I suppose it is a tad odd to launch from a franchise that embodies exogenous global-western standards of beauty, Miss Uganda Pageant, in order to answer the question: “Beauty in Uganda, what is it?” Then again why not?
Yes, on the evening of this past Saturday, 15th October 2016, through to the early hours of Sunday morning, I was among the audience that attended the finale of the Miss Uganda Pageant 2016.
I was there courtesy of a treat from my young brother, Emmanuel Owaraga and his wife, my sister Magloire. Emmanuel’s company – Owaraga Still and Motion Group – was among the sponsors of the event.
My first highlight for the event was that I sat with ‘the corporates’ and the ‘very important persons (VIPs)’ of Uganda in the VIP section. Yes, the event was at the Victoria Hall of The Kampala Serena International Conference Centre, no less.
And from that vantage point – rubbing shoulders with ‘the corporates’ and ‘VIPs’ – I enjoyed another highlight of the event – the extraordinary pleasure of beholding Jackie Chandiru, an inspirational victor, as she bellowed out her fabulous rendition of the Uganda National Anthem.
Her voice, well, by the time she sang the third stanza “Oh Uganda the land that feeds us by sun and fertile soil grown …” she had completely rendered me breathless with awe for she was beautiful.
Yes, as I was saying, I was seated with corporates and VIPs, and as we were seating there the Guest of Honour walks in, together with handsome guys, her sons – konye I spotted some marriage rings on them, so they did not hold my attention long. And besides, the Guest of Honour was also accompanied by her two daughters, clearly women of substance, who oozed African beauty as it should be … eeeh!
And then the jaw dropper – that VIP delegation, of the Guest of Honour, headed for the table on which I was seated and they sat with us… ayayaya – another highlight of the event right there!
She was Honourable Mama Cecilia Barbara Atim Ogwal, the ‘iron lady’ herself, whose beauty has only but intensified with age. What better than to use the speech that she gave, another of the highlights of the event, in order to answer the question: “beauty in Uganda, what is it?”
Let’s start with Mama Cecilia’s beauty. According to the Daily Monitor, in 1969 she was Miss Uganda. At the time she was finalising her studies for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the East African University in Nairobi. So, she possesses beauty of physical appearance and beauty of intellect all rolled up in one.
From her own experience, presumably, Mama Cecilia observed:
To be a beauty queen you have to be gentle; you have to be loving.
She went on to provide a possible antithesis to that kind of beauty by interestingly advising the Miss Uganda pageant 2016 contestants not to emulate her:
Don’t try to emulate Mrs Ogwal. For me I chose to become a politician. And being a politician means that I talk tough, I talk loud and I talk anyhow.
Mmmmm. Seemingly, being a politician is incompatible with being a beauty queen, at least in the aspects of beauty which are associated with the manner in which one carries oneself. In the context of the Miss Uganda franchise, the “tough and loud talking Mama Cecilia”, it would appear, does not make the cut.
There is another kind of beauty, however, the one, I must admit, interests me the more, the one which comes from associating one’s beauty to a geography or spatial location – a particular culture. While celebrating the organisers of the Miss Uganda pageant 2016, Mama Cecilia also advised them:
I wish you even celebrated those who have come from the rural areas. For me I am a rural girl and I am proud to be a rural girl and I have maintained myself as such. I want that identity of a rural woman, a rural child, to come up and to be celebrated, not to be condemned. In the past people looked down on children and people who come from the rural areas, but now let us celebrate it, that is where our wealth is.
Which beggars the question: which look or looks in Uganda would encapsulate the beauty of a ‘rural girl’? Or was Mama Cecilia’s utilisation of the terminology rural really a reference to beauty standards of the first nations of Uganda – Lango, Iteso, Karimojong, etc. – for example, one with agirai (naturally occurring neck rings), in the context of Iteso?
And if there is ‘rural girl’ beauty is it different from ‘urban girl’ beauty? Mama Cecilia obviously thinks so. Deducing from her advice to the pageant contestants, it would appear that the beauties on stage were of ‘urban girl’ beautiful. Perhaps, ‘urban girl’ beauty is what Mama Cecilia described as she reminisced:
I wish I could be as small as you are, but I have walked quite a long distance in terms of age and so you would not expect me to look like you.
Mmmm, this is food for thought indeed. Mark you, Miss Uganda is not an individual thing, the person who is bestowed the title Miss Uganda becomes the representative of the entire country Uganda. As Mama Cecilia emphasised when she was advising the contestants of their being Miss Uganda:
You are not going to represent only the beauties. So when you get outside there, there is no politics; there is no tribe; and there is no any ethnicity. There is only one thing – I am the ambassador representing Uganda.
Okay, the Government of Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) was among the sponsors of the pageant, I think, because I remember wondering why they were so; particularly, considering the state of its agricultural research institutions. But, here we are talking about beauty and ambassadorship, so I will not go there.
And yes, if Miss Uganda is an ambassador representing Uganda, one would expect certain Government of Uganda Ministries to be closely related with the franchise. Okay, at the very least attend the event, the finale of the pageant, the crowning of Miss Uganda.
But where is government here? Where is the Ministry of Culture? Where are they? Why are they not here? We have the Ministry of Sports. Why are they not here? We have the Ministry of Women and Gender. Why are they not here? They should be here to get the message from these beautiful ladies, because these ladies are going to represent them.
Mama Cecilia did ask valid questions indeed, questions without which I have the answers. Add on the fact that Mama Cecilia in her speech, at least in three instances, intentionally or otherwise, defined her beauty as different from that which is associated with Miss Uganda – in manner, in location, and in size. So, I continue to reflect on the question: “Beauty in Uganda, what is it?
Photo Credit: Owaraga Still and Motion Group.