Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Naming of Things

The Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) workshop is on in Rugazi. Twelve nurses who work at health centers in the areas where the Healthy Child project operates are attending. IMCI training was introduced in the developing world by the World Health Organization (WHO) a couple of years ago. It was a successful program and has improved the management of children’s health by nurses and clinical officers who handle the vast majority of health care in rural areas. Members of our team assisted with the implementation when it first began and were impressed by how useful it was. For our program to be successful we need the health centers attached to the communities to be able to handle the clinical cases appropriately, so we have supported having the staff trained effectively.

IMCI was rolled out across Uganda, facilitators were trained and then, I suppose, the money ran out. Now our project is one of the few that has continued to run the course. We run it twice a year because there is such high turnover of staff in rural health units. I am enjoying getting to know the nurses and it has occurred to me that this would be a good place to recruit future trainers for our project.

Enroute to Rugazi, my driver began telling me an interesting story about how this area got its name.

“Which name?” I inquire, not sure if we are talking about the parish, the town or the subdistrict.

“The whole area, Bunyaruguru,” he responds. “It means the people who walked on their own legs this far.”

“From where?” I ask.

”They came from the western edge of Buganda."

Buganda is the largest of the five kingdoms in Uganda. It is composed of the Baganda tribe and located in the area around Kampala in the center of the country.

“How come? I ask.

“I am not sure,” he says, “But some of their group only got as far as the area around Ibanda, got tired and stopped there. They called their place Batagenda, which means we stopped before we got there. They were families who were related to the people here.”

Later I try out my new found knowledge on the nurses who are from this area.

“Yes”, they affirm, “It is a true story.”

I have borrowed a map from a local tourist brochure to show you some of these places. Mbarara is marked in pink; Ibanda, the place where those who sto
pped before they got there settled is also marked with a pink dot; and Rugazi is the most westerly pink dot in Bunyruguru, not a big enough place to be named on the map but located just before you get to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Kazinga Channel. The approximate area in Buganda from where people walked is in the vicinity of the large pink patch. So it is qute a long walk, a couple of hundred kilometers at least and you could be forgiven if you failed to make the full journey.

For me it explains why I see more basute, the long dress of the Baganda women with their high puffed sleeves hereabouts. When you cross the border between Buganda and Ankole along the main highway, the kiganda dress and kiganda baskets of the Baganda are found no more. Then you notice the Ankole baskets and the women wearing two skirt layers with the upper one ¾ length and the lower one of usually horizontal stripes of red in the manner of the Banyankole. I mention this to my driver and he tells me that over time the Ankole and Baganda have intermarried in this area but I could be right about there being more Baganda influence.

There are other interesting names around these parts. When foreigners first arrived in Uganda, people wanted to protect their local resources so they named one of the well stocked rivers , Semuliki, meaning "river without fish". When the train tracks were built from Mombasa to Kampala, Namagasali was so named because it meant “I am greeting the train”.

The palace of the Baganda king or Kabaka is high on a hill and his subjects often crawl up the hill on their knees as a form of reverence, often bearing gifts. The site was named, Kubendabenda, meaning climbing while bending over double, an evocative use of repetition, onomatopoeia and simile all at once. It has an impact similar to the phrase "mpola mpola" which translates as "slowly by slowly" and works on you whenever you hear it, to slow you right down.

There is some speculation about the derivation of the term "muzungu" for a "white person"--the plural form is "bazungu". Some say it means "traveller "or "wanderer". It seems to be limited to whites as there is a separate word for an "East Indian" -- "muhindi". "Kizunguzungu", which means dizzy, may have been in use before Ugandans met whites and after observing us they may have applied the term or it may have been a new word coined for dizzy after they got to know us and our behaviour a bit.

Although "ba" is the prefix used for the plural form of people in most of Uganda, in Kenya and Tanzania where Swahili is used more, the prefix would be "wa" as in "wazungu". In Uganda however they do use the term "WaBenzi" for the newly rich capturing nicely their penchance for Mercedes Benzs.

There are equally fascinating stories about people’s names.

I met a fellow called Mwesigwe and said to him, "You must be trustworthy."

“Maybe not,” he replied. “I got my name because my mother had twin girls and prayed for a boy. So when God gave her a boy, she said, God is trustworthy, and it became my name."

Photos: Woman Pounding millet; children in Rugazi; Eye Map of Uganda; Tea Plantation & dugout boat.



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