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Mother Tongue Scholarship: A week with Ugandan Intellectuals


In the fields of participatory research or community based research we acknowledge that knowledge is also being created in community organisations or social movements without any involvement whatsoever by academics.  The reality is that knowledge is largely created outside of higher education institutions in any case.  But for those of us associated with universities and supportive of CBR and knowledge democracy, we often think of CBR as a co-creation process of community based scholars working with university-based scholars.

In early November, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Uganda, based in Jinja located at the source of the Nile river as it flows north from Lake Victoria working with the mother tongue scholars of the Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity on a series of discussions with traditional Afrikan scholars involved in the planning of the Confluence 2016 international conference that will celebrate 50 years of the prophesy of Mulembe Mutinzi.  Mulembe Mutinzi refers to the epoch or era that we entered into in 1966 when, according to Buganda and Busoga spiritual teachings, a vision was revealed that noted that the world had reached the optimal point of positive contribution of European knowledge and that henceforth, the future of the world would depend on a flowing together of all knowledge systems including the Afrikan Indigenous knowledge systems.

Mother tongue scholars are those who Mpambo refers to as persons who carry out their intellectual work in the tongues of their cultural and linguistic heritage. They are intellectuals and researchers who may not have even been to Western schools and most likely do not speak English.  The core team of Mother tongue scholars working with Mpambo is led by Kabona Kiijo, the lead researcher and writer on the Tondism project and includes Kabona Mugalula, Jaja Ntembe and Nabona Nakandi.  Nabona Nakandi is the head of the Women only shrine located near Walusi. Each of these persons are recognized as spiritual leaders of Afrikan traditional religion in Buganda and Busoga, Uganda. Kabona Mugalula holds the position of head of the Shrine in the Walusi Hills, the most sacred place in the cosmological universe of the belief system called Tondism (after Katonda, the name of the Supreme Being).  The shrines in Uganda offer spiritual support,  advice for personal problems and issues and practical help to the members of the shrine.  There are people with many skills associated with these spiritual learning centres.  There are also intellectuals, theologians and deep thinkers in some of these shrines.  For purposes of Mpambo’s principle research project, this group of mother tongue scholars are the research team.  Paulo Wangoola, the Nabyama of Mpambo is the bridge intellectual between their group and other realms of scholarship.  He is considered by the spiritual leaders to be in alignment with their thinking, the most respected non-religious leader on the team.

Tondism, the traditional belief system of Buganda and Busoga kingdoms has been an oral spiritual practice with much variation from spiritual leader to spiritual leader.  It is has evolved from the land, the waters, the animals, the stones and the spirits over the many thousands of years as this part of Africa, the Great Lakes Basin and the associated Great Rift Valley are the birthplace of all human life. But with the coming of colonialism and colonial beliefs systems from both European and Arabic-speaking parts of the world, the traditional belief systems were crushed, demonized and degraded. Traditional land-based spirituality has been attempted to be driven from the land entirely. Modernity was said to be associated with Christianity or maybe with Islam. Africans would need to cast aside their traditional belief systems if they wished to become part of the modern world.

Well, as we know, the modern world has turned out to be a place that celebrates the rich, ignores the damage to the planet, creates inequality and increases insecurity everywhere.  There is increased interest coming from many western scholars as well as traditional intellectuals from Indigenous traditions in North America, Latin America, Asia, Australia-New Zealand to break open the strongbox of European intellectual thought—Science, and experience a new era celebrating an ecology of epistemologies.  For Africans, access through Mother tongues to spiritual and other ancient knowledge systems is of growing interest in many parts of the continent.

The Mother tongue scholars of Mpambo are making a deep contribution to this reawakening of interest in diverse epistemologies.  They have been having discussions, debates, scholarly exchanges to create a consensus understanding of the principles of Tondism, not as something new, but as the consolidation of the ancient ways of believing.  They wish to provide Ugandans with a choice in their spiritual beliefs, something based in the land, language and culture of Uganda itself, not something brought in from the outside.  Kabona Kiijo and the Tondist scholars are committing their consensus  to text in the Luganda language. They are writing a book in the tradition of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and Gita and other spiritual traditions.

I have been a witness to some of these debates and discussions while with these Mother tongue scholars in their shrines and in other meetings.  They are scholarly, challenging, self-reflexive and because of the depth of the material that they are working on, origins of life and how to live in this world, very powerful. What is exciting is that they are prepared to share their work with the world in May of 2016 when they will welcome all to the Confluence 2016 to be hosted by the Medium of the Spirit of the Nile River, Jaja Vudthagari in May of that year.

Budd L Hall
London, November 20, 2014

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