They say that our societies are patrilineal and that is how we get our family names. But how come we then talk about a ‘mother’ tongue? Maybe that is because we spend most of our formative years with our mothers. From the lullabies they sing to us through those colic stages to when they send us off to school.
From the words of comfort they offer up when we are hurt, to the shouts of encouragement as we take on ‘adult’ tasks. Is it a surprise then that mother’s language is our first medium of communication?
Most of all, however, a lot of our wisdom comes from the stories mother tells around the fireplace – that is if you grew up in the kind of environment where the fireplace was the safest place to be as dusk fell.
As mother cooked, she was wont to tell stories about her experiences and other folklore to her brood to keep them from dozing off before the night meal was served. For me it was always one of the fondest times growing up because of the stories mother told.
I will never forget the day she told us about the story of a man from Buddu (the shrewd guys always seemed to come from there). This very ‘clever’ chap used to cultivate relationships with the Indian dukawallahs in Kampala. On the basis of these friendships, the Indian shopkeepers would advance him goods to take and sell in his native Masaka.
But the Indians were smart guys, or so they thought. They would make him write his name and also sign the invoice. When it came to writing his name (he would claim he was illiterate), he would ask the Indian to write ‘Kabangala Asasudde’ literally meaning ‘Kabangala has paid’.
In due course he defaulted and the Indians took him to court.
When the judge who heard the case asked the fellow for his name, he would say my name is Kabangala. The judge would then ask they wrote his name on the invoice as ‘Kabangala Asasudde’? He would explain that the reason they wrote ‘asasudde’ on the invoice was because he had paid and owed the Indians nothing. It is claimed that the judge acquitted him on the basis of this defence.
These stories of conquest represented (and still do) the constant tension between the privileged and under privileged. The moral would appear to be that the only fiat by which the underprivileged could take from the moneyed Indian and European class was through trickery and shrewd means. To this day, if one refers to a person as ‘Kabangala Asasudde’, it is intended to connote a person’s ‘genius’ in using trickery and other clever means to dispossess others.
The problem with art is that life soon imitates it by becoming the standard by which we justify our treatment of others in society. In large part, that is the direction we have taken on as a society. We are all Kabangala’s of sorts. The European or Indian will present himself as an investor and then proceed to rob the state. The government official will request for ‘facilitation’ to ensure the ‘investor’ can screw the natives.
The natives will ‘sell’ land to the ‘investor’ for purposes of building a coffee factory and cheat him in turn. The politician will draw from the consolidated fund and claim that he/she is going to ‘consult’ the people on this or that law.
At the end of the week, the ‘Pastor’ will ‘pray’ for all of us and assure that the one who gives the largest offertory to ‘Gad’ will see the kingdom of heaven. Alternatively the pastor will sell ‘holy water’ or rice to cheat us.
We seem to derive a sense of satisfaction in beating the ‘system’. Be it by driving on the pavement, or jumping the traffic light, it is okay to be crooked. It is just the new normal.
Prof Sejjaaka is country team leader at Abacus Business School.