Makerere fire is ancestors’ warning: decolonize

These past couple of days, I have been reflecting on the power of a name. Specifically, the meaning to which we attach to our name; the meaning that others attach to our name; and what reactions our name elicits. Does our name keep us rooted within the culture of our ancestors or does it render us culturally dislocated, I wonder.

I was thus reminded of the wisdom of women elders of Ajesa Village in Serere District in Teso Region in Uganda, elders with who I conversed sometimes back, during a focus group discussion for an empirical study that I was conducting. I have published their wisdom that is relevant to this analysis in two blog posts as follows:

While I still reflected, this morning, I saw an analysis by Bwesigye Mwesigire, which he posted on his Facebook wall in which he historicized the name of Makerere University Kampala (MUK). This is in light of the fact that this week, a historic building at MUK, “The Ivory Tower,” caught fire under yet mysterious circumstances.

And I thought wow, Mwesigye’s analysis is a must share to a wider audience, and so, herewith I share. The reason why I share his analysis will be obvious when you read it. Here it is:

Bwesigye Mwesigire

“Many people are proud of Makerere. Before the colonial government built a technical school on that hill in 1922, the exact spots where St. Francis Chapel and the now burnt main building stand hosted a shrine, a native Kiganda holy site.

The name Makeerere (mark the double e) came from a Ssekabaka (Buganda King) who had his capital at Mulago getting late as he returned from visiting one of his wives, thus he declared that yakeerewa (Rukiga readers, akacerererwa mbwenu; English readers, delayed or late), thus the hill took the name Makeerere, after lateness.

But it wasn’t nameless until Ssekabaka Jjuuko (some minority sources say Jjunju – we shall go with the majority)’s lateness. The hill’s older name was Nnyanja Eladde (the lake is calm), because one could see Enyanja Nnalubaale (named Lake Victoria by Colonialists) from the top of the hill, and it looked calm, from there.

Another explanation refers to the greeting, “eladde”. As recent as the 1930s, the hill had two names, Makeerere and Nnyanja Eladde, going by a reference in the story of the founding of Muslim schools in Uganda that refers to the technical school on the hill as Makerere – Nnyanja Eladde.

The other story about the origin of the name Makerere, refers to colonial forced labour around the building of the railway. That the hill was known for the noise of the workers, in Kiswahili Makelele, whose ls were later changed to rs. Of course the rs coming from the kukeerewa of the Ssekabaka.

Makerere University is built on colonial violence against native ways of life, native knowledge, native spirituality, native freedom, and native self-determination. What does it mean to decolonise Makerere?

What about the Kiganda holy site on which it stands? What about that?

When we celebrate the prestige of colonial Makerere, what are we doing to Nnyanja Eladde?

Of course I am biased. I am from Nyanja.”

Bwesugye Mwesigire

Save for minor capitalisations and including explanations in English, I have reproduced Mwesigire’s analysis in its entirety as posted on his wall.

Mwesigire, indeed, poses valid questions for us to ponder in the light of re-naming of historic sites and or reverting back to original pre-colonial names of historic sites that have been triggered in other parts of the world, in protest of colonialism, racism and slavery.

It is interesting to note that from the chatter on his wall, in reaction to his analysis, aome are insinuating that the spirits of our Buganda ancestors are restless and could have ignited the fire as a warning to us to decolonize or else. Food for thought indeed!

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