By Magemeso Namungalu
As Uganda celebrates 50 years of independence this October, it is important to get to know some of the things we have taken for granted. One of such things is the names, which some people use. There are some people who do not officially use their Christian or Muslim names, although they remain faithful to their religions. What is behind it?
The leader of that crusade was the Ghanaian intellectual and President, Kwame Nkrumah. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya used African identity for the struggle against British imperialism, when he abandoned his name, John Kamau.
There are many in African and Uganda, in particular who use only African names for example Ruhakana Rugunda, Kintu Musoke, Bidandi Ssali, Kirunda Kivejinja, the late Omwony Ojwok, Kahinda Otafire, Wafula Ogutu, Tamale Mirundi and a host of others.
In my case, while at Jinja Senior Secondary School, I was in dialogue with an American trained teacher, Menya Kibedi, who told me how ridiculous it was to take foreign names and write them before our African names. Menya Kibedi’s message sank deep in my mind.
I went to my class-teacher, P. W. King. I told him I want the name Magemeso Namungalu to appear on my Cambridge School Certificate. The English man screamed asking, “But why?”
I told him Magemeso was the name given to me by my mother to show the history of my birth and her anxiety about me. Magemeso alludes to something temporary and if I was girl I would have been Kwegemya because my mother’s first three children died at birth and she was not sure I would live for a long time.
Namungalu is my clan name, alluding to the language of my Luo origin of the words, namu galo, which mean delayed by water (sea), at the time of movement of the Babito through Bunyoro to Busoga.
The Englishman shouted at me: “Your name must remain, George William Magemeso. You are a Christian and stop telling me about that nonsense.”
He ordered me out of his sight. He did not succeed. Today my official name is Magemeso Namungalu, although I remain a faithful Christian.
Mine was a struggle for African identity. On the same issue, in my 124-page poem, A Heap of Broken Images, written in the 1970s on Ugandans’ yearning for good governance while under Idi Amin Dada’s dictatorship, I write:
I am the father of my father
For I ate the name
Of my father’s father.
I am wholly an African:
I am not a half-caste by name
And no one has convinced me
That I am primitive
Because I don’t use
The name of the Whiteman or an Arab.
You see, when I was an egg,
When my wisdom was not yet tall
Beyond my buttocks
My father was misled
By some ambitious men
And he was made to pay
Thirteen whole shillings
For two white men’s names.
Richard and Edward
Were the white men’s names
My father bought with the money
He got out of hardship.
My father had to buy the names
I would be dismissed from school.
But one time
When I quarrelled with John Bull
He told me
Silly Africans did not have names.
That, it was when the Missionaries
Began giving Africans names
That they learnt
There was something called names
And that is why
Africans write the white men’s names first
And theirs last.
We Africans are wiseacres
But where did you ever see a Muzungu
By name Lwanga Macmillan
Or Gonza Mackay?
Where did you see a Muzungu woman
By the name Nangobi Windley
Or Nandudu Le Bon?
Isn’t Lwanga a Christian saint?
Isn’t Gonza a Christian saint?
Didn’t Pope Paul come here to tell us
Those were Christian Saints?
The Bazungu know our names are rubbish
Fit for rubbish bins.
Perhaps names like Amos,
Soul or David
Are fair because they are
From The Holy Bible,
But Armstrong, Simpson …
The writer is a retired former chief news editor, UTV and Radio Uganda