Flu keeps Mutesa home, dance with Burundi king

Kabaka Mutesa (right of Elizabeth, Queen Mother) presents gifts to the Queen Mother when she visited Uganda on February 19, 1959. COURTESY PHOTO

African kings were fairly thick on the ground in the 1950s. In Uganda alone there was, besides the Kabaka of Buganda, the Omukama of Tooro, the Omugabe of Ankole, the Omukama of Bunyoro, and the elected head of Busoga, Henry Muloki – the Kyabazinga.

George, the Omukama of Tooro, was frequently at Mengo. A small house in the compound of the chief justice’s official residence was reserved for his use, as were houses at the official residences of the Katikkiro and the Omuwanika put at the disposal of the Omugabe and Omukama of Bunyoro, respectively whenever they visited Kampala. Henry Muloki, the Kyabazinga made his own arrangements, but he was a great friend of the Kabaka and was often at the old Twekobe.

From further afield there was the Umwami of Ruanda (as Rwanda was then spelt) and his neighbour the Umwami of Urundi, now Burundi.

The Umwami of Rwanda (King Charles Mutara III ) was a nearly eight foot tall Tutsi, very dignified and brave. His visits were most formal in that entertainment was on a strictly official level, and dance groups made up of Tutsi living in Uganda were prominent at every occasion.
His height created some odd situations. For instance, there was never a bed long enough to accommodate him comfortably, so he always brought his own; and when the princesses and other ladies of the court were introduced to him, the Umwami automatically offered his hand, and many of the smaller ones, in the act of kneeling out of respect, took his hand and found themselves dangling from it.
Wambutsa, the Umwami of Urundi, was entirely different.

He was a big man with hefty shoulders, a completely baldhead, and had a passion for long sleek American cars. His main purpose for visiting Kampala was to have fun.
I first met him in 1957.

The Kabaka had been invited to take the Umwami and a small party to the opening of a new nightclub in Mengo, but hours before they were due to set out, nearly everybody in the old Twekobe went down with a flu.

Dr Mukasa, the Kabaka’s physician, prescribed bed and hot drinks, and began running the place like a private hospital.

Before His Highness was led away to a nest of warm blankets and hot water bottles, however, he insisted on his ADC George Malo, George Kabugo, one of his private secretaries, and me accompanying the Umwami to the nightclub.

The Umwami drove us there in his sumptuous limousine, and as soon as George Malo had explained the Kabaka’s absence, we were led through a crush of people to a table on the edge of the dance floor.

Drinks were served, and for a while we sat there, nearly deafened by the racket being kicked up by the enthusiastic musicians, and watching the dancers.

When Mwambutsa asked me to dance, I expected to tread the stately measure boringly practised by the Kabaka.

Instead, we bounced straight into an energetic jive. The Umwami was an incredible dancer.

The music stopped and he received a round of applause from the other dancers who had abandoned the floor to watch him. From then on, we were on our feet every time the band struck up, and while I started feeling hot and limp, the only effect these exertions appeared to have on him was the steam visibly rising from his baldhead.

There was more to come. He left our table to go and have a word with the bandleader, and next he was sitting comfortably behind the set of drums. For the rest of our time there, he happily thumped away, occasionally giving virtuoso displays of drumming, which had the nightclub crowd stamping and cheering.

At his request, no mention had been made to the club’s management of Mwambutsa being a king, so it was hardly surprising that as he parted from the drums and shook hands with the rest of the band, the bandleader offered him a job.

It was after 3am before we returned to the state apartments in the new Twekobe, where the Umwami was staying, and where George Malo had left his car.

George was supposed to give me a lift home, but the Umwami insisted that we join him in the nightcap.

The drinks cabinet was in one of the main reception rooms, and no sooner were drinks handed round than a radiogram was in action, and Mwambutsa wanted to jive. George Malo obligingly changed the records, while George Kabugo was a sleepy yet appreciative audience.

I don’t know for how long this went on. But I do know that drink, lack of sleep and undue exercise were taking their toll on me. Besides, I hadn’t visited a loo all night.

The situation was becoming desperate by the time I slipped into a toilet. The crowing of a cockerel and the first strong rays of the sun striking through a small window awakened me. I had fallen asleep on the lavatory, and I was stiff with cramp.

The reception room was deserted. Nor was there any sign of Malo’s car outside. I wandered along a corridor, hoping there would be a servant lurking somewhere who would help to arrange for a car to take me home. There was nobody.

Soon I reached the suite of rooms provided for the Umwami and his entourage. Recklessly, I tapped on the first door. It was opened by one of Mwambutsa ‘s chiefs.

His smile faded when he saw that I was not his early morning tea. After greeting him, I asked if he knew of anyone who could give me a lift home: I was simply not up to explaining what I was doing in the palace at that unearthly hour.

In any case, the Urundi contingent spoke better French than English. The man was not very helpful. Apparently, the Umwami’s car was the only one available, and only the Umwami was allowed to drive it.

As I digested the fact that I would have to climb the palace wall or lose my reputation completely by walking through the grounds and asking the gatekeepers to let me out, Mwambutsa came round a bend in the corridor.

He was in pyjamas and dressing gown, and looked as though he had enjoyed a good eight hours sleep. I declined his invitation to breakfast. All I wanted to do was get away.

At last he sent somebody to find a cup of coffee for me, and went to take a shower. He soon came back, spruce and bright, jauntily swinging the car keys.

By 1957, our family were living in a plastered mud and wattle house on Rubaga Road, having been driven out of the Rubaga Hill dwelling by nightly onslaughts of safari ants, and afterwards renting a series of houses, all of which proved to have serious and often ludicrous drawbacks: e.g. two insomniatic stone-deaf neighbours who conversed all night at the top of their voices.

The Rubaga Road house, (four rooms, one cold water tap, no electricity, and an outside pit -latrine) not surprisingly, was let at a very low rent.

We took it over from Mary and Ted Jones when they moved into the villa they had finished building on Kololo Hill, and while I built a more modest dwelling on land adjoining the Omulamuzi (Chief Justice)’s official residence.

This little house had a grassy compound, and was hemmed in on one side by the grounds of Basiita Inn owned by Princess Lucy of Bunyoro and by the gardens of the sprawling Ham Mukasa house on the other.

Across the road, facing us and backing down towards the Kabaka’s Lake, were dozens of small mud huts lived in by the most inquisitive folk I have ever known.

A mere sneeze was enough to bring them out to see what was going on, and any strangers, under the guise of receiving greetings, were subjected to third degree questioning unless they were quick to make an escape.

The South African writer, Noni Jabavu, then living in Kampala with her husband Michael Cadbury-Crossfield, once came to tea looking sensational in the latest Western fashion - the sac - and with finger- and toenails varnished black to match a long string of beads.

The locals were astounded. They had never before seen an African woman done up like this.

A few of them, led by Lucretia the goat lady, (one of whose goats giving birth to twins in our compound saved me from having to explain to my sons where babies come from) quietly sneaked inside the house and sat quietly on a mat in a corner, staring in wonder at Noni, as though she were from another planet.

The turning of the Umwami’s immense car into our narrow, bumpy drive was almost as remarkable. So many people wanted to have a close look at the monster that they blocked the exit.

In the end, a minor official from the Omukulu’s office came along and used his authority to clear the way, and the Umwami drove off waving cheerfully to the crowd.
The story did not end there.

A couple of days after the Umwami had left Mengo, the Kabaka, giggling like a schoolgirl, revealed that Mwambutsa had offered to buy me.

His Highness had, tactfully he hoped, refused the offer on the grounds that he had nobody else to take shorthand notes. It seems that my style of jive had made a big impression.

The Urundi crown prince, Louis [Rwagasore], visited Buganda some time later. Apart from the same muscular shoulders as his father, Louis was a completely different character.

He was a serious, farsighted politician, who knew that drastic changes would be necessary if the kingdoms were not to be swept away in the post-colonial era. He was also very pro-trade unions.

Rather than sample the varied nightlife in the company of the Mengo set, Louis preferred to sit with young Ugandans from all parts of the country and talk about how they saw the future.

In Mengo itself, his main interest was the Kabaka’s government administrative system, and he was keen to inspect every department in the new Bulange.

A difficulty arose because apart from his own language, Louis spoke French and Kiswahili but little English.

At the palace, he somehow managed to get by with everybody digging out their small stocks of French, and he using his small stock of English.

Many Baganda disdainfully regarded Kiswahili as a servants ‘or askaris’ language: even some of those who were familiar with it pretended not to be.

The tour of the new Bulange was held up for hours while a search was made for somebody who would admit to speaking Kiswahili.

Finally, an elderly, scholarly man, in the translations department, shyly let it be known that he had taught himself French from books, but had never had the opportunity of speaking it.

He was quickly snapped up and delegated to take Prince Louis on a guided tour.

He did so well that he was temporarily relieved of his usual duties and appointed interpreter for the rest of Louis’ stay in Uganda.

Many people in Uganda were sad as well as shocked when Prince Louis was gunned down in a restaurant in Urundi.

The old, regal Umwami of Rwanda, died and was succeeded by a nephew, Kigeli, another giant, although one in his early twenties. Soon after his coronation Kigeli came to Uganda to meet the kings.

He, too, came in a long sleek American car, and nobody in his entourage was less than a few inches shorter than Kigeli himself. He brought his own bed, but the other chaps must have had some uncomfortable nights on the standard six footers.

This new Umwami of Rwanda had neither expected nor been trained to succeed to the throne.

Formerly, he worked as a clerk in a government office, and he was sufficiently nice and modest to remain proud of his fast typing skills.

Here again, language was a problem, but several of the Mengo set, spurred on by the performance of the old man during Louis’ visit, began carrying French/English dictionaries and never missed a chance to practice their elementary French on the Tutsi contingent.

Conversation was accordingly simple, and we were surprised to see, after one official dinner, the Kabaka and Kigeri deep in serious discussion.

When later somebody remarked on this to His Highness, he sheepishly acknowledged that the two of them had conversed each in his own language and practically made a game of guessing what was said by trying for French or English equivalents.

Odinga visits
Jaramogi Odinga Oginga, a veteran Kenyan politician from Kisumu, and later Kenya’s vice-president for a time under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, paid a courtesy call on the Kabaka one afternoon shortly before the Kenyan delegation went to London for their pre-independence talks with the British government.

Although it was a scorcher of a day, he wore what we all took to be the dress of a Luo chief or elder: namely, a tailored long brown velvet gown decorated with cowry shells, a pill-box shaped hat of the same materials, and sandals covered in cowry shells. He was treated with great respect and shown around the ministries.

The vast amounts of cowry shells on his person was especially impressive to the old palace gatekeepers and other elderly people who saw him, for to them it did not seem all that long ago that cowry shells were currency in Uganda, until they were replaced with coinage and burnt by the Protectorate government on Namirembe Hill.

In the old days, Odinga Oginga would have easily been recognised as a very rich man indeed.

The state visit of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to Uganda just before Uganda’s own Independence was a more earnest affair than any that had gone before.

She was to lunch at Mengo, so officials from the Protectorate government had first to inspect the Kabaka’s kitchens to ensure that the Queen Mother was not put at risk where food was concerned.

It goes without saying that a new lavatory and washbasin had to be installed for her exclusive use: not that any of the palace toilets were nasty, and it did not go unremarked that the Queen Mother failed to avail herself of the conveniences provided.

But the kitchens produced cries of horror from these men who had left their desks to inspect the palace culinary arrangements.

They insisted upon walls and ceilings being repainted, the replacement of work-tops, pans, utensils, cookers and fridges, and, most alarming of all, that the cooks and their helpers wear white aprons, trousered uniforms and shoes.

By all accounts, it was a miserable crew, which prepared the meal fit for a queen. However, the Queen Mother was suddenly the toast of Mengo after word was leaked that not only did she use her fingers to eat chicken, but that she had asked for a second helping of matooke.

Her visit was one of the rare occasions on which the NNabaggereka appeared as queen consort, and Damali, lovely in a broadly striped white and lavender busuti played her part well. She looked vivacious, relaxed and happy.

The Queen Mother surely knew everything there was to know about the Kabaka’s domestic arrangements: Government House would have briefed her; and she did her best to bridge the gap between the estranged couple.

Notably, she presented the NNabaggereka with a gold wrist chain bearing one gold charm, and told the Kabaka that it was up to him to add more charms until his wife had a full charm bracelet. Of course, he never did.

The eight chiefs of Bukoba in what was then Tanganyika attended one of the Kabaka’s birthday celebrations, among them my husband’s cousin, Peter, who had only recently replaced a charming reprobate called Henry, and another, the Omukama Francis, who had remained one of my closest and most loyal friends, despite the marriage break-up.

While I was pregnant with my first son, Tofa, Francis decided that I should drink more milk and insisted upon sending a cow to our house.

The cow turned out to be a young bull, and it caused havoc in our residential area until my father-in-law took it to his coffee farm.

He presented me with nine cows, real ones this time, as a thank you gift for giving the Bahaya tribe a son, as soon as Tofa was born. Francis’ present was more acceptable than that of an elderly relative who brought a huge cockerel to the hospital and tied it to a leg of my bed.

In the days when Buganda was the supreme power in the area, tribute was exacted from the chiefs of Bukoba as well as others in neighbouring territories.

When this practice died out, chiefs paying courtesy calls at the palace continued to arrive with gifts, and one memorable story is of a Tanganyikan chief bringing with him a lorry load of fish during the reign of Daudi Chwa II.

The late Daudi Chwa seems to have been as tardy about time-keeping as his son, Mutesa II, for he kept the chief waiting for hours.

Eventually, the chief grew sick of hanging about Lubiri in the heat of the day, so he dumped the fish outside the Kabaka’s private office and drove off, never to appear again.

I gather that the stench of decaying fish lingered in the palace grounds for weeks.

The chiefs attending Mutesa’s birthday celebrations, however, were also on a private mission: namely, to request the return of my two sons to their father’s family.

At first I accepted at face value their individual visits to our house, and made them very welcome. Peter, chief of Karagwe in Bukoba, and therefore our own, was particularly welcome.

In common with Prince Louis of Burundi, he belonged to a new breed of traditional rulers, progressive young men with eyes on the future and keen to play a part in national development at the approach of independence for Tanganyika as a whole.

It was good to have from him first-hand accounts of my wonderful mother-in-law, Helen, and numerous brothers, who had sent presents of matooke, eggs and a couple of live chicken.

Only when Francis returned alone one evening did I learn the true nature of these social calls. According to him, my father-in-law, learning that my mother lived with me, was claiming that the boys were being brought up as Europeans and deliberately separated from their own culture.

Francis promised to do his best for me, but stressed that everything depended upon the Kabaka whom the chiefs were meeting to discuss the matter on the following morning.

Nothing happened until about mid-afternoon next day, and then one of the Kabaka’s secretaries came in a palace car. His message was brief: would I allow Joyce and the children to accompany him to the old Twekobe? The Kabaka gave his word that they would be returned before nightfall.

I was not at all happy with the arrangement, because I could not understand why I was being excluded from the invitation, but I trusted the Kabaka not to hand the boys over to the chiefs and present me with a fait accompli.

Family and Kabaka
Joyce returned with the children earlier than expected. She was slightly dazed from having spent an hour in the company of eight chiefs and a king.

Nevertheless, she was able to describe what had taken place in a mixture of pride and bafflement. Daudi, as an about-to-be toddler, had rated the usual attention given to babies.

Tofa, on the other hand, had, with more poise than any of us at home thought possible, knelt before the Kabaka to greet him in Luganda, then knelt before and similarly greeted each of the chiefs in turn.
Again in Luganda which, because of a similar root is generally understood by the Bahaya, he had confidently replied to questions about his home life and the nursery school he attended in the Lubiri grounds, but Joyce became uneasy as soon as she realised that the child enjoyed being the centre of attraction and was starting to show off.

Apparently, he was really getting into his act when the Kabaka gave him fifty cents for reciting the names of the 35 former kings of Buganda in correct order, and very disappointed to be dispatched off home before being allowed to sing the Buganda national anthem.

No more was heard about the boys joining their father’s family in Bukoba. The Kabaka had demonstrated to everybody’s satisfaction that they were receiving the same upbringing as his own children.

A footnote to this story is that while my sons spoke excellent English as well as Luganda, neither of them could adapt to English spelling by the time Obote was flexing his muscles and the boys were sent to Kaptagat Preparatory School in Kenya. The interchange of L and R in Luganda was only one problem.

For a full term, the teachers combatted against this as well as ignorance of ‘Ch’ (Topha - Christopher - regularly spelled his full name as Kulistofa, and ‘ky’ is the nearest sound to ‘ch’ in written Luganda), not to mention the use of wholesale phonetics.

-Continues in Saturday Monitor next week