Man, 111, reunites with family after 66 years

Patrice Okubal (in black T-shirt) with his family in Guyaguya Village, Katakwi District on Wednesday. PHOTOS | SIMON PETER EMWAMU

What you need to know:

  • At 45 years in 1957, Mr Okubal made his mysterious disappearance from his ancestral home of Guyaguya Village, Guyaguya Parish in present-day Soroti District before Katakwi would be granted a district status.

Tuesday marked the agonising end for the search of Patrice Okubal by his members of the Ibokora Atekok Clan. His search over years had been mixed with conflicting feelings that he could be dead.

At 45 years in 1957, Mr Okubal made his mysterious disappearance from his ancestral home of Guyaguya Village, Guyaguya Parish in present-day Soroti District before Katakwi would be granted a district status.

His dramatic return on Tuesday in company members of Kapchemikwen Clan from Bukwo District in Sebei Sub-region, who had over the years hosted him without any incident, caused a sense of joy and wild celebrations among his only two surviving children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, who had never seen him before.

As tradition holds there, the family slaughtered a cow, a goat and held family prayers led by Rev Samuel Okwapa, in a reunion that they had never imagined would happen. From Tuesday deep into the better part of Wednesday, the home of his last born son, was a beehive of activity as people made merry, while others walked in to see a man who had been away for almost seven decades.

Mr Okubal, pinned to his chair because of the accident he sustained a couple of years ago, looked on in awe as his 139 grandchildren crisscrossed catching a glimpse of a man they will henceforth be calling grandpa, after the family reunion.

The narrative that still lives on in the village of Guyaguya, as told by elders, is that he (Okubal) left his ancestral home in protest after he lost all his wealth to a gambling game, anciently known among the Iteso as epiki.

History has it that epiki was a game of gambling that was basically a reserve for the rich with bigger herds of cattle, goats, sheep and chicken. It was widely used by the rich for leisure purposes, with the aforementioned items, at worst wives offered as stakes for one to participate in a game.

As a man who was much obsessed with epiki, it is said Okubal lost all his family wealth to gambling as he made it a habit to stake item after item until he lost everything.

Staring at the loss of his wealth to the epiki game, Okubal is said to have offered his wife, Berite Olinga, as a stake without her consent. On losing the bet, the fellow gamblers approached the Ibokora Atekok Clan members requesting that they be handed Ms Olinga as she had ceased to be Okubal’s wife.

His son, Pascal Awojat, 66, one of the only two surviving children out of the five that Okubal left behind at the time of his mysterious disappearance in 1957, said from the narratives that he heard, it was at that point that the clan and his elder children, who have since died, beat up Okubal, for offering their mother as a stake for his gambling passion.

“It is then that he mysteriously disappeared from home in protest, I was being breastfed, he left us with our mother Berite Olinga, she died in 2003,” Awojat narrated as he pointed towards the cemetery where the remains of his mother are interred.

Awojat, who has two wives, 14 children and 21 grandchildren, said he is happy to reunite with his father as this now buries the long perceived mysteries that he was dead.

The sons of Aloni Muzungyo led by David Musani Muzungyo (2nd right) at the reunion on Tuesday. 

Mr Moses Okao, 49, a grandson of Okubal, said they owe much gratitude to the Bukwo family that has been hosting their grandfather for that long.

“We have had the opportunity to ask for forgiveness from him on behalf of his children who could have annoyed him in one way or another,” he said.

Mr Okao is the third born child of Okubal’s first born son Boniface Olar, who died in 1989 aged 48 at the hands of the Karimojong warriors during the height of the famous Teso raids.

Ms Rupina Amongin, 70 years, Okubal’s only daughter, said their father sired only five children with their mother by the time he mysteriously left home and his lineage has since grown to 139 grandchildren.

She explained that the family’s desperate search for their father was a complicated one, hampered with insurgency in Teso and loss of wealth to raids, as they were confined to a life of destitution in the camps.

“We tried but along the way, we literally shelved any search. All that mattered was our own survival,” Ms Amongin said as she broke down in tears of joy.

Ms Amongin, born in 1953, said the last brother of their father, one Odeke, died at 98 years in 2008 and that as a family, they assume their father is now close to 111 years or slightly more than that.

Mr Raymond Odeke, a grandson of Okubal, said after shelving any attempt to search for their grandfather due to resource constraints in the late 1990s, rumours started re-emerging around 2008 that Okubal was still alive but that they treated it with mixed feelings. 

He recounts that during a clan meeting at Ameritele Camp in 2008, they proposed to collect money to aid the search but couldn’t afford. Odeke said, in 2010, he teamed up with a friend of his from Bugiri, who knew the Sebei Sub-region well but that the attempt equally failed as they couldn’t trace Okubal’s whereabouts.

“That was the last time we gave it a try as grandchildren until recently when one of the grandchildren of the Sebei County Chief received Okubal at his home before posting on social media,” he said.

Mr Odeke said he took the initiative to trace for the particulars of the person who posted.

“As luck had it, I managed to get the contact of Charity Chebet, a grandchild of the former Sebei County Chief, who offered sanctuary to our grandfather,” Mr Odeke said.

It’s here that Odeke said they made arrangements by sending a family friend who works in Bukwo. On reaching out to the said home, they found Okubal, who had since christened himself as Odeke for reasons they can’t tell.

“So we started making arrangements with the Bukwo family, who had treated him as their own,” Mr Odeke said.

Mr Robert Kapsandui Zik said it is their grandfather Aloni Muzungyo, who was Sebei County Chief, who received Okubal in 1957. Aloni died in 1976 but Okubal continued to stay with the family in Mokoyon, Bukwo.

Mr Kapsandui added that they for long knew him as Odeke and lived rather a reserved life and that to their surprise as a family, he never engaged any woman nor made additional children while in Bukwo.

The Tuesday voyage to Katakwi was led by David Musani Muzungyo, a son of Aloni.