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Monday, November 10, 2014

Preserving the African culture through books


In living up to the notion that a university should be the hub of academic engagements and intellectual exchanges, Makerere University’s Department of Literature on October 31 launched two books written by two of its staff members.

The first, Gender Terrains in African Cinema by Sr Dr Dominica Dipio, explores the field of African cinema; analysing three categories of women (the girl child, the young woman and the elderly woman) and the various roles they play in relation to their male counterparts.
(L-R) Sr. Dr. Dipio, Mr. Tumusiime, Dr. Mushengyezi and Dr. Danyson Kahyana at the launch
 Dr Dipio began interacting with African cinema as a graduate student at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Roma in 1999, and has never looked back. As a woman from a male-dominated society, she was particularly piqued by the treatment of the African woman by the African filmmaker and other African chroniclers.

It is not surprising therefore that in her book, she brings together the intersections between and among film, literature, gender and popular culture. As a specialist in African film studies, cinema overides as she analyses 14 films directed by male African filmmakers; films spanning the 1970s to 2000s from which she draws general conclusions.

One of the conclusions which was drawn by Dr Consolata Kabonesa, who has already read the book, is that the only way to change gender inequalities in our society is for the mother to model her boy children from when they are still boys to grow up loving and respecting the women. “She also looks at the role of the filmmaker as a transformative agent in society,” said Dr Kabonesa.

The second book
The second book, Oral Literature for Children: Rethinking Orality, Literacy, Performance and Documentation Practices by Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, is the first major attempt at capturing hundreds of texts from the Ugandan oral culture for children – folktales, riddles and rhymes – making them available in four Ugandan languages, including English.

Dr Mushengyezi took interest in local folklore when he was still a little boy, entertaining their home guests with folktales, riddles and rhymes that were all cherished for their cultural and educational value. But the advent of modern technologies that brought the internet and social media, and television with its glut of entertainment programmes, have blotted these cultural materials from our traditional psyche.

Yet these cultural materials are still needed for our identity and overall national value. As the author said, you cannot promote tourism, nationalism and patriotism when you neglect your traditional cultures.
Makerere University’s Prof Austin “Mwalimu” Bukenya, in his analysis heaped praise on Dr Mushengyezi’s book and recited a line from a William Wordsworth poem that succinctly captures how he felt on reading the book: “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.” The book made his old heart leap like a young man’s in love.

It reminded him of Rosa, a five-year-old story-telling maestro he fell in love with at the age of four. Bukenya, particularly liked the story in the book about a lazy girl who could not dig and had to call her mother’s ghost to help her. “That is the last story my mother told me before she passed on,” Bukenya revealed, turning to the author, “thank you for bringing back my youth.”

In a veiled swipe at the government, which has chronically belittled the arts in favour of sciences, Bukenya said, “the arts that make us human are not useless.” The guest of honour, James Tumusiime (Managing director, Fountain Publishers) hammered the point further home, “Our own culture and thinking cannot be sacrificed at the altar of science.”

In preserving our cultural expressions, Dr Mushengyezi has given tangible meaning to the words of Ngugi wa Thiongo that “literature is the honey of a nation’s soul, preserved for her children to taste forever, a little at a time.”

Saturday Monitor, Nov. 8, 2014