Koogere oral tradition of the Basongora, Banyabindi and Batooro peoples

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Inscribed in 2015 (10.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© Engabu Za Tooro, 2015

Koogere was a female chief of Busongora about 1,500 years ago. Oral tradition describes her exceptional wisdom and the prosperity of the chiefdom through a series of narratives, which form part of the collective memory of Basongora, Banyabindi and Batooro communities in Kasese. This oral tradition is an essential and inspirational part of social philosophy and folk expression. It encompasses sayings and narrations focusing on images of plenty and abundance as blessings for hard work, highlighting the importance of wisdom and evoking female magic and heroism. Practitioners and custodians of the narratives are traditionally elders, sages, storytellers, poets, musicians, artists and indigenous families living near sites associated with the story. The story is retold and sung informally around the fireplace and during collective activities such as handicrafts, cattle herding and long-distance travel, with skilled older storytellers transmitting the tradition to younger participants. Koogere storytelling thus facilitates shared actions, recreation, wisdom, learning and intergenerational transfer of information, values and skills. However, today there is increasing dominance of formal training and education, while the transmission of knowledge and skills associated with enactment of Koogere oral tradition is informal and spontaneous and thus not adapted to these new methods. Moreover, the use of the language of Koogere story – Runyakitara (Runyoro-Rutooro) is declining. Knowledge of the oral tradition is therefore decreasing rapidly with only four surviving master storytellers able to relate more than one episode of the Koogere story. The frequency of these practices is also diminishing, as other entertainment dominates the social spaces associated with enactment and transmission.

The homestead of Topista Kezabu in Gweri, Kabarole, Uganda, who still practices evening story telling sessions despite diminishing audience.
Topista Kezabu, demonstrating an episode in Koogere story during a story telling session at her home, Gweri, Kabarole, Uganda
Communal grazing, which is fast disappearing, is a cultural space for story telling among Basongora pastoralist community in Kasese District, Uganda.
Basongora indigenous women share Koogere story telling during a group handcraft session in Muhokya village, Kasese District, Uganda
Basongora indigenous women share Koogere story telling during handcraft session in Busunga village, Kasese District, Uganda.
Basongora indigenous women entertain themselves with a traditional poem on Koogere story, accompanied by a traditional instrument called Ennanga in Nyakakindo village, Kasese District, Uganda
A folklorist, Lawrence Kalenzi, entertains his audience with a traditional song on Koogere story, accompanied by a fiddle tuner (Endingidi) in Fort Portal, Uganda.
A group of folk performers plays a traditional trampet (Amakondere), a royal performance believed to have its origins in the tory of Koogere
Koogere oral tradition has got natural sites as its symbolic points of reference, like a forest, a hill and crater lake, and they are linked to certain narratives in the story.
The forest linked to some narratives in Koogere oral tradition and where the bearers trek following the trails of the story.