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What will we tell future generations about Kasubi?

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd March 2010 03:00 AM

THE Kasubi Tombs, the only international cultural heritage site in Uganda has been lost to an inferno. It was a precious and priceless piece of Uganda’s history.

THE Kasubi Tombs, the only international cultural heritage site in Uganda has been lost to an inferno. It was a precious and priceless piece of Uganda’s history.

By Achilles Byaruhanga

THE Kasubi Tombs, the only international cultural heritage site in Uganda has been lost to an inferno. It was a precious and priceless piece of Uganda’s history.

Buganda Kingdom and Baganda as a people through innovation and meticulous traditional knowledge and cultural integrity and respect managed to preserve a masterpiece of human creativity for over 130 years of history in the Kasubi tombs. This was the pinnacle and symbol of all other cultural sites found in Buganda region and the whole of Uganda.

With the integration of Ugandan societies as one people, the cultural sites in Buganda are cultural sites of Uganda. Culture develops and indeed the Kasubi tombs reflected the development of culture in Uganda and probably the only place where one could see back in time into Uganda’s history for over 150 years. The Kasubi tombs were developed as a mausoleum for Buganda kings into a national icon to a global and international respected site designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

A world heritage site is a place of either cultural or physical significance or one that conserves outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.

The movement to protect these sites started in 1954 when Egypt proposed to build Aswan Dam on the Nile, an event that would flood a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. The twin massive rock temples in Nubia (referred to as Nubian Monuments) in southern Egypt on the western bank of Lake Nasser were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh. It also served to intimidate his Nubian neighbours in the south.

The construction of the Aswan dam would have submerged the valley and the monumental structures. UNESCO then through its 50-member states launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign and eventually the complex was relocated in its entirety in the 1960s at a cost of $80m to an artificial hill high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.

Today Abu Simbel remains one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions receiving millions of visitors a year. After the success of this project, it led to many more safeguarding campaigns, one of which was our own Kasubi Tombs. With support from IUCN, a world heritage convention by General Conference of UNESCO was adopted on November 16, 1972 to preserve “the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.” Respect was given to combining cultural with nature conservation. The criteria for nominating a cultural world heritage site based on guidelines for 2005 is that the sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one of the 10 criteria:

To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared;

To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stage(s) in human history;

To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Kasubi tombs, the only cultural world heritage site in Uganda fulfilled all the criteria and the site provided lessons to the whole world on culture and human ingenious creativity. The construction with reeds, the use of soft wood (musambya) as poles that lasted centuries were all examples of nature-friendly construction and nature preservation. And any reconstruction must respect these values.

Today, we look to the Western world for examples and knowledge on nature conservation while our forefathers left us with lessons and coded information in their buildings, folklores, tales and stories. We have failed to decode and use this information and the one living encyclopedia and information bank for culture, nature and history has just been erased by some callous action!

Indeed before the Kasubi tombs were gutted by ‘merciless fires’ whose origin has not been established, it had become one of the biggest attractions in Uganda not only to foreign tourists but to local visitors and schools who cared to learn the history of Uganda.

Whoever or whatever led to the fire at the Kasubi tombs has denied Ugandans of their history and has denied the world their due share into the history and culture of Uganda. The cause of the fire at the tombs is reminiscent of extreme ignorance and barbarism that one imagined would have ended with the Stone Age man.

In the 21st century and the era of the global village, Uganda has failed to manage or preserve a national and global heritage! Various examples of destruction of culture and nature suggest that Uganda is not ready to join the global village and we have failed again to realise our place and position in the world!

When the rest of the world is looking at benefits from the first World Cup to be hosted on the African soil, Ugandans are fighting in local MP by-elections somewhere. When others looked forward to opportunities that came with hosting CHOGM, Ugandans were looking for kick-backs and building sub-standard roads. When others are trading their forests for carbon credits, Ugandans are proposing theirs for sugar plantations!

Uganda and Buganda in particular have lost a treasure that the future generations will ask why, who and where Ugandans were when Kasubi tombs were reduced to ashes. It is common knowledge that even those who plan terrorism attacks claim responsibility! Hopefully those malevolent individuals who planned and executed this irresponsible act will take responsibility so that the rest of the world will be exonerated from such backward thinking.

My sympathy to Buganda, the country and the world at the loss of the precious and priceless treasure, Kasubi tombs.
The writer is the Executive Director of NatureUganda

What will we tell future generations about Kasubi?

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