In part five of our series on cannibalism and the related social upheavals in Uganda, Hope Mafaranga and Robert Atuhairwe focus on Isingiro district. And, in Kyenjojo, a story of how a priest, who challenged cannibals, almost got eaten.
The Police at Rugaaga in Isingiro say they get six to 10 witchcraft-related cases per month. Of these, three are over claims of cannibalism. An officer at the Police station, who preferred anonymity, said they sometimes get to know after violence has flared up.
“Reports about cannibalism and witchcraft are common, especially in Katooma village,” he said, adding: “When locals suspect a person of being a cannibal, they lynch him. But we have failed to convict anyone because complainants do not have sufficient evidence.”
The LCIII chairperson of Rugaaga sub-county, Mathias Tushabomwe, said on several occasions, they had arrested night dancers with babies feet. “You wonder where they get them. I think they exhume bodies of babies,” Tushabomwe narrated. He cited Katooma as the leading village in witchcraft.
“We have caught more night dancers in Katooma than anywhere else. That partly explains the conflicts and violence in the area.” However, Katooma LC1 secretary Hamuza Kasule dismissed the allegations.
“It is a tribal bias. Katooma is occupied by Bakooki, who originated from Rakai in Buganda. “Because we came from a different region, the Banyankole suspected us of practicing cannibalism, which is not true,” he said.
Saturday Vision visited a renowned witchdoctor in Rugaaga, Hajji Ibrahim Mubiru, 66 and asked him about cannibalism. “I have heard about the claims, but never caught one red-handed. When we were young, there were many such stories,” he said, mentioning Katooma, Nyamarungo, Endizi, Mbare, Kyanyanda, Rwangabo, Kihanda, Rugaaga and Bukanga as some of the villages said to habour cannibals.
According to Mubiru, there are families which are avoided because of the vice. “The families of Kaisi Segobwa, Musa Kaggwa, Mareju and Sitefano were suspected of practicing the vice, though no one had proof,” Mubiru said.
Mubiru explained that people can inherit the compulsion to eat human flesh after buying amayembe (spirits) to give them wealth. These fetishes can demand human blood, forcing their owners into human sacrifice and cannibalism.
“People come to my shrine, begging to be saved from the urge to eat or sacrifice humans,” he said. When we pressed him on why he did not report them to the Police, he laughed and jumped into his car, without giving an answer. A volunteer at Rugaaga Police knew Mubiru as a renowned witchdoctor who could be connected to the suspected families.
I am not a cannibal
Saturday Vision visited one of the suspects, Kaisi Segobwa, at his home in Katooma village. We are Bakooki from Rakai. When we arrived in Isingiro, it was a jungle, full of animals. We often went on hunting sprees and meat was a permanent feature in many homes. So, it was always common for the house to smell of game meat, which some non-hunters mistook for human flesh.
The village had less than 200 families by then. Our family was big, so whenever we hunted, we got more meat than the rest. Our homes were never out of meat, which people mistook for human flesh. As a result, we were called cannibals.
One time, a child disappeared from home and they said we had eaten him. He surfaced recently, after 20 years. There was another case of someone whom the people suspected that we had eaten. When we dug his grave, we found bones, indicating that the body was never removed. I do not know why our family is being targeted with such claims. Our clanmates, who migrated to Lukaya, Mbarara, Rakai and Mutukula, have also been victims of such slunder.”
Story of a US priest in Kyarusozi
In Kyarusozi, Kyenjojo district, a story is told of how an American Holy Cross priest, Fr. Richard Potthast, first laughed at the cannibalism stories when he had just arrived in Kyarusozi parish.
According to a parishioner, Joan Nyonyoozi, the priest challenged any cannibal to come and eat him as proof that cannibalism exists.
“There was a well-known and feared cannibal called Kahonaho,” Nyonyoozi said. “He took up the challenge and sent back a message that the white man should be ready. Indeed, two days later, Fr. Potthast was rescued from a swamp, where he was found walking aimlessly. He was rushed, unconscious, to hospital. Catholics gathered and prayed for him overnight. Luckily, he recovered.”
Saturday Vision was not able to verify this story. But a book by Prof. Heike Behrend, Resurrecting Cannibals; The Catholic Church, Witch-Hunts and the Production of Pagans in Western Uganda, referred to this incident.
The book, a 2011 publication on cannibalism in Toro, quoted the priest as saying one night, as he was in his room, it suddenly became too cold for him to bear. He soon passed out and when he regained consciousness, he was in hospital. People told him how he was found on his way, delivering himself to a cannibal.
After that incident, he started a crusade against cannibals in the region. Later, when Behrend visited him, the priest was a deep believer in the existence of cannibalism, miracles and crusades of exorcism. He always moved with holy water, which he would sprinkle if he suspected anything evil. He told Behrend he had healed many cannibals and organised ‘spiritual olympics’ and ‘warfare prayers’.
Behrend wrote: “Kafanani was an elderly lady, living in Kyarusozi and a suspected cannibal. During Fr. Potthast’ healings, the spirits in the subconscious cannibals confessed they had been sent by Kafanani. Potthast recorded the confessions at a prayer gathering and declared Kafanani a cannibal.
That was risky because Kafanani would have been lynched and evicted from the village. In fear, she sought refuge at Owobusobozi Bisaka’s itambiro (palace). She later claimed that Bisaka had healed her. Bisaka is a self-declared god, with more than two million followers.
Other cannibals confessed to Behrend that they had the capacity to resurrect their victims. After burial, they ‘resurrect’ the dead by playing a bamboo flute as they call the dead to come to where they are wanted, then the corpse ‘follows’ the cannibal out of their grave.
According to Behrend, the corpse is first ordered to fetch water, gather firewood, sharpen the knife and place a banana leaf on the ground, before lying on it to be cut and cooked in a pot. The cannibals then call their colleagues for a feast.
Cannibalism is in rumours in Hoima