Book review: Mighty Angwech and other stories

Book cover. 

What you need to know:

  • Book title: The collection of folktales “mighty Angwech and other stories”
  • Author: Christine Butegwa
  • Pages: 76
  • Price: Shs45,000
  • Where: Ibua Publishing, Mahiri Books or on their online store, Sankara Pan-African Library and Café in Bugolobi, and Just Read in Ntinda. 

A new book for young readers titled “Mighty Angwech and Other Stories” by Christine Butegwa, dramatically dives deeper into the adventures of three female legends from Ugandan folktales: Angwech, Nakku, and Atile. 

The 76-page collection of folktales that is divided into three parts: “Mighty Angwech;” “Courageous Nakku;” and “Curious Atile,” is illustrated by Catherine Tuka. 

“Mighty Angwech” follows the journey of a young tall, beautiful and brave woman called Angwech, who as unlikely heroine that rallies her village to resist a neighbouring threat. Angwech belonged to the Oki Awonodiang clan in Lango, who owned large herds of cattle. The clan was faced with external threats from their neighbours, the Jipen, who were fierce warriors and cattle raiders. 

One day, touched by the plight of the warriors, Angwech went to the village chief and asked him to let her join the warriors to fight for their cattle.  The chief called all the elders to come and hear what Angwech had said. The elders dismissed Angwech, and told her to go back to her mother and learn how to cook. When their young men continued dying in battles the elders called Angwech, and gave her the remaining band of warriors to command.  Angwech used her hunting skills to devise a plan to outwit the enemy raiders, who were to pass through a swamp and a thick forest. Her warriors released bees from their nests, noose traps and flying stone traps when the enemies advanced through the swamp and forest. This forced the enemies to scattered in all directions. 

Angwech and her small band of warriors outwitted the fierce enemy raiders. The enemy raiders abandoned the cattle they had stolen and never attacked Lango again. She had become the greatest warrior and was crowned the first female village chief of the clan.  In “Courageous Nakku,” Nakku must choose between her kingdom and family as her loyalty to both and courage are tested. 

The first Nakku was the daughter of Walusimbi. She was married to Ssebwaana, the Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda Kingdom. 

The kingdom went into turmoil following the death of Kabaka Chwa Nabakka of Buganda Kingdom for there was no one to inherit the throne. Nabakka’s only son and remaining royal next of kin, Prince Kalemera, had been banished from the kingdom. Nabakka exiled Kalemera in the neighbouring Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom after he brought shame to Buganda. 

While in exile, Kalemera’s son was born whom he named Prince Kimera. Unfortunately, Kalemera died in a hunting accident while Kimera was still a baby. The young prince was raised by his mother. 

Meanwhile, in Buganda Kingdom, Ssebwaana, became the interim Kabaka with his wife, Nakku, by his side. He ruled with an iron hand and the people disliked him very much. Years later, Prince Kimera grew into a fine young man. Ssebwaana enlisted the leader of a gang to help him to kill Kimera. Ssebwaana did not know that Nakku, his wife, had overheard his conversation and plans with the gang leader. Nakku was very disappointed in her husband.

Nakku was loyal to the kingdom and was in favour of the rightful heir taking his place as Kabaka. Nakku chose to intercept the three delegations that Ssebwaana sent to bring the prince home. She told them of her husband’s intention to kill anyone who brought the prince, the true heir to the throne, home. The servants would be so terrified that they would run away fearing for their lives, never to be seen again. 

After a while, Nakku suggested that Ssebwaana go and bring the price to Munsumbi himself. When Ssebwaana left for Bunyoro-Kitara, she secretly arranged for the prince’s safe journey to Buganda Kingdom. He would use another route so as to avoid meeting Ssebwaana and not fall into his trap.

Book author: Christine Butegwa

When Kimera arrived in Buganda, he was immediately crowned Kabaka. Kabaka Kimera rewarded Nakku by naming her as his advisor and an advisor to all the future Kabakas. She was also rewarded with her very own place, a lot of land, cattle, and servants. 

On learning of Prince Kimera’s arrival in Buganda and his coronation, Ssebwaana fled to exile to another neighbouring kingdom where he lived the rest of his life in bitter regret.  “Curious Atile” tells the story of Atile, who was a curious girl who liked cooking and trying out new recipes. Her desire was to be the best cook in her whole village in north eastern Uganda.

Atile’s parents had the best farm in the village. They grew lots of millet and had a lot of livestock. The other villagers came to them to learn new farming methods. Every evening, Atile and her family would make a big meal for the villagers to enjoy as they learned these new farming skills. The villagers would leave for their home immediately after the meal was done. Atile did not like to see them leave.

She wished she could do something to make them stay longer every evening. She also wished to have a refreshment to serve them along with her meals. 
Atile thought of using millet to make the drink. When she created a recipe, she first presented the new fermented drink to her parents, who were both amazed by the refreshment their daughter had created. Atile named it ‘malwa,’ a drink for elders. Her drink became an instant sensation in her village.  The village chief ordered his servants to bring him Atile’s new drink. He drank so much that he passed out. His servants thought the chief had died. The guards arrested Atile and accused her of poisoning the chief. They was imprisoned her. 
When the chief recovered, he was shocked to learn that Atile was in prison. The chief ordered for her immediate release. He rewarded her for bringing happiness to him and the entire village with a lot of land so that she could plant more millet. She was put in charge of making the chief’s drinks, and from then on, malwa was drunk at every ceremony in the village. 
According to Butegwa, the lessons from this collection are varied and depend on the child reading them. “I’m hoping that children learn that girls and women can be leaders just like boys and men. For instance, Angwech was the first female chief, and Nakku was the advisor to the king.”
“Girls and women also have the power within them to positively impact their families and communities. This can be through nurturing your talents and skills like Atile and Angwech or being brave enough to do the right thing even when you are afraid like Nakku and Angwech,” Butegwa adds.
“Since the collection has folktales from different regions in Uganda, I hope it helps girls and boys from Africa and the diaspora, learn about the cultures and lives of people from different tribes and regions in the country. This promotes understanding and empathy from an early age,” Butegwa says.
“Finally, since I have reimagined the folktales in this collection, I hope children find the humour in the stories because life should not be taken too seriously. I also hope they enjoy seeing themselves in the illustrations of the characters,” she adds.
Butegwa says her book is targeting younger readers of 8 to 12 years so that both girls and boys can believe in themselves as leaders and change agents from an early age. 
When asked how we can exploit our rich folktale heritage in these modern times, Butegwa replied:  “Africa has a rich folktale heritage that we can exploit in these modern times. One of the ways to exploit it is what I have done with this collection of “Mighty Angwech and Other Stories,” that is, to showcase the positive role of women in our rich cultural heritage. Although women played a momentous role in Africa’s pre-colonial and post-colonial history, their role has not been documented or re-told for our younger audiences. Folktales are a genre that can be used to not only entertain children but teach them life lessons from our female ancestors.” “We can also reimagine folktales to make them suit these modern times, for example, by making them into genres that are more attractive to today’s young African audience. For example, the recent Netflix series that showcased African re-imagined folktales highlights the appetite for African stories that appeal to a global audience,” she replied. 
Butegwa says she is both humbled and excited about the overwhelming positive public support for her book. “Right from the day of the book launch on April 29, 2023, to-date; I have received positive feedback on the book from parents, children and teachers.” 
“I can’t forget how I cried tears of joy when a girl who had read my book called me on the phone to tell me that she liked the book; or when a parent told me that her child defended her position among boys at school because she was inspired by the character, Angwech from the book. There are also many children who have been inspired to write and publish their own stories after listening to my book readings in different spaces,” she adds.