1000 ACRE BOTANICAL GREENHOUSE
Uganda - Land of Milk and Honey
In the capital of Sudan, Khartoum the White Nile meets with the Blue Nile in dramatic fashion as the poets call it, “the longest kiss in history” but rather than searching for passion and conflict my curiosity took me further down the African map to the origins of Man. If all Mankind came from Africa, then surely we must have all originated from the source of the Nile? The source of the White Nile starts to rise in Lake Victoria near a village called Jinga or some call Ginga in Uganda. It is from these parts of the world that scientists have, for decades, been searching for cures for TB, asthma, HIV and blood related cancers. It is my understanding, that even today, Ugandan mothers take their newly born children down to the banks and plaster the mineral rich mud all over the bodies of their babies. This ritual is performed in order to protect the children from leprosy, tuberculosis and to boost the child’s immune system. The news of this ancient tradition soon found its way to the UK and as far back as the 1970’s research was conducted by British scientists who were intent on finding the secrets within the mud found on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. Six years ago I was informed of a clinical drug trial designed for patients with breast cancer known as the “Dirt Vaccine”. The microbiologist, Dr John Standford and his wife Cynthia worked amongst Ugandans afflicted with leprosy and tuberculosis and treated the patients with mycrobacterium vaccae, the rather elaborate Latin term for Ugandan mud. It has been well documented that mycrobacterium vaccae unlocks the body’s natural power to fight a wide range of diseases. The late David Pickering, an oncologist who worked in Maidstone, Kent used this vaccine on women with breast cancer with interesting results.
Could this Ugandan mud be the DNA of all Creation? Are the origins of Creation to be found on the banks of the Nile in Uganda? These were the thoughts that were racing around my head as I began my journey to the Ngoma workshop in the Western Region in the beautiful village of Kazo in 2008.
I arrived at Entebbe International Airport, famed for it’s spectacular Libyan hijacking in the Idi Amin regime in the mid 1970’s. The airport was clean and efficient, giving the inkling of a rather sophisticated country. Ben Bukenya, one of the Organizers, had generously arranged for a car to pick me up and drive me to the Capital and as I entered into the airport car park, Joseph instantly recognised me, as I was one of the few whites at the airport. He greeted me with such an enormous smile it was a genuine pleasure to be back on African soil.
Kampala was surprisingly hot for the rainy season and my first impression was of an extraordinary country. Huge black and white feathered Cranes perched carefully on the high white roadside lights as if to welcome visitors to the Capital. The smells were intoxicating as the countryside was crying out for rain. We arrived a little late at the Hotel Africa and we were greeted by some of the best emerging artists on and off the continent. Within minutes I was nervously introducing myself as the person who wrote the African Artists blog and was keen to photograph the various artists and find out more about their work.
Standing in front of the group was the rather impressive General of the Armed Forces, the Honourable General Elly Tumwine. He was dressed immaculately and wore a pair of trendy dark glasses, which covered up his damaged eye. Late I was told he had been injured in the war for Independence against the British. The General explained that he too was an artist and expressed how delighted he was to welcome us all to his beloved Uganda.
Honourable General Elly Tumwine
An overwhelming sense of relief passed over me in the reassuring knowledge that the head of the army was taking care of the group. I was thrilled to see such a variety of artists from all over the Continent present at the workshop, such exceptional artists as Stephen Garan’anga from Zimbabwe, Gordon Shamulenge from Zambia, the political cartoonist, Fred Halla from Tanzania and Innocent Nkurunziza from Rwanda. To my surprise Lilian Nabulime, the Ugandan sculptor, made a guest appearance and we greeted each other as old friends. I had previously met Lilian in 2004 in London and arranged for her to do an interview with BBC Africa Network. She spoke eloquently about her sculptural work with clear soaps. The soaps were shaped as both male and female reproductive organs and inside one could see the rusty nails and rotten seeds. This was a series of works expressing an interesting and intelligent artistic interpretation of the effects of HIV/Aids.
Dr Philip Kwesiga
The person I was most interested in meeting was Dr Philip Kwesiga, the famous ceramicist from Uganda. The Organizers had teamed us up and for the two-week duration of the workshop, we lived together at the glorious home of Mr and Mrs Katugunda, who were fantastic hosts.
Mr. Sam Mugisha Katugunda
Mr. Sam Mugisha Katugunda is a Preacher, Magistrate and Dairy Farmer all rolled into one. His love for the land and his cows was a wonderful sight to behold and his deep concerns for the future are being echoed all over the continent. Mrs Katugunda is a terrific cook and Philip and I slept on heavy stomachs every evening during our two-week stay.
The countryside in Western Uganda is the most fertile I have ever seen. One begins to realise just why the country is known as the land of milk and honey. I had left the UK with preconceptions that I was entering a country full of disease, political unrest and raging war. A country rife with HIV and Aids coupled with the Ebola virus and the plague but to my satisfaction I found the countryside rich in minerals and a veritable Eden. The school children and the grown ups all had a wonderfully healthy glow about them. I found a country that grew eight varieties of bananas, fabulous passion fruit, pineapples and numerous pumpkins and all the food grown in Uganda is grown without the need for artificial fertilizers. In fact the region produces more milk than the country can drink and even exports to neighbouring Tanzania and Sudan. The fresh air was such a powerful tonic I was flabbergasted that I felt so well.
The workshop was an interesting mix of talking to the different schools in Kazo and then encouraging the pupils to create artworks for their compounds; “Talking Compounds” was the title and the artists, alongside the pupils created visual aids for each school. The aim of the workshop was to create awareness of the importance of mosquito nets and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and Aids.
The parents that housed the group were extremely concerned that the artists would find their homes inadequate but the real success story of the workshop was those families that housed us. They were quietly astonished to find that we all fully appreciated their generous hospitality and enjoyed the time spent talking about Uganda and life in the countryside.
Personally, I enjoyed and gained so much from spending time with all the artists; Stephan Garan’anga with his interesting political views on Zimbabwe, my great drinking partners Gordon Shamulenge and Innocent Nkurunziza and especially, Dr Philip Kwesiga. Philip and I spoke at length about the way in which he painted and glazed his pots. The different firing techniques he had learnt in the UK and most importantly about the Ugandan mud or clay that he particularly enjoyed working with. I told Philip about the “Dirt Vaccine” and the exciting health implications that that had on the work he was producing, the novel idea that a ceramic pot could be an important instrument for healing. The conversation developed and we started to talk about the land. We spoke about the importance of herbs: about the importance of the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. This simple practice is slowly beginning to be eroded with the influx of modern medicines. We spoke about the importance of documenting these herbs and retaining this most precious resource and not just from Uganda but from all over Africa: we spoke about his son and about architecture: about Renzo Piano and his new architectural work at the Natural Science Museum in San Francisco: about the Eden Project down in Cornwall.
Natural Science Museum in San Francisco by Renzo Piano
The Eden Project in Cornwall
Could the land that is presently being farmed by dairy cows be also used as a greenhouse? Could Uganda pull up the land as Piano has done in San Francisco and build a 1,000-acre herb garden, housing all the known herbs from all over Africa? I made the suggestion that rather than giving the herbs a complex Latin name why not refer to the plants in their Africa native language and archive the collection on African terms.
As we spoke we were abruptly interrupted by a series of screams coming from a nearby bar. Vigorous shrieks for the favoured Manchester United over ‘the Gunners’ of Arsenal . Philip’s eyebrows raised and he said, “It is a disgrace that Ugandans are so passionately supportive of a football team that isn’t even on the same continent and more importantly comes from the very country that colonized us. There is a huge interest in football here, I just don’t understand why we don’t create our own Premiership League and buy up cheap young European players from places like Poland or Bulgaria?” We both smiled and continued our conversation.
We spoke about golden carp being farmed in China in amongst the paddy fields alongside the rice: we spoke about planting the Nim trees for Malaria and Steven’s Cure from East London, South Africa to treat those with TB, herbs from the Republic of Benin that can reduce inoperable cancerous lumps and we spoke about Nejib Belkhodja and Slah Smaoui about the botanical garden, which the two created in Tunisia at the Village of Ken.
If two men can create an entire village, just image what could be achieved with all the artists working collectively. Working to document, archive the knowledge from each Grandparent. The most important resource in Africa is not gold or diamonds, oil or timber but the knowledge passed down from each and everybody’s Grandparent. The majority of countries throughout the continent are fully aware of this rich currency but have for some reason allowed, as have we all, to fall victim to greed and modern day consumerism and Capitalism.
The new Independent Nations of Africa are in the ideal position to base their Nations currency on knowledge passed down from Grandparents rather than placing the Nations future on a western ideal of currency, which is based around items mined in Africa by Africans for westerners; based on unnecessary luxury items that are unattainable for the majority within Africa and frankly serve no purpose but to the minority that wears them. A country that has the courage to base it’s future on the importance of an ecological knowledge base rather than on the ridiculous notion that all that glitters is gold is a country that really is looking forward to a bright future.
© Joe Pollitt, 2009