Travels With Nakayima, Part 7: Mubende, Uganda

14 April, 2009

Today it’s off to Mubende!  I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since my first visit with a colleague from another university who had done archaeological and ethnographic work there.  She described it as such a cool place, and the medium as such a cool lady, that it really inspired me to pursue this as a venue of research.  There’s a gigantic tree there that symbolizes fertility (for cows and humans).  It’s a remnant of the spirit Ndawula/Ndahura and his medium Nakayima and the Bacwezi herders’ presence on Mubende Hill.  It’s kind of a long trip, and I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night, so I sleep most of the way there.

After breakfast, and we end up in a small cosmetics shop run by someone Nakayima knows.  She offers us a glass of water and a seat for a bit, and she tells us what we should bring up the hill with us: milk, coffee berries, and small change.  These things we acquire through errand runners as we sit there in the shop, a luxury afforded to those who have money to send someone like that.

Two boda drivers agree to take us up the large hill, and these boys can’t cheat us because Nakayima’s friend knows them.  Once up the hill, we’re in a village called Bomaire Nakayima (Boma for short), named for the first medium to occupy this place.  Nakayima was a medium for Ndawula/Ndahura. a mucwezi herder.

There’s a big sign about 100 meters from the big tree that says “Nakayima Tourist Site.”  ‘Great,’ I think to myself, ‘another tourist site.’  I hadn’t expected to be jaded like this, but the whole Ttanda experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  It just seems so unnecessary to foul up the scenery with a big sign when very few actual tourists come to these places anyway.

We barely get done with greetings before the medium is taking us through prayers.  This woman, whom Nakayima calls “Jjajja,” calls herself “Muzuukulu wa Nakayima” (the grandchild of Nakayima).  To my surprise, she wears a rosary around her neck.  It reaffirms once more for me that ancestral veneration, Islam, and Christianity are by no means mutually exclusive domains.  We empty the small plastic bags of milk into two containers and begin to open all of the mmwanyi (coffee berries), dumping them into baskets.  Jjajja instructs Nakayima to drink from the milk and offer it to the spirits.  She then picks up the basket, places four coffee berries into her hands, and begins the prayer.  When she finishes, we go across the large root to the left and she says a similar prayer in the next crevice of the tree.  In each of these, she addresses a different spirit.  We continue in this fashion all the way around the tree.  The prayers go something like this:
Jjajja __________________, tukusabire
(Grandmother, we pray you)
kutuwannula, otuwe ku mulimo,
(we come and you give us work)
(and offspring)
n’amaka malungi.
(and fine houses)
(we praise you…)

After each line, Nakayima repeats what the old woman has said.  No matter what else she says, these few lines seem fairly consistent with each spirit.  It’s all about getting fruitful work, bearing children, and having a home for them.

When we finish with the tree, Nakayima wants to feed fires for Nakayima (the spirit) and Kiwanuka.  We’re instructed to move up the hill a bit, where there’s a man selling chunks of wood.  It’s kind of like lighting a candle in church, it seems.  He chops us off a few small chunks of wood, which my traveling companion feeds into the fires for Nakayima, Kaliisa, and Kiwanuka.  The one for Kaliisa, it turns out, must be fed with cow chips from around the compound.

When we come back to the tree, there’s a man there who offers us some of the bananas that he’s brought from town.  He came in a car, so Nakayima asks him for a ride back into town.  After that, things move too fast to really get anything done here.  I don’t even get a chance to ask Jjajja when and if people beat drums and sing here.  I’ll have to ask Nakayima later, I suppose.  Little do we know that this man is planning to go all the way back to Kampala.  He’s only in Uganda for two weeks, on leave from his job as a chef in London.  He’s made time to come here and bring these offerings to Jjajja Nakayima, which means this must be pretty important for him.  He speeds all the way back to Kampala, making me wonder about how good an idea it was to go with him.

Most of these site visits give me useful context relating to the people and places where kusamira performances take place.  I have to say that today was disappointing on two levels: first, I had been looking forward to this for two years, and then I learn today that the most recent medium has been dead for most of those two years.  Then I don’t even get a chance to ask very many questions.  I resolve that even if I don’t get to go back to all of these places where Nakayima is taking me, I must return to this place when I have more time.



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11 responses to “Travels With Nakayima, Part 7: Mubende, Uganda

  1. Jenn

    I must admit, it’s a little confusing with all of the Nakayimas involved here. It’s Nakayima-tastic.

    • artclecticacademic

      I know, I know…sorry, folks. I have tried to clarify all of that in the post, but it’s even confusing for me. Hopefully where those two things occur in close proximity I’ve been as clear as possible.

      • Jenn

        Hey, no sweat, man. How many times do you suppose I’ve had to distinguish myself from the other Jennifers in the group? Believe me, I understand.

  2. Victoria Balfour

    Hi there, I’m doing some work for a TV documentary on the Buganda and Bunyoro kingdoms of pre-colonial Uganda and have found your blog, especially the bit with Nakayima, very interesting. Would it be possible to pick your brains on this?

  3. Kagire Danson

    Thanks Peter, for this great tale of Nakayima. I used to live here – just few meters from the tree-spot. This place is called Boma Hill. The Jjaja, you referred to in the piece, her real names are ‘Resty’ – I remember her very well. Thanks Peter, for this memorable piece…

    Kagire Danson, Kigali Rwanda

  4. Yvette

    I grew up in Mubende, but I visited the tree on two Educational Tours as a little girl. It was scaring. I never wanted to go back, and up to now, I have never gone back. I realized that people who believe in Nakayima’s miraculous powers come from far away lands. Very few people within Mubende take the tree serious. For them, its just another tree, on top of a flat topped hill, a Historical site, and probably a shrine for those who believe in it. I have many questions, does the tree really have any such “godly” powers as it is claimed?? Well, you get what you believe, it probably has powers, to those who believe in it.
    The Chwezi dynasty to which the tree is associated rules for a long time, and they were believed to be half-man half-gods. May be that’s why the tree is held in such high regard.
    It would work well as a tourist attraction if it is developed, and the scary parts are made more friendly. A big, tall tree, which would have otherwise grown in a valley, finds its way on top of a hill. Its large compound leaves are typical of Equatorial Rain Forest trees, but here it is in a shrubby environment……

    • I know what you mean about developing the tourist attraction. I saw similar attempts at other shrines, and I suspect it doesn’t work because the believers do not want to cheapen their experience by packaging it for tourists. Whatever we believe, though, it is an important historical site. For that it was extremely helpful for my research. Moreover, I found the people there to be warm and friendly, but then that’s consistent with the tremendous hospitality I received all over Uganda.

  5. Thanks for sharing this experience. Hope to visit this place soon. Too bad you were rushed through at the end. Ive heard that they have particular days where many people gather and camp there, drumming and dancing the whole night through, worshiping the Bachwezi. It could be an exciting experience am sure.

  6. Khamala

    Hi there, I’ve read your experience visiting the Nakayima tree… I just visited it too along with my group mates (BTK2), we were assigned to travel around our country Uganda as a class and divided into 7 groups of 4. I would love for you to check out our different experiences at, especially those of BTK2 my group. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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