The southwest of Uganda was once covered with dense rain forest. Today the mountains are farmed with terrace – shaped fields. Only a small part of the rain forest is left where you can observe the famous mountain gorillas. In the highlands close to the rain forest live the Batwa pygmies. They are said to be the earliest inhabitants of Africa. The Batwa have impressed us very much with their songs and dances. The older ones were able to explain to us vividly how they used to hunt and told us some of the mysteries of the rain forest. Their language, however, they have lost as they have been living outside the rain forest for decades and have adapted the culture and livelihood of their neighbors.
The Masaaba people
In the east of Uganda live the Masaaba people at the foot of Mount Elgon (4300m). They say that they speak the oldest Bantu language. Male circumcision is the most important part of their culture of which they are very proud. The area is very fertile and is known as the “food basket” of Uganda. The Masaaba grow coffee and especially bananas which are transported to markets on bicycles. The Masaaba have a Bible which at the moment is being revised by the Bible Society.
Traveling from the Masaaba area further north you reach the “wild Karamojaland,” named after the Karamoja people who live there. The land is mainly savannah covered with thorn bushes and sees little rain. Unlike the Bantu- speaking farmers, the Karamojong are cattle herders.
In the middle of the Karamojong lives the small people group of the “Ik” on an isolated and remote mountain range at the border to Kenya. The Ik are farmers and have kept their language which is unique and very different from the surrounding languages. Their villages are built against steep slopes and are secured by fences made from sticks They often are raided by the neighboring tribes that decimate their fields. The Ik believe that drought and hunger are a judgement of God for enmity and shedding of blood. To atone for a murder a goat has to be slaughtered and cut in two pieces. In order to restore peace the murderer and the family of the victim have to walk between the two pieces.
In the language area of the Ik there are no markets or shops. Only three of the 40 villages are accessible by car. Despite this isolation the Ik are very interested in schooling for their children and believe they should learn to read and write their own language. Work of a German linguist and a missionary have resulted in an Ik dictionary and some written material in the language. There are plans for Wycliffe members to work with the Ik to develop their language and assist them to translate the Bible. We pray that the necessary personnel will soon arrive to assist the Ik to gain access to God’s word in their own language.
The Work Continues
The work in Uganda is not finished yet. To give the people of Uganda the Bible in the languages of their hearts we need more people who are willing to work in Africa.