In Catholic school, there was a big muwafu tree whose large roots grew right through the lawn into the foundation of the form 3 classroom block. Its many leaves made compulsory compound work even harder for the Form 1’s who were assigned to it. There were stories of spirits dancing around it at night, to the rumor of the new illuminati cult in school meeting there. Heck even the Good Friday, “Way of the Cross” activity was done around it. The Muwafu was our prolific spiritual symbol.
Kasooha village’s Muwafu has a different name – Mugamba ni Mpyata. Outside Budongo forest in Kasooha, is a large tree of skyscraper length with multiple branches a piece of which is believed to make a person invincible. Strong, untouchable. According to the tale, with a piece, one can’t be arrested or robbed. In fact they become invisible to their enemies or anyone who might want to hurt them. On these branches grow many leaves and tiny red fruits. It is these fruits that chimpanzees leave the forest in pursuit of. Below the tree is a well that has long become the point of conflict. Baguma was supposed to return to work after picking his son from school, he tills the land in the next village. Instead he rode his motorcycle here to collect water.
“My children used to collect water – their mother too. But this place has become dangerous. We have to escort them or collect the water ourselves.” He says that the children in the beginning liked to throw stones at the chimps and adults chased them – or attempted to. The chimps fought back. And they did so with a vengeance. “In the recent years, at least 2 deaths were recorded every year.” But how did this conflict begin?
The locals say that when Kinyara Sugar Works Plantations occupied part of the forest, the primates’ habitat was distabilised, forcing them to seek shelter elsewhere. “They used to stay there and never disturb us. I just want them to all be collected and taken back to the forest,” Baguma says. “Now they come to our homes and gardens to eat our fruits; they have even taken over the well.” He adds in resignation.
Just then there’s a ruffle in the branches, our eyes instinctively shoot up to the tree. “Ah, it’s a white tailed monkey!” Someone announces. So the monkeys share Mugamba Ni Mpyata with the chimps in harmony, I suppose. Not according to Baguma. “Those ones, they even hold like this and tear them apart.” He lifts his hands and makes a demonstration the Sunday school teacher made during the Red-Sea-parting story. Woah! Could the chimps be here now? “No. They come out in the afternoon.” It’s 10 am. I checked. I am thinking we better head back then.
But first I want to weigh all possibilities. So I ask Baguma whether anyone been killed by chimps here recently. “No. Not since the Jane Goodall Institute taught us how to handle them.” Eh, handle them? “Yes.” And we talked about that handling. In the next blog post I will tell you all about it.