"Mulembe" is a greeting in Lugisu, my language. It is a language spoken by a people who live on the western slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda. When literally translated it means "peace." The person being greeted would also respond with the same, "Mulembe." This greeting serves the purpose of declaring no intention of harm. Therefore, I welcome everyone to this blog with, "Mulembe!"

May 27, 2011

MULEMBE, YAYA! - A Short Story



Immy Rose Namutosi
© 1999

Once upon a time, there lived a young handsome man on the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda.  His name was Masaba, which is the local name for Mt. Elgon, a mountain that people regard with reverence.  It was therefore a very special name for this young man.

Masaba lived up to his name by being a perfect, ideal young man.  He was hardworking, respectful of all people, especially elders, and very pleasant.  But most important of all, Masaba was the son of the chief of the clan.

It was Masaba's father who had led his people from a distant place in the unknown East to this new land the people called Bugisu.  He was a great leader.  He was unlike other chiefs in that he never demanded to be called "King."

He was a leader with no real title.  Those who chose to call him chief did so because of the great respect they had for him.  It was no wonder that his son was brought up to work hard for the improvement of the clan.  People showed their love for their chief by bringing him gifts such as chickens, goats, and fresh produce which he in turn, shared with the poor.

Masaba was well liked because he was not a show off despite his father's fame and his own good looks.  He was often found helping people construct their mud huts or establish new homesteads.  Masaba was also a good hunter.  He never failed to accompany the village group when they went up Mt. Elgon to harvest bamboo.  Bamboo is one of the Bagisu people's special delicacies.

Masaba was a most eligible bachelor and the villagers were anxiously awaiting his selection of a girl to become his wife.  Masaba on the other hand was involved in so many different projects he never thought of marriage.  Since it seemed he would never make a move, the elders encouraged some pretty girls to distract him.

One day Masaba was thatching the roof of a house when a pretty young woman came by, balancing a pot of water on her head.  She stopped and greeted him, "Mulembe, yaya!" meaning "Peace, brother!" "Mulembe!," he replied.  She was wrapped in a beautiful, colorful cloth.  Masaba, not knowing what to say, simply focused on the pot on her head. "What a pretty pot. Who designed that? ," he asked.  The girl announced proudly.  “I did it all by myself! Do you want to come and watch me make a pot one day?"  Masaba murmured something which the girl couldn't hear.  Not having more to say to him, the girl moved on.

After an hour another girl came carrying a fancy basket. "Mulembe, yaya!," she greeted Masaba. "Mulembe!," he answered.  Once more, not knowing what to say, he asked "What a pretty basket, who made it?"  "Of course, I did. I make the best baskets around," she boasted.  Masaba went back to his work without another word.

A little later, a giggly girl with beautiful braids came to where Masaba was working.  She said not a word, just giggled and showed off.  Masaba thought this was the weirdest behavior he had ever seen.

Walking back to his home he gave further thought to the three girls who had visited him. He wondered why these girls were suddenly paying attention to him.  Then it dawned on him!  In Bugisu, girls will only do such things if they are sent by elders to drop hints to bachelors who are taking their time.   He laughed to himself and went to talk to his father about it.

Among the Bagisu, dowry is the bride price required of a young man when he wants to get married.  The sons of chiefs and great leaders such as Masaba's father were expected to pay expensive dowries.  How lucky the girl's family and relatives would be if their daughter married a young man such as Masaba!  Soon, Masaba arrived and entered his father house.  "Father", he said, "I thought I would warn you about my intentions regarding marriage so that you are well prepared."   The Chief smiled proudly and replied reassuringly, "Get ready, find a good girl and the rest is not your business.  I will make a big wedding party that will last for a week.  Now, do not delay.  All the people are waiting for you!

As he lay in his bed in the cool night, Masaba laid out a plan.  He wanted a humble, modest girl;  a polite and intelligent girl who would help him develop the community.  He was certain he wanted a girl with leadership qualities.  He remembered his friend Wangolo who had married a hard-working woman.  He was going to talk to Wangolo. Maybe his wife, Nasike, would have a good recommendation.

The next day, Wangolo felt honored to be taken into such confidence by Masaba.  He and his wife were going to make sure they didn't introduce Masaba to a bimbo.  They promised the would get back to him.  But even before Masaba had left, Nasike knew just the right person.  It had to be Nambozo.

Nambozo, together with some other young women had started a gardeners’ club which had already begun getting recognition throughout Bugisu.  The members of the club would meet at 6:00 a.m. at one person's farm and work for half the day.  They would plant, weed and harvest crops.  They would rotate from one member's garden to another and at harvest time share the produce.

Although the club was popular, not just anyone was permitted to join.  You had to have a reputation for hard work and it was Nambozo who interviewed and recruited the club's members.  For her young age, having such a responsibility was a great achievement.  This week they were working at Nambuya's banana plantation.  Nasike called Nambozo aside when they took their sugar cane snack break and asked her if she had time to join her for dinner in two day's time.  Nambozo accepted with pleasure because she knew there would be smoked bamboo, which was a treat since it was not in season.  Nasike never ran out of smoked bamboo.  She somehow had it all year around, even when other people had eaten all theirs.

"Who else is coming? Do I need to braid may hair?”  Nambozo wanted to know. "No, just wash it well and apply coconut oil. That will make it shine," replied Nasike.  She knew Masaba was not a superficial man.  He was the kind of person who would not judge a person from the style of her hair .

On the day of the dinner, Nambozo showed up at Wangolo’s house an hour early so that she could help Nasike with the pounding of peanuts.  Nasike was already cooking the bananas and the delicious bamboo could be smelled a mile away.  The pounded peanuts were going to be added to the bamboo later on.  Masaba came a little late but that was a Bagisu tradition.  Showing up on time was regarded as an act of greediness.

It was a delightful dinner, although the conversation was quite formal.  Wangolo, Nasike, Masaba and Nambozo talked about the future of the gardeners’ club and the prospects of encouraging the young ladies to improve their skills and production.  Masaba soon realized Nambozo was his type of person and that they had a lot in common.  They were both interested in the clan's development.

After a month, Masaba proposed to Nambozo and Masaba's father and all the elders were very pleased.  The Chief held the biggest wedding party ever for his son.  Local brew made from millet was served in moderation in that Nambozo and Masaba were very much opposed to the excessive use of alcohol.  The village drummers and dancers put on their best show.  Even Masaba's father danced, wriggled his shoulders with expertise and joined in the chorus of  some wedding songs.

Years later, Masaba succeeded his father as chief and he and Nambozo became the new leaders of the clan.  They had two lovely sons and two daughters and taught them that the surest way to success is through hard work, love for other people, and peace within one's self.


Lydia K said...

Hi Immy, thanks for this peace.What were the names of Masaba and Nambozo's children? Do you know the Gulu and Nambi's story? The story has it that they came from Mbala as well. Folklore or do you think they truly existed?

Immy Rose said...

Hi Lydia,

My story is not historically accurate because I wrote it for my daughter in 1999. Her teacher asked her to bring in a book with stories from Africa and we had none. So, I decided to write "Mulembe Yaya" based on the folklore stories my mother had told me when I was a little girl. However, if you see my other post, "A Brief History of Bugisu", that is factual. Regarding the Gulu and Nambi story, I afraid I don't know the facts, but I have heard the Baganda ancestors also originated from Mt. Elgon. Hello sister!!:))

May 28, 2011 6:02 PM

Kevin Graham said...

Hi, Immy Rose, NIce job on the blog. I enjoyed reading it. Mulembe Ya Ya is a nice story with a good message.
Wheatherit is fact ot folklore I am sure it has been played out many times in many different parts of the world. Hard work and true love of self and others , a winning combination. I will look forward to teading more from you.


Immy Rose said...

Mulembe, Kevin

Thank you for your kind words.

I appreciate this kind of feedback.

Simon Mulongo said...

These are sweet and entertaining creations! Thanks my great sister, Immy! Am simply infatuated. Truly Lumasaaba. Wherever you are, let's get in touch. Am developing some literature on the history and basic anthropology on Bamasaaba. Your material is infectiously great. Bless you, Immy.