Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

By Robert J. Thornton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Siliimu as Native Category
AIDS as Local Knowledge in Uganda

THE BEGINNING OF DEBATE AND KNOWLEDGE

One of the most important aspects of AIDS in Uganda was the fact that Ugandans seem never to have believed that it came from some distant place to afflict them. They did not invent conspiracy stories. Even in the early years when people in southwestern Uganda were casting around for explanations of the rising epidemic, stories began to circulate that it had been brought in by Tanzanian soldiers who overthrew the regime of Idi Amin, but these were local people who spoke similar languages, not distant foreigners. The disease was stigmatizing, and many people had difficulty talking about it, especially at first, but the level of stigmatization never reached the ferocity that has been observed in South Africa. The fact that Ugandans accepted the reality of the disease made it easier for them to deal with its consequences and to tackle the challenges of preventing its spread. By the time AIDS was first formally recognized by biomedical professionals, Ugandans already had a conceptualization of the disease, including a native category and names for it in local languages. By 1984, when HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS, and the label “AIDS” had been assigned to the syndrome, Ugandans were already able to talk about it. And they did talk about it. In the regions where it first emerged, they already knew its potential for devastation.

Although it was locally known and discussed in Rakai and Masaka

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