulondo, the 9th Kabaka (king) of Buganda. When we walk into the shrine, we first make an offering of mmwanyi (coffee berries) and money in the baskets before us. This is standard practice when you enter this type of shrine. Some people ask for blessings as they place their offerings in the baskets, and then we all stand. I can’t take pictures, so I’ll have to describe for you what I see here: we’re in a room about 5×5 meters, and the back half is separated by a large bark-cloth covering over a raised flat surface (about 20 cm off the ground). There are spears in front of this, and behind it there’s a large, bark-cloth covered area larger than a normal tomb. The jaw bones of Kabaka Mulondo are preserved under there somewhere.
As we stand there, Nakayima begins to sing a series of songs. All around clap, and the caretaker of the shrine plays the small drum in the corner. I’ve heard these songs before: they invoke the balongo or twins. Many Baganda believe that every human has a spiritual double, as evidenced by the existence of umbilical cords. Twins are believed to be an aberration from this natural order, a kind of rule-breaking that can be spiritually dangerous. Invoking the twins is one way of staying on the safe side of this danger, and many rituals, both in shrines and in more secular public settings, begin with this group of songs.
I have very little time to think about how sad it is that they don’t allow me to record these songs. When we move out of the shrine shortly after the songs, we go around the large, rocky hill with no shoes (ouch) checking out the other shrines. Some are ebyoto (small fire rings with spears around them), some are simply rocks like the one above, and others are just baskets where people make offerings. Each is dedicated to a different spirit. This is a common thing to see at these historically significant sites. There will often be one main ssabo or shrine, surrounded by many other smaller places to venerate other ancestors. These are the kinds of places I’ll describe in the upcoming posts as well, though each has its own character.
In the coming posts, I hope to upload video and/or audio files. Realistically, that might have to wait until I get access to enough bandwidth to play with. Until then, enjoy the stories and send me your questions and comments.