Am reminded of a photo of Mutuba trees at his Rwakitura farm that was posted on the ‘Face Book wall’ of the senior citizen of Uganda at the tail end of 2017. The photo was captioned:
“I planted these Mutuba trees as a fence in 1967 while my peers were dancing and enjoying life in Mbarara.”His Excellency Yoweri Kagutta Museveni
Yes, I assumed that the photo is not ‘photo-shopped’ and that the caption to the photo is a direct quote from President Museveni, our current long-serving President, since 1986.
When I saw the photo of the Mutuba trees, trees that are reportedly growing at the Rwakitura farm of the senior citizen and when I read the caption, I immediately thought: “development”, the kind that is promoted by a particular ‘neoliberal-commercialisation-of-land-for-modernisation’ school of thought, is very slow arriving at that Rwakitura farm.
This is because, that kind of “development” is generally incompatible with 50 year old trees, let alone trees such as the Mutuba. When that kind of “development” comes, the trees must go, the two cannot co-exist.
The global-western scientific name of Mutuba, according to a 2014 Afri-Root Collective analysis, “Uganda bark cloth, where does it come from?,” is “Ficus Natalensis.” And that it is a tree that holds very high cultural significance to the first nations of Uganda.
After all, it is from Mutuba whence bark cloth or in Luganda, the language of the largest first nation of Uganda, olubugo is made. Olubugo is the traditional dress for the first nations of Uganda.
One may recall the botched attempt of one of the presidential candidates in the 2016 Uganda Presidential Elections to appropriate the significance of olubugo, by dressing in it for the historic globally televised second Uganda presidential debate.
She looked positively hideous and the Daily Monitor beautifully captured that image of her.
In present day Uganda, olubugo continues to ceremoniously feature at official functions, such as coronation of kings and chiefs and as part of the regalia of the official garments of kings and chiefs.
Olubugo is often symbolically used by fashion designers so that they may market their ‘modern creations’ as being ‘African-Ugandan’. This, even though, the central-logic is exogenous in origin for the bulk of their ‘modern creations’.
The ‘modern creations’ are seemingly global-western centric in design. But then again, global-western designs have been known to also be significant appropriations of non-global-western cultures.
In the past, olubugo played a significant role as the main fabric that the first nations of Uganda used to wrap the remains of the deceased in preparation for burial.
It is, therefore, befitting that there should be plenty of Mutuba trees growing all over Uganda. It is, in fact, valid to ask:
“Why aren’t Mutuba trees growing all over Uganda?”
Or are they growing all over Uganda, except for places were “development” has arrived? Shouldn’t the Mutuba trees be among protected species of Uganda? And for multiple purposes – aesthetic value, spiritual value, environmental conservation and commerce – bark cloth production, and value addition? The list is potentially long.