Karamoja Music Kara Tunga - Uganda Safari

By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)

This morning CNN International had an interesting article on their website about scientists discovering the oldest known modern human fossil outside Africa, estimated to be between 177,000 and 194,000 years old and suggests that modern humans may have been on the move, specifically migrating from Africa, at least 50,000 years earlier than previously believed. According to the article, the fossil of an upper jawbone that included several teeth was found in a prehistoric cave site, Misliya Cave, in Israel. This didn’t come as a huge surprise for me because Africa has in the past, many a time been referred to as the birth ground of human origins.

Well today’s blogpost comes from a short Twitter conversation I had earlier this week with a stranger now friend on the many things that make Uganda double click. As you would usually know there’s only quite a lot that you can squeeze into 300 characters, so this write-up is the longer version. I hope you’ll hang in there to the very end.

Locked in a chat on what to anticipate in an African holiday, many people will still think about this:

Possibly this:

Or Let alone this:

Oh I almost missed this too:

Of course catching the great safari animals in their circle of life as the predators continually execute deadly schemes on their neighbors in pursuit of survival in the wild African savanna brings to life the much loved scenes watched on your favorite Travel Channel, let alone spotting families of man’s closest relatives the apes and focusing lenses on birds of same feathers flocking together.

Being in Africa must feel like watching NatGeo WILD in Full HD from the comfort of an open roof safari jeep. But there is more to that in Africa, really much more to be said about Africa, and if you labored to look up details of what to do beyond the conventional Big Five Safari, I bet you’d have some sweet discoveries to share.

Back to Uganda… yes the country is unique, and is washed in vast variety of natural form with some of the most profuse and heavily populated wildlife congregations, 11% of the world’s bird species, soaked by the waters of the Nile River, blessed with stunning landscapes with some of Africa’s highest points spanned by the equator but surprisingly crowned with permanent snow all year round, not forgetting the perfect weather and the safety within the country’s borders. But could you say the same of some other African countries? It could be an emphatic Yes or an unsure Yes for some, and if it holds truth that the above elements aren’t confined to Uganda alone, then what could be the single most unique thing about Uganda?

So it must have been about 2 weeks back that I was flipping through my childhood album when I came across a photo of a Sony Walkman that my dad once owned and I would occasionally borrow it to show off as the cool kid at school. The photo reminded me of how we used to press the plastic play button to listen to one side of the cassette and then flip it to side B for some more cool jams. The Fast Forward and Rewind buttons, weren’t as swift as a the current single tap and playlist search on an iPhone X today.

I remembered how I would actually press down those sticky FF and REW buttons and then seat back to wait for the click sound confirming that the tape had reached the end or had been rewound to the beginning. One other thing my grandkids will most definitely never get to experience. These cassette players taught us patience in capital letters.

This hurried shift in tides in the tech world reminds me of how fast the world has changed, how rapid indigenous groups have expunged and how wildly-quick human practices around the world have and are being entirely overturned.

Change is a cool thing isn’t it? But guess what’s even more awesome and equable? A walk down memory lane… Allow me to link back to my Twitter conversation to share why I think the most unique thing about Uganda is her people.

Below is a mini-summary of some highlights, as I draw nigh to the conclusion.

Uganda has been continually referred to as home to a variety of ethnic groups in Africa with over 50 recognized  tribes, each speaking a different dialect, with dissimilar practices, uniquely fascinating songs and dance, different flavors of food and drink, people of ever mounting levels of friendliness and hospitality, and some of the most queer but fascinating traditions on earth.

Perhaps being located in the very bosom of the African continent, right in the center of Africa, contributes to why such great cultural diversity is attracted to, and locked within the 241,038 sqkm perimeter of this “land-linked” country dubbed the “Pearl of Africa”. Uganda might as well be the most ethnically diverse country in the entire world.

A happy Ugandan father and daughter. Image Credit: uganda.oxfam.org

The swampy Lake Kyoga creates the country’s northern boundary south of which sit the Bantu-speaking people, who account for the biggest number of Africans living in East, Central and Southern Africa. The Bantu people include the Baganda, Batooro, Banyoro, Bakiga, Banyarwenzururu and many others, all with a unique dialect.

And then north of Lake Kyoga you’ll find the Nilotic groups; the Acholi and Langi predominating with each speaking a unique Nilotic Language. A trip east presents the Bagisu who live flawlessly traditional lives on the slopes of Mountain Elgon bordering Kenya and sharing great similarity with the “Luhya” people of Kenya but are specially unique for their traditional male circumcision ceremony, “Imbalu”, a practice that you wouldn’t expect to still thrive in the 21st Century.

The Imbalu Circumcision Dance of the Bagisu

A trip further north opens up to a vast dry savanna plateau separated by tall standing mountains bordering South Sudan where my favorite Ugandan park, the wild Kidepo Valley National Park seats. But this is also where possibly the most authentically traditional peoples surviving on earth can be found. Forget the staged authenticity of the Masaai, or the Aboriginals of Canada; a real raw taste of authentic tradition can be discovered un-staged in Karamoja and particularly a hike up the Morungole Mountains will have you meet eye-to-eye with the Ik people who purportedly in addition to the Karimojong language, speak a language called “Teuso” believed to contain a mixture of Spanish with a bit of “Karimojong” and other African semantics. These guys live very primitively in grass thatched structures called “Manyattas”.

Karamojong Dancers

A complete true taste of Uganda would necessitate a bite of all the varied foods and beverages (coffee being high on the list if you visit the east), joining a traditional dance or folk song, attending one of the traditional ceremonies like the “Kuhingira” marriage ritual of the Ankole people, visiting a spiritual healer in the Rwenzoris, a stroll to a local crafts group for a well-woven basket souvenir, or just two nights at a homestay for the true real-life practical experience of a day in the life of a traditional Ugandan (Check out Nshenyi Cultural village). Uganda is more than wildlife.

The Ankole traditional bridal attire. Image by www.malaikamediaug.com

You could still trace the origins of the Bantu through a visit to the Batwa pygmies, a community living in the vicinity of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in South Western Uganda.

An all-round cultural tour of Uganda would have to be one very long safari that would last about 11 months to possibly realistically dig up all the goodness and richness in the cultural diversity of what’s been noted to be the friendliest country on the African continent.

Batwa dancers in Southwestern Uganda. Image by: Lachlan Towart

Different countries and cities around the world have unique identifiers. The Eiffel tower, Taj Mahal, Big Ben, Statue of Liberty, Christ the Redeemer statue and the Colosseum are all absolute clues to country names; but it’s the breath of life and the blood in the veins, variety of dance, song and smile, the hospitality and friendliness, the different tastes of food and drink, the presence of modernity juxtaposed with some of the most primitively living communities on earth… it’s the quality of raw things and the ethnic diversity in numbers and form that make Uganda a boiling pot of African ethnicity… and its why I’ll conclusively say that the most single unique thing about Uganda is her people.

If you found this interesting please feel free to leave a comment in the box below and if you’re one who thinks there’s a country more culturally diverse than Uganda, then let me know in the comment box below as well, I’d be glad to learn something new.

That said, it’s time for me to sign out, head out for some boiled yummy chicken stew packaged in a healthy wrapper of plantain leaves… and till next time, I remain yours truly, The Ugandan Tourist.

Written by 

My old folks call me Jonathan Benaiah but I prefer to go by as “The Ugandan Tourist“. I love to travel, write, take photos (of nature mostly). Ask me my best kind of trips and I'll tell you that it's those moments which allow me enough time in the African bush.