Kidepo, a wilderness of tales

His fame transcended the different villages. Far and wide, the name Ryonomoi echoed pride. Given this name after he killed an enemy who had a dark skin, there was no match for his hunting skills. This famous hunter stood tall among his peers, it is no wonder he was chosen to hold guard of the net trappings that fateful day at the foot of a rock hill that stood in the wilderness of Karamoja’s vast Savannah.

When his peers drove the target, Jackson’s Heartbeast towards the trap, Ryonomoi was trusted to spear this antelope like creature and bring success to the quest for daily bread. But as fate would have it, the whole herd went to the trap, crushing Ryonomoi to death. Torn, his peers mourned their great hero and buried him at the foot of the hill, then named it after him.

Ranger guide Zachary Logwee animatedly tells the story of a man he barely knew, one he would not prove even if his life depended on it, of a time way past his.

View of the wild from above
Today, Ryonomoi hill stands tall, an imposing rock that opens one to the picturesque expanse of a section of Kidepo Valley National Park with the mountains as a backdrop. The park covers 1,442 square kilometres. The stop here was part of a game drive during a recent trip organised by Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) for some journalists. The trek up the hill through grass and rocks is worth it as the cool breeze descends on your face and you admire the view, taking selfies.

Many a tourist will be captivated, even thrilled by the adventure close to animals that a trip to Uganda’s wildest national park brings. However, for the story teller in me, the tales that form a backbone to many of the features in the park blow me away. The blend of mysticism, science and norms of the society before the park was demarcated in 1958, sets Kidepo Valley National Park apart.

Kabale elderly find gold mine in handcrafts

Humble beginnings
“My mother taught me how to weave baskets when I was 10 years old but that was not my full-time trade,” she recounts. Bagurusi reflects the olden days when she used to make a bounty from farming as she used to dig acres of Irish potato, sorghum and other food stuffs. Five years ago however, her body could not deal as her back ached at every attempt to dig. She opted to revive her childhood skill –weaving baskets – to earn a living.
“Every week, I finish one basket which I sell at either Shs5,000 or Shs8,000 depending on the size. I spend this money on a litre of milk. I take one litre of milk with a piece of roasted sweet potato as my meal every day. I do not eat any other food because of my stomach complications. Despite my advanced age, I dread being idle and begging,” says the resident of Kijuguta, Northern division in Kabale Municipality. Some people visit and ask her for a free basket and she quickly replies, “Go and bring for me weaving materials in return for one.”
Bagurusi, a mother of 10 of whom only six are still alive and her first born is a retired officer of Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB ) Peace Bagurusi. Betty Keirungi, 54, is her disabled daughter with whom she lives. Keirungi helps her mother to gather the weaving materials which are sometimes scarce because most of the wetlands have been reclaimed into farms.
“There is ready market for my products but the challenge these days is the scarcity of weaving materials,” Bagurusi explains.

She hums as she hooks dry papyrus strips neatly in a circular shape. Her worn hands reflect a day’s work to earn a living. Unlike some senior citizens who sit home waiting on their caretakers or family and friends to help them, Tofasi Bagurusi, 88, spends her day weaving baskets which support her family; a disabled daughter and grandson with hearing impairment.
Bagurusi starts her day’s work at around 8am. “You are welcome; we praise the Lord who has kept me alive for all these years,” she says, as she offers guests a seat. While adjusting her woolen sweater, she cannot contain herself as she converses about the day’s events. On the particular day we visit, she is in high spiirits and talks about anything.

Murder spot turned tourist site

Misty droplets, hissing sound and the fast 30 metre drop of Kisiizi falls create such a picturesque scene.
Once referred to as a place of death, the marvel on the path to Kyabamba River in Rukungiri District, comes alive with the sound and sight of birds and flora.
More than 200 years ago, pregnant unwed girls met their death at this gorge as punishment for the shame they had put their families through.
A bridge at the gorge, enables tourists to view the water falls as well as take a nature walk along a zig-zag foot path traversing the Kisiizi gorge which is about 40ft away, a proper view of the water falls.

Murder spot
“The brother of the pregnant girl would lead the group and tie the victim with ropes before she was pushed over the gorge, Moses Mugume, the Kisiizi hospital administrator, says in a low tone to an exhilarating silence only broken by the sound of the water pouring down stream.
“It ended when one victim pulled her brother into the gorge and they both died. It is at this point that community members realised it was a bad norm,” he adds.
“The coming of Christianity in the area also stopped the trend as missionaries preached the word of God and explained that murder was a sin against God.”

Today, the point has turned into a tourist attraction that has given Kisiizi Missionary Hospital a lifeline.
Kisiizi Falls was recently launched as a major tourist destination in the area by Tourism state minister Godfrey Kiwanda and the Kigezi Tourism Cluster promoter, Ivan Mbabazi Batuma.
Proceeds from tourism will generate income to supplement funding for Kisiizi Hospital.
The falls also hold a mini-hydropower dam that generates electricity for the hospital and community around it.
“With the support from the Korean government and the Tourism ministry we have been able to put up a visitors centre and beautify the Kisiizi waterfalls valley by constructing a monument depicting the history of the waterfalls, constructing the walk ways and the Kisiizi cave so as to attract tourists to the area,” says Mugume.