Posts Tagged ‘buganda’

Henry Morton Stanley Takes Credit for Naming Uganda the “Pearl of Africa”

February 17, 2015

“Since my return from Africa, I have persistently maintained that so long as there are no facilities of transport between Lake Victoria and the sea, nothing in the way of progress can be hoped for from East Africa. Just as Stanley Pool on the Congo is our objective in West Africa, we must take the Victoria Nyanza as our objective in East Africa. The first commands the commerce of 16,000 miles of river banks; the second is the centre of a region which is inhabited by millions of the finest people in Africa. The lake has 1500 miles of coast line of its own. At one point it is but 150 miles from Lake Tanganyika; from Beatrice Gulf it is only sixty miles; from Lake Albert it is barely a hundred, and the navigable Nile is also within easy reach; so that by this lake we have, roughly speaking, access to about 3000 miles of lake shores and 5000 miles of river banks. To join these with the sea would be a scheme equal in importance and prospective advantages to that of the Congo, because, though we should not at once control so vast a region as the Congo, the natives of these parts are so immeasurably superior to those of Western Africa, that we should only have to appear with our goods in order to establish a vast trade. I take but little interest in the region through which the railway must run, because of itself it is scarcely worth a thought. I regard the region as only a means to an end. By itself it is not worth the luxury of a railway. The point to be reached is the fresh-water sea beyond. Let that be made accessible and the intervening region becomes naturally of great value. We may be sure that those who need fat pastures, farm-lands, and cheap labour will not neglect the opportunities provided for them by the railway.

It is the “Pearl of Africa” that is our object. I applied that somewhat  grandiloquent term to Uganda because of its frequent use by the Portuguese, who spoke of Cabinda at the Berlin Conference as the pearl of the Crown of Portugal. Many have sneered at it since, and dense-headed travellers have tried to account for the term by adducing the fertility of the soil and the variety of its products; but the truth is that the term aptly illustrates the superior value of Uganda because of its populousness, the intelligence of its people, its strategic position for commerce, and for spreading Christianity–all of which make it pre-eminently a desirable colony for a trading and civilizing nation like ours.

No one, however, has called Uganda a paradise. It is simply a superior region of East Central Africa possessing unusual advantages by its position between the Three Lakes and the Nile, and inhabited by a remarkably intelligent people, who, because of their undoubted adaptability, are more capable of being trained, educated, and civilized than any other between Assfian and Cape Colony. I have twice crossed the continent; I have tested to the full the capacities of the best Congo tribes, the Zanzibaris and Wanyamwezi; I have had hundreds from the West African coast tribes under me; I have been into Upper Egypt, Ashanti, and Abyssinia; I have had two hundred Zulus in training; but I have met none who impressed me so much with their mental, spiritual, and moral capacity as the Waganda. Remembering these qualities, look over the map of Africa and tell me where there are such possibilities as with such a people, occupying such a country as they do. Had the Waganda, held together as they have been by their traditions, nature, and customs, inhabited the country of the Basutos, or the Zulus, or the Matabeli, they would long ago have made their mark as a progressive race; but being where they are, stretched along the northern shores of an inland sea, and dominating the whole of the intra-lake region, it is a marvel to me that English people are so slow to perceive the uses to which Uganda and its nation may be applied. Administered by a British Commissioner, assisted and directed by British officers, educated by British missionaries, and trained in industrial crafts by British teachers, Uganda and its people are as capable of astonishing Central Africa as the Japanese have astonished the Far East.

In 1862 Speke and Grant found the entire Waganda nation clothed in home-made robes of brown bark cloth. Thirteen years later the king and his court, the chiefs and officers of the army, were dressed in the finest white cottons, cloaks of broad cloth and fez caps, and were inclined to the Mohammedan religion. In another thirteen years some 5000 had become Christians, and many of them were able to read and preach the Gospel. Cloth dresses had become almost universal, firearms had become common. In the last six years the progress has been still more rapid. The Christians have trebled in number; they possess a cathedral and nearly 200 churches; the art of reading and writing has been acquired by many hundreds, and a perfect mania for instruction has developed among the young.”


Henry M. Stanley

Work Cited

Stanley, Henry Morton. “The Uganda Railway” [Excerpt]. Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art , vol. 79 (1895): 719-720.

Jonathan Musere


The 1875 Meeting of Henry Morton Stanley, Linant de Bellefonds, and Kabaka Mutesa: The Invitational Letter of Recommendation for Uganda

October 26, 2014

Colonel M. Ernest Linant de Bellefonds [Bey], son of the renowned French engineer Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds who executed numerous projects in Egypt including the Suez Canal, was an emissary at Gondokoro (Equatoria headquarters of the Anglo-Egyptian colonial administration) of General Charles Gordon [Pasha]. The Colonel, accompanied by forty Sudanic-Nubian soldiers, arrived in Rubaga at the court of Kabaka Mtesa (Mutesa) Mukabya of Buganda in April 1875 where he also met Henry Morton Stanley who had quite recently arrived at the court. At the time Mutesa had become oriented to Islam after Zanzibari Arabs had taught him and showered him with gifts. Mutesa became perplexed by the foreign religions and divisions, but decided to simultaneously embrace elements of both Christianity and Islam. Stanley, determined to convert Mutesa fully to Christianity, was so impressed with the enlightened kabaka whom he styled “Emperor,” quite impressed with the elaborate organization of the Buganda kingdom-state, with the culture, the attire, and the politeness of the Baganda. The landscape was beautiful, the natural resources bountiful, and Henry Stanley is widely credited with becoming the first to proclaim that B-Uganda was the “Pearl of Africa.” Stanley’s proposal to invite British missionaries, educators and technicians to come to Uganda to further the development was corroborated as positve by Linant who happened to be a French-Belgian Protestant, and Mutesa concurred. Stanley drafted the proposal to be sent to England, handed it to Linant who would be the messenger. The two Europeans parted on April 17th 1875, Stanley intent on completing the circumnavigation of the Lake Victoria Nyanza [Nyanja]. Unfortunately, on his way northward, Linant’s expedition was brutally attacked and Linant was killed by the Bari in Sudan at Laboreh on August 26, 1875, not far from Gondokoro. Among the grievances of the Bari were the recent raids by Nubian slave-traders. Linant’s body was crudely disposed of on the bank to rot in the burning sun. By a stroke of luck, Stanley’s letter was recovered still intact in the knee-high boot of the slain Linant. The blood-stained letter was sent to Charles Gordon in Khartoum, he would forward it to the “Daily Telegraph” England. Bloody mayhem in Uganda would ultimately be the result of Stanley’s observations and recommendations for Buganda. The British Special Commissioner to Uganda–Henry “Harry” Hamilton Johnston summarizes it: “Truly Stanley’s letter, the blood-stained sheet, of paper found in the boot of the murdered de Bellefonds, was big with fateful results for the Kingdom of Uganda” (1902: 223).

Stanley’s proposal (1876: 152-153), which follows, though written in April, would draw enthusiasm when it was published in November 1875.
Mtesa’s Capital, Uganda, April 14, 1875

I must not forget to inform you and your readers of one very interesting subject connected with Mtesa, which will gratify many a philanthropic European and American.

I have already told you that Mtesa and the whole of his Court profess Islamism. A long time ago–some four or five years–Khamis Bin Abdullah (the only Arab who remained with me three years ago, as a rearguard, when the Arabs disgracefully fled from Mirambo) came to Uganda. He was wealthy, of noble descent, had a fine, magnificent personal appearance, and brought with him many a rich present for Mtesa, such as few Arabs could afford. The King became immediately fascinated with him, and really few white men could be long with the son of Abdullah without being charmed by his presence, his handsome, proud features, his rich olive complexion, and his liberality. I confess I never saw an Arab or Mussulman who attracted me so much as Khamis bin Abdullah, and it is no wonder that Mtesa, meeting a kindred spirit in the noble youth of Muscat, amazed at his handsome bearing, the splendour of his apparel, the display of his wealth, and the number of his slaves, fell in love with him. Khamis stayed with Mtesa a full year, during which time the King became a convert to the creed of his visitor–namely, Mohammedanism. The Arab clothed Mtesa in the best that his wardrobe offered; he gave him gold-embroidered jackets, fine white shirts, crimson slippers, swords, silk sashes, daggers, and a revolving rifle, so that [John Hanning] Speke and [James Augustus] Grant’s presents seemed of necessity insignificant. Now, until I arrived at Mtesa’s Court, the King delighted in the idea that he was a follower of Islam; but by one conversation I flatter myself that I have tumbled the newly-raised religious fabric to the ground, and if it were only followed by the arrival of a Christian mission here, the conversion of Mtesa and his Court to Christianity would, I think, be complete. I have, indeed, undermined Islamism so much here, that Mtesa has determined henceforth, until he is better informed, to observe the Christian Sabbath as well as the Moslem Sabbath, and the great captains have unanimously consented to this. He has further caused the Ten Commandments of Moses to be written on a board for his daily perusal–for Mtesa can read Arabic–as well as the Lord’s Prayer, and the golden commandment of our Saviour, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is great progress for the few days that I have remained with him, and, though I am no missionary, I shall begin to think that I might become one if such success is feasible. But, oh that some pious, practical missionary would come here! What a field and a harvest ripe for the sickle of civilisation! Mtesa would give him everything he desired–houses, lands, cattle, ivory,etc., he might call a province his own in one day. It is not the mere preacher, however, that is wanted here. The Bishops of Great Britain collected, and all the classic youth of Oxford and Cambridge, would effect nothing by mere talk with the intelligent people of Uganda. It is the practical Christian tutor, who can teach people how to become Christians, cure their diseases, construct dwellings, understand and exemplify agriculture, and turn his hand to anything like a sailor–this is the man who is wanted. Such an one, if he can be found, would become the saviour of Africa. He must be tied to no church or sect, but profess God and His Son and the moral law, and live a blameless Christian, inspired by liberal principles, charity to all men, and devout faith in Heaven. He must belong to no nation in particular, but the entire white race. Such a man or men, Mtesa, King of Uganda, Usoga, Unyoro, and Karague—a kingdom 360 geographical miles in length by 50 in breadth–invites to repair to him. He has begged me to tell the white men that if they will only come to him he will give them all they want. Now, where is there in all the pagan world a more promising field for a mission than Uganda? Colonel Linant de Bellefonds is my witness that I speak the truth, and I know he will corroborate all I say. The Colonel, though a Frenchman, is a Calvinist, and has become as ardent a well-wisher for the Waganda as I am. Then why further spend needlessly vast sums upon black pagans of Africa who have no example of their own people becoming Christians before them? I speak to the Universities Mission at Zanzibar and to the Free Methodists at Mombasa, to the leading philanthropists, and the pious people of England. Here, gentlemen, is your opportunity–embrace it! The people on the shores of the Niyanza call upon you. Obey your own generous instincts, and listen to them; and I assure you that in one year you will have more converts to Christianity than all other missionaries united can muster. The population of Mtesa’s kingdom is very dense; I estimate the number of his subjects at 2,000,000. You need not fear to spend money upon such a mission, as Mtesa is sole ruler, and will repay its cost tenfold with ivory, coffee, otter-skins of a very fine quality, or even in cattle, for the wealth of this country in all these products is immense. The road here is by the Nile, or via, Zanzibar, Ugogo, and Unyanyembe. The former route, so long as Colonel Gordon governs the countries of the Upper Nile, seems the most feasible.

With all deference I would suggest that the mission should bring to Mtesa as presents, three or four suits of military clothes, decorated freely with gold embroidery; together with half-a-dozen French kepis, a sabre, a brace of pistols, and suitable ammunition; a good fowling-piece and rifle of good quality, for the King is not a barbarian; a cheap dinner-service of Britannia ware, an iron bedstead and counterpanes, a few pieces of cotton print, boots, etc. For trade it should also bring fine blue, black, and grey woollen cloths, a quantity of military buttons, gold braid and cord, silk cord of different colours, as well as binding; linen and sheeting for shirts, fine red blankets and a quantity of red cloth, with a few chairs and tables. The profit arising from the sale of these things would be enormous.

For the mission’s use it should bring with it a supply of hammers, saws, augers, chisels, axes, hatchets, adzes, carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ tools, since the Waganda are apt pupils; iron drills and powder for blasting purposes, trowels, a couple of good-sized anvils, a forge and bellows, an assortment of nails and tacks, a plough, spades, shovels, pickaxes, and a couple of light buggies as specimens, with such other small things as their own common sense would suggest to the men whom I invite. Most desirable would be an assortment of garden seed and grain; also white-lead, linseed-oil, brushes, a few volumes of illustrated journals, gaudy prints, a magic lantern, rockets, and a photographic apparatus. The total cost of the whole equipment need not exceed 5000 [pounds] sterling.
Henry M. Stanley

Works Cited

Johnston, Sir Harry. The Uganda Protectorate. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1902 .

Stanley, Henry M,”Letters of Mr. H. M. Stanley on his Journey to Victoria Nyanza, and Circumnavigation of the Lake,” in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 20. 1875-1876 (134-159).

Jonathan Musere

Earl of Ronaldshay and the 1909 Review of Winston Churchill’s “My African Journey”

October 26, 2014

Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, sometimes addressed as the Earl of Ronaldshay was an author, politician and administrator who would serve in such capacities as Governor of Bengal and President of the Royal Geographical Society. The most significant early review of “My African Journey” (1908) by Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was written by Ronaldshay and published in “Bookman” (Volumes 34-35. January, 1909 page 188-189). The review follows.

Under the appropriate title of “My African Journey,” Mr. Churchill gives us a readable account of the expedition which he made through British East Africa during the latter part of 1907, while still officially connected with the Colonial Office as Under Secretary. The record of his wanderings which he here gives us takes the form of a popular narrative of travel. Facts and figures, as he reminds us in his preface, are already on record in profusion, and–mindful, perhaps, of laborious hours spent in enforced perusal of statistical abstracts and blue-books–he decides to avoid them, a decision for which the reader will doubtless be duly grateful. On two or three occasions only do any figures creep into the narrative, and on one at least of these they would have been better left out, for while we are told at one moment (p. 85) that the Victoria Nyanza is 4,000 ft. above sea level, we are led to infer at the next (p. 129) that its altitude is 3,500 ft. It matters little, however, to the average man whether the height of any particular sheet of water be 3,000 ft. or 5,000 ft.; what he desires is to obtain with as little mental exertion as possible a. vivid picture of lands which he will probably never see, but which constitute a not unimportant part of the British Empire.

In Mr. Churchill’s book the picture is vividly and attractively drawn. Here and there he employs a somewhat extravagant language to describe matters of insignificant detail, as, for instance, when, having presented a dressing gown purchased on the outward journey to a local chief in the Lado Enclave, he tells us that “thus the fabrics of Cathay were by the enterprise of Europe introduced into the heart of Africa”; and now and again the party politician peeps out, as when he describes those who preserve game in England “with so much artificial care, and to the inconvenience of other dwellers in a small island,” as “perverse and unenterprising folk”; but on the whole there is little to criticize and much to praise in the story which he unfolds.

From Mombasa he carries us along the Uganda Railway–“one slender thread of scientific civilization, of order, authority and arrangement, drawn across the primeval chaos of the world”–causing us to alight at intervals to accompany him in pursuit of rhinoceros, lion, or pig, to look on at the wildly gyrating figures of a Kikuyu war dance, or to take part in a discussion of the questions of the day as they present themselves to the white community of the East African Protectorate. “Every white man in Nairobi,” we are told, “is a politician.” A distracting medley of problems “confront the visitor in perplexing disarray,” of which, facile princeps, is that of the white man versus the black, and the brown man versus both. To this thorny question Mr. Churchill attempts to supply an answer. East Africa, he thinks, can never be a white man’s country in the true sense of the word, for proof is wanting that “the pure-bred European can rear his children under the equatorial sun and at an elevation of more than 6,000 ft.” The same doubt is expressed later on with regard to Uganda. Here “every white man seems to feel a sense of indefinable oppression. A cut will not heal; a scratch festers. In the third year of residence even a small wound becomes a running sore…. Whether it be the altitude, or the downward ray of the equatorial sun, or the insects, or some more subtle cause, there seems to be a solemn veto placed upon the white man’s permanent residence in these beautiful abodes.“

In any case the desire of the white man to make East Africa a white man’s country does not bring him into collision with the black aboriginal. The black aboriginal plays an important part in the white man’s scheme, for, whatever Mr. Churchill may have said with regard to a similar question in another part of Africa from his political platform in 1906, he here admits that “the white man absolutely refuses to do black man’s work.“

But the brown man from India is another matter. In all manner of occupations–trading, farming, banking, contracting, engineering, building, accounting–the Asiatic steps in and ousts the European. Here, then, in Equatorial Africa. we find waiting for solution a problem–immeasurably complicated by reason of the fact that the brown man from India is himself a. British subject–which is at the same time perplexing the statesmen of Great Britain in such different parts of the Empire as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The chances of finding a reasonable solution are, however, greater here than in other countries. The immediate course of sound policy, Mr. Churchill thinks, would seem to lie in reserving the highland areas for exploitation at the hands of the white man, while at the same time encouraging the Asiatic to trade and settle in “ the enormous regions of tropical fertility to which he is naturally adapted.”

From Nairobi the railway winds through magnificent scenery to the great lake. At Naivasha we are given a glimpse of a Government stock farm and learn how by judicious crossing the progeny of the native sheep “a hairy animal” is being transformed into “the woolled beast of familiar aspect,” and that of the humped African cattle into a “respectable British shorthorn.”

Beyond the railway lies Uganda. Of its entrancing scenery, its immense productivity, and its attractive people Mr. Churchill writes with undisguised admiration. “The kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale.” In the rich domain between the Victoria and Albert Lakes “an amiable, clothed, polite, and intelligent race dwell together in an organized monarchy.” Everything grows here better than it grows anywhere else–cotton, rubber, hemp, cocoa, coffee, tea, oranges, pineapples. “As for our English garden products, brought in contact with the surface of Uganda they simply give a wild bound of efflorescence or fruition, and break their hearts for joy.” At first sight, indeed, Uganda appears to be paradise upon earth, and it is not until closer acquaintance is made with this fair country that the dark shadows which overhang it become apparent. Nature resents the intrusion of man, and sends forth her armies in the shape of insects to fight him. The dreaded spirillum tick infests the land and takes satanic delight in spreading the poison of a peculiarly painful ‘fever. But far worse than the Spirillum tick is the species of tsetse-fly known as Glossina Palpalis, whose baneful occupation of carrying the germs of “sleeping sickness” from man to man is carried on with hideous success. “In July, 1901, a doctor of the Church Missionary Society hospital at Kampala noticed eight cases of a mysterious disease.” By the middle of 1902 over 30,000 deaths had been reported, and by the end of 1905 the number had reached 200,000 out of a population in the plague-stricken regions “which could not have exceeded 300,000.” The story of the war now being waged against this scourge will provide one of the most interesting alike in the annals of British administration and of medical science.

We have no space to follow Mr. Churchill as he trekked north, passing from the regions of equatorial luxuriance to the two great deserts–“the desert of sudd and the desert of sand”–to emerge finally in the tourist-ridden land of Egypt, traversed by the “comfortable sleeping-cars of the Desert Railway and the pleasant passenger steamers of the Wady Haifa and Assouan reach.” But we note that in spite of his being fully alive to the dark side of the Uganda picture, his first enthusiastic impressions of that country remain uneffaced by subsequent travel. Speeding down the White Nile to the Sudan and Egypt which lie before him, he reverts to his opinion that “the best lies behind. Uganda is the pearl“; and when finally he comes to sum up the conclusions formed as a result of the journey, they are comprised in the words–“Concentrate upon Uganda.” In a concluding chapter the steps which should be taken to develop the immense latent wealth of the country are discussed, and the conclusion arrived at is summed up in the three words–“Build a railway.” The Uganda Railway at present stops short on the threshold of that country: with steam transport linking up the Victoria Nyanza with the Albert Nyanza immense stimulus would be given to enterprise and an incalculable boon conferred upon the country.

Jonathan Musere

Kabaka Mukaabya Mutesa: Bloodthirsty, Renowned, Diplomatic, and Enlightened Buganda Despot

September 24, 2014

Buganda’s most renowned of warrior-kings, Ssuuna (Suna/ Suuna), whom Henry Morton Stanley compared to Shaka of the Zulu (sky) Clan would succumb to small-pox in 1856. Just before his death, he called together the Kingdom-state’s three hereditary senior chiefs and the prime minister and instructed that his eldest son Kajumba be installed as his successor when the moment came. The “Emperor” Ssuuna strongly favored Kajumba whom he likened to himself, and surmised that he would be the appropriate strongman to maintain the prestige and supremacy of Buganda. Kajumba was apparently head and shoulders high above his brethren, he was youthful and violent. However, it is such headstrong tendencies that made Kajumba largely unpopular with the Buganda leaders, the royals, and the local population.

“Kajumba…Suna’s favourite…the war-loving father on his death-bed pointed…with pride to his chiefs the heroic qualities of the prince, reminded…how when a..boy he had slain a buffalo with a club and an elephant with a…spear, and assured them with his latest breath that Kajumba would become more renowned than either lion-like [Kabaka] Kimera or renowned [Kabaka] Nakivingi” (Stanley 1878: 295).

After his father’s death, Kajumba grabbed his heavy spear and massive shield, declared himself Kabaka Ssuuna’s choice and successor, and announced that he would determinedly uphold his father’s dignity to the death. The chiefs gave the order and Kajumba was attacked and tightly bound. “Mild-spoken, large-eyed” Prince Mtesa (Muteesa/ Mutesa), an alternative monarchical prospect regarded as much less violent and much easier to deal with than Kajumba, was instead installed as the new king.

However, soon after the burial rituals to honor the late Ssuuna, soft-spoken Mutesa would reveal himself as the ruthless power-obsessed butcher and disciplinarian, though his harshness would subside over the years of his reign. He struck terror in the population and earned the nickname, “Mukaabya,” (Mukabya) which translates to, “the one who causes to weep,” and by which he was prevalently called.

“He would have no subject…remind him…he owed his sovereignty to him. According to his father’s custom, he butchered all who gave…offence, and…lion in war, Namujulirwa, as also…Katikiro (or prime minister), he…beheaded. …in a passion, he would take his spear…rush to his harem…spear his women, until his thirst for blood was slaked. …Mtesa was of this temper when Speke saw him…continued…until…converted by…Arab Muley bin Salim into a fervid Muslim. After this…became…humane, abstained from…strong native beer which used to fire his blood…renounced…blood-shedding custom of his fathers” (Stanley 1878: 296).

Though he was a slave trader, Muley was regarded as a devout Muslim and teacher of the faith. Mutesa would toy with both Islam and Christianity, he saw the ironies and conflicts in the foreign religions and he never really took them seriously. But he did learn Arabic and he would at length ponder over and debate many philosophical issues.

The Buganda system of governance was a unique and sophisticated system of checks and balances that involved both civil and hereditary leaders that strived to ensure that no group went to extremes or became too powerful. The king married from all the clans in Buganda as a gesture of maintaining familial ties with all the Baganda. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the king did not have absolute powers, but was closely monitored and advised by the senior chiefs and the prime-minister. The king did not have the final say in who would be his successor. A prince who was quite young was usually chosen to be the successor, one who would likely be more easily molded and compliant as he grew and developed into the system of traditionalism. But though the king could be treated as more of a ceremonial figure, he was still capable of enlisting forces to get rid of the ruling elders, and vice-versa. The tradition of killing off princes, during the installation of a new monarch seems to have been in Buganda for centuries, and was designed to minimize royal rebellions and strife for power.

Despite Mutesa’s initial ruthlessness that reflected historical royal practices designed to exact utmost compliance to and reverence for him, Mutesa would become renowned for his enlightenment, his diplomacy, and for embracing monotheistic religions and innovative development in his kingdom. Foreign forces were fast penetrating the kingdom-state, and Mutesa was challenged to deal with traditionalism, the forces of colonialism, the new arms and ammunition, the shifting boundaries of his kingdom, the slavery and the slave trade, amongst a myriad of other issues during his three decades in power. The old order was rapidly changing, the forces of the industrial revolution and the Scramble for Africa had come to the most powerful kingdom state in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Kabaka Mutesa Mukaabya died on October 9, 1884 (10th, according to some sources) and the Buganda Council picked his son Prince Mwanga Mukasa Basammula to be the new king. Coincidentally, Uganda officially gained political independence from England on October 9, 1962.

Works Cited

Stanley, Henry M. Through the Dark Continent. Vol.1. Harper and Sons: New York,1878.

Jonathan Musere

African Names of Children not Born in Typical Ways

May 12, 2011

In many African societies, infants born with defects or atypical features, or those born in ways that are considered strange, are treated as sacred and can be allotted names that relate to supernaturalism. Albinos and those who are crippled are among the ones that fall in this special class. But in the past, most the of atypically born and biologically abnormal babies were traditionally not pleasantly welcomed. The Nandi (of Kenya) situation (Hollis 1969: 68) largely refers to the distanft past.

“Children are buried alive in cow-dung if they cry in…mother’s womb, or if at birth they present…legs first, or are born with teeth…events…considered unlucky. Rich people, however, often pay a medicine man a large sum to avert the misfortune and save their children’s lives. Children…blind or badly deformed , and illegitimate children, i.e. the offspring of unmarried girls, are likewise made away with at birth.”

The Baganda of Uganda traditionally give the name Nnambi ( f ) or Mukasa (m) to one born with two umbilical cords. Nnambi is also traditionally the name of the originating woman, while Mukasa is the name of a highly esteemed God. One who is born alongside a premature and stillborn twin (called mulongo by the royals) is called Nnakimu ‘one.’ In the past, there was superstition based consternation over the birth of such a child, this infant greatly feared. The name Nnakimu is also given to one born with a harelip, and to one who turns out to be the last-born. The names Kiwanuka (m) ‘that which comes down’ and Nnaabawanuka ( f ) ‘the one of those that come down’ are traditionally given to children with noticeable birthmarks. The birthmarks are said to have been effected by Kiwanuka the God of of lightning and thunder, while the child was in the womb. These names are also often given to children born when the mother still often carried the preceding sibling of the newborn. The names Bitalo (m), Nabitalo ( f ), and Magero (m) signify amazement. They tend to be given to children born with anomalous features such as visible teeth, and more or less than the normal number of fingers. Such names are also given to children born to mothers whose ages are considerably advanced, relative to the average ages at which women bear children.


Hollis, A. C. The Nandi: Their Language and Folk-lore. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969.

Musere, Jonathan. African Names and Naming. Los Angeles, CA: Ariko Publications, 2000.

Examining African Proverbs and Proverbial Names

May 12, 2011

Though the subject is inadequately explored, many African personal names are associated with African proverbs. Such names stand for words of wisdom, with respect to such aspects as intelligence, friendship, cooperation, trust and mistrust, thankfulness and unappreciation, humility, giving, ignorance, showiness, boastfulness, jealousy, allegiance, alertness, warning, defense, laziness, speed, hastiness, bravery, cowardice, and patience. The Baganda of Uganda have quite a generous assortment of proverbial names. But though there can be slight variations in the message the namer who allots the proverbial name conveys, there exist standard interpretations for the proverbs and the associated proverbial names. However, there can be more than one interpretation of the proverb, and a proverbial name can be associated with more than one proverb. Also, many of the names that are originally proverbial names have become greatly associated with particular clans and families. In this case, the proverbial name becomes more of a kinship identifier, more than what it means in association with the proverb that it denotes.

The personal name Tamusuza “the one not housing the person” is commonly associated with the proverb, “Atamusuza y’amutenda eggonjebwa” ‘The one not housing (or looking after) the person, praises this person for being meek, kind, and polite.’ It implies that observations are not as praiseworthy as they seem to be, as synonymous with, “Appearances are deceptive.”

In the proverb, “Ebigambo tebyasa (~tibyasa) mutwe, nga tebabyogera ku ggwe” ‘Words will not shatter your head, just as long as they are not spoken of you,’ it is implied that actions and words which appear as trivial to a person they are not directed to, can be significantly hurtful and negatively loaded toward the person the words are directed to. Names associated with this proverb include, Bigambo ‘words, sayings, matters, affairs;’ Tebyasa/Tibyasa ‘words do not shatter’ and Mutwe ‘head.’

In the proverb, “Enkoko eteefe, etuusa mugenyi” ‘The chicken that will not die, would bring fort (or welcomes) a visitor,’ the “chicken” represents the would-be victim. The aphorism is subject to several interpretations. In the instance of expecting or getting visitors, the host refrains from killing the chicken for his own meal consumption, thereby giving the chicken the opportunity to live longer. And, the arrival of a visitor can be beneficial, insofar as, the hosts can then turn their attention to the visitor instead of continuing with an ongoing and counterproductive household argument. Additionally, a child who was about to be severely punished, would likely be spared upon the arrival of a vistor. This would be the result of the joy that follows the visitor’s arrival; and because the host who was about to mete out the punishment does not want to spoil the occasion by punishing his child, there and then. Similar to this foregone interpretation, a wife-beating or spousal conflict that was about to take place or is going to be severe, is often refrained from or dissolved, upon the arrival of a visitor. Personal names associated with this proverb are, Nkoko ‘chicken, hen,’ Teefe ‘the chicken that will not die,’ and Mugenyi ‘visitor.’

The personal name Tebujjadda ‘(lameness) does not come later, in life,’ is commonly associated with the proverb, “Obulema tebujja dda” ‘Lameness does not come later, in life.’ The implication here is that the virtues and vices of a person are displayed early in the person’s life; they do not just show up, later in life, from nowhere. The proverb also conveys the message that the young should always be wary and not to think of themselves as invincibly invulnerable to defects and mishaps that are commonly associated with old age.


Musere, Jonathan. African Names and Naming. Los Angeles, CA: Ariko Publications, 2000

Winston Churchill and Henry Stanley: Who Named Uganda, “The Pearl of Africa”?

November 21, 2010

Ugandans have, for decades, been enamored with the designation “Pearl of Africa,” which conferment on their country is commonly attributed by them to Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. Only some appear to strongly associate the phrase with explorer Henry Morton Stanley. And the Ugandans have reason to be proud of Spencer-Churchill, the universally legendary British adventurer, warlord, writer, traveler,sportsman, orator, artist, literature Nobel prize winner, politician, statesman and prime-minister for generously and exceptionally describing the natural environmental beauty of the then British Protectorate Uganda and her peoples.

In his book “My African Journey” Spencer-Churchill describes Uganda as, “…from end to end a beautiful garden” (1908:88), “…the exuberance of vegetation…scarcely describable” (1908: 151). Spencer-Churchill describes the kingdom of Buganda as, “…a fairy tale..,” one endowed with unique environmental attributes, with a remarkably and unexpectedly vibrant, structured and cordial social and political system nestled out of reach of the outside world (1908: 86-87). Compared to the prevalent literature of that time which tended to describe Africans as savagery, backward, disorganized and in need of guidance and civilizing, Spencer-Churchill’s book that described Africans as very wonderful beings will always be exceptional. On page 197 of the book, Spencer-Churchill simply remarks, “Uganda is the pearl.” I am hard pressed to come across evidence of Churchill writing specifically of Uganda as, “The Pearl of Africa.”

So, was the quotation attributed to Churchill’s slightly altered to help describe Uganda’s uniqueness in Africa, was Churchill merely paraphrasing what others in the past had written and said about Uganda, or have people attributed “Pearl of Africa” to Spencer-Churchill simply because of his outstanding iconic world presence?

Some years ago Jeff Davis Bass a young Rhetoric professor in the Department of Communications Studies professor at Baylor University in Texas assured me that it was Henry Morton Stanley and not Winston Spencer-Churchill that had originally designated the future Uganda area as “the Pearl of Africa.” I was surprised but I believed him. I was more familiar with Churchill’s book than I was with Henry Stanley. Bass’ doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, when he was 26 is, “The Ideological Uses of Myth: the British and Uganda, 1863-1895.” Bass told me that he had wanted to, but it had not been ideal for him to research in Uganda at that time; but that he had greatly relied on archival records that he researched in London. Henry Stanley was born John Rowlands in Wales, then at age 18 migrated to the United States and became employed and befriended by a wealthy New Orleans trader named Stanley. American literature heavily attributes, “Pearl of Africa,” to Henry Stanley.

To begin with, Spencer-Churchill, one of the Spencer aristocratic family was born two months prematurely on November 30th 1874. Morton Stanley was already in Africa. In 1871, Stanley had met with explorer Dr. David Livingstone, “I presume.” Norman D. Harris implies that “Pearl of Africa” may have been coined by more than one person, or by one out of at three major European adventurers.

“Uganda had been visited as early as 1858 by Captain [John Hanning] Speke and [Richard] Burton and again in 1875 by Stanley, all of whom were enthusiastic over the fertility of its soil and the intelligence of its people. They referred to it as the “pearl of Africa… “(Harris 1914: 90).

Frederick John D. Lugard writes, “Stanley was even louder in his praises of Uganda than Speke had been, and described it as the “Pearl of Africa” (1893: 3). Lugard also suggests that the praises Stanley lavished on Uganda that included that quotation greatly influenced the prompt dispatching of Anglican missionaries that Stanley lauded for. The royal office of Queen Victoria authorized the dispatching of the missionaries to the Kabaka Mutesa Mukaabya’s court in Buganda. Notably, the use of gemstone name-words like, “Pearl,” reached their apex in the late Victorian era. The ship that carried missionary David Livingstone from Liverpool to the mouth of the Zambezi river, in 1858, was HMS Pearl.

In 1890, teenager Churchill joined the Harrow Rifle Corps (now known as the Combined Cadet Force) and excelled in English, History, and fencing. there are hints to the coining of, “Pearl of Africa.” In the same year Henry William Little writes of the northern and western Uganda part of  the Anglo-Egyptian colonial province Equatoria under the governance of the Pasha Dr. Mehmet Emin as referred to as, “…’the pearl of the Soudan,’ one of the fairest and most fertile, and most populous, of the Central African States” (Little: 1890). Soudan/ Sudan was a generic designation for “Land of the blacks,” or the areas south of Egypt that were prevalently occupied by Negroids. There were fleeting considerations, by the General Charles Gordon the governing overlord ‘Pasha’ of Egyptian-Sudan, to annex Uganda. A military contingent under Mehmet Emin was dispatched to Mutesa’s capital in 1876. The proposed treaty with Mutesa did not achieve fruition, the political relationship with Gordon ended and Emin’s contingent withdrew. The ‘pearl of the Soudan,” may have partially been a reference to Uganda.

In 1893, Churchill left Harrow Rifle Corps in the hopes of attending the prestigious Royal Military College at Sandhurst. After three attempts, Churchill passed the entrance exam and went into cavalry other than infantry which required of him a higher mathematical acumen. Spencer-Churchill was not fond of mathematics. In December 1894, Winston commendably graduated eighth out of a class of 150. He became commissioned as a Cornet (Second Lieutenant) in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in February 1895. He, later in the year, traveled to Cuba as a war correspondent. He would return home in the same year to bid farewell to his nanny, surrogate mother, and “favorite friend” Mrs. Elizabeth Everest who was close to death. She died a week after Churchill returned. Winston’s birth mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jeanette Jerome), a daughter of an American millionaire, relied on nannies and limited her participation in her two sons’ upbringing. And Winston’s father, Randolph Spencer-Churchill died young at age 45.

In October 1896, Winston Spencer-Churchill was transferred to British India in Bombay (Mumbai); later in 1898 to Egypt. He resigned from the British Army in 1899, intending to get into British politics.

In 1898, Henry Morton Stanley writes.

“Uganda, the pearl of Africa, discovered by Mr. Stanley, snatched by Captain Lugard from the hands of the French, and now in the throes of a mutiny, is the cockpit of Central Africa. Heathens, Protestants, and Catholics are always struggling for mastery. It is the land of romance and of the unexpected. It commands the northern shores of the Victoria Nyanza and the head waters of the Nile” (Stanley 1898: 63-64).

It was in late 1899 or early 1900 that Churchill arrived in South Africa to act as a correspondent regarding the second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics. After capture and imprisonment in a POW camp in Pretoria, Churchill managed to escape 300 miles away to Lourenco Marques in Delgoa Bay. After another series of adventures, Churchill returned to England in 1900.

Meanwhile, published in 1899 is, “…British East Africa, stretching from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria, and having within its borders Uganda, ‘the pearl of Africa,’ discovered by Henry M. Stanley, and now fast developing into a prosperous and modern community, with merchant and war ships aiding its commerce on the lake and railroads connecting it with the ocean and the interior” (School Journal, Volume 59: 1899).

And here is a piece from Samuel Henry Jeyes.

“If Lord Rosebery had certain difficulties to surmount within the Cabinet in regard to Egypt, they were trifling in comparison with the resistance offered to his policy of strengthening British control over Uganda. In June 1892, the directors of the British  East Africa Company announced that they had finally decided to withdraw from a region which the late Sir Henry Stanley described as the pearl of Central Africa, but which had shown no indication of paying, or becoming likely to pay, for the expenses of the administration” (1906: 147).

And Henry Stanley writes.

“There were two main motives for which the British nation voted the money for the construction of the Uganda Railway. The first was the suppression of the slave trade, and the second was to effect an uninterrupted and speedy communication between the sea and what was called the “Pearl of Africa,” and to-day, as the reader of the paper had said, those two objects had been accomplished (1902: 171).

Also, “The Sleeping Sickness has become so serious in the British Protectorate of Uganda, called by Stanley ‘the Pearl of Africa,”‘that the English Government has sent a commission to determine the reasons for the spread of the disease and if possible to find a remedy” (Wheeler and Crane 1903: 426).

Here, Norman Harris refers to the late 19th century. “Uganda had been visited early by Captain Speke and Stanley, both of whom were enthusiastic over the fertility of its soil and the intelligence of its people. They referred to it as the “pearl of Africa” (Harris 1909: 207).

There is a section largely implying Buganda and the Baganda in Chambers’s [sic] Encyclopaedia; Winston Churchill who had already visited Uganda and written on Africa is not mentioned in reference to the “Pearl.”

“Uganda: a British protectorate in East Africa, extending along the north-west shore of the Victoria Nyanza, and lying on both sides of the equator. It was first visited (in 1862) by Speke and Grant, and by Stanley was called the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ The country is partly mountainous, partly undulating, partly a plain, very fertile on the whole, and well wooded. The climate is mild and singularly uniform throughout the year, the variation being from 50° to 90° F. The Waganda, who may number three millions, are a warlike and highly intelligent people speaking a language of the Bantu stock, with well-developed native industries” (1912: 359).

An interesting colonial view of the Buganda at that time is offered by the American Medical Association.

“The Waganda may be said to be the French of Central Africa. They are people with ideas, and they lead the fashions. A race which prides itself on descent from remote white progenitors, the Waganda stand out, by reason of their elaborate system of autocratic government, their laws and customs which control all the affairs of life, even the amount of bare leg permissible at court; their higher civilization, which is shown in their dress, houses and sanitary arrangements—as distinct and separate from the naked savages which surround Uganda, “the Pearl of Central Africa.” The Emperor Mtesa, with his barbaric court on the shores of the Victoria Nyanza, his arrogance and cruelty, his intelligence and eager desire to learn, his vast armies and his huge harem, has been described by Speke and Stanley with such minuteness and brilliancy that his name and character will never be forgotten. The Waganda are extremely intelligent, and the missionaries who followed in Stanley’s steps and established a station at Uganda tell wonderful stories of individual converts who quickly learnt to read the Bible in their native tongue, and to write capital letters, and who even suffered cruel martyrdoms for their faith ; but all who have had anything to do with these people agree that, as a whole, they are crafty, lying, murderous thieves. Both men and women are draped in bark-cloth, and immodesty is a crime ; the dwellings are clean, and each householder is obliged to construct a privy away from the house ; the banana and plantains are the staple articles of food, the savory cooking of which is practiced. The Waganda are very skillful with their fingers, and in the making of shields, spears, and canoes they excel all other African tribes; they are extremely fond of music, and have a number of musical instruments; indeed, so fond are all the African races of music, that, in Sir Samuel Baker’s opinion, a man who plays the cornet, or an organ grinder, could pass unharmed from one end of Africa to the other; and that a missionary to be successful ought to be able to dance a jig and play the bagpipes. Women in Uganda are mere baggage and all wives have their price” (1890).

The “Pearl,” was apparently an interchanging reference to Buganda and British Protectorate Uganda. But yes, Buganda was the nucleus of the activity in the British Protectorate. According to Wyatt Tilby, “Uganda had moved the admiration of Stanley, who called it the pearl of Africa” (1912: 192).

And Burton J. Hendrick writes: “…Uganda, “the pearl of Africa,” the land of romance and adventure, which was discovered by Stanley and saved for England by Captain Lugard, is now one of England’s richest dependencies” (1900: 176).

This is a piece by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. “It is a striking illustration of native manners and customs, and it shows how close are the relations between the missionaries and the government of Uganda, which Mr. Stanley calls the ‘Pearl of Africa’…” (1891: 28)

Certainly, Winston Spencer-Churchill was not the original source of the term, “Pearl of Africa.”  The most credible originator of the term seems to be Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley is apparently associated with the phrase, countless times that it is surprising that Spencer-Churchill gets a lot of the credit. Churchill seems to have learned and incorporated into his writing much of what was documented by Stanley about Uganda. Henry Stanley was a major driving force in the exploration and promotion of Uganda to the outside world. He was the bulldozing soldier and adventurer who endured the hostilities of the jungles.



Works Cited

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Missionary Herald, Volume 87. London: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1891.

American Medical Association. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 15, (1890): 109.

Churchill, Winston S. L. My African Journey. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908.

Harris, Norman D. Intervention and Colonization in Africa. London: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.

Harris, Norman D. “European Expansion and East Africa.” The Forum, Volume 42, (1909).

Jeyes, Samuel Henry. The Earl of Rosebery. London: J. M. Dent, 1906.

Hendrick, Burton J. “Twenty Years of Empire Building in Africa.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly,Volume 51 (1900): 172-176.

Lippincott Publishers. Chambers’s Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge, Volume 10, London: Lippincott, 1912.

Little, Henry William. Henry M. Stanley, His Life, Travels and Explorations. London: Chapman and Hall, 1890.

Lugard, Frederick J. D. The Rise of Our East African Empire: Early Efforts in Nyasaland and Uganda (Volume 2), London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1893.

School Journal, Volume 59, London: E. L. Kellogg and Company. (1899): 709.

Stanley, Henry M. Africa: Its Partition and Its Future. London: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898.

Stanley, Henry M. “A Great African Lake.” National Geographic Magazine, Volume 13 (1902): 171.

Tilby, Wyatt A. Britain in the Tropics, 1527-1910. London: Houghton Mifflin, 1912.

Wheeler, Edward J. and Crane, Frank. “Sleeping Sickness.” Current Opinion no. 34 (1903): 426.

Jonathan Musere