Ekisaakaate: Ganda culture holiday camp for kids
The literal meaning of Ekisaakaate is “an enclosure”. The Ekisaakaate was a large homestead surrounded by a tall and big fence of well trimmed reeds tied together with dry banana fiber, which made it impossible for one on the outside to see inside the fence even at a close angle. In traditional Buganda society, Ekisaakaate (plural of Ekisaakaate) fenced homesteads of royals, chiefs and other high ranking officials.
Written by Nakisanze Segawa
Ekisaakaate was an initiative that groomed the young generation; it instilled values of displine and leadership, and helped to preserve cultural norms. It also provided opportunities for knowledge transfer, especially through apprenticeship with skilled professionals, which included craftsmanship, such as pottery, blacksmithing and hunting skills.
However, when Buganda lost its soverenity in the late 1880s to the British colonialists, its culture started to dwindle.
It is upon this background, therefore, that the Nabagereka of Buganda, Her Royal Highness Sylvia Nagginda, initiated a children’s holiday camp in 2007. The purpose of this camp was to nurture respect and appreciation for culture and heritage, which is especially important in today’s modern society where parents do not spend enough time with their children to educate them on these issues.
The reason for this may be that parents are either too busy, or just like their children: They too have little or no knowledge about their culture, especially those born and raised in the diaspora.
A biannual event
The Ekisaakaate is a biannual event. The first programme is in January and it targets children whose schools adhere to the Uganda National Examinations Board education schedule. The second programme, which targets international students and those in the Diaspora, takes place in July.
For this year’s January programme, which took place at St. Mary’s College Kitende on Entebbe road and was organized under the theme of ‘Culture and nature’s development’, parents paid two hundred thousand shillings for each child. Children were trained in etiquette, which includes kneeling in the Ganda culture while greeting, and craftsmanship.
They also took part in other activities like games, which include amongst others the traditional board game of Omweso; dance and home baking, such as making the traditional Ganda dish Oluwombo and preparing food in the banana leaves.
Moving to gender equality
In the past, the afore-mentioned activities were divided amongst children based on gender. For instance, weaving of baskets and carry bags (commonly known as ebiikapu) with materials ranging from banana plants to palm-tree leaves, as well as activities like baking, was reserved for girls. The boys, on the other hand, made bark cloth, hunting gadgets and musical instruments.
These days, however, the Ekisaakaate programme has dispensed with these gender-based divisions. Boys and girls are trained in similar skills. Despite the fact that it is a wholesome program, it is clear from the number of boys who attend the programme that most parents think the Ekisaakaate is meant for girls.
One parent even wondered whether it is for the Baganda children only, however according the Ekisaakaate publist, Mrs. Nalwoga Susan the programme target children from all corners of the country.
There is also the issue of the current economic situation, of course. Parents are already struggling to find tuition for each academic term. No matter how much they want their children to attend Ekisaakaate, the fee is on the high side.
With many partners, including corporate companies like Rwenzori beverages among other and well-to-do individuals like the governor of bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Mutabile, one would expect the Ekisaakaate programme to be affordable. Yet the high fee echoes the history of the program – Ekisaakaate was originally meant for the aristocrats. This is evident even today in the public perception of its endeavors. Many people think of it as a preserve of children from affluent families.
Benefits and doubts
The questions we need to be asking are: Firstly, what are the benefits of the Ekisaakaate programs to the children of the so-called peasants and the low-class parents?
Mrs. Nalwoga Susan explains that the Ekisaakaate programme doesn’t exclude low or medium income earners:
“In fact most of the participants we get are not from rich families,” she elaborates. “And the fee is not high if one considers the high inflation in the country. Yet, under the programme accommodation, meals and both physical and emotional mentoring are provided at the exact fee. Another thing is that more money is spent on each child than the two hundred thousand shillings paid by the parent, which is why we get funding from our partners for sustenance,” she adds.
Secondly, what sort of social structures should be erected to ensure that the children who attend Ekisaakaate are followed up? If indeed it is the children with affluent parents who end up attending, how can one be sure that the perceived benefits of the Ekisaakaate program are not, in fact, wasted on them?
After all, it is the self-same children – the children of the affluent – who will return to homes where all the baking and cleaning and cooking is done by maids.
Practice the skills
It is these children who will probably never get the opportunity to practice their weaving and bark cloth making skills, mostly because every woven item in their homes, every art piece that has a whiff of bark cloth about it, will probably have been bought from a market like the Buganda road craft village or that at the national theater at a ridiculously extravagant price.
Sarah from the Nabagereka’s office insists that, it’s up to the parents to monitor and help their children practice what they have learnt and experienced from the programme.
Amos, a twelve year old boy of Kings College secondary school attended this year’s Ekisaakaate was glad that he had also met new friends there. He said that his most memorable experience was when he attended the karate lessons, which raises a question:
Is karate part of the Ganda culture, and if not, which certainly is, how does it benefit the youngsters and of what relevance is karate to the cultural programme?
According to one parent who did not like to disclose her name for publication, but who wishes to have her ten year old son participate in next year’s January Ekisaakaate programme: “I wouldn’t mind my son having karate lessons, we live in a global village and I understand that karate is not part of our culture, but it is fun and good when your son learns a little bit about physical self-defense.”
Bring the lerning home
The Ekisaakaate programme can only be effective if children return home and their parents let them practice what they have learnt. Instead of the maid cooking every single day of a week, let children showcase the home baking skills they have learnt from the Ekisaakaate.
Let the children practice the craftsmanship skill they have learnt and generate income for self-development. Until then, the value of the Ekisaakaate remains a matter of image and aristocracy as it used to hundreds of years ago.
Nakisanze Segawa is an aspring writer and the third winner of the 2010 Bereverly Nambozo Poetry award. Currentlly she is working on her first novel, which is also historical about Kabaka Mwanga.