Uganda-Pearl of Africa with Long History

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

Uganda-Pearl of Africa with Long History


The present country of Uganda was forged by the British between 1890 and 1926. The name, Uganda was derived from the ancient kingdom of Buganda. The earliest inhabitants of Uganda were the stone age people. The people were gradually absorbed or replaced in the first millennium A.D. by the incoming agriculturalists and pastoralists. At the time of the European exploration, there were over thirty ethnic groups in Uganda. And those four ethnic communities could conveniently be divided into four broad linguistic groups namely: the Bantu, the Luo, the Atekerin and the Sudanic.

At present, it is difficult to demarcate the confines of any one of the ethnicities described above. Colonialism, education, monetization, easy transport and urbanization have led to the break up or at least the loosening up of the cultural ties, thereby leading to intermarriages and intermixtures which make it difficult to categorize, let alone demarcate the confines of different ethnicities of Uganda. However, cultural ties still bind people and though intermixing has happened on a large scale since colonialism, people still prefer to identify themselves by their ethnic backgrounds. This has been the cornerstone of ethnicism in post-colonial Uganda.

Giovani Miani, an Italian who was working for the Egyptians, was the first European to set foot in what is now recognized as Uganda. He visited northern Uganda at Nimule and Moyo in March 1860. The Maltese, slave and ivory trader, Andrea de Bono also made excursions into Uganda in the 1860s. Between 1849 and 1855, several German missionaries with the Church Missionary Society sent reports back to Europe of great lakes and snowy mountains of some weeks' journey inland from the coast. In 1857, John Hanning Speke and Richard Francis Burton began an African expedition that would lead to Speke's discovery of the southern shores of Lake Victoria and a return journey by Speke and James Augustus Grant in 1862 which would reveal the source of the Nile at Rippon Falls Speke and Grant followed the Nile north, through the kingdoms of Buganda, Karagwe and Bunyoro. These first encounters with Mutesa, Rumanika and Kamurasi, the respective kings, provide some of the most colorful early records of life and death in Uganda. Subsequently, research has shown that Mutesa was arguably the 30th King of Buganda, thus dating the kingdom to the early sixteenth century.

The rituals and customs set by the royal families were often cruel. Torture, live burial and mutilation were among common practices. The value of human life was not very high. Mutesa demonstrated this during Speke's second audience, he ordered a court page to shoot someone in the outer court to demonstrate the effect of the rifles given to him by Speke.

The search for the source of the Nile River by the early explorers was responsible for attracting interest in Uganda and her peoples. The decades spanning the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries saw literally hundreds of travelers coming to Uganda. Of course, with them came the prospects of trade, and consequently, British colonial interest. In 1893, Sir Gerald Portal raised the Union Jack in Port Alice, which is now Entebbe, and claimed Her Majesty's Protectorate over the kingdom that stretched north to the westward flowing Victoria Nile, east to the town of Tororo and west to the Rwenzoris and Virungas.

Of all explorers, Samuel Baker and his wife Florence, who discovered and named Lake Albert and Murchison Falls, did most to uncover Uganda to the European public. Baker was determined and thorough, rather than excessive about his exploration. He funded himself, and as such was neither an empire builder nor a reformist. His books were immensely popular because they brought the hitherto mysterious and cannibalistic interior of `Darkest Africa' out of the realms of fantasy and into an understandable, habitable country with colorful denizens. …

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