Govt to research on former slave trade site

Officials in front of the restored Luba-Thurston Fort Memorial Site in Walumbe Village, Mayuge District, on February 25.  PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The fort, which is surrounded by a natural forest overlooking Lake Victoria, is situated in Walumbe Village, Mayuge District.
  • Mr Nelson Abiti, an ethnographer at the Uganda National Museum, told Daily Monitor that their initial research findings indicate that the wrong doers in the communities around the fort were the first to be taken into slavery. 

The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities says it will conduct more research on the recently restored Luba-Thurston Fort memorial site that is dedicated to preserving and honouring the memory of the men, women, and children who passed through the former slave trade site.
 The fort, which is surrounded by a natural forest overlooking Lake Victoria (Lake Nalubaale), with a vast variety of aquatic and wildlife, is situated in the eastern part of Uganda, within Busoga Kingdom in Walumbe Village close to Bukaleba Hill in Mayuge District.

 The fort has an elevation of 1,152 metres and situated nearby Walumbe Landing Site.
 The site’s cultural landscape consists of caves, a man-made ditch defensive system (earthworks), with significant scatters of iron-slag, pottery, and the Walumbe sacred tree.
 According to the Department of Museums and Monuments, the fort was once occupied by the powerful Chief Luba of Bunya Chiefdom in Usoga (Busoga). The place served as a landing site for canoes by which men and goods were ferried to and from the Kyagwe shore.

 By 1891, British commander Fredrick Lugard recruited Sudanese troops (“Nubians”) as armed mercenaries to help administer what became the Uganda Protectorate in 1894. A year before, a British colonial garrison had been established at Luba’s Fort. This was partly to reduce insecurity associated with the eastern caravan route.
 It is believed that Basoga chiefs exchanged slaves for firearms from Buganda and the presence of a British garrison at Luba’s Fort helped suppress motives for such activity.

 In 1897, the Sudanese soldiers mutinied in much of the Uganda protectorate over pay, rations and clothes that were in arrears. The rebellion included Sudanese troops garrisoned in Kenya that joined those at Luba’s Fort.
 Major Thruston Arthur Blyford entered the Fort unarmed to negotiate a surrender, but he and Norman Wilson, a British civilian, and steamer engineer William Scott were shot dead on October 19, 1897.

 The mutineers stayed at the Fort for a few months before it was attacked by British forces. C.L. Pilkington of the CMS and Lt Norman MacDonald were killed. The mutineers evacuated the Fort and escaped by dhow on January 9, 1898. Luba’s Fort was abandoned and another short-lived Fort Thruston built nearby the following year.
 Chief Luba died of sleeping sickness on July 17, 1906, during the first outbreak of the epidemic that ravaged the region. This monument was built in 1900, in memory of those who lost their lives during ‘the war at Bukaleba.’

 Through a $45,000 grant from the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to Uganda’s Department of Museums and Monuments, the US Mission in Uganda supported restoration of the monument at the Luba-Thurston Fort, which is important for documenting the end of the slave trade in Uganda.
 US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie F. Brown, representatives of the ministry of tourism, local authorities, and the Walumbe community came together to unveil the restored fort at a ceremony held in Walumbe Village on February 25.

About the site
 Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Mr Nelson Abiti, an ethnographer at the Uganda National Museum, said: “We believe the soldiers used to monitor the people who were coming in from the lake at the top of this Fort. The captured slaves were kept in caves before they transported on dhows. An old woman around here who owned a chain, which was used to keep the slaves, recently sold it to the scrap dealers because of the biting poverty. We lost a lot of history in that process. We intend to bring archaeologists to carry out more research here.” 

 “The docking point has also sunk because of the rising waters levels on Lake Victoria. We shall work with the marine department to see if we can conduct research there as well. We also plan to look at archival material for more research,” Mr Abiti added.
 During the unveiling ceremony, the Makerere Spirituals Choir performed a series of African-American spirituals to recognise the Ugandan and American shared experience of overcoming slavery and to celebrate the U.S. Mission in Uganda’s observation of Black History Month 2022. A Busoga cultural troupe also performed at the concert.
 “As I have learned, the site where we stand today is one of the most important monuments marking the history of slavery in Uganda. This memorial helps us to remember this part of Uganda’s past and to honour those who fought to end this inhuman tragedy and vice,” Ms Brown said.

 “Given the shared experience of slavery in the United States and in Uganda, and given the historical significance of this site, I am proud – especially as someone descended from enslaved people – that the United States government was able to support the National Museum of Uganda’s work to restore the Luba-Thurston Fort Monument and record the history of slavery in the region,” she added.
 The minister of Tourism, Mr Tom Butime, expressed gratitude to the American government for the grant that has restored the site. 

“This fort is important for people who know the historical importance of this site. A British Major, who had come to negotiate for a truce with the mutineers but he was instead killed here because there were no rules of engagement then,” Mr Butime added.
 The second prime minister of Busoga Kingdom, Mr Osman Ahmed Noor, said: “It is a great opportunity to be here today as we commemorate the Black History Month. This place remains the most suited for that purpose and I hope it will receive the necessary publicity for our dear brothers and sisters in the Diaspora to know that they can come here and retrace the journey their ancestors made. It is also the right place to remind the world the responsibility to uphold human rights for all people in the world.”  

Chief Robert Mukajanga Luba VII said: “We need to see these areas develop. This support should not stop here. Busoga has very many historical sites that need to be restored and preserved, including our old palace, where my father was laid to rest and the Anglican Church where our people said their last prayers before being taken into slavery. We feel more peaceful in our cultural heritage.”
 Other activities at the site are Luba’s Trail, community camping, nature/forest walk, and water tourism.

 Mr Butime suggested that the relevant officials should develop the Busoga Tourist Trail in order to explore the several sites in the area to attract tourists.
 Under the direction of Dr Branco Sekalegga and Dr Milton Wabyona the Makerere Spirituals Choir sang Go Down Moses Steal Way; Soon a Will Be Done Ain’t Got Time to Die Keep in the Middle of the Road; I am Seeking for a City Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; and Redemption Go Tell it on the Mountain You’ve Got a Friend in Me.
 According to the Library of Congress, African-American spirituals are one of the most significant forms of American folksong.

“They remind us of painful elements of our past, they give us strength to overcome the obstacles we encounter in our daily lives, and they inspire us to do all we can to ensure that future generations enjoy the benefits of liberty, justice, and equality,” Ms Brown said.
 Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month to honour the achievements and contributions of African-Americans to the American society, culture, and nation. African-American spirituals have their roots in songs sung by enslaved people in the United States. The songs helped African-Americans find hope during their bondage and played a key role in ending slavery.

To date, the United States has funded eight projects under the AFCP in Uganda that include the Preservation of Uganda Tribal and Modern Heritage at Makerere University, Training in the Preservation of Ethnographic Objects at the Uganda National Museum, documentation of historic buildings in Uganda, and the preservation of ancient barkcloth traditions in rural Uganda, among others.

Slave trade at the site
Mr Nelson Abiti, an ethnographer at the Uganda National Museum, told Daily Monitor that their initial research findings indicate that the wrong doers in the communities around the fort were the first to be taken into slavery. 
“The dhows then transported the slaves to Kisumu or Mwanza with the latter being the main port. Thereafter, the slaves would take the southern caravan route through Tanganyika to the East African coast. From there they ended up in international slave markets around the world. But we still need to carry out more research in this trade in Uganda,” Abiti added.

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