By Joshua Kato and Frederick Kiwanuka
Leubeni Sebbowa Muleemezi of Kalagala village in Wakyato sub-county, Luwero district is 61. Age is taking its toll on his body. His hair is gray and his hands wrinkled. But in 1961, his muscles were very strong. and walked with a swagger.
â€œThose days I was the dream man of every woman in my village. I feared nothing, but God,â€ he reminisces adding, â€œI always dared anybody, anything.â€ It was with that attitude that he wrestled with a leopard and won! Forty-three years later, his son was involved in the same misadventure. He also wrestled with the leopard and won. Today, both father and son have scars of valour to tell their stories.
The flat lands of Wakyato and Ngoma in Luwero are teeming with wild animals.
Antelopes, buffaloes, kobs, warthogs and at one time elephants, roamed freely in Luwero.
Six years ago, the elephants were transferred to Murchison falls national park. Because of the abundance of herbivores, the area is a wonderful hunting ground for the canine-flesh-eating deputy kings of the jungle â€“â€“ the leopards. Trouble is they tear up cattle which is in abundant supply in nearly every homestead. This area is part of the East African cattle corridor. This has been going on for years. Now and again, the leopards attack and kill one or two from the herds.
It is not unusual for people in this area to â€œlock hornsâ€ with leopards, like is the case with Muleemeziâ€™s family.
Muleemezi tells his story: â€œI was inside the kraal, then I saw the beast wrestling down one of my calves. I jumped like a monkey and hit it on the jaw with my trusted stick.â€ He had named the stick Busagwa (poison). Indeed, Busagwa did its work. The leopardâ€™s jaw gave way. This, however, was just the beginning of the gruelling fight. Muleemezi had started it, he could not leave before it ended.
Before he could blink, he saw the leopard flying in mid-air â€“â€“ not away from him, but towards him. â€œIt growled and spat as it charged at me,â€ he says.
There was no time to think, he just braced himself for the fatal blow. And it hit hard, really hard!
â€œAnger was boiling inside me. My hair stood on the end on my head. I wished I had been praying to my God more often,â€ he remembers.
â€œIt grabbed my neck. I felt its jaws dig deep into my muscles and veins. I knew I was finished,â€ he adds.
But Muleemezi fought back. It was the only option open to him. â€œI grabbed its strong neck and squeezed it hard. But in the process, it swiftly swung its neck and grabbed my hand. I felt its powerful jaws break my soft bones.â€
He was not prepared to die like that â€“â€“ not like a coward. Not like the unfortunate antelopes the leopard had ground into minced meat.
â€œI pushed my arm deep into its throat, choking it. This made it impossible for it to open its mouth and grab any other part of my body.â€
â€œI knew I would lose my arm, but I had no choice,â€ he says. In the process, beast and man crashed to the ground, with a resounding thud. Muleemezi, however, refused to remove what was left of his hand from the leopardâ€™s mouth.
He fell on the leopardâ€™s head and the battle continued. They rolled on the ground, Muleemezi and the leopard taking turns on top of each other. The leopard was in shock at this manâ€™s stubbornness.
His four dogs, which had earlier taken off to nearby bush the moment they saw the leopard, returned.
If there is any animal that scares a dog, it is the leopard. In fact, the Baganda have a saying that illustrates this enmity: â€œBali kabwa na ngoâ€ (This is used in reference to people who donâ€™t see eye to eye.).
Even the most fierce of dogs takes off, tail between its legs as soon as it smells the slightest scent of a leopard.
His dogs must have recalled they are supposed to be manâ€™s best friend.
â€œI had been with these dogs for years and they had never abandoned me. Perhaps they later realised that if it meant death, they would have rather died with me,â€ he says.
The dogs grabbed different parts of the leopard. â€œThey then pulled and picked at the leopardâ€™s stomach, until its bowels spilled out. It slowly lost its energy, before it finally died,â€ Muleemezi says.
He was badly injured and exhausted. By the time he was taken to Mulago Hospital, he was in a coma. That was in 1961. Forty-three years later in 2003, another leopard visited Muleemeziâ€™s family. What is difficult to confirm is whether the second one was related to the one killed in 1961.
â€œI was looking for my calf that had got lost the previous evening,â€ says Ssentongo, Muleemeziâ€™s first-born son. Out of the blue, the beast sprang onto him. â€œI simply crumbled like a pack of cards. That animal is very strong!â€ he says.
He adds, â€œI made the sign of a cross twice, only to realise that I was making it the wrong way.â€
Survival instincts, however, took over. â€œI had listened to my father tell his story several times. I had also heard other stories about leopards. I was told when you grab its neck, this makes it difficult for it to attack.
That is what I did,â€ he says. In the process, however, it used its powerful claws on inflict pain on his body. â€œIt was like hundreds of razor-blades cutting through different parts of my skin at the same time,â€ he recounts.
The alarm he made attracted the attention of other herdsmen who came to his rescue. By that time, however, his body was smudged with blood.
He unbuttoned his light-red shirt and exposed several scars. One of the scars is on the right side of his chest, others are at the back and on the thigh. â€œThese are testimonies of my battle with the beast,â€ he says with pride.
Residents in the village agree that the Muleemezi family has got a history of fearlessness.
â€œTheir great grandfather was fearless. He was a great hunter in the 40s. He killed several animals including a leopard,â€ says Mzee Salongo Saulo Ssenabulya, one of the elders of the village.
Sentongo boldly declares he would fight a leopard again if it attacked his cows, a pledge the old Muleemezi might consider foolish at his age, but would probably swear by, if he were younger.
For now Muleemezi is left to wonder whether the tale of the two leopards attacking his family generations apart, was a coincidence or an act of fate.