Uganda Looks to Its History

Article excerpt

`Uganda needs its history to progress', says Paul Wamala, director of the National Museum in Kampala. This autumn he is mounting an exhibition which fully examines the country's often very violent past - `Uganda Yesterday and Today'. It tells the story since Independence in 1962, through the horrors of Idi Amin and Obote, and the early days of President Museveni in the bush. `There is a tendency for people to sweep history under the carpet. My target is the children', says Wamala, whose father was prime minister of this colony in the 1940s, and who is adamant that peace demands an understanding of the past.

He arrived at the museum in 1991 when it was in ruins, and even now half is still closed. The World Bank is showing interest in providing funds, but it will take a large sum to mount professional displays for the many exhibits, from fossils to tribal headdresses. One of the larger items behind the scenes is a 1925 Model T Ford, owned by the mother of the Bugandan tribal leader, King Freddy. He died in exile in London, and his son Ronny was forced to return home, without any political power. His ancestors' Kasubi tombs and the vast thatched courthouse of Ssekabaka Mutesa I (1856-1884), are Kampala's prime historic attraction.

While Mr Wamala strives to upgrade the museum and to extend its influence through outreach projects, around the country history is being woven into a modem context. The combination of archaeology and research among local populations will provide a mix of artefacts and anecdotal evidence about former tribes and surviving traditions.

This rediscovery of the past is relevant in helping to reduce the conflicts between villagers living on the boundaries of recently designated national parks, and the restrictions on land use imposed by the authorities. A recent explosion of anger resulted in the slaughter by local hunters of a family of gorillas, the news of which was broadcast internationally.

The Environmental Protection Act passed in May can only be put into effect with a willingness to build partnerships between the communities and the parks and game reserves, which will attract growing numbers of tourists. These foreign visitors, in turn, will be attracted by the discovered relics of ancient civilizations.

Archaeological digs have confirmed that in the late iron age (around the eleventh to sixteenth centuries AD) hunting was supplemented by cattle keeping. This year an American, Peter Schmidt of the University of Florida, began exploratory investigations in the west of Uganda where he has discovered more than expected, with a complexity of sites which suggests widespread occupation. Pottery, tools and human burials are being examined.

Although publication is some way off, his work could be vital in helping to establish an archaeology field unit within the Makerere University Field Station deep in Kimbale National Park. …