I don’t rant. It’s not in my nature to send my mouth on a verbal parade. I rant from within and… I sweat words through my hands onto the paper when I’m angry or happy. And today, I’ll rant, because thorny words are lodged in my throat…

Encounter 1 [At a flight booking counter]

“What’s your name?”

ME: Anena.


ME: Anena…Harriet

“Anena…that’s a rare name. I have never heard it before.”

ME: [smiles]

“Which district do you come from?”

ME: Gulu. Gulu District

“Gulu? In the north?”

ME: Yes sir

“So you are a Langi?”

ME: No, I am an Acholi

“Nooooo…you can’t be”

ME: I have just told you I am.

“You don’t look like them.”

ME: How are they supposed to look?

“They are black [read, dark], tall and…”

ME: I know…I have heard that several times


Encounter 2 (Passenger in a bus]

ME: Good morning

“Yes…Good morning. Ogenda wa?”

ME: I’m going to Kampala

“[He asks several questions in some language that sound like a mix of Luganda and Runyankole]”

[I don’t understand any of it…]

ME: Pardon me…

“Is Kampala home…?”

ME: No, that’s where I work

“So, you come from where?”

ME: Gulu?

“Nooo. You don’t look like them.”

ME: I am them

“Hmmmm…you look like you come from western…like the Baganda, or us Banyankole…not Acholi

ME: [Tries so hard to keep a smile on…]

“So your parents, they are both Acholi?”

ME: Yes…they are

“Hmmm…you are brown. Those people are not brown. They are black like those ones [pointing to couple seated on the front seat]”

ME: [Silence]

That is just a few incidents I remember in detail. But I’m tired of always having to justify my ‘Acholiness’. I’m fed up of having to explain why I’m not as ‘black’ as ‘real’ Acholi are supposed to be and why I’m not tall and why I’m not ugly and why I have big eyes and why my hair is not ‘hard’ and why it is even long in the first place.

“Isn’t that place like so hot it makes your hair so steel wire-like? But your hair is different…” A work-mate once told me last year.

What could I say? I kept quiet and smiled, a smile wrapped in so many emotions I don’t want to give it a name.

“But how come you don’t have their accent? The accent of ‘dis sis my brada Sals’ [This is my brother Charles’. Why don’t I have that Acholi accent? Why?

And what is Anena supposed to answer? Should I ask my tongue why it walks over the ‘h’ and ‘s’ with ease when they are not supposed to? Why must I look like ‘them’ to qualify as ‘them’?

This shadeism, this tribal screening is not what I want to undergo. I’m not supposed to. Is it my fault that of the six children my parents sired I’m the only ‘brown’ one? My mum is light skinned, but must I always explain why I turned out ‘lighter’ than her?

I’m the daughter of my mother and my father. I am proud of them. I’m even proud of Uganda [with all its madness], but why must I be subjected to this tribal exam and told ‘you are not them’?  Why don’t you believe me?

Why can’t we just be us? People? Human beings?

15 thoughts on “This tribal exam: I’m tired!

  1. Its time people begin to realize good things can be found all over Uganda. I experience that on many instances. Because i don’t sound like a Langi, some one thinks am not from North. Who says north does not have good things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That pretty Miopic….some of my best relationships were folks from the far East Acholi, Madi and Lango……but interestingly here in the US it doent matter what tribe but discrimination is colour based and its a very serious issue and its from individuals, local, state and national agencies and Institutions……a black woman even worse…a black gay woman…thats another level!!!!


  3. Much as it is humorous (especially the fellow in the taxi), this is something that has become so common in our society where we stereotype tribes and regions. We have reached a point of not expecting people from some tribes to do certain jobs or going beyond certain levels. Sometimes we hurt people instead and don’t bother to apologise. It is good you’ve shed light on this.


  4. Lubega, thank you. Sadly, even if you speak the language, somehow tribe will rear it’s head in the course of interaction and that’s when you get the exclamations and denials and all that…but well, one has to just get used to it.


  5. Hmm Anena.I understand and sympathise.Baganda and Baganda have to explain their noses.Uganda and other African countries are divided into Bantu,Nilo Hamites and Nilotics each group with its own physical features and accents.It is not tribal at all.Tribes in Zambia,Zimbabwe look like Baganda or Basoga and have the same names and similar languages.

    I do know you can find difficulty in Kampala if you cant speak Luganda but the same goes for Gulu if you cant speak Luo.The North/South divide of Uganda is likely to ever go away.It issubject to interpretation depending on where you come from.

    It is a beautiful,heart felt lament from you thouxx


  6. Anena, your rant reminds me of the pains i went hrpugh at the university……thnaks for sharing…… It takes a heart sometimes to explain to others, that indeed, one is, what some think one is not.


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