Archive for ‘History’

December 14, 2011

Of Uganda’s Jewels, Conservation and My White Men Zombies

This was the fulfillment of a dream and the beginning of a new era of preservation. That night, the lions roared, and Ken Beaton and I jumped over the moon.

(Mervyn Cowie – Kenya’s first director of National Parks, on birth of East Africa’s first National Park- Nairobi National Park 1946- 1950.)

Under this ruined headstone at the Entebbe European Cemetery lie the remains of Kenneth De Planta Beaton. The man whose pioneering efforts set up Uganda’s jewels, the Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Fall parks, is discarded and forgotten.

Ken Beaton (1905 – 1954): a naturist, a conservationist, to some a fantasist; a man born of Africa, with a heart for Uganda.

(Read obituary below)

I have learned pitifully little about Ken Beaton, despite the depth of his work and the reach of his legacy.

This is what I know:

He was born to Captain Duncan Beaton and Alice De Planta in Malawi.

December 11, 2011

Of Oil, Stones and Wisdom in Uganda and My White Men Zombies

zom.bie noun \ˈzäm-bē\
: my learning, my living, my growing
: Homo Coprophagus Somnambulus
: a mixed drink made of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice

Here lies Arthur Delmar Combe: prolific mineralogist, volcanologist and petrologist.

You are excused if you have never heard of A. D.  After all, who was he but the man for whom the mineral ‘combeite’ was named? So what if the discovery combeite in 1957 has led to important medical developments in biocompatible bone restorations as well as numerous orthopedic and dental innovations?

The sinking, stinking Entebbe European Cemetery is the final resting place for this former Assistant Director at the Uganda Geological Survey who had  a heart for the ageless stories of stones. The beautiful black block of Ankole granite used to fashion his headstone was a loving tribute to his pioneering work in mapping the crater lakes of southwestern Uganda and his discovery of potash-rich deposits in Toro.

Now, like much of Uganda’s inglorious past, Arthur Delmar Combe lies forgotten … and we wake to a grey dawn.

I have discovered pitifully little about A. D. Combes. An excerpt in the journal Nature from July 16, 1949 sheds some light:

September 27, 2010

And Then Blogging Makes Sense …

Corny lyrical revisionism courtesy of that cheesy Whitney Houston song –

You’ll never blog alone

(Though) I’ll (not) be standing by

I’ll only read you when I’m bored

I’ll mock you when you cry …

In March last year, I blogged about the fate of one of the most prominent landmarks in Masindi, SS Robert Corydon.

It was a Class A ferry of the best kind in the world; modern amenities and a “top-billed” crew. Winston Churchill even described it as having “the best library afloat.”

Alas, the wonder days of the SS Robert Coryndon were short lived.  It sunk in 1964 and has been abandoned ever since.

I had no information about it apart from what I’d seen at the Butiaba Port on Lake Albert and what I’d combed from the World Wide Web.

More than a year later, I got a response!

This is from Jaffer A. Kapasi OBE, a well known Ugandan Asian in the UK.

My father Akbarali Allibhai Kapasi bought this ship from east African railways and harbours in 1965 with the intention of converting this great ship into a floating hotel. We had to leave Uganda Idi Amin expulsion of the Ugandan Asians. We would like to make contacts with the family of Mr Robert Coryndon to share our record of our activities during our ownership.


Here’s a picture of Akbarali Allibhai Kapasi’s shop in Masindi prior to the Asian expulsion in 1972.

Of course I had no contacts, but then this is how blogging makes sense …

May 26, 2009

The Singing Rocks of Uganda

Mine is a weird and wonderful country.

The video below is the first part of a short film by naturalist sculptor Peter Randall-Page on one of Africa’s most ancient musical stones at Lolui Island in Bugiri district. 

April 22, 2009

Altruistic Authors?

Yesterday evening I was the token Ugandan at an all-foreigners’ party.  Often my non-Ugandan friends shamelessly flaunt me as an example of how open they are to ‘mixing with the locals.’

“See?  Isn’t she clever and well spoken?  And she’s Ugandan!”

I’m okay with the patronizing and the exploitation of my nationality and skin color if I can get a free meal every once in a while.  Yeah, I’m cheap like that.

During the party I met three people who are in the country to write books about Uganda.  Books about Northern Uganda, to be precise.  They spoke effusively about how people had suffered and how their stories needed to be told.  Had I been to Gulu?  To Pader?  Did I see the emasculation of the men and the abuse of the women?  And what of the children?  The poor, poor children who have a legacy of violence to deal with?

Oh, how their hearts ached!  Oh, how they wept!  Oh, how they were filled with despair and the uncontrollable urge to write and write into the middle of the night!

I’m sorry.  This is not supposed to be one of those blog posts.  I’m trying to be a more positive person.  No snarky comments here,

April 2, 2009

A Meme of a Different Kind

Perhaps it’s age.  Perhaps it’s fate. Perhaps it’s the amount of time I dedicate to watching ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ on BBC Knowledge in the middle of the day.  For some reason what started out for me as a mild fascination with history when I was a child is fast turning into a fixation.


Drum roll please.  Introducing the man who started it all for me: 

My Great-Grandfather, Mutambuka wa Rutogogo.



This is a touched up photograph of a much, much older one currently in the possession of the Rev.


Mutambuka wa Rutogogo, later christened Mark by clerics of the Church Missionary Society, was one of the greatest medicine men in the larger Karagwe region in the early 20th century.

March 31, 2009

Finding Uganda’s Terracotta Army


Anyone who studied history in Uganda is familiar with this picture; the Luzira Head.


A ghostly sepia-colored photograph of the Luzira Head has for decades graced the cover a high school history textbook called “The Incomplete, Inaccurate and Infuriatingly Inadequate History of Uganda from 1800.”


Okay, that’s not what it is called, but considering that I have had to relearn Uganda’s history despite studying it for 13 years, that’s what it should be called.


Although I always knew of the Luzira Head, it wasn’t until last week that I was made aware of what a fascinating piece of the history of the interlacustrine region it is.  It is a mysterious piece of my country that is lost forever.


The Luzira Head is a terracotta pottery figure that was discovered in 1929 when a gang of prisoners was set to work on leveling the top of a hill within Luzira Prison.  The prisoners were alarmed when they uncovered the clay figure of appeared to be a human face. On examination by a British police officer in charge of the prison, it was found to be a head of a pottery figure. 


Continued excavation revealed fragments of other figures. The material recovered consisted almost entirely of ceramic figures and associated pottery fragments.

March 25, 2009

Behold, a Dream Unfulfilled

The first thing I noticed when I first visited Butiaba Port in Hoima five years ago was not the beautiful green of Lake Albert, the majestic Blue Mountains of Ituri or the sprawling shacks of the fishing folk.  It was this: a dream unfulfilled.


This is what remains of the SS Robert Coryndon, the jewel of the British colonial administration in Uganda.  The ship once described by Winston Churchill as ‘the best library afloat’ was part of an ambition to link Africa by rail, road and waterway.

The SS Robert Coryndon operated a Class A ferry service from Butiaba to the Congo, transiting through Packwach in Nebbi district.  In the 1950s and early 1960s, when Butiaba was still a flourishing gateway, the steamship did good business taking people and produce from northern Congo and southern Sudan into Uganda for export to European markets.

March 14, 2009

A Bit of History



In case you can’t read the small print, this is what the first few paragraphs say:


In this thrilling flying age we are constantly searching the atlas to find some unfamiliar place name – that of a new airport which in due course is likely to become as important to the world’s commerce as the famous seaports are today.


Such a name is Entebbe, Uganda’s airport on the shores of Lake Victoria, which was opened to much acclaim the other day.


Entebbe is one of the largest airports in the world with the longest runways in Africa, and its rapid rise reflects the amazing advances being made in this part of the ‘Dark Continent.’


A few years ago the airport consisted of only two grass land strips, each about 900 yards long.  Today the runway is 3,300 yards long, and, surfaced with the most modern material, can take the heaviest planes now flying and is looking towards regular calls next year by the Comet jet airliners linking London to Johannesburg.  In fact the airport’s new motto is ‘Entebbe can take it!’


This 1951 edition of Children’s Newspaper was republished by Look and Learn Magazine.

February 28, 2008

No, Mr. Mandela, I won’t Dine with You Today

You’ve heard the question before.

“If you could choose three people, dead or alive, to invite to dinner, who would they be?” 

According to, the ten most commonly named people are Jesus, Nelson Mandela, George Washington, Nostradamus, Jon Bon Jovi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Che Guevara and Tiger Woods. 

I know you are dying to dine with me, but sorry Mr. Mandela you’ll have to wait in line because topping my list of invitees are –  

Saartjie Baartman

This much sinned against Khoisan woman would have amazing, heart rending stories to tell.  Stories of how at 20 she was captured as a slave in Cape Town and for the rest of her short life was displayed naked on the streets of London and Paris.  Of how she was treated worse than an animal and had her genitals poked and probed by ignorant scientists who likened them to “the skin that hangs from a turkey’s throat.”  Her only sin was having a large posterior. 

Baartman died five years after her enslavement.  Instead of being granted a dignified burial, her skeleton, preserved genitals and brain were on public display at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974. 

I wonder what Saartjie Baartman would say about how times have changed (or not) since her death in 1815.  Would she look kindly on the so-called Video Vixens whose only claim to fame is shaking their booty in hip-hop music videos?  How would she react to news of modern day slavery and human trafficking?  Would she feel vindicated by a center established in her name that is dedicated for the care of victims of rape and domestic abuse? 


Remember her?  She is the girl who would be queen. In 1999 before Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi of Buganda got married to Sylvia Nagginda, we were introduced to Sarah Nsobya, a 13-year-old Primary Four student who was to become the virgin queen of the Kabaka.  Nsobya is the reigning “Nakku” and is the ‘first wife’ of the Kabaka. 

Nakku is a ceremonial position from the Kiganda Ffumbe clan dating back to the reign of Kabaka Chwa I.  The Nakku traditionally remains a virgin for life.  Her marriage to the Kabaka is ceremonial and she has limited, but important duties such as announcing the king’s death and calling an end to the communal mourning period. 

Nine years ago, there was much furor over the marriage between Kabaka Mutebi and Sarah Nsobya.  She was moved out of her parent’s home into her own palace where she received royal treatment.  Human rights organizations called the tradition outdated and primitive and the kingdom responded by promising that the Kabaka would not touch her and would pay for the rest of her education.

Nakku is now 22-years-old.  What does she look like? Where is she?  What does she do?  Did the kingdom live up to its promises?  Does she ever long for a ‘normal’ life with the opportunity to get a job, get married and have children?  Does she meet the Kabaka and his family?  Will she remain forgotten until the Kabaka dies?


I’ll have dinner with her just to hear her say her name. 

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh has gone down in the annals of history as one of the most revered military leaders in Africa.  Under the reign of King Gezo of Dahomey she achieved more feats than her male counterparts in West Africa.  She once led an army of 6,000 women warriors (the Dahomey Amazons) against colonial-protected Egba fortress in Abeokuta.  Armed with only spears, bows and words, Beh and her army took on the French colonialists in Egba and inflicted such heavy casualties that the French were forced to retreat.

There are reports that the chief gunner in the French army was killed and decapitated by a 15-year-old Dahomey Amazon under Beh’s command.  Another soldier was disarmed by an Amazon, who tore his throat open with her teeth.

I am a brazen, shameless feminist.  How could Seh-Dong-Hong Beh not appeal to me? 

** Who will you be dinning with today?


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