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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reliving the sweet old days

The story of old men and their habits is like a tale of two cities: one advancing with modernity, the other sticking to its ancient glory.

As you might have observed, there are men who in their mid 70s or so, still wear khaki shorts even on important occasions or never part from their walking sticks and smoke pipes while others are chewing away on Cuban cigars. Others prefer traditional food to modern dishes, not really out of concern for their health but simply because they prefer it that way.

It sets you wondering just why Milton Obote has stuck to what has turned out to be a revolutionary 'UPC hairstyle' or why former finance minister Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi sports the same. Or still, why that old tycoon never let go of his old and haggard looking Volkswagen when he can effortlessly afford the latest Mercedes Benz. Whatever the case, old things evoke fond memories of bygone days and the old school derive a certain satisfaction.

Nkangi says: “When I was young, our parents shaved our hair using blades, which would hurt us. I did not like it and when I grew up I chose not cut my hair off. I do not even remember the last time I cut my hair. Personally, I detest the modern hairstyles.”

Then there was John Barisigira's style. This was a very wealthy and revered elder in Kakore, Kabale district. He owned the largest dairy farm at the time, had numerous pick-up trucks that would transport and supply fresh milk to different dairies around the town. But the real story is that morning to evening, Barisigara sat at the orurembo (front porch of the main house) with hands stretched to rest on each arm of luxurious sofa as he overlooked whatever was happening. When he walked about, he had his walking stick and all his children and dozens of workers would kneel or bow before him with utter respect! He never changed until he, a few years back, went to join the lord.

Ms Sharon Amayo, a psychology student at Makerere University, compares the trend of old men sticking to certain habits to the way early man loved his meat.

"These people look at the sun and mourn for the old values that have gone down the gutters of modernisation. Just like early man loved his meat, they decide that by dressing in old style, driving old cars, and generally behaving the way they do, they hope to relive what they think the world has squashed in its age," she says.

This takes us back to the 2002 MTN Motor Show at the Sheraton Hotel gardens. On display was William Buyama's 1778 cc Volvo that then, he had kept for 36 years and said he intended it to be the last car he would drive.

And when it comes to cars, it is argued that the older, the better. This is why Hajji Musa Kyambade was proud to show off his 36-year-old Peugeot pickup truck at the motor show. Mr Musa Magambo, a retired professor of animal science, still keeps his old Peugeot car.

He says: "It is a special car to me because I bought it when I was doing my postgraduate studies in the Netherlands. I used it and when it was time to return home, I shipped it all the way here. Don't you see that it holds special memories for me? Besides, it is very strong I don't see the reason why I should buy a new one. It is a very unique car."

According to, the originality of old things, say a 1968 Chevrolet El Camino, is more prestigious than the modern Mark II. It goes on to explain why Chipper Adams adores his tired T-Ford, why a man will choose to keep an aged DKW German car of the late '50s even when he spends heavily on its fuel.

And back to Obote, why else do you think Obote's hairstyle is legendary? It is just that in keeping up to their old style, the old folks hold on to their old honour as well as express the spirit of their age as timeless.

When Mzee F.D.R. Gureme sports his shorts, long socks, skin shoes and huge rimmed glasses, his fashion is kind of perceived as that of a thoughtful man who has been there, and uses his style as a way of saying no to the modern obscure developments in morality, fashion and general behaviour.

Again, the quality of old behaviour carries with it a conviction that history cannot be divorced from the present and that it is a coherent whole that not only deserves its own merit but also that old culture is rich and arousing because it incorporates the past, and present to noticeably better the future.

Mr Ezra Rwatamaka, a retired civil servant who spent most of his years serving as a sub-county chief, still keeps an old leopard skin in one corner of his house and a spear in the adjacent corner.

He says: "We killed this leopard on one of our hunting missions. Therefore, it is a sign of great courage. It also reminds me of great rulers such as Kabalega, who were great fighters till they died. I have used this to motivate my sons to become fearless. I also want you, my son, to pick up this courage."

You know old wine tastes better which is why the waltz is still popular just like are bell-bottoms. Old men who don't change have had traditionalism engraved in their blood. Of course, the young generation may perceive them as comic characters, not that they mind as long as they embody whatever was good of old school.

According to Grace Nsubuga, a social psychologists at Makerere University, old men keep certain habits because they want to preserve their old identity. They feel that going with the current trends can easily dilute their beliefs and values.

"Some keep such habits because, they are bound by certain vows. For instance, someone may decide never to shave his beard as a reminder of something that happened years ago," Nsubuga says.

Mr Petero Lugambanengwe stopped eating goat meat to pay homage to his late wife. He says: "I cannot eat goat meat because I want to be reminded of my wife. She loved it so much and the best way to pay respect to her is by not eating it at all."

There are the old chaps who never run out of stories to tell. If you have never stayed close to your grand parents, then you must have missed some of the best tales in life. The old man will narrate endless stories to whoever is willing to give him ears.

It just happens that others do hum – go humming indeed. Old men live in a world of loneliness as everyone goes on with their daily chores. They are left alone with no form of entertainment. Because today's entertainment rarely appeals to them, they have to fall back to their own style as a form of relaxation, which brushes off the scraps of boredom as they reminisce the good old days.

Godwin Muhwezi Bonge contributed to this article. Published in Sunday Monitor, May 22, 2005