H.E. Yoweri K. Museveni President of the Republic of Uganda
On the launch of the Runyankore-Rukiga Thesaurus
7th November, 2012 Serena, UICC


Language is a means of communication among human beings. It is also a store of human knowledge. You cannot describe what you do not know. I have for a long time known that the Bantu dialects and, possibly, the other African languages are much richer than the European languages. The only problem was that many of these dialects were not written down. The Banyankore have a history of writing in the form of hieroglyphics. Unlike in Egypt where scarcity of water compelled people to keep records, in tropics, awash with water, food, building materials and many others, such a need did not exist. The hieroglyphics, therefore, only ended up as decorations on walls, or on food utensils, etc. With limited writing and with our elders fast dying off, I got very worried that we may lose these unique languages. It is good that I learnt English for fourteen years (1953-1966). I am able to compare that language with Runyankore-Rukiga, which I know very well.


This Runyankore-Rukiga is a dialect that is a sub-group of many dialects that are spoken by the interlacustrine Bantus – the Bantus of the Lakes. mutually intelligible. I regard all these dialects as one language. Why? This is because they are If I can understand what you are saying without translation, even if you are speaking in a slightly different way, then, we are speaking the same language. This one language for the interlacustrine Bantus is in concentric circles. Within the inner circle in terms of mutual intelligibility, there is the RunyankoreRukiga-Ruhororo; the next circle comprises RunyoroRutooro, Runyambo of Karagwe, Ruhaya of Bukoba (Buhaya), Rujinja of Biharamulo-Sengerema Tanzania and Rusuubi (Tanzania); Lusoga, Luruuli, Lugungu, Lugweere, Luramoogi, Lusiki form the next circle; Luganda forms the next circle; Runyarwanda-Rurundi form the next circle, Lugisu-Lusamya-Luluya (Kenya) form the next circle; and,



Lukonjo-Lunande of Congo form the final circle.

Up to circle no. 5, I, a Runyankore-Rukiga speaker, can listen in a relaxed manner and understand almost everything without translations, just occasionally inquiring about a slightly different word here and there. Beyond that, I must listen very carefully and ask frequently about, sometimes, the same words spoken differently. When I visited the former Vice President of Kenya, Mzee Moody Awori, for instance, the women came in singing: “kingula Mlanga, Museveni yaizire”. Nothing could be more Runyankore than this. In Runyankore, you would say: “igura omuryango Museveni yaizire”. Nevertheless, the word kukingula is also used to mean to open although, I think, the Banyankore only use it in reference to open ekihongore (the calf-pen). Otherwise, they use igura. Beyond these 7 circles, the Bantu dialects have a lot of similarities. However, you cannot easily get the sense. It


is amazing that a foreigner like H.M. Stanley could easily and quickly see this but the Africans cannot see it. He pointed out that from Ituri in Congo up to Mwanza in Tanzania, they used the translators who spoke the “Hima” language. (Runyoro Mwanza, in they By the “Hima” language he meant Rukonjo, to the Rusongora, At Lusukumaprecisely these interlacustrine dialects of the 7 circles Bunia-Congo, had to Runyankore, Luganda, Runyambo, Rujinja, etc. transfer Runyamwezi translators. The only problem is that we do not have an agreed name for this language. Prof. Ndoleriire of Makerere called it Runyakitara. Should all of us adopt this? I have no major problem; however, when you use Runyakitara, the Luganda speakers feel excluded because, in terms of political history, the three counties of Kyadondo, Busiro and Mawokota pulled out of the Kitara Empire quite early. Then, hostilities between the two units characterized their


subsequent relations.

Could we not look at also other

possible descriptions? How about Rucwezi on account of the common linkages to that dynasty – the Bachwezi. Alternatively, we could also look at the geography of our area. We have our lakes – the Nyanjas. Can we not call this language Lunyanja, Lunyanyanja, etc – the language of the lakes. This is to avoid duplicating the use of the word “kinyanja” which is used in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, unless of course, we want to refer to this language as Kinyanja (North) and the other one as Kinyanja (South). These dialects are much closer, I am told, than the dialects of German or Arabic. I am told that with some of the dialects of the two languages, you cannot understand each other. That is why in the case of Arabic, they took the dialect of the Koran as the standard Arabic and in the case of German, they took the dialect of the Bible, which means the tribal language of Martin Luther, as the


standard German. Once I was

In our case, we are much luckier. to capture especially the

These dialects are mutually intelligible. determined vocabulary of this unique dialect, Runyankore-Rukiga, I decided to research into most of the Runyankore words whose meanings are not well known to me on account of colonial intrusion. You capture these words in people’s Names names, in classical songs, riddles, rhymes, etc.

like: Rusiribya, Rutanyohoka, Runonzya, Katsimbazi and many others. It was a terrible thing that I did not know the meaning of these words yet I was a much better Runyankore speaker than many people, especially the young ones. It was at this stage, that I got in touch with three academicians in the persons of: Prof. Emmanuel Muranga, Mrs. Alice Muhoozi and Mr. Gilbert Gumoshabe. These trained linguists gave me one good idea. They told me, rightly, that it is difficult to just sit down and


remember words from your head. They advised that it is better to collect words activity by activity, such as fighting, agriculture, animal husbandry, herbal medicine, marriage, to mention only a few. We adopted this and it has worked so well. We have collected about 22,000 The words in the Thesaurus which we have compiled.

reader will be able to see the richness of these dialects. You take, for instance, the English verb “to stand”. The Runyankore-Rukiga equivalent is: “okwemerera”. This is the general word. However, there are other verbs that describe the different ways of standing. Okwetsimba (to stand still); okuhanda (to be transfixed or to stand aimlessly); kubambira (to stand in); kuzaagira (to be stagnant), etc. To do all this we were assisted by a number of elders. Mzee Amosi Kaguta, my father, was a principal source of information. Other elders include: Mzee Rutanyohoka, the late Mzee Israel Katuuka, Mzee Mutentsa of Kabula,


Mzee Kagunga of Ntungamo, the late Mzee Kirindi of Ibanda, here. These dialects’ superiority to the foreign languages I have come across, is illustrated even in the technical fields of artisanship and manufacturing. I will use the example of metal-work (iron) to illustrate this by reading what is contained in this Thesaurus from pages 318 to 320 regarding iron works. I wrote this piece after having extensively de-briefed Mzee George Kajuga of Ishaka, one of the few surviving Baheesi (black-smiths). I pointed out that it was a shame for the modern education system not to expose students to the indigenous African technology. Banyankore were organized in castes. and the cattle-keepers (Abariisa). The two well known castes are the ones of the cultivators (Abahingi) Yet there were other castes. These were always family based. Certain families the late Mzee Rutasheenya of Rubanga Ntungamo and many others whom I cannot all include







blacksmiths leather-


bark-cloth-makers wood-workers

(Abakomagyi); (Ababaizi);

workers (Abahazi, Abaremi); clay-workers (Ababumbi, Abanogoozi); arrow-workers (Abatanagi); etc. In this article, having utilized the unique knowledge of Mzee George Kajuga of Ishaka, I would like to capture for you the trade of the Abahesi (blacksmiths). What is amazing and unique are the technical terms in the Runyankore language. While English uses descriptions of different scientific and technological processes, One Runyankore has got unique technical terms.

example is the process described as “cold-shrinkage” in English. This is a process of heating a metal to red-hot and then cooling it suddenly by immersing it in cold water. That sudden cooling, apparently, makes the metal stronger. The Banyankore blacksmiths use one word for this: kukaza. Of course, I have had occasion to quote


other examples from other aspects demonstrating the same point. The most striking is the English word: forehead. In many African dialects they use one word: ekyenyi in Luganda, obuso in Runyankore and other Runyakitara dialects. Coming back to the blacksmith vocabulary, we start with the grass thatched shed for this purpose, called ekirubi. I do not know what they would call it in English other than the general word of shed. Within the kirubi, there is the furnace itself. This furnace is broken into parts. The fireplace is called iziiko which is circular with a hole of about one foot in the middle. You notice the closeness of this word iziiko with the Swahili word jiiko, meaning kitchen. African languages put to shame the reactionaries who always proclaim how different and unconnected the African peoples are – total falsehood. Joined to the iziiko (the fire-place) is a funnel called encheru in Runyankore. The funnel is linked to clay-pipes known as ebichunga.


This word bichunga is also used for another item used to scent milk-pots (okwitira). These bichunga have got a curved edge known as omuhiro – like a ringed edge to the kichunga (the clay-pipe). Around this pipe-edge (omuhiro) is fastened a cattle-skin (oruhu). This process of fastening the skin around the clay-pipes is called okugyema. The usual tying in other situations is called okukoma. In the skin is inserted wooden-rods known as endiindi (oruriindi – singular). It is these ndiindi that are held by the blacksmith to blow air, through the bichunga, through the encheru to the iziiko in order to enhance oxygen supply to the fire when the actual time comes for melting iron-ore or iron itself. In English, apparently, the four are called one word: ‘bellow’. I would like to know whether the constituent parts of the bellow have got specific names from those who may know. However, for Runyankore the four parts: encheru, ebichunga, oruhu and endiindi are called omujuba (the bellow). The


process of pumping oxygen into the iziiko is known as okujuguta. Having described for you the shed of the blacksmith, the fire-place and the bellows, let us now go to the rawmaterial, the iron-ore. The English, obviously, found difficulty in defining this important compound – the ironore. The best they could do was to describe it – the ore of iron. The Banyankore, however, had a more precise and unique term – obutare. Other iron compounds are called differently: oburimbi (19.35% iron, 6.24% aluminium, 37.6% silicate and others); enoombe (10.6% iron, 8.1% aluminium, 35.2% silicate and others); ebisooni is of three types: grey (5.4% iron, 6.9% magnesium, 2.15% aluminium, 36.9% silicate and others); and reddish pink (1.98% iron, 9.45% aluminium, 42.0 % silicate and others); white (12.5% aluminium, 41.8% silicate, 15.8% carbonates and others). Many names of places are For example, Butare derived from these compounds.

means there is iron-ore there; Burimbi means there is iron, aluminium and silicate; Noombe means the area has iron, aluminium and silicate. Kebisooni means the area has iron, aluminium, silicate, and magnesium. The ironore is first crashed into pieces. Then, it is tied in a bundle with the use of a grass known as eyojwa (Rhodenta kageransis) and ropes from a plant known as emishinya. According to Mzee Kajuga, eyojwa is preferred because it burns completely (okuyonga). This bundle of iron-ore fragments is known as omujego. Bundles of food or firewood would be called differently: omutwaro, omushenga for food, oruba, ekiba for fire-wood and grass respectively. These bundles in plural are called emijego. Pieces of dry papyrus stems (enkorogoto) are put in the hole in the iziiko. The lowest ones are packed vertically and the ones on top are laid horizontally on top of the other ones. Then, iron-bars are laid across the fire-place – leaving spaces between them. Across these iron-bars, the emijego (iron-ore bundles) are put. Then, charcoal


from special trees is piled up around the emijego.


many as ten emijego can be dealt with at one go. However, before you pile the charcoal, you light the nkorogoto with fire – these are the dry papyrus stems. Once the charcoal is piled and the fire is burning, you start blasting the air into the furnace by the use of the omujuba (the bellows). This is called okujuguta. It is done by men, continuously, in relays. It can go on for about ten hours. You may start the process at 4.00 a.m. in the morning and continue up to 2.00 p.m. in the afternoon. charcoal. wattle. After the pumping of oxygen has gone on for about ten hours, you will begin noticing sparks similar to those of welding. That will mean that iron has been separated from iron-ore and the material is now liquid instead of During this time you are replenishing the This charcoal is from certain trees only:

omukoyooyo, omuhungye, omurera, obugando or black-



It is also no longer red-hot but actually almost It

white – ‘like the moon’ our blacksmiths say. These sparks are called amasasi (same words used for bullets). seems when bullets were introduced into our society by Arabs, our people compared them to these blacksmith sparks. Hence, the name amasasi or isasi (singular). Once the blacksmiths saw the sparks, they knew that melting (hence separation of iron from oxygen) was taking place. The molten iron would keep dripping into the hole in the fire-place. During the blasting, another process would take place. This is the controlled process of the surface temperature of the burning charcoal by sprinkling water on the top layer. This process is called kuzimiza whereby, using an instrument of loosened fibres similar to a fly-whisker known as eisiza, the blacksmith would sprinkle water, from time to time, over the top layer of the hot charcoal. The purpose of this was to create a type of upper


insulation for the heat so that the heat is directed downwards to the iron-ore. This water would be got from a hole next to the omujuba. ekizimirizo. described. (emijego) This hole is called The verb okuzimiza meant to reduce the I forgot to point out that the iron-bars laid the iron-ore bundles (holders of the are called ebikingisirizo

surface temperature of the top charcoal as already across the fire-place to hold

emijego). The other synonym for omujego (the bundle of iron-ore pieces) is called akarambatsi. Again, the closeness between the verb okuzimiza and the Swahili word kuzimya moto is amazing. It means to put out the fire. However, in the Runyankore of blacksmiths, it means to control the fire. Once the sparking has gone on for some time, the blasting (okujuguta) is stopped and the fire is allowed to die down. It is left to cool overnight. The following day, the lump of metal is got out, the ashes of charcoal


removed, the hole in the fire-place filled with soil and the slugs removed. These slugs (the remainder of the ironore after the iron has been removed) are called emomo. The blacksmith now has got iron (ekyooma). The next phase, on another day, is to reheat this metal to achieve two things: make it purer and attach the iron lump to a holder for future handling – a type of a very long ladle for holding the iron-lump. This long handle is called omureengo. On account of heating, the mureengo gets joined to the metal-lump like the spoon and its handle or ladle. The omureengo cannot be held directly with bare hands. It will be too hot. A wooden handle is attached. It is called embago. The rich Runyankore language is inexhaustible. The wooden handle for panga (omuhoro) is called ekirindi; totally different name. Now that you have iron and it is attached to a holder (omureengo), the next phase is to flatten it – to make it a


type of a thick sheet (ekibanda) instead of being round (embumburi) or oblong (omwongo-like). How do you do this? You, again, heat and, in addition, use two big and special stones. One is called oruhiija (the anvil) and the other one is called omutsiindo (the hammer). Stones for other purposes are given different names e.g. orubeengo; and so are the hammers for different purposes e.g. enyondo. However, for the blacksmiths these are specific names: oruhiija and omutsiindo (musiindo in one of the accents). These special gadgets are made out of a stone known as omuyumbwe. Dr. Otiti, Dr. Kwesiga and their team will have to describe for us the types of these stones in modern geological language. Once you have flattened iron attached to the long handle (omureengo), you are now in business for tools (spears, pangas, hoes, etc). How are these made? Whenever you want to make any item, you go to your metal, heat it and


then cut the piece you want for further shaping.


you use a strengthened metal-cutter known as eshinjo. This is a little bit sharpened at the lower end and had gone through the process of okukaza (cold-shrinkage) where you heat a piece of metal to red-hot and, then, cool it suddenly by immersing it in ekizimirizo (the cooling trough or hollow). The Banyankore and other Africans had mastered also the process of wire-making – thinning metal to wire – like Casement does with the steel-bars and wires out of billets today. The Banyankore called it okukweega (pulling). When it comes to ordinary pulling, the Banyankore call it kunyurura. Kukweega, therefore, appears to have been for blacksmithing. The metal thinning and lengthening was necessary to be able to make thin-sized items such as empiindu for stitching crafts and textiles, orumweiso for shaving hair, omusyo for cutting meat or anything as well as special knives for harvesting millet (kugyesha). It


is interesting to note that the Baganda use the word: kumwa to refer to shaving hair. The Banyankore use a different word in modern times (kutega). However, the instrument they were using was called orumweiso – the instrument for kumwa. This would mean that in the past, the Banyankore may have used a common word with the Baganda. Now that we have got iron, we need to introduce you to the instruments that are used for cutting and shaping metal products. metal-cutter. I have told you about eshinjo – the The big eshinjo (empango) is for cutting

iron; the small eshinjo (enkye) is for cutting copper, brass, aluminium, etc. To cut metals you use eshinjo by hitting it with a heavy hammer known as Rwatampiija. At this stage, I will simply record some of the names of the instruments without elaborating them because I also need to understand their functions more. These are


butundu, a hammer with a hole; emwangato, a certain small hammer; eikombe; omutweero and the verb is kutweera; enguta – this is for hollowing ebyaanzi; enyeyo – is also for hollowing ebyaanzi, possibly to a finer stage; emparo – a smoothener of ebyaanzi; etc. Before I forget, I should point out that the process of joining metals or welding is called okuramuura. Once certain instruments are shaped, they can be called different names. If you take spears, for example, the one which is sharp on one side and blunt on the other side is called ekibeezi or ekihuuga. This was used for hunting or fighting. The one that is sharp on both edges is omutaari. This was normally held by high profiled people such as kings or chiefs. It is clear, therefore, metal that industry the – Africans totally had a



integrated – from raw-material (iron-ore), to the iron, iron-


tools for making other items and the final use – items themselves – spears (amachumu), pangas (emihoro), axes (empango), swords (rurara), hoes (efuka), etc. Due to instability, our past leaders and the educational system did not appear to grasp this fact. When you look at a modern steel plant, the only difference is in the use of motors, using electricity or diesel, to make the machines do the work instead of the muscles of the Africans. Otherwise, science does not appear to be very different. I am waiting for comments from my science team of Prof. Otiti (Physics), Dr. Kwesiga (Industrial Engineering), Dr. Stephen Nyanzi (Chemistry) and their team. had unique and richer technical terms What is than the clear is that the Banyankore and I am sure other Africans Europeans including the Latin whose technical terms are so much loved by scientists. Why, for instance, say acacia hohii, etc., when there are unique words for these acacias among the African languages? Every acacia type has a name: obugando; omutongore; omunyinya;


omutyaaza; omukiinga; etc. antelope; spring-back; etc. names: empara,

I am curious to know the There are unique African enzaza, ekishwaaga,

logic. The same goes for the animals: bush-back; roanenuuma,

enyemera, enkorongo, engabi, esirabo, enjobe, etc. While I have learnt the blacksmithing, the ceramics, the wood-work, etc., processes from others when I was already old, I learnt cattle-keeping from infancy. I can, therefore, say without equivocation that if our modern scientists could master our indigenous technology, they would find work much easier. This is why I rejected so many recommendations of the veterinary officers in Uganda in respect of cattle and insisted on modified indigenous methods. One practice I rejected is, for instance, separating cattle kraals into: weaners, the incalf, the heifers, etc. I can assure everybody that I am doing very well without those European practices in relation to cattle.


Some of the dialects ingeniously invented additional sounds (letters) to enrich the language so that These differentiation of words is easier and clearer.

additional sounds (letters) are: ts, sh, ky, ch, ai, ei, etc. These help us to distinguish between okusinda (to get drank) vs okutsinda (to groan when you are sick); okutsiga (to leave something behind) vs okusiga (to sow); ebisya (new things) vs ebitsya (nape); okusaasa (to cause to hurt) vs okushaasha (to hurt); ndire (I ate) vs ndaire (I spent a night); ekyasha (a spot on the cow’s forehead), ekikyere (frog), omukyeeka (mat), ekiconco (gift), ekicoori (maize), ekicuncu (lion), okucooka (to select); abaitu (our people), arwaire (she/he is sick), ahaiguru (above); omweija (the other person), twongyeirwe (additional); etc. There are a few mistakes in the Thesaurus such as on page 317 where the printers or the final editors put the word: omurimbi (sailor) next to oburimbi, a type of red soil with 19.35% of iron, 6.24% aluminum of 37.6%


silicate and others. These will be corrected in the next version. There are also many words we have not included. They will be included next time. The different pronunciations evolving around the use of the extra sounds (letters) mentioned above, ts, sh, ky, etc, do not substantively alter the meaning or the intelligibility. two pronunciations as much as possible. editions. I still have some issue with my academic partners – Dr. Muranga and others. I would like to use the double vowels extensively and universally so that the future generations who did not speak Runyankore from birth are not confused. labour). One example is: Omukyeeno (curse) versus Omukyeno (shortage of something especially They have their own academic mystifications which I decided to ignore for now. I may, however, have In the Thesaurus and in the next dictionary we present the Where there has been omission, it will be corrected in the next


to review that because I want a clear package for our children. I am continuing to discuss with my partners. In the end, East Africa will have to use Swahili as the Black man’s language because it is a neutral Bantu dialect which is easy to accept in contrast to the tribal dialects like Runyankore, Luganda, etc. The problem is that Swahili is not as rich in vocabulary as the dialects of the interior of the continent. That is why they borrow so much from Arabic which is not necessary. Swahili has already borrowed the Bantu word: Ikulu – meaning State House – from, I think, the Wanyamwezi; they have borrowed Kwangatu from, I think, the Wazanaki. Swahili can borrow more words from the Bantu and Luo dialects of the interior – for instance obufura to mean protocol instead of hitifaaki if it is from Arabic or Lubaala – meaning National Anthem, instead of continuing to use the descriptive word of Wimbo - wa Taifa - the song of the Nation.


I think the sky is the limit in the development of the rich culture of the African people. I thank you so much

7th November, 2012


Serena, UICC


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