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By Brian Bwesigye


Wednesday, May 2, 2012.

My eyes follow the hoe as Maama raises it to the skies. It is not as high as to threaten to bring down clouds; it is just high enough to give its descent into the eikoome momentum. As she pushes it into the centre of the mound, I see one of her legs rising, then in a moment the hoe settles in the eikoome and she pulls it back, bringing with it a mound of soil. She effectively dismantles the gentle rise of the pile of earth in which sweet potatoes grow. As the soil particles spread on the now flattening surface, my eye catches a number of ebiribwa.

The sweet potatoes are creamish-white, it is kanyasi that Maama planted in this particular garden. Last week we finished harvesting the mutuku sweet potatoes, those with a soft orange-yellowish inside. Kanyasi’s inside is more solid and is creamish-whitish like its skin. When roasted, nothing beats kanyasi as an escort for breakfast milk tea. Immediately, I notice that it is kanyasi we are harvesting, my stomach starts celebrating. At least that is what I make of the sounds from within my tummy.

Maama keeps on digging and I, collecting the sweet potatoes from the stripped row. Sometimes she sinks the hoe in the eikoome and almost struggle to pull it back, as if the efukuuzi, the mole is pulling it from within the mound. I imagine a determined efukuuzi, biting its non-existent lips with its soiled pair of teeth as it pulls the hoe. Maama of course wins the battle, but we do not find any mole-hole in the eikoome and the sweet potatoes are all whole. Yet, we did not employ the mole-hunter to trap the moles. Maybe because there are many sweet potato gardens near ours, all moles were kept busy by other gardens. But it is too early to tell, this is just the first eikoome. But the garden does not have many makoome anyway. Just six to seven of them and we will reach the end of the column and start on the next column. This is the type of plot Shwenkuru calls wamutara.


“They are good for nothing”, Shwenkuru says.

“Just to give you some pride that you have many of them, but of no use if you can’t fill ten sacks with harvest from three of them.”

Shwenkuru always brings up the wamutara issue as the downside of siring many sons. After praising himself for strengthening the clan, fulfilling the ancestral duty of men to multiply the numbers of the clan, he laments; “I had to divide my land into very tiny plots, the wamutara for my sons to have a share of my wealth.”

Ordinarily, no one responds to Shwenkuru’s lament. What do we know of fatherhood? What do we know of siring sons? Only Maama teases Shwenkuru about the wamutara. As if consoling him she chips in; “Maybe if you had sired daughters, your land would not be wamutara now.”

He chuckles and fixes a firm stare at Maama, who pretends to be blowing some kindling air into the fire.

“She is a stubborn one, this daughter of mine,” he says.

As my stomach’s celebration turns into louder grumbling, my eyes stick to a particular sweet potato and distracts my thoughts from the wamutara. The sweet potato is in the middle of the bundle where the first eikoomi was. Maama is on the third eikoomi.

“We are about to go home”, Maama says without turning to look at me.


Ordinarily, that means that I should start putting the sweet potatoes in the sacks but my stomach is making things unordinary. My tummy seems to shout that I should give it a raw kanyasi! Looking behind, Maama catches me in the act. Sweet potato in one hand, another hand wiping soil from it.

“Otakyikoota!” Maama says. “Do not eat the raw sweet potato.” Maama thinks my running stomach problems always arise out of my eating raw sweet potatoes. She can’t allow me kukoota any! I drop the sweet potato and surging like nothing has happened, I grab one of the sacks and one, two, three, four, I am counting the potatoes I am putting in the sack. Maybe the stomach will shut up if I continue the counting.

“Go and make engata”, Maama has finished digging and is filling the other sack already.

I hate making engata out of grass. A good ngata is one made of banana leaves. That one settles on the head and shields the head from the direct weight of any load being carried. The grass disturbs the head with unnecessary tickles. But Maama’s instruction does not care for my liking. I pick straws of grass and weave them into two spiral rolls. As I return from making the ngata, I find my sack ready for lifting.

“This is so light. I can throw it in the air and grab it.”

“Is that why you made useless ngata” Maama responds.

“Grass does not make good ngata, Maama”

“Spoiled town-boy!”

My town childhood is the only thing that separates me from Dehusi, Maama’s real child whenever we imperfect a task. Dehusi is ridiculed for being lazy, a bad learner, and a good-for-nothing village boy. I am a town boy, born to a town-mother who knows how to write and read book, watch and interpret television. I am not expected to know how to do village things like making ngata or to learn them fast. ‘Spoiled town-boy’ is all the reproach I get for messing things, for not knowing how to do things.

Maama throws away my ngata and weaves the top of my sack into a ngata-like shape. I hold the sack and it is so light, it feels like I am carrying nothing.

“Let me add more sweet potatoes in my sack” I ask.

“Do you want your soft head to sink into your shoulders?”

“I have carried heavy loads before.”

“Where? What? Who gave them to you?”

“The place where I used to live, the Maama of there, used to give me loads to carry.”

“Hurry up, let us go.”

With a hoe on her shoulder and a sack on her head, Maama leads the way home.


Brian Bwesigye was born in Kigezi, south-western Uganda. His writing has appeared in national newspapers, magazines, websites and academic journals. His book ‘Fables out of Nyanja’ is published by Kushinda. He blogs at orwaari.blogspot.com  

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