New Vision (Kampala)

8 May 2009

Uganda: Buvuma the United States of Uganda

Kampala — THE morning breeze and the strong winds blew mercilessly as the early-riser-travellers boarded the ferry. Six vehicles too struggled for travel space. The ferry master and his crew of six, dressed in white garments, red caps and white gloves took their positions as the huge machine roared into the lake at 7:00am.

A large layer of smoke engulfed the vicinity as the ferry took off from Kiyindi landing site in Mukono. Buvuma Islands appeared at the far end of the deep blue waters.

The breeze kept fighting the advancing machine as the ferry master switched on the second engine. He turned to the direction of the nearest island to shield the ferry and its passengers from the persistent strong wind that threatened to blow passengers off the ferry.

It took us one hour and 20 minutes to set foot on Buvuma Islands, a silent spot and yet a rich historical area in Uganda.

Archaeological discoveries by the Tervuren Museum of Belgium in 1968 on Buvuma and Bugaia islands at Munyama, Tonge and Nakisito caves, plus other 47 sites showed pottery materials used as early as 13,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C. This showed a clear indication that humans must have lived on this island Before Christ.

The islands are located a few kilometres off the northern shores of Lake Victoria in the Napoleon Gulf. It is about 25km south of Jinja town and around 90km east of the capital Kampala. Buvuma is administered by Mukono district.

Like any other islands, Buvuma offers splendid beauty through its diverse fauna and flora. It has dense tropical forests with a wide range of bird, animal and plant species. The island has some of the uncommon un-spoilt sand beaches and it is a wonderful destination for daring bird-watching tourists.

The all green lush island also boasts of 26 gazetted forest reserves, though several of them presently face threats of destruction by the vibrant timber and charcoal industry.

Fishing could be a good pass time sport for tourists at the island with good camping sites for holidaymakers and the adventurers.

William Nsubuga, the area Member of Parliament says Buvuma is the map name of what is a chain of more than 50 smaller islands.

With a land area of about 320 square kilometres and a population of about 20,000 people, Buvuma islands easily fit another identity: the united states of Uganda because of the multi ethnic categories of the settlers. It boasts of almost all tribes in Uganda engaged in fishing, charcoal burning and timber harvesting for their survival.

"Ours is a home to a diverse range of tribes including settlers from Kenya and Rwanda," says James Onen, a fisherman on the islands.

The ethnic mix is a result of the islands' rich fishing ground and thick natural forests that have not only attracted a vibrant timber and charcoal burning industry but also made the island a wonderful destination for tourists.

Buvuma island however gets its name from its unique character. Buvuma, literally meaning 'to abuse' in Luganda, was a name coined in the early 1700s during the reign of Kabaka Kiwewa as the king of Buganda.

History has it that the island which has been a centre of bee hive activities for centuries was once visited by Kabaka Kiwewa.

"But this king had a bad dental fomular. He had all his front teeth protruding," narrates Nsubuga.

"When he visited the island around that time, he arrived with a huge delegation of royals and the local people failed to identify who among the men was the Kabaka. It is then that one young man lamented in Lusoga saying: oyo niye agigiyanle amanyo niye kabaka? Literally translated to mean: Is the man with protruding teeth the king?"

The king's delegation is said to have taken the comment seriously and accused the man and others on the island for abusing the Kabaka.

Since that time, according to reports, the Baganda royals started regarding the people on this island as Bavuma, meaning they abuse.

To keep their identity today, the Bavuma have since developed their own language called Luvuma which is largely a mixture of Luganda and Lusoga, a factor that makes them unique from the other surrounding people.

Other stories on the island also suggest that the original inhabitants of the island were wiped out by sleeping sickness in the mid 1800s.

It is said that during the mid 1800 and early 1900, Buvuma Island was attacked with tsetse flies which transmitted sleeping sickness to the settlers, killing them in large numbers. Tales on the island have it that the sleeping sickness epidemic killed every person and animal on the island, leaving behind only birds and reptiles.

"Because of that attack, what we have today is a whole new generation of immigrants," says one of the inhabitants from Bugiri district.

But Nsubuga does not agree that every one on the island succumbed to sleeping sickness as alleged. "What happened is that after the tsetse fly invasion, some people died and the survivors were relocated to the mainland by the British colonialists."

"When the area was declared safe later in the early 1900, some people returned while others decided to stay back on the mainland and this explains why we have many Bavuma communities in Mukono and other areas surrounding Lake Victoria," he adds.

Today, hourly trapping of tsetse flies using green nets are a common sight on the island.

The waters around the islands are rich in fish and the local Bavuma tribesmen are fishermen. Most adults are illiterate and speak no English. The religion is traditional and primitive, with witchcraft and cultism, with Christianity having a toe-hold.

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