"The missionaries estimated my age. When I went for baptism teaching, they looked at me and decided that I was 10 years. That was in 1895."
President Yoweri Museveni met and built a house for 131-year-old John Ahuruma, who could be Uganda’s oldest living person. The President met Ahuruma at State House, Entebbe in October last year.
Fr. Fabius Bainakanaama of St. Padre Pio Nyahuka Catholic Parish in Bundibugyo district, who accompanied Ahuruma to State House, said the President wanted the old man to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
Ahuruma’s baptism card indicates that he was born in 1885. That makes him 131 years old. “The missionaries estimated my age. When I went for baptism teaching, they looked at me and decided that I was about 10 years. That was in 1895. So, they recorded my year of birth as 1885,” he said. Walking with the aid of a stick, Ahuruma, who fluently speaks Rutooro, Luganda and Ramba (spoken by the Bamba), still has his vision intact, although he has an eye infection.
Meeting the President, he said, was the climax of a life-long dream. “I first saw him (Museveni) at a distance when he came to Bundibugyo during the Allied Democratic Forces insurgency. I longed to meet and greet him. I am excited that we have met. I do not want his leadership to end. He has done good things for this country; I am proud of him,” Ahuruma said.
President Yoweri Museveni meeting Ahuruma at State House Entebbe in October 2016
The President picked interest in Ahuruma after reading a story in Sunday Vision of September 18, which reported that Ahuruma could be the oldest living Ugandan. Museveni had hinted at one of his presidential rallies that his research had identified Thomas Kakiza, 117, of Ntungamo as the oldest man in Uganda.
However, when Fr. Bainakanaama read the story, he wrote to New Vision: “In Bundibugyo, there is John Ahuruma in Busunga parish, Babandi sub-county, who is above 125 years old. He tells stories of Kabaka Chwa’s palace, which should be in the 1890s.” During the meeting with Museveni, Ahuruma said: “I was born in Bunyangule in Bughendera constituency in the current Bundibugyo district over 130 years ago, when the Baganda still wore barkcloth.”
Whereas he cannot exactly tell which year he was born, he remembers that when the first White missionary came to western Uganda, he was in his early teens. “We were in Bundibugyo when we got news that a White man had appeared in Fort Portal,” he narrated.
“We trekked miles to go and see him. You should have seen us. We were scared. We thought we were going to die. We had never seen someone with that skin colour,” Ahuruma noted in an interview with Sunday Vision.
He said shortly after he returned to Bundibugyo, one of his uncles killed someone, forcing him to flee to Buganda. Ahuruma accompanied his uncle on his journey to Buganda. During his stay in Buganda, Ahuruma became a royal entertainer to Kabaka Daudi Chwa, for whom he used to play the harp (endingidi).
After the birth of his first child, Ahuruma decided to return to Bundibugyo to show his parents their grandchild. Subsequently, he married six wives, two of them in church. He said two of his children are still alive, including his daughter, Hannifer Byabanyagi, a resident of Kansanga, who looks after him.
Secret to life
Ahuruma’s alert mental faculties betray a sense of youth. When asked how he has been able to live this long, Ahuruma said he rarely falls sick and only uses herbs as medication. “My only problem is the backache and the eyes that have become partially blind because of my age,” he said.
For minor illnesses such as abdominal problems, he said he uses local herbs. “When they introduced hospitals and modern medicine, we feared that we were going to die and most of us — the elderly, shunned them,” he said. Ahuruma had 30 children, but 29 of them passed on, leaving only Byabanyagi, who takes care of him
Having lived all these years, does the notion of death worry him? While at State House, Ahuruma said: “I actually want to live for more years. No one wants to die. When one falls sick, they also wish to get better.” According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest verified age to which any human has ever lived is 122 years and 164 days.
Jeanne Louise Calment (France), who was born on February 21, 1875 and died on August 4, 1997, holds this record. In March, the Guinness World Records, which verifies claimed records around the world, announced Israel Kristal of Haifa, Israel, as the world’s oldest living man. He was born on September 15, 1903.