Wednesday, March 30, 2011



THE FASCINATING culture of totemism in Uganda has been immortalized by Taga Nuwagaba, through a collection of paintings of the animals, insects and plants, and history under the title, “Me and My Totem.”

As a study of totems and clans in Uganda the collection employs the realism art form to convey the message.

As to what motivated him in starting the totem project, he told me that: “I was motivated by the fact that most people who have totems have never interfaced with them… Secondly, the fact that totems are a powerful instrument that turns people into voluntary conservationists, it is important to focus on this positive culture that would help the conservation process. We need environmental warriors to help. Local communities therefore have a duty and this is one good channel we can use to engage them participate actively.”

“I have created a website: I am sure this will help people learn more. I will be putting on more data as I collect it,” Nuwagaba, a local artist says.

“The most important benefit of this project is to educate Ugandans on what I think is on the verge of getting lost. The other benefit is conservation of wildlife and preservation of culture,” Nuwagaba says.

“…I can now gladly say that our totems have been immortalized and let us use this opportunity to teach our young generation the things that bound us to our ancestors and how we can use them positively today to make and build a better society and nation,” Prince David Wasajja of Buganda said.

A totem is an animal, plant, or natural object (or representation of an object) that serves as the emblem of a clan or family among a tribal or traditional people, Peter Magelah notes in his article “Environmental anthropology, Animals and society and Wildlife management.”

A totem represents a mystical or ritual bond of unity within the group. In prehistoric societies, totems were key symbols of religion and social cohesion; they were also important tools for cultural and educational transmission, Magelah adds.

“Totems were often the basis for laws and regulations. In some African societies, for example, it was a violation of cultural and spiritual life to hunt, kill or hurt an animal or plant totem. This attitude may have been the basis of environmental laws and regulations that existed in such societies. However, this worldview changed with cultural, economic and technological developments; today, totems are as scarce as the traditional societies that use them,” Magelah writes.

In his book titled, “Luganda Names, Clans and Totems,” Nsimbi Michael Bazzebulala notes that clan names probably form the largest of the six classes into which Buganda traditional personal names can be divided. These classes are as follows: Proverbial; titles and occupational; descriptive and circumstantial; military; religious; and clan.

“When clan names are examined critically, it becomes clear that many of them came from old proverbs which are well known. The key word in a proverb was usually taken out as the personal name without the initial vowel,” Bazzebulala adds.

According to Bazzebulala, other clan names began as nicknames of all kinds. A good many clan names were derived from people’s occupations and from the implements they used. The hills and other natural features found in and around places where heads of clans and heads of clan subdivisions made their permanent settlements turned out to be clan names, for instance, rocks, stones, caves, water-holes, springs, swamps, quagmires, landing places on lakes and rivers, forests, and so forth.

“Protective and defensive weapons also helped to swell the number of clan names, such as sticks, spears, and shields. Names of the main houses in patriarchal establishments could also become clan names of particular lineages,” Bazzebulala writes.

“A large proportion of the old popular clan names present puzzles. They cannot be interpreted to give meaning, and it is possible that such names came from languages that have long been dead. It is interesting that some Baganda clan names are also used as personal names in some other parts of Uganda and possibly outside it. It is unlikely that such resemblance is a mere coincidence. It most probably indicates some ethnic relationship which has been somewhat overlaid by tribal movements…,” Bazzebulala adds.

“From the time clan names cane (came) into vogue the tradition has been for each clan to have a set of names, male and female, for its members. However, there has always been some deviation from usually ask the question, “Why do we sometimes find someone called by a well-known name of a clan to which he does not belong?” The answer is that some clan names are shared by more than two clans. There are several reasons for this: Embodiment of the dead (okubbula), friendly neighborhood, proverbs, massacres, splitting of clans and preference,” Bazzebulala adds.

For a proper understanding of the culture however, it is important to distinguish between the totem and the clan. However, it should be understood that there is a difference between a clan and a totem where by a clan is a matter of genealogy and it is through the clan that the Baganda trace their ancestry well as a totem is just a symbol to represent the clan. Although the two are intimately associated with one another, they are in fact different. Names are given depending on one’s clan and it’s a taboo for a Muganda to eat his or her clan whether its food, fresh meat, vegetables, fish or fruits.

According to Magelah, there is no properly documented evidence concerning the origins of totemism; however, it could have begun when humans started living in organized communities. Many anthropologists believe that totem use was a universal phenomenon among early societies. Pre-industrial communities had some form of totem that was associated with spirits, religion and success of community members. Early documented forms of totems in Europe can be traced to the Roman Empire, where symbols were used as coats of arms, a practice which continues today.

Most African chiefs decorated their stools and other items with their personal totems, or with those of the tribe or of the clans making up the larger community. It was a duty of each community member to protect and defend the totem. This obligation ranged from not harming that animal or plant, to actively feeding, rescuing or caring for it as needed. African tales are told of how men became heroes for rescuing their totems. This has continued in some African societies, where totems are treasured and preserved for the community’s good.

“In Africa, totemism still plays a significant role in community bonding, but few scholars have examined its role in the development of environmental protection,” Magelah notes. “…In most traditional African cultures, it was illegal to kill or hurt a totem. …To hurt a totem was tantamount to hurting the community's ancestors. Severe punishments, such as banishment, fines, hard labor, or death, were applied to anyone who disrespected their totem.”

Totemism can lead to environmental protection due to the fact that many tribes have multiple totems. For example, over 100 plant and animal species are considered totems among the Banyoro and Batooro (omuziro), Baganda (omuzilo) tribes in Uganda; a similar number of species are considered totems among tribes in Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).

“The clan system was quite significant because it united members to help each other and for protection in times of war. Clans were exogamous and restricted incest. A member of one clan had to get a wife of another clan to avoid in-breeding and expand social networks, Nuwagaba says.

Buganda being a patriarch society, when a woman got married, she adopted her husband’s totem and retained hers at the same time. So in each household, there were four principal totems held sacred and four secondary ones. The head of the family’s totem came first followed by his wife’s totem. The totem of the mother to the head of the family too was respected and much as there was no emphasis on the wife’s mother, that totem too was in the picture. These four major totems and their minor ones made a total of eight symbols making a huge impact on conservation, Nuwagaba notes.

According to Buganda kingdom, a clan in Buganda represents a group of people who can trace their lineage to a common ancestor and it is central to the Ganda culture. In the customs of Buganda, lineage is passed down along the same lines and the most important unit in Buganda's culture is the clan. In the beginning, there were five original clans referred to as “Banansangwa” simply meaning “the indigenous clans” and they are: Ffumbe (African Civet), Lugave (Pangolin), Ngonge (Otter), Njaza (Bohor Reedbuck) and Nnyonyi (Egret).

The clan in Buganda forms a large extended family. Members of the same clan regard each other as brothers and sisters regardless of how far they are in terms of actual blood ties. A formal introduction of a Muganda includes his own names, the names of his father and paternal grandfather, as well as a description of the family's lineage within the clan that it belongs to.

The clans are organized in a way that the clan leader is at the top (Ow’akasolya), followed by successive subdivisions called the ssiga, mutuba, lunyiriri and finally at the bottom the individual family unit (Enju). Every Muganda is required to know where he/she falls within each of these subdivisions.

It is a curious fact that the clans are not known by the names of the respective clan founders but instead totems were adopted by the clans. Each clan has a main totem (Omuziro) and a minor totem (akabbiro). The clans are usually known by the main totem and they are listed above by that totem.

The royal clan (Abalangira) is a unique exception in that it has no totems because it follows the maternal lineage. This maternal system helps the Kingship of Buganda to revolve from clan to clan as different women from various clans marry into the royal family. This therefore means that all clans eligible to marry from this Royal clan have a potential to produce a king. In modern terms, it is a system that decentralized power.


Monday, March 21, 2011


PRESIDENT Barrack Obama has performed poorly in his recently-released strategy committing the U.S. to help civilians in Central Africa threatened by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a coalition of prominent civil society organizations conclude in the first report card released last month.

The U.S. President scores 60 per cent in the long-pronged initiative. However, the coalition argues that serious concerns remain about whether he is willing to dedicate the funding, senior leadership and political will to achieve a lasting end to the conflict. This first issue grades the content and initial rollout of Obama’s LRA Strategy Report Card, while future report cards will assess the strategy’s implementation and impact on the ground.

The Grading Rubric for Obama’s LRA Strategy and Implementation stands as follows: “A” for significant progress; “C” for little or inadequate progress; “F” for efforts backsliding; “B” for encouraging progress; “D” for Efforts at a standstill. The card is issued by four groups: Resolve, the Enough Project, Invisible Children and Citizens for Global Solutions. The coalition plans to release three report cards each year.

The expanded U.S. engagement strategy calls for the dedication significant new staff and resources; keep the Very Important Persons involved; and work with regional and international partners. Obama scores a “D.” This outlines in broad terms the need for interagency coordination within the U.S. government and greater collaboration with the UN, regional partners, the African Union and Europe.

However, Obama did not commit the necessary staff and resources for its implementation. “He should swiftly designate a Great Lakes envoy and dedicate more funding and resources to the crisis, and also encourage the African Union, France, and others to step up their commitments,” the groups suggest.

The protection of civilian’s strategy plans for massive expansion radio and mobile phone networks; improve the effectiveness of national militaries and UN peacekeepers; and ensure local voices are heard. Obama scores a “C.” This strategy highlights the expansion of telecommunications and early warning systems in LRA-affected areas as priority actions. It recognizes the need to increase the capacity and effectiveness of national militaries and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, focusing on increasing their mobility as another priority action.

“However, the U.S. has given little indication of what specific steps it will take to concretely improve the track record of military and peacekeeping forces or work with local communities to keep them safer,” the card notes.

The strategy on stopping senior LRA commanders calls for the apprehension of Joseph Kony and top LRA commanders; encourage LRA commanders to defect; and cut off external support to the LRA. Here Obama scores a “C.” The strategy commits to providing operational and intelligence support for efforts to apprehend senior LRA commanders, including Joseph Kony and those indicted by the ICC, and protect civilians from reprisal attacks. It also promises to ensure the LRA “receives no safe haven.”

“However, it relies on the Ugandan military to apprehend LRA commanders, despite strong indications that it is unable to do so and increasingly preoccupied with other priorities at home and in Somalia. There is little mention of how outreach specifically to senior LRA commanders can encourage them to defect,” the report says.

The strategy on facilitating escape is meant to help people escape from the LRA; and ensure those who escape can return home. Obama makes a “B.” The strategy outlines a comprehensive approach – encouraging escape from the LRA, transporting escapees safely home, and providing appropriate assistance to help them reintegrate into their communities. “The challenge is in implementation and the Administration will have to dedicate significant new resources to see progress on all three fronts,” the groups note.

The strategy on helping communities survive and rebuild is meant to find a way to reach people in need of emergency aid; increase aid to disrupted communities; and address the conflict’s root causes. Obama makes a “B.” This strategy outlines a comprehensive approach – providing emergency assistance, improving cross-border coordination and helping people return home if security improves. It also reiterates the U.S. commitment to reconstruction and transitional justice in northern Uganda. “To improve on this “B” grade, President Obama will need to dedicate significant new resources to implementing this approach in the coming months,” they suggest.

Obama released a strategy in November 2010, for the U.S. to engage with regional partners and assist in stopping violence perpetrated by the LRA in Central Africa and help communities affected by the conflict recover. This strategy was mandated by the bipartisan LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, the most widely-supported piece of Africa-specific legislation in recent U.S. history.

Michael Poffenberger, executive director of Resolve, a non-profit organization that supports ending LRA violence says, “This strategy came straight from President Obama’s desk and is a huge step forward for U.S. policy towards the crisis. If this blueprint is put into action, it will have a tremendous influence in improving safety for those living in the midst of LRA violence,” adding: “But President Obama will need assistance from Congress – in the form of continued political support and increased funding – for this strategy to succeed.”

The LRA, led by senior commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court, has plagued Central Africa for more than two decades. Since the September 2008 attacks orchestrated by LRA commanders have killed at least 2,300 people and abducted more than 3,000, including many children who were forced into being soldiers or sexual slaves. Another 400,000 civilians fled the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Southern Sudan, and Central African Republic. In 2010 alone, LRA rebels committed more than 240 deadly attacks.

According to David Sullivan, research director for the Enough Project: "It's time for the Obama administration to show it is serious about ending LRA violence against civilians. By committing senior staff and resources commensurate to the urgency of the crisis, the United States can help galvanize wider international action that has been absent for too long."

“We don’t want the President to lose sight of the promises he made in his LRA strategy,” said Don Kraus, CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions. “The U.S. must do everything in its capacity to help apprehend senior LRA commanders. I look forward to an ‘A’ grade on the next report card when these heinous criminals are standing trial in front of the International Criminal Court.”

“We want President Obama to remember the promises he made to the victims of the LRA and the hundreds of thousands of young activists who have rallied for this cause,” said Ben Keesey from Invisible Children. “We hope this report card will keep him on track.”

In a letter to President Obama, the groups also lay out four priorities for implementation of the strategy in the coming months: taking immediate steps to improve regional efforts to protect civilians, finding viable alternatives to the Ugandan military in apprehending or removing from the battlefield senior LRA commanders, expanding efforts to demobilize LRA commanders, and dedicating significant new staff and financial resources to implementing the strategy.