Esawa ebala meka e’Mbale – my grandfather’s legacy – Part 1

“Esawa ebala meka e’Mbale?” (What is the time on the clock in Mbale?) This question, according to folklore, was often used by my late grandfather, Ejakait Yosia Engatunyun (aka simba), to silence those who crossed him and or who violated his rule.

The Mbale Clock Tower was built in 1938 in honour of King George V of Great Britain (Source: Bugisu Professionals Forum – Uganda)

No surprise, therefore, that among those who faced his wrath were those with poor time keeping habits. During his reign there was a time for each and everything to be done within his realm, in Pallisa, over 55 kms from Mbale; but in sync with the time of the Mbale Clock Tower.

Doing things out of the designated time earned one the chief’s relegation to “mukopi” (singular) or “bakopi” (plural) – Luganda for one without manners or of lowly in status. And mark you, in some cases, the chief accompanied relegating you to a mukopi or bakopi with severe physical punishment.

Ejakait Yosia Engatunyun (RIP), Chief of the Ikaribwok Isekelio Clan of the Iteso

My late grandfather was a feared and revered chief in equal measure, I think. I, indeed, have memories of being in absolute awe of him and his ere (home) – which, in my eyes, as a child, seemed grand and stately. From what is left of his ere to date, indeed, it was so.

I expect you are wondering why my late grandfather, whose lineage is of the Iteso, spoke Luganda to his subjects. Folklore has it that as a child, while he was tending to his family’s herd of cattle, the Bakungulu (Semei Kangulu’s men) abducted him and he was raised as part of Kakungulu’s household.

The impact of him being raised as such, explains some of his pronouncements and tendencies, now that I think about it. He truly believed in the superiority of the Baganda culture, as the Baganda seemingly do to date and as the British colonialists did.

According to Bristish colonialists “Baganda most civilized of any native state in Africa.”

(Source: Dr. Ben Jones in his book: Beyond the state in rural Uganda)

While according to them – British and Baganda colonialists alike:

“Iteso are backward and deserving harsh treatment … Iteso captives as well as their cattle were herded (by the bakungulu) into huts which were then fired … (and this) served the purpose of dealing with the primitive community”

(Source: Dr. Ben Jones book: Beyond the state in rural Uganda)

Reading the section: “Teso society through the twentieth century” in “Beyond the state in rural Uganda,” by Dr. Ben Jones, has me reflecting on what I experienced interacting with my late grandfather and that which I learned of his legacy through folklore. Was he, in fact, simply a re-captive with a black man’s burden?

“Re-captives” was used to described African slaves who were ‘saved and set free’ before they made the journey to the United States of America. According to Davidson, re-captives believed their own African peoples had let them down – sold them as slaves; while peoples of the global-west had saved them. So, the re-captives in establishing their new homes or nations or culture in Africa wanted to be like those of the global-west and not re-discover their own original African culture which they designated inferior.

Post featured photo: my late father, son of my late grandfather, the chief and I.

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