Most districts in Uganda have their names rooted in culture, person, environment or phobia. However, this is not the case with Amolatar district, also popularly known as Uganda District.
It is the only district in the country that shares the same name with the country. In other words, it is Uganda within Uganda. Olobo Dubai, a 50-year-old man who was born and bred in the district, shared Amolatar’s history with Solomon Oleny
Following a series of violent cattle raids by the Karimojong warriors in the late 1970s, the eastern, central and northern Uganda regions were greatly affected.
Hundreds of people from different areas such as the Langi, Acholi, Alur and the Iteso took refuge in Amolatar because, unlike their home areas, it enjoyed relative peace owing to its location.
Amolatar’s new ferry on Lake Kyoga
Since it was surrounded by two major water bodies — Lake Kyoga in the south and west and Lake Kwania in the north and east, the cattle rustlers could not make it into Amolatar. Fortunately, the refugees had the chance to cross into Amolatar via Lake Kwania at a time the seasonal lake was dry.
The longer the cattle rustling went on, the longer the refugees remained in the peninsula, giving them the chance to appreciate its natural beauty. By the time the flames of cattle rustling were extinguished, the refugees had already decided to spend the rest of their lives in Amolatar because its soils were also fertile.
Because the refugees were from different tribes and spoke different languages, the locals began boasting of Amolatar being another Uganda. This pride was further rubber-stamped by the fact that the district was almost exactly at the centre of the Ugandan map with Apac, Nakasongola, Kaberamaido and Dokolo serving as its neighbours. It was only a matter of time before this exciting reference became the district’s new name — Uganda.
The early history of Amolatar features a tropical paradise with beautiful hills, fertile soils and water bodies. Amolatar’s irresistible natural endowments and strategic location tempted many kings in the mid 18th century to conquer it.
While some desired to conquer it because it truly depicted a pearl, others thought its central location would play a very important role in conquering and ruling other regions.
It was no surprise that some chiefs and kings, one after another, tried to conquer little Uganda. Interestingly, not even the most powerful, Buganda’s Kabaka Mutesa I, succeeded on his mission. Spearheading the annexation drive was the fearless chief of Teso, Emorimor, who found his way into the district through present day Kaberamaido district.
Emorimor, together with over 200 troops, invaded Amolatar at a time it was occupied with a thick tropical forest, only to cowardly retreat barely a month later.
Yes, he was armed to the teeth to trample over any kingdom, but to his surprise, there were many mosquitoes and wild animals, which made it impossible for him to continue with his mission. Not even his most powerful magicians or medicine men could fight the malaria parasites, which were his opponents’ only weapon.
Next in the queue was chief Rwot Nyaci of Lango. But Nyaci chickened out even faster than Emorimor because his medicine men fooled him into believing that the gods of Amolatar were displeased with his annexation agenda.
In reality, having failed to cure the malaria which was killing Rwot Nyaci’s troops in large numbers, the medicine men interpreted the malaria signs which were manifesting in his soldiers such as convulsions, shivers and headaches, to mean that the gods of the locality were fighting back.
Upon the reception of the good news that Emorimor and Nyaci had given up conquering Amolatar, Kabaka Mutesa I’s zeal to expand Buganda’s territory into the district was triggered.
But unlike the other two rulers, Mutesa’s determination was frustrated by Lake Kyoga, which was eight kilometres wide, making it almost impossible to cross.
Unlike most parts of Uganda where colonial rule was resisted, this little Uganda was conquered by the British with ease.
Since its occupants were from different tribes that spoke different languages and had divergent cultures, they were less united.
At the end of the day, this lack of solidarity served to the advantage of the colonialists, who were not only armed with guns, but also cooperated with their agents. As such, it was not long before the British administration took over and appointed Measach Kirya, an indigenous colonial agent, as county chief.
Uganda is Amolatar
Both names are still in use, with most of the elderly priding in calling it Uganda and the young generation calling it Amolatar.
Being accorded a district status cemented the name Amolatar that the rest of the country is familiar with.
Uganda district rebranded
During one of his inspections of the village, Measach Kirya, who was appointed county chief by the colonialists, bumped into a clique of four chatty women accessorised in beautiful white bangles fetching water by the only water source in the area then.
Struck by the beauty of the bangles, he demanded to know what they were called in Luo. Since they were white bangles, the women called them mola-tar, “mola” meaning bangles and “tar” from the word atar, which means white.
However, since Kirya’s pronunciation was influenced by his Lugwere accent, he ended up mispronouncing the name as A-mola-tar. No matter how many times the ladies tried to help him pronounce it correctly, Kirya kept on pronouncing it as A-mola-tar.
Determined not to give up, Kirya tried so hard to pronounce it correctly, only to end up biting his tongue; cracking the women’s ribs.
But then that was not the end of the fun. Every other time Kirya was seen passing by, the women delighted in gossiping about his A-mola-tar mispronunciation. It was only a matter of time before this joke turned out to be the area’s new name.
Omukama Kabalega’s hideout
The imposition of the British rule all over Uganda did not go well with some regional leaders. Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro and Chief Awich of Acholi staged the most fierce wars, posing the biggest stumbling block towards complete colonialism.
This instigated the British to declare war on Bunyoro on January 1, 1894, which lasted five years, before Kabalega fled to Amolatar, having lost most of his fighters to the war.
He was later invited to Dokolo by his close friend, Rwot Nyaci, a paramount chief of Lango, whose palace was just a stone’s throw from the borders of Amolatar and Dokolo.
On a fateful chilly Sunday morning in 1899, Kabalega awoke to the shock of his life, when the palace was besieged by hundreds of armed British soldiers, who were hunting for him.
In panic, Kabalega attempted to fight back, only to be shot in the chest and was captured. He was exiled to the Seychelles for 24 years. With Kabalega out of reach, Chief Awich’s determination to fight on was deflated.
Previously, the two depended on each other, with the sole mission of fighting the colonialists. Without this support, it was not long before Awich was also captured and imprisoned on Kololo Hill in 1911.
Kabalega was given permission to return to Bunyoro, but died on the way in Jinja on April 6, 1923.