It is the women who put food on the table in Moroto

Saturday November 16 2013

It is the women who put food on the table in Moroto

In Moroto, it is the women who have to till the dry land to feed their families. Internet photo. 

Culture in most places dictates that a man fends for his family. Besides, this role was first laid down to man by God in the Garden of Eden when man was ordered to eat from his sweat.

But while some men have tried to follow this God-ordained responsibility, others have let the women do everything while they wait for them to put food on the table.

There are such men in urban areas such as Kampala, but those are far flung and secretive because it is not an acceptable way of life.

Where the rules differ
However, I happened to travel to Moroto recently and I was shocked at how the practice of women fending for their families was the order of the day. The men in this part of the country literally wake up to sleep. This is evidenced by the day’s activities.

A typical day in Moroto District starts at 6am. By this time, the whole town is full of life with people going about their different businesses. However, unlike most of the places I have gone to in Uganda, I realise that it is the women working while the men either walk around with a stick and a small stool or sit in groups and chat loudly.

The woman’s day’s chores
For example, on the Friday morning I was at the city abattoir, the men just sat on a huge tree stem, some sipping local brew from polythene bags, while the women pushed wheel borrows full of either beef or offals. Meanwhile, at the market, it was the girls at the stalls either selling chapatis or mandazis while others walked by the roadside carrying jerry cans on their heads. I later learnt that the jerry cans were filled with local brew. Thirty-year-old Godfrey Ochan, a Moroto resident, explained that these girls go out and sell it so that they can get money for the day’s meal.


The men just wake up to relax
“The men normally wake up at around 7am to breakfast, which is mostly the leftovers from the previous night’s meal. After eating, they look for local brew, which has to be provided by the wife. If he wakes up and does not find the brew around, the woman and young girls will be in for a serious beating, explains Ochan. He adds, “So, women always ensure that there is local brew in the house. After the men have emptied the brew pots, the men look for a shed and sleep.”

He says they only wake up at 2pm or 3pm when lunch is ready. “After eating, they go back to sleep.” And that was exactly the lifestyle I witnessed when I visited different villages around Moroto. Almost under every tree shed, I could see two men or more, even a group of over five, dead asleep at 1pm.

While the men booze and sleep
Meanwhile, besides selling local brew, which are popular commodity in this part of the country, the women vend firewood and, according to Ochan, “It is not acceptable for them to return empty-handed. They have to bring home money for food.”

The women also raise money from mining gold. They use jerry cans and basins to fetch water in the wells that are said to consist of gold, sieve it and pick out the gold. However, they are supposed to hand over the gold they find to the husbands who sell it and own whatever money they earn from it.

I also observed that the only thing most young boys and men carried are a stick and a small stool. Ochan explained that the stick was either for fighting off wild animals that might attack them or beating the women when they disobey.

Cost of bride price
The 30-year-old explains that the reason these men just sit around and wait for the woman to do all the work is because they believe that after paying bride price, the women are supposed to work for them for the rest of their lives to repay all the gifts the man gave the woman’s family.

He adds; “The other thing is that the only work these men know how to do is cattle rearing. However, in the early 2000s, there were alarming cattle raids among the different clans in Karamoja. So, the men in Moroto lost most of their cattle to the other clans.

“This left the men idle. Apart from the few who have accepted their fate and are learning different activities like construction, most of them have resorted to taking alcohol and sleeping.”

You would think that while at home these men would help with constructing the houses in which they sleep. But this still is the role of the woman who also cleans and fills the homes with food.

The women build the homes too
Ochan says; “Families in this part of the country have homesteads, which are called manyatas. A manyata can have over 15 houses or huts. But all these are constructed by the women. They have to mix the mud used to make the wall of each hut, and collect the grass that works as the roof of the hut. The only thing that the men do is help collect the thorny trees that are used to fence off the manyatas.”

So, while women here in Kampala pursue education and liberated lives with good jobs, the ones I found in Moroto seemed settled into their life of fending for their families while their husbands just sleep.