“Omukazi twala, leeta embwa…” — “Take my wife, give me a dog…” goes my clan motto.
See, I belong to the Kkobe Clan of Buganda Kingdom and here, every clan is named after a totem: literally something to which a clan ought to accord maximum respect; something the clan is never supposed to eat, if edible to others — or risk a hefty punishment by an unforgiving oracle. My clan has a rather unusual totem, Ekkobe, which is not an animal like most other totems in the kingdom — it is from a plant… a potato-like tuber… it is food. So we normally introduce ourselves as Abazira Mmere (those to whom food is a taboo) — mysterious! Isn’t it?
My great grandfather was a Mwami Wa Kabaka (King’s Minister), one of the few landlords in the present-day Kyaddondo East (forget these ones of today who don’t even own a mile of land). He was blessed to marry a daughter to Ham Mukasa, one of the survivors of the Uganda Martyr Killings. For that reason, I treasure my name. For it is an indelible mark of my heritage. Like a heartbeat it sounds — Mutumba… Mutumba….
I guess you’re now wondering why I’m feeding you with all this history mumbo-jumbo. I just intend to state that my clan motto is indeed one of the kingdom’s most famous.
I am not one of the many that perceive this motto as chauvinistic and patriarchal; I rather think our Mubala shows love for the dog, but not disdain for the woman. You wonder who thinks otherwise? Well, our neighbours of Lugave Clan have a mubala (clan motto) that goes,
“Bw’ompa akawala ako, ng’ebbanja liwedde…” — “If you give me that little girl, I will forget all you owe me…”
So it is obvious that those folks would look at our motto as misogynistic; which to me, is not true.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t say this because of the immense support I have for my heritage — I in fact have been hating most of it since I was born. I never believed that the seedling my grandma planted for me to wash my face on, every morning, was the reason why I got back my appetite — though truly I started eating well again, after a few mornings of my ordered irrigations. I never believed that the big python whose big tree-house people visited from far and beyond, had any supernatural powers. I never believed that the trances that I underwent were the famous Eyaabwe, which the Ganda say are ancestral spirits, which disturb children who don’t go back to the village; to Kulima Ebiijja (cleaning the burial grounds) of the long-gone Jajjas (ancestors). I never took seriously anyone who spoke in tongues and rolled on the ground at family reunions, claiming to be possessed and/or passing on our ancestors’ message to us. I never believed that the failure to wipe my body with herbs after cleaning our ancestral burial grounds was the reason why I got demented and vomited vehemently — without a single infection — only to feel better after being forced to gulp on a concoction of bitter herb juice. The exorcism, to me, was just luck and not magic.
Amidst all this disbelief, only one thing could sway my guarded heart — a dog. For as far as my memory serves me, I grew up with a dog by my side, her name: Police. Whether I was out to hunt squirrels, trapping guinea fowls, or swimming in clay-mine ponds, Police was always by my side, sharing the depths of the water with me when she could — like a Guardian Angel.
“Shaw…”, I would tell her; pointing at anything that I wanted her to chase after. Not only enemies though, sometimes she would be chasing the ball in our thrilling soccer game of two.
Police died a very early death, in my opinion by then. And if I were to say she didn’t leave a hole in my heart, I would be lying. None of her offspring understood me half the way she did, and neither did their own. They died off one by one till her entire lineage was done.
The Indians fancy the theory of reincarnation: I somehow started believing it too when I got myself a beautiful pup from my neighbour’s litter. Cobra was white like cassava milk; the only things on her body that weren’t white were her dilated pink pupils. For some weird reason, I could see Police whenever I looked in Cobra’s eyes — reincarnation? She was the closest among all dogs to being like my Police. But at about 20 years in dog age – 17 months of age in reality – Cobra meddled in classified business! She trespassed into a shrine of a renowned Native Doctor during a ritual. The Witch and her congregation praised Jajja Nalumoso for appearing to them physically in form of a white creature — a known habit of the Spirit of Nalumoso. Since then, my dog has not come back home. She carelessly bypasses me when she’s out on a walk – to God-knows-where – with the Witch’s son. She doesn’t even remember her name, Cobra; Nalumoso is all she hears. I can’t believe she forgot about her baby boy, Doddie — he misses Mom so dearly. His black fur and golden brown patches, get more melancholic every new dawn. His eyes… well… mine get teary whenever I look in his. He keeps his tired gaze, everyday, fixed on the path his mother took before she failed to return.
I don’t care much about anything else. I just wish the Witch knew at least my clan’s mubala; so she could take anything and leave my dog with me.
The Muzungu: thanks Bash for a cultural tour of Buganda! The totem system fascinates me: “Bampita Nagawa” – “they call me Nagawa” and my totem is Enkima, the red-tailed monkey.
If you’ve been reading Diary of a Muzungu since the early days (2009) you will remember how I was lucky enough to have my first dog when I came to Uganda. He was my best buddy (and the inspiration for my logo). Tragically, he had an accident. But look at him, isn’t he a carbon copy of Bash’s mutt?