I write from Kabaare, the town of my childhood and early youth, which continues to be misspelt as “Kabale,” a meaningless word that was imposed by this area’s colonial rulers a little over a century ago. Whenever I use the correct spelling, my editor promptly changes it to the wrong spelling, presumably because that is the officially accepted one. It is not his fault, of course, for the distortion of African names of people, places and things is deeply entrenched in our collective minds. Yet these things actually matter.
Kabaare, we are told, was named after akabaare, a small but heavy stone that was found in a place that became the third headquarters of the newly created Kigezi District. (Kigezi, the correct spelling in Kinyarwanda/Kifumbira, is pronounced Kigyezi [chee-jay-zee], which is the correct spelling in Rukiga/Ruhororo.) The district itself was named after “ikigezi” (e-chee-jay-zee), a large pond in Bufumbira, on whose shores the new administrative unit’s nucleus was founded by the conquering Europeans in 1909.
The murder of our language has been especially on my mind because I have been exploring Bufumbira, my favourite part of Kigyezi. The stunning beauty of the place, with its priceless offering of beautiful hills and lakes that are framed by a majestic range of volcanic mountains, invites repeat visits by one who has been there umpteen times. This holiday alone, I have been there three times! The first two visits were frustrated by the stubborn, albeit beautiful, mist and clouds that covered Ibirunga or Birunga, the correct word for the volcanic mountains, which is misspelt as “Virunga.” As previously stated in this column, the European ear, unaccustomed to our soft “b” sound, heard “v” instead. His African subjects obeyed the error, perpetuated down the ages, and many official documents continue to offer that as the correct spelling. Even some current publications by the Uganda Tourism Board and the Uganda Wildlife Authority talk about “Virunga”.
Happily, my third visit, this past weekend, compensated for earlier disappointment. My friends and I arrived very early in the morning, to find the great volcanoes bathed in glorious sunshine, with the mist providing a crystal white skirt for six of the eight volcanoes in the range. Muhabura (not Muhavura), seated with her majestic poise, dwarfed her neighbours. Mugahinga (not Mgahinga) was still in the same place I left her when I visited last year. Sabyinyo, the lady with the five huge misshapen teeth, was economical with her smile, her teeth covered with clouds most of the day. She remains my favourite of the eight.
Karisimbi, the tallest lady of the group, kept playing shy, teasing us with brief appearances in the far distance, with an illusion of being shorter than she actually is. By the way, with His usual great sense of humour, God placed Karisimbi entirely in Rwanda, the land of the tallest people.
Then there was Bisoke (not Visoke), one of my favourite volcanoes, her double peak deceptively quiet, but leaving one with the inevitable question: When will she throw her next temper tantrum? Bisoke, which last belched her volcanic fire 52 years ago, remains an active mass whose next display of devastating power is something one hopes remains on God’s suspended cosmic agenda.
I was especially happy to see Mikeno (Mikyeno), whose name refers to poverty in the languages of these parts. This was my first sighting of her. Whereas she is the second tallest of the eight, her location far away in the Congo Free State gave the illusion that she was short. Nonetheless, I was impressed by her confident poise alongside the giants. Even from where we were standing, on the shores of Lake Mutanda, my telephoto camera lens revealed Mikeno’s very rugged slopes that speak of fiery exploits in a distant past. She is said to be a dormant volcano, and so may she remain.
The other two ladies – Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo – kept away from the parade, firmly entrenched in their distant spots in the Congo Free State, where their fiery bellies continue to plot their next belches that, I am afraid, will cause as much pain and suffering as the humans who have wielded deadly weapons in the struggle for control of the wealth in their neighbourhood. May the Lord grant me the opportunity to see them in peaceful times.
A visual communion with the volcanoes would be enough reason to visit this part of Uganda. However, there is more to enjoy than these beautiful mountains. The lakes and valleys, the colourfully dressed friendly people, and the Mugahinga National Park are some of the visual and aural treats that keep me going back to Bufumbira.
I look forward to sharing a few of my photographic harvest with the delegates that will attend the Annual Convention of Banyakigyezi that will be held in East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA next month. The convention, which takes place August 1-5, will be under theme of Innovation Driven Tourism. Hopefully we shall spare a moment to talk about the continued misnaming of our mountains and many other tourist attractions.
For me, the highlight of the Convention will be the special honour to Ms. Barbara Neogy Lapcek, the founder of Kampala’s Nommo Gallery. Now 85, this amazingly talented American lady founded the Nommo Gallery in 1964, not for her personal profit, but as a service to the art and culture of the young independent country in which she was a temporary resident. We have previously told the story of her courage when her husband, Rajat Neogy, founder of Transition Magazine, was imprisoned in Kampala in 1968.
We shall celebrate Ms Neogy-Lapcke’s life and contribution to Uganda during a Gala Dinner that will be the biggest event in an excellent program that includes presentations by tourism experts and entrepreneurs from Uganda and the United States, plenty of cultural music and dance and a boat cruise on the waters around New York City. But first, I have more visual feasting to do here in Uganda and Kenya. What a blessed region we have!