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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Lenten journey in the company of Jesus

As Easter draws nearer, staunch Catholics and Anglicans are meekly observing the Lent season, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

F asting began on Ash Wednesday (February 25) – the day a mysterious fire destroyed St. Balikudembe market.

Ash Wednesday is the day the priest draws a sign of the cross on the foreheads of the congregation using sacred ashes to mark the start of the forty days of Lent.

The ashes are attained from burned palm branches of the previous Palm Sunday. During the Ash Wednesday mass, as the priest smudges the foreheads of worshippers, he mumbles, “… you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”.

It’s a ritual that continues to confuse many Christians. But Fr. Joseph Ddungu, the Assistant Chaplain of St. Augustine Chapel Makerere, explains: “When we are receiving ashes, we are reminded that we are dust, which means that we are mortal; we shall die, and as our bodies decompose, our souls will go to meet the Creator. So, we have to think about our behaviour now, turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”

Fr. Ddungu traces the use of ashes from an Old Testament practice whereby people would smear themselves with ashes and wear sackcloth to show how repentant they were.

“But for us in the Christian tradition, we don’t wear sackcloth but we just use ash as a mark to begin the forty-day period of fasting, intensive prayer, giving alms to help the needy and self-denial to show our repentance and to ask for forgiveness from the Lord.”

Genesis 7 tells the story of Noah’s ark and how the flood poured for forty days and nights, whereas in Mark 4: 1-13, Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil; and all this time, it is written, he ate nothing.

Exodus 24: 18 is about Moses spending f40 days and nights on the mountain before receiving the Ten Commandments, while Elijah in 1 Kings 19: 8 spends 40 days and nights preparing to encounter God.

Fr. Ddungu makes these biblical allusions and challenges believers to deny themselves, take the Lenten journey in the company of Jesus Christ, “…and when we come out of Lent, hopefully we will be renewed and transformed, and carry on with this transformation.”

In the old days, people were expected to fast all the 40 days, starting with Ash Wednesday, but today, says Fr. Ddungu, “The practice is you are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday if you are not a minor or old.

That means skipping at least one full meal, but the rest of the days are up to the individual; you find people who fast every Friday, or every day of the Lent season.”

He however adds, “Apart from fasting on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, you are also expected not to eat meat every Friday of Lent because meat is one of the things we like most, so we give up something that we like most as a sacrifice. But some people carry it on by not eating meat every Friday.”

He’s not sure why the ash is applied onto the forehead but relates it to Catholics beginning their prayers by making the sign of the cross from on foreheads – the most visible part.

For those who think it’s a great sin to wash away the ash as soon as you are out of church, and for those who avoid the ash on Ash Wednesday, Fr. Ddungu allays your fears thus: “It’s an outward sign that helps us but you commit no sin if you don’t receive ashes or if you wash it away after the service.”

As it is, people have mixed reactions about Ash Wednesday. While Stella Nakalanzi, a Makerere University student, celebrates it every year and repents and turns to God completely throughout the Lent season, for born-again Christian Richard Tumukunde, Ash Wednesday and Lent mean nothing.

“Everyday is supposed to be lived in obedience to God, so I don’t have to wait for Ash Wednesday or the Lent season to repent,” he says. “What matters to me is having an every-day personal relationship with God and running to Him for forgiveness anytime I stray.”

“I’ve observed Lent for almost 10 years without going to church to get the ash onto my forehead,” says David Gumisiriza. “This season I’m trying to discover my innermost self – what is it that makes me live life meaningfully? I’ve discovered it’s not the pursuit of money or fame, but working to make things better and contribute to society.”

Just so you know, the Church of Uganda celebrates Ash Wednesday to usher in Lent with equal fervour like the Roman Catholics, because, as Rev. Hillary Jaffu, the Assistant Missionary Chaplain St. Francis Chapel Makerere says, “There is a very theological significance in putting the blessed ash on the forehead – it shows remorse for our past sins and is a symbol of our repentance.”

Besides observing Lent traditionally, St. Francis Chapel has also asked its members to read at least one chapter of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life – a move aimed at making Lent meaningful to the congregation as they seek to understand their purpose on earth.

So, the Lent period will lead to Palm Sunday – the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, up to Easter on Sunday, April 12. The question is are you using this period to have a special time with God?

--Sunday Monitor, March 29, 2009.

Painting women is his speciality

In the world of Ugandan painter, Yusuf Ssali, the woman is everything, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s the first impression I got on finding paintings of all kinds of women colouring the walls of his studio in Nakulabye.

“Many have told me I’m obsessed with women,” he admits with a smile. “It’s true I like painting women. The beauty, tenderness and loveliness of women; their expressions, the stories they tell and the activities they do – these are things from which I draw most of my inspiration as an artist.”

“At the university, most of my academic projects were on women, so I could draw them half-naked or nude,” he says, adding quickly however, that he’s no pervert. True to his word, no painting of his, at least on display, has the temperament or look of someone that evokes immoral thoughts.

I got the feeling that the tricky but very bright decorations in most of his paintings do help in some way to enhance the action therein: a child on the back, women in motion, laughing or dancing, all fall in between realism and abstract, creating some suspense.

It’s achievable, says Ssali, because he has learned much from participating in international joint exhibitions in Los Angeles, Brussels, Netherlands, France, Tanzania, and Kenya, as well at Nommo Gallery.

He also confesses to spending a bulk of his time studying human anatomy, saying it’s mandatory for any artist dealing in figures: “You have to know how the bones move, and if someone turns a certain way, how the body reacts. ”

Ssali’s journey as an artist began taking shape in secondary school, where he took to art eagerly, and in his long vacation, started earning from it by designing signposts and wall-painting.

He pursued it further at Makerere University, where, he says he became the first student to hold an exhibition. For his pains, he got a commission from Coca-cola for a painting entitled Uganda, which he says sold at Shs15.4m. That was in 2005.

During the Independence Day exhibition at Nommo Gallery last year, Ssali’s painting was, about the irony and absurdity of commemorating independence when in actual sense, according to the artist, we have never fully become free.

The painting shows two cocks: white and black; the former which represents the colonial master is free, and the black cock which symbolises Africa, has its beak padlocked.

Ssali’s most famous painting however, is called Ancient Period, about the customs and traditions of the Buganda Kingdom. It shows tongues of fire, a spear, and a face of a woman decorated with collage on bark cloth.

“Although Ssali has not yet painted the Ugandan equivalent of the Mona Lisa by Italian Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, he works on, believing thus: “One day someone will come and say, ‘I’ve been missing this kind of art in Uganda and I’m glad I’ve found it!’

--Sunday Monitor, March 29, 2009

The apostle and prince of love

Apostle, love doctor, musician, television presenter, and husband are the different facets that make up Marvin Trinity Kamoga, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

Apostle, love doctor, musician, television presenter, motivational speaker and husband are the different facets that make up Marvin Trinity Kamoga. Earning most of his living from what born-again Christians perceive as secular activities has generated rumours about his true self.

In the entertainment circles, he goes by Prince Luv, a name given to him in 2006 by one of his female fans from Makerere University where he was a presenter at Campus FM 107.

“This Jackie girl from Africa Hall said I was Prince Luv because of the passionate love songs I used to play on my radio show, Oasis of Love,” says Kamoga. “I became the Campus FM love doctor because many campus girls used to seek my advice on love matters.”

Prince Luv soon left to join Record TV to host Super Girl, a music talent search show, and later Best of Uganda with Patrico Mujuuka. Today, he presents Golden Voice, a gospel music talent search show at the same station.

Besides his radio and television stints, Prince Luv is a singer. He started singing in church in 1996, three years after he got saved. But it was 10 years later that he released his first album, It’s Yo Luv.

For him it has always been about love. Even his 2009 six-track album is about love. In the title track, Njakukyatula, he sings about falling in love so deeply that he can hardly eat, sleep, or think clearly.

The video of the song, which is enjoying ample airplay on Record TV, shows him with two ladies, one of whom is the object of his desire. She’s the voluptuous girl in tight pink pants, and the two “lovebirds” are seen hugging cozily.

Njakukyatula is a laidback passionately sang song; a melody easy on the ear. Unlike other songs on the album, it defines Kamoga as a gifted singer, except that it may not amuse those who know him as an apostle with Perfect Love & Holy Ghost Fire International Ministries, the Ugandan version of Perfect Love World Revival Ministries of Bishop Mike Shaw of the United States. But he won’t beat himself up for what people think.

“I totally disagree with believers or pastors who say it’s wrong for a born-again to sing a love song; it’s totally being conservative because we also fall in love while at Church though we try to do it the right way,” says Prince Luv. “Singing a love song is good and appreciated provided you keep your character upright.”

Keeping his character right is not what many might think when they try to marry his gregariousness and flamboyancy –the fancy attires, sunglasses, the accent, and his pinned ears.

But this, says Prince Luv, is how he likes it, adding quickly: “My main thing though, is using the gifts God has blessed me with to help the youth taste the goodness of Jesus Christ, who is my only influence and Master.”

How does he ward off attention from the girls, if any?
“Trinity is married to Hannah Faith Kamoga and a father to Mc’Clurkin Trinity Kamoga,” he says. “I love my family so much that I always make it hard for intruders.”

He has his eyes set on becoming a more successful man of God, attaining international recognition as a musician and actor, but above all, giving his son a great future.

--Sunday Monitor, March 22, 2009

She’s a children’s writer


Sarah Mirembe Kyankya is an editor in charge of the children department at Fountain Publishers. She has written 21 published children’s’ books and Bible stories. Some of her books include How the Eagle and Tortoise Became Enemies and The Hare and the Leopard, among others.

How long have you been writing for children?
It is about three years, since I started writing for children. I have written for the thematic curriculum and most of my books are taught in lower primary. I have also adapted some Bible stories for children such as Cain and Abel and David and Goliath.

Was your childhood dream to become a children’s’ writer?
As a child , I was very interested in reading stories and I enjoyed listening to stories being told to us. So I thought I would put this knowledge into books.

What is the secret to writing children’s’ stories?
You have to make it simple and interesting then you can read it aloud to make sure that it makes sense.
You can also pre-test it by reading to the children you are writing for. From their reactions, it would help you know if you have what they want.

Where are you from, and which schools did you attend?
I was born in Iganga, married in Jinja, and live in Bwoyogerere. I attended Namasagali College from Senior one- to senior six, then joined Makerere University where I studied Mass Communication.

What do you do in your free time?
I sit down with my children and look through pictures in books. We read to each other and play together.

What advice do you have for children?
They should read a lot because reading helps them improve their grammar skills.

--Sunday Monitor, March 22, 2009

Advocating for girl child education through art


Deserve the best is the title of a painting by Ugandan artist Yusuf Ssali. Two women have just given birth and several others have come to celebrate. The painting, which is on display among others in the ongoing women’s exhibition at Nommo Gallery, vividly captures the role of women in the continuity of the life circle.

The exhibition opened on Saturday under the theme, “Developing creative skills through girl-child education.” It was organised to celebrate Women’s Day through visual and artistic impressions. Incidentally, it’s the first time in the 13 years this annual exhibition has been running, that male artists have been allowed to exhibit.

“Originally, we were exhibiting only women but later on we found that men are also gender sensitive and therefore they should also be given a chance to give out their views through art on such exhibitions,” said Nommo Gallery manager, Jacqueline Ampaire.

A smart move it was, because the male exhibitors, with a clear grasp of the importance of this day to the Ugandan woman, brought in original works that ideally present women as deserving adoration, love, affection, or as Yusuf aptly put it, “the very best.”

Titled, I can handle, Juma Lutalo’s semi-abstract piece for example shows a woman with one eye closed and the other open “meaning that even when ladies are kept backward, they still have the insight and patience to handle most of all the family problems.” Lutalo plays a bit with colour patterns – mixing blue, yellow and red to depict the coolness of ladies; yellow to mean they are bright, and red to mean they also have blood like other human beings and should be treated as their male counterparts.”

But not all the displayed creations by male artists are on women. Henk Jonker, a Dutch artist who has lived here long enough to (artistically) comment on our city life, couldn’t miss out.

“Street life makes beautiful painting,” he said of his work, which shows the old park, complete with the boda-bodas, the buildings, billboards and generally the busy activity there. “Old Kampala the way it used to be in 1994 is kind of disappearing and this (the painting) is going to live forever, so I made the painting of the old city to preserve it,” said Henk. “10 years from now some people can refer to my work.”

To live up to the theme of the exhibition, the organisers worked with three schools: Greenhill Academy, Mengo SSS and St. Lawrence Creamland, from which five girls each were picked to show off their dexterity with the painter’s brush. The results are not far from amazing.

From Greenhill, Alison Nadunga’s creation titled “Standing firm”, is a striking painting of a lady carrying a bundle of firewood, a baby on her back, books, and a pencil in one hand.

“I wanted to intermarry culture, hard work and education because we can’t say girl education is about books only,” said the 18-year-old artist.

--Sunday Monitor, March 22, 2009

‘Lets read for Uganda’


For a long time, Uganda has been suffering from a painful disease called ‘poor reading culture.’

The complete cure of this disease has not been found yet but at least many are doing everything to contain it.
Taibah Junior School on Entebbe road, for example takes reading as a very important part of anyone’s life and has committed to buying new local and other reading materials for its pupils every term.

According to its deputy head teacher, Mr Umar Kasasa, the school has a reading festival every end of the term in which half the day is dedicated to reading competitions between classes and listening to recorded readings.

“On the time table we also have three hours of individual quiet reading every week that we call Eric (Everybody reads in class),” says Umar. “We also reward whoever is caught rewarding at school.’”

This is why on Wednesday, March 11, it became the first school in Kampala to benefit from a new programme by Fountain Publishers code-named ‘Let’s Read.’

The programme is intended for children in Ugandan primary schools - to inspire them to read stories for personal enjoyment. It’s being done by moving with local celebrities, artists, and prominent personalities such as kings and queens who talk to, read with and encourage children to love the culture of reading.

It explains why celebrated radio and television newsreader Francis Bbale and Ugandan childrens’ author Sarah Mirembe Kyankya held reading sessions with pupils of Taibah who then shared about their love of reading.

Tracy Rubondo of P5 read to her class from Lule the Lazy Boy by Janet Mdoe and said she finds reading entertaining and very instructive.

The children carried their own books ranging from titles like The Pit by Reginald Maddock to Mwambu and the Monster by Emmanuel Kamuli and The Art of War for Executives by Donald G. Krause, among others.

“Some of these children have made reading a passion already, and this school alone I’ve seen about three-five kids that really amaze you –they just love books like no body’s business,” said an impressed Mr Bbale. “It’s good to develop this reading culture at primary level –that way it becomes part of the person.”

Ten childrens’ books from the Once Upon a Time series –a collection of interesting folktales from eastern Africa, were donated to the school.

“The aim is inspire kids to read hoping that in the long run it will have a very significant impact as far as reading culture in Uganda is concerned,” said organiser Yusuf Kajura.

--Daily Monitor, Monday, March 16, 2009

Art provokes emotion at Makerere


The guests moved about admiring the works of art in different ways. They smiled, they whispered, they nodded, with some staring long and silently. It was the deep language of art provoking varied emotions during the grand opening of the month-long exhibition at the Makerere University Art Gallery on Friday.

Entitled Different But One, this annual exhibition has been running for 13 years in a row. It started in 1996 when a visiting Israeli artist, Rivka Uziel, who was giving voluntary lectures at Makerere University School of Industrial and Fine Arts, fell in love with the “beautiful art gallery” there.

“I thought of doing something with the lecturers but they said it was very difficult; that artists don’t work together. And I said let’s try,” says Rivka.

Thus Different But One was seen as the best sticker that captures the idea of different lecturers coming together to showcase their works in a joint exhibition. Rivka says the first exhibition had only 15 contributors whose enthusiasm inspired her to retain the idea and take it to a higher level. And for 13 years, she’s been coming to curate this exhibition.

The exhibitors write about their works, and that information is contained in a colourful catalogue which is distributed in different art libraries and museums. This year’s theme is Personal Choice, inspired by the maturity the exhibition has attained over the years.

“It takes maturity and balanced judgement on the part of the artist to make a personal choice about his or her chosen work for the exhibition,” says Rivka. “It’s a tough choice because artists love all their works in the same way parents love all their children.”

The artists cleaned and painted the gallery before they hang up their pieces. Nowhere else is such exhibition by a group of art lecturers known. As the dean, Dr George Kyeyune said, the exhibition is now firmly entrenched in the consciousness of the shool and encourages artists to “think and continue on this right path.”

On display are 23 paintings and sculptures; a variety of forms and designs in as many colours and on many topics all by fine art lecturers who are not in competition with one another, as the Dean said, but “complement each other.”

Looking at the richness and general quality of the work, one dares to say the exhibitors are the cream of artists in Uganda. They included Dr Kyeyune himself with his painting of Daily Life inspired by the din of peri-urban life and “the sprawl of market activities” where “everything looks chaotic yet life goes on.”

Even Dr Lillian Nabulime, famed for wood and metal sculptures that capture gender inequalities and the plight of women living with HIV/Aids in developing countries, is exhibiting. And so is Rivka Uziel. In her small landscape pieces called Colourful Music, she marries the elements of music and colour by creating cheerful paintings that capture “the sound of music” and effectively reveal her passion for colour, form and music.

“Music you can’t touch but you can listen,” she says, “and in my works, I translate the music to paintings - my way of expression, my feelings for my work - they are like music, like dancing. And I love colours. I think that colours are the kind of language the artist has to know very well and use for his own purpose.”

In searching for “a new voice” and to echo the theme of the exhibition, Margaret Nagawa’s three paintings are aptly titled My Choice. “I seek to operate within,” she writes in the catalogue, “yet outside boundaries and expectations both of the physical canvas space and society.”

Her works show how much her style has changed, and Gen. Elly Tumwine, who has been attending the exhibition since it started, was impressed. “She (Nagawa) never used to paint some nets on the canvas,” he said. “That’s why I like coming here because every time you see something different: styles, techniques and new ideas; and I get inspired to do even better.”

Nagawa, like the other exhibitors, are showcasing works they feel; their own art, which has influenced many including Rivka, who confesses she’s inspired by the “immense talent of Ugandan artists and work that depicts African life and culture.” It’s the originality of the lecturers and passion that their art, which is imbued with calculated messages, generates conversation between the audience and the works.

In his opening remarks, the Makerere University vice chancellor, Livingstone Lubobi, commended the exhibition because it keeps “bringing out new ideas and I think that’s the spirit of progress”, although he also admitted he doesn’t understand most of the work. It’s understandable.

Many people find art very enigmatic and difficult to comprehend, the reason being they don’t take their time to look at the works keenly, according to Dr Nabulime.

But the view of Sigal Uziel-Karl, the guest of honour and daughter of Rivka, is that you don’t have to understand what the artist means. “You should find in every piece your own self,” she says. “Some of them will move you because you have experienced similar things or you like the colours. But you don’t have to get into the head of the artist.”

Overall, the 13th edition of Different But One, which ends March 20, is unique because the artists were given all the freedom to choose their medium of expression, the materials, and topics.

And so these works are deeply personal and we are given an opportunity to peer into the lives of 23 very learned exhibitors to determine the state of art in Uganda.

--Sunday Monitor, March 1, 2009

Ugandan writer short-listed for an African literary award


After a somewhat long spell, Ugandan writing is back in the limelight, thanks to Beatrice Lamwaka who has been short-listed for the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award.

This award replaces the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award which was formerly exclusive to South African writers until it was opened in September last year to all Africans - to encourage new creative writing on the continent by offering gifted writers “an exciting opportunity to develop or launch a literary career.”

The interested creative writers had to submit original, previously unpublished, English-language short stories of between 2500 and 5000 words. 827 did, and among them was our Lamwaka with her story The Star In My Camp. Little did she know that this true life narrative of a 10-year-old girl, who is defiled by her uncle believed to be sick with HIV/Aids, would sail through.

Well, when the final list was recently announced by the South African Centre of International PEN (SA PEN), Lamwaka was thrilled but not surprised. “I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to win a literary award,” she says assuredly.

What makes her so sure The Star In My Camp will win when the results are announced in May this year?

“Because I wrote a story I know; it’s a story I feel strongly about; I made sure it was professionally written - no typos, and it’s a very powerful story written from the heart,” she says.

After a pensive moment, she adds slowly but firmly, “But even if I don’t win this, Macmillan (Writers’ Prize for Africa) and the Caine (Prize for African Writing) are coming, and surely I’ll scoop something.”

For someone whose love of books dates from her early formative years when she would “nip books from friends, read quickly and return them before they even realised,” to the now firm writer who started a book club “to analyse African books and critique our own works”, you cannot fault her determination.

But why is she interested in winning an award; isn’t writing enough as is been said to satisfy the natural writer?

“You see, winning a literary award takes you places,” she says eagerly, citing such names like Monica Arac de Nyeko, Glaydah Namukasa and Doreen Baingana among others, as people who have gained local and international recognition because of the prestigious literary awards they have bagged.

And so Lamwaka hopes The Star In My Camp will be her good omen. But this is not to say she’s blind to the stiff competition from 33 other stories that were chosen alongside hers by the PEN Editorial Board. Her story, like others, has to face the sharp scrutiny of Nobel laureate J.M Coetzee, who is currently judging the short-listed stories and will choose the winners of the first (£5,000), second (£3,000) and third (£2,000) prizes, which will be given by John Studzinski. Interestingly, Coestzee is Lamwaka’s role model. She talks fondly of his literary works, particularly Disgrace, which won the South African novelist his second Booker Prize in 1999.

It’s at this time that Lamwaka’s fans run their hands together and gleefully hope that she learned something from these works with which to impress her hero and judge. But should she miss out on the grand prize, she will still be consoled by the fact that her story, like all the finalists’ stories, will be included in an anthology of new writing from Africa to be published later this year.

Lamwaka, who is a professional teacher of Literature and English Language Studies but quit to concentrate on writing and research, is the author of Anena’s Victory (2008), one of the Fountain Junior Living Youth Series. A couple of her short stories and poems have been published in different anthologies.

Her most popular short stories are Vengeance of the Gods in Words From A Granary (2001) – an anthology of short stories by Ugandan Women Writers. It is a story of a jealous woman who bewitches her co-wife and is in the end lynched to death; while Queen of Tobacco is a story of a woman whose tobacco addiction plunges her into dark trouble with rebels.

Lamwaka, who hails from Gulu District, is generally known for straightforwardness and relying on the tensions of displacement, culture, and the futility of life to produce very sensitive short stories.

She is a member of Femrite – the Uganda Female Writers Association, for which she’s grateful, and the British Council Crossing Boarders writing programme for helping her find the focus and rhythm of her writing because “if I had not had the chance I wouldn’t be the writer that I am today; the writer that you sought to interview”.

If Lamwaka wins the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award, it will be a wake-up call to the Ugandan male writers who have not won a literary award in a long while. It will also stir others from their laurels because they will realise that creative writing actually pays.

--Sunday Monitor, February 22, 2009