Friday, March 26, 2010


I feel…

possessed. To pick the lint out of the air. To write a story, an anthem, a parable.

But, I am constrained as well. It is not my story. The inspiration, the emotion is not mine. I would just be reflecting it, like a mirror, imperfectly because it is fogged.

But, I can write of another love.

yes, because it is love that inspires.

Though mine is not the story, and the confidence of enemies, lovers, rivals and others I have to keep. For my own sake.


But, I will write of another love.


Because, I would write of Kasubi.


I have grown up in Kampala.

In the middle of Buganda, amongst the Baganda. So, what I am writing about should not be such a surprise to me.


But, it is. Yes, it is.


In the middle of the city of Kampala are several hilltops. The king of Buganda, the Kabaka owns several of them.

Kasubi is one of them.


Home to the remains of the last 4 Kings, which in itself is unusual, it is a cultural site. But, I was not aware of how important it is. Because the king, the current Kabaka has three or four palaces scattered on some of the other hills of the Kampala.


Kasubi seemed neglected. A huge grass thatched house, some very elderly ladies who are the official keepers of the shrine. A huge area of prime land, right in the middle of the construction boom of the city. Undeveloped, apparently almost un tendered. But then, my eyes were blinded.


Came last Tuesday evening, and the huge grass thatched house caught fire, burning lots of what was inside.

The outpouring of grief was overwhelming.


I personally was low because I knew that centuries of culture had been burnt off. But, it was the first time I learnt that it was more than a cultural site. Kasubi is a spiritual site. I should have known.


The President is not a Muganda. Not part of the Baganda tribe. And, most telling, he has been having some very public desputes with the current Kabaka. Those culminated in the riots of September.


The day after the fire, the President, reportedly against advice, decided to go to the place.

The ire, the rage, the complete contempt in which he was held was displayed. He had a whole crowd of soldiers, armed to the teeth to protect him. They killed at least 3 people.


The Kabaka.

He is a middle aged guy, handsome. His lineage is long, and royal. He is the Kabaka.

And, he went to the place.


Adulation. Sheer mad love, of a symbol, a person, a human being like a god. Of course his forefathers were considered gods.


The kingdom declared 5 days of mourning.

Starting Monday, ending today, Friday. On those five days, the Baganda trekked, many on foot, from the far reaches of the kingdom. To come and pay their respects.

Today, I heard it was decided the police would not enter the sacred circle. The Baganda would mind the security, something which the central government was keen to show it was maintaining, to the ire of the Baganda. For it was like a state of siege. Though the unarmed besieged would take off time to jeer the armed besiegers.


In the interests of peace, out the army and police.

And, in the people.


The roads to Kasubi were jammed. People on foot. Coming to pay their respects. And, relish the bloody nose they were giving the government.

They marched, they walked, they sang the Buganda anthem. Black clothing, white 'kanzus' without jackets, to signify the mourning. But, urbiquitous, a sign which we all associate with the Baganda, strips of bark cloth adoned parts here and there. Some had whole suits made from them. Others an armband, or a tie, or a hat. But, most all had a strip of backcloth.




The religious leaders, all of them I believe, came to pay homage.


The crowd was packed. Mad, raving, packed.

The beer and alcohol is supposed to flow late. But, the pipes and drugs smoked in the name of different gods were on display. Of course, the few police dared not interfere.


Came the time for the Kabaka to get to the place.



He could have asked them to lie on the ground and he walks on them. They would have fought for the honour.




Not the adulation of fear. But, that of love.

Its hard to describe.


Its always a very few times that the Kabaka speaks in public. And, he doesn't.

He is a symbol potent, a living, breathing symbol of a group. A piece of history in his genes that he walks around with. Adulation.


The Katikiro, the Kingdom's prime minister speaks for the Kabaka. And, that is what happened.

First, ritual cleansing, out of sight. Then prayers. From the clerics in their regalia. Never mind that they knew that the rituals which had just been perfomed were to gods other than the one imported from afar.


Then, a few brief words from the Katikkiro.

And, the Kabaka leaves.

The chaos of his leaving. Adulation. People seeking a glance, to be able to say, I saw him.


Then, the partying.


Such a gathering has lots who have problems. Those who die in the crush, those who are stamped on, those who fail to rise when they fall.

But, to many it is like a joyous death.


It is quite likely the partying will continue late into the night. Is good that the officious presence of government was kept to the minimum. I think I did see the Speaker of Parliament on TV. I am not sure, but, I think I did.


But, of the others who are so completely identified with the government? That was not the place to be.




It is amazing. It is a once in a life time thing. The people have the feeling that their very identity is under siege.

The Kabaka represents that, his mortal body the embodiment of that identity. They came out, many believing they would be risking death to come. But, they did.




On Sunday, the President made an impassioned appeal on TV. Angry, almost bewildered, why was he the one to blame? I thought he shouldn't even ask why. But, as surely as I don't want to go back to the rough, bloody history of the kingdom and kings that I was hearing on TV, I am very thankful for it to be a lesson to any would be dictator.


That kind of power, that kind of adulation, that kind of sheer, primeval force of nature, the will of a people united- no, I am for a republic. Not for an emperor. Or a dictator.


If one is to aspire for it, I would not be comfortable.





Leonard said...

Makes me wish I was a Baganda, very moving. Thank you

Edwin Black said...

What a brave and amazing outlook pitted against odds that would make many of us fall. I read this entry (amongst others) and it restores some of my faith in this messed-up world. Good luck to you and keep on writing because you are a true storyteller.

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