My First #KoikoiUG Trip Experience – North East, Not What I’d Envisioned!

My friends like to use the phrase “you don’t just wake up…” when beginning a sentence to explain that there are some things you just can’t expect fwaa. So hey, you don’t just wake up and think that you’re going to sign up for a Koikoi trip to relax and or de-stress (if the word exists). My friend, you’re going to a real adventure that will make you collect all your muscle and mental energy for the hikes, climbs, swims, tiring laughter and photo taking stunts. People take pictures while on their knees, or lying on the ground sometimes; ask Joel Jemba. And in all honesty, I can’t think of a better way for anyone to spend their money after a long and hard couple of months slaving away at their jobs. But this not why I am here. Okay, only partly why.

Joel Jemba going extra | Photo by Karen Diamond

I am now telling my story, and for the longest time, I had no real idea on how to start. I just knew that I needed a big release; I was almost overwhelmed when I got off that bus at Shell Kira Road.

One time, Kafundakreatives tweeted and asked people for what their top Ugandan destinations would be, and I personally remember mentioning that Karamoja was mine. Nowhere in particular, but Karamoja as a region was just a place I wanted to visit again, as the last time I did, I was on a work assignment in Moroto and had had no real extra time to marvel. I described it as “Karamoja and its people are art itself!” it was amazing to see how the town was growing but yet the people continue to hold their culture dearly. They walk the newly paved streets and smooth tarmac town roads dressed in Nakatukoks (the skirts with pleats worn by the Karamojong women and girls) and their shukas, just going on about their daily routine. It is a blend of urban and local so beautifully woven! I had to go back; and thanks to Koikoi, a trip was scheduled on the Easter holiday to the North East, especially to Kidepo Valley National Park and the community!

In Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda – Shot by Mu

 

Almost 800km and or 12 hours later, we were at Kidepo on Friday night. While there, we lived at the Uganda Wildlife Authority Campsite in huts that we were told, are called Bandas. The campsite is literally somewhere in the middle of the park because we were hanging out with warthogs and Jackals on our doorsteps like they were domestic animals; and if you went out a little further beyond the bandas to catch the sunrise, you would be able to see a couple of Buffaloes in the distance grazing away, or a Kob catching and bathing the warm and smooth morning sun. Speaking of suns; the sunrises and sunsets at Kidepo were specially designed to take you on a journey of thought to the ambitious dreams you had since shut down in your treasure chest lest they were stolen; they’d make you fall in love with whatever melted your butter. It was the place to shoot your shot. No matter if it was a person or a picture, you’d just…shot.

Sunset at Kidepo. Photo by Karen Diamond

Day one found us having a rather “bourgie” Rolex from the campsite kitchen for breakfast, and a few of us checking out the observatory on a very raised platform with huge binoculars from which you could be able to view some animals at a distance. We would be doing the game drive later that evening, but first, we were off to experience the local Karamojong community and join in dancing to the different K’jong dances. They live in nicely organized huts; so neat! The guides shared a few daily experiences with us in words. It really is a rich culture! The dancing later was ecstatic; no one can pass a “jump-dance” haha (because all you have to do is jump real high, higher than your “contender” to win your bride). Even if you weren’t selected to dance, you fell in on it too, because who said there are rules to adventure? Absolutely no one!

Karamojong dance in commencement. Photo by Karen Diamond

The game drive later that evening would be everybody’s highlight. The trip’s highlight; because it already was, to begin with. We set out to hopefully see Africa’s Big Five that include the Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Cape Buffalo; and with the help of the guide, we managed to see Giraffes, Zebras (my favorites), Cape Buffaloes, Crocodiles, Antelopes, Kobs, and… wait for it… Lions! I guess if we hadn’t seen the Lions, we were never leaving Kidepo until they were delivered to us hahaha. Seriously though, that majestic pair of the Lion and Lioness just pretty much summed up Kidepo for most of us. The guide mentioned that if you saw a number of vultures on a tree, then the lions were close by. True to his word, Mr. and Mrs. (Smith) were catching a siesta under a shrub shed so peacefully, but we managed to wake them with the sound of the bus close enough to be able to marvel at their glory, and far enough to be able to be out of sight in a minute if the worst happened. Lol. The game drive was concluded under an orange sunset in the horizon, that every photographer on board captured, beyond the Zebras that leisurely just crossed the dirt path (we called it the original Zebra crossing).

Mr. and Mrs. Smith. King and Queen. Shot by Mu 

Sunday had us back on the road from Kidepo to Aruu falls in Pader, 4 or 5 kilometers from the Gulu – Kitgum highway. Now. I thought I’d had enough at Kidepo. Boy, was I wrong! No one prepared my feelings for this adventure. Aruu falls is a gem in Pader district that every Ugandan needs to visit at least once in their life. It’s a shame that the falls are rarely visited, I came to learn! I mean, just the sight of the water cascading and gushing down those steps of rocks is therapeutic as much as it’s thrilling, unbelievable, and unforgettable. Especially in the dry season when the water intensity is low, and you’re able to hike down to the bottom of the falls, swim in the little pool created at the bottom, and then climb the rock steps right into the falls and have the biggest shower of your life. No one will prepare you for that. The falls are somewhat divided by some kind of vegetation, and one has to cross over rushing streams over slippery rock to see the other side that was almost magical. Less water rushing down the rock steps (due to the dry season – makes it more beautiful and almost unreal), a calmer pool at the bottom, pouring further down ahead to smaller pools made between rocks. Very picturesque.

 

 

The side of Aruu Falls that almost everybody missed, Photo with Galaxy S5

I can guarantee you that, you will not get this in the rainy season because you will not be able to get close lest you’re washed away, but you might just peek at the mighty roar that the falls become when in their “full function!” Aruu was IT for me. I will be back; not once, not twice. And I will suggest it to everyone!

My bones could not carry me after Aruu, but we had to see more culture in Gulu town, so we went off to the cultural centre. Dance, story, dance, blessings from the elder and more dance! Who said I was tired? I killed it out there on the Larakaraka like I was one of them. Easy-peasy. I was not letting a moment pass me by. No. I did not go 800km for nothing. At 2200 hours, I could not believe my bones, but the night life was not going to experience itself. We were out again, to BJs. I don’t dance, but I play foosball and I can knock your teeth out if you try to go against me. And I did. All those men, I just knocked them out like I’m the national champion. Foosball is my sport. If there are real competitions somewhere in town, let me know. Thank you.

Day 3, Monday took us on a short visit to the smallest Catholic church in Gulu town, St. Joseph’s Cathedral for some of the most beautiful portraits on the trip, a stop at Fort P’atiko of the heart-wrenching slavery tales and lastly lunch, that was giving us our fill to last us the rest of the hours to Kampala. I can’t exhaust my experience enough, but one thing is for sure; you have known nothing yet until you see it.

The smallest Catholic church in Gulu, St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Photo by Diamond Karen

“#KoikoiNE was nothing short of spectacular,” I said to my friend on arrival, over text. “And I would undoubtedly do this again.”

 

About the Author

The first thing Karen Ihimbazwe likes to say is that she loves God. She is glad to write her heart and mind because she doesn’t speak much. She loves to hug the whole world, eat rice and beans, and is a firm believer in Teetotalism.

Ghost Tales | Abasezzi

Mythical creatures and ghosts are probably a part of many more childhoods than adulthood. Nonetheless, we have all heard, and at best experienced them.
In Uganda, it’s probably the famous Bukalabanda or perhaps the Basezzi commonly referred to as night-dancers. Whatever your encounter with Mystical creatures, you have one! Let’s explore some of these stories here.
Buckle up! These stories have made grown men wet their pants.

Abasezzi;

“I come from central Uganda, Buganda in particular and those that hail from the same are no strangers to the fantasy or reality of Abasezzi, the night-dancers, not crawlers, these guys actually dance around at night.

The most fascinating technicality to their dance is the that they do this stack-naked, Adam’s suit. Oh! And often in graveyards. Which is where they’re said to take their next meal from. Aren’t we glad they’re not killing and eating? hehehe…at least they’re only taking the dead. Still, these guys are said to be cannibals. Truth be told, many villagers have found their loved ones’ recently dug graves turned inside out only days after their funerals” Joanne Nvannungi narrates.

These night-dancers are thought to be demon-possessed, or as my people say “balina ekitambo” (they’re under a spell). In their element, they appear taller than usual, very swift & posses charms and powers.The demon that possesses these abasezzi is said to be contagious, and can possess another person especially if you in the vicinity.

“I first came to hear about the basezzi when I was 6 years old, visiting my grandparents deep down in Bukomansibi (now a district, yaaay), then a part of Masaka district. Yoh, the stories left you numb & a tad curious, but you know we are not cats, we only got one life.
If you think I’m lying, wait out by the banana plantation in the night & maybe you’ll hear the rustling of dried banana fiber. Next you’ll see the fire. When they clap their hands, fire comes out. And then they’ll merge, dark shapes of naked grown-a** men & women. Yoh! And if you stick around and let them touch you, you’ll become one of them. You’ll catch ekitambo! By the way, you can’t outrun them. They’ll catch you and maybe even just appear in front of you as you scatter.” She added.

Do you have any basezzi tales? Share with us.

Ghost Tales | Obukalabanda

Mythical creatures and ghosts are probably a part of many more childhoods than adulthood. Nonetheless, we have all heard, and at best experienced them.  In Uganda, it’s probably the famous Bukalabanda or perhaps the Basezzi commonly referred to as night-dancers. Whatever your encounter with Mystical creatures, you have one! Let’s explore some of these stories here.
Buckle up!These stories have made grown men wet their pants.

 

Bukalabanda;
“Kaka-kaka-kaka-kakalabanda . . . Kaka-kaka-kaka-kalabanda…”
That is the sound you will hear shortly after the lights go out.
Students who attended boarding school, especially the ‘traditional’ ones, are no strangers to the tale of the Kakalabanda. A ghost that visits students’ dormitories in the dead of night, to ‘put in line’ students who were naughty or disrespectful or in some circles students who had a distinct spiritual attachment.

At the peak of the night, 3 am to be exact, many of these ghosts surface and walk among the living; attacking, disturbing and oppressing them.
Intense winds, rustling, and falling leaves rattling on the dormitory roofs and the clack of bones like sounds against the floor was the signal to shut your eyes tight and not peek. You then started to pray that you weren’t the target of the Kakalabanda that night.

“The clacking sound made by the Obukalabanda as they walked the halls of dormitories are similar to the sound made by famous shoes in the 1880’s called Kalabanda, hence the name. – Kakalabanda”Bukalanda are said to attack certain schools, apparently schools on the hills are said to be prime. Hills for generations and in different locations seem to be the best gathering places for spirits and ghosts.

Bukalanda are said to attack certain schools, apparently, schools on the hills are said to be prime. Hills for generations and in different locations seem to be the best gathering places for spirits and ghosts.

However, this led some people to believe that these were just urban legends, created by bullies to terrorize and steal from unsuspecting newer students.

What have you heard about the Kakalabanda?

UNDERSTANDING THE SEBEI CULTURE

The most spread notion of the Sebei people who occupy and live in Kapchorwa, Uganda is FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). This is not the only story from Kapchorwa, there are other untold stories. To understand the people of Kapchorwa, you need to know the origin, the organization; social, economic and political.

The origin;

Sebei also known as the Sabiny are part of the Kalenjin people, who migrated from Mount Ararat in Turkey. They moved and first settled in Egypt. Moses of the Bible is said to be one of the great descendants of the Kalenjin, his name is recorded in their oral history as “Moss”. The Kalenjin were Pharaoh’s personal guard and worked in the palace. Some later gave in to the nomadic nature of their ancestors and moved down to Ethiopia . Although some decided to settle there, a big number continued moving to Khartoum, Sudan.

In Sudan, only nine tribes decided to continue southwards to northern Uganda and into the rift valley in Kenya. Seven tribes moved to Uganda and two into present day Kenya. Among the seven was included; Turgen, Marakwet, Kipsigis, Sabats, Nandi, Pokwet and Sabiny. Though most of these continued to move to different parts of Uganda, most settled in the Kapchorwa region of Eastern Uganda – on the escarpment of the Eastern Rift Valley, Bugiri, Tororo and others continued to Congo and Tanzania.

Spirituality:

It is said there are only three large societies that are still said and believed to prophesy in this world, the Jews, the Russians and the Kalenjin. One Kalenjin prophecy said; a boy will be born, he will be a cattle keeper, uncircumcised and he will rule this country Uganda.

Economic organization;

The Kalenjin are pastoralists. Cattle keeping is their main economic activity although many are longer nomads. Besides cattle keeping, the Kalenjin are farmers  although because of economic concerns they are now majorly focus on perennial crops like coffee among others.

They used to raid cattle from the neighboring villages. It is said and known that the Kalenjin are the only tribe in Uganda that can raid the Karamojong. To put it in perspective, if the Karamojong raid 50 cows of the Kalenjin, the retaliation bring back 500 cows and other possessions. The going theory is because the Kalenjin are able to mobilize all their fellow tribes to make larger raiding posses.

Socially;

They lived in caves and small huts and live close to each other in groups of 5 huts in a locality – something of an evolutionary instinct

They circumcised their people, male and female. You were only considered an adult after circumcision, otherwise all uncircumcised people irrespective of age and structure were considered young and immature.

In the current age, the circumcision of women/ female is lessening though it is a must for all Kalenjin boys to be circumcised as a right of passage otherwise you won’t marry, conduct any business or share opinions in the elders’ meetings and take part in such meetings. You also cannot be buried unless you are circumcised.

Kalenjin men wore beads to meetings and on important occasions as part of their attire, though the women could wear beads only and only when they were getting married customarily.

The Kalenjin are very friendly people and well known for their hospitality to this day and age.

Political;

They have no kingdoms, rather they have chiefdoms. The chief is the most prestigious person in the chiefdom, he owns a lot and chairs most community meetings.

Chief titles weren’t hereditary, the chief is chosen based on his great wealth in earthly possessions, age, wisdom and counsel,

They had a chiefdom army with local weaponry of spears, shield, arrows and bows. They are not used anymore and are just kept in the Sebei cultural center for historical purposes.

The boys were supposed to either rear cattle or join the army for security reason. All chiefdoms had boys in charge of security and cattle and the woman in charge of farming and home economics and management.

This a koikoiUg story from Eastern Uganda, Kapchorwa from the people.

About the Author

Relentless, persistent, resilient and full of joie de vivre Joel Jemba‘s demeanor does not betray his Land Survey degree. Joel is a digital enthusiast, blogger, photographer and a lover of food. He loves to travel is always up for an expedition at a moments notice. He is passionate about Uganda and her story and has been a part of #KoiKoiUg since its inception.