During the pre-colonial era, local communities were closely knit units in Uganda. Economic, political and social organizations of these communities centered on the clan, the traditional institution leader and the family. The day-to-day activities of children, men and women, whether as groups or individuals were linked together intrinsically and were culture determined. However, indigenous socio-political setups weakened at the start of the 20th century and the end of the 19th century due to the exposure of foreign rule, cultures and various influences (Barlas, 2010). For instance, cultural aspects, such as native healthcare systems and traditional knowledge were belittled or ignored. Consequently, the entire social fabric and innovativeness was undermined. Nonetheless, majority of communities still attached immense importance to their culture and purposed to sustain, conserve and inculcate it. Thus, culture was promoted by the colonial government through the society development work, education and information. This was made possible through indigenous cultural festivals, local languages taught at schools, and local languages broadcasting. The Ministry of community development and culture was established by the government after the independence (Barlas 2010). Concurrently, the culture department was mandated to ensure the development, promotion and preservation of Uganda’s cultures.
Definition of Culture
Culture is the aggregate of ways by which a community organizes, expresses, identifies, sustains and preserves itself. Culture consists of tangible and intangible heritage, which is complex, varied and in steady evolution. The tangible heritage comprises of manuscripts, sites, books, architecture or monuments, art and crafts and other objects of historical and artistic interest (Knight, 1994). On the other hand, the intangible heritage comprises of performing arts, social practices, knowledge and music, practices concerning nature, festive events, language, traditional craftsmanship and oral traditions. Uganda is bestowed with a diverse and rich cultural heritage comprising of 65 native communities with distinctive characteristics. Culture is an essential dimension of distinctiveness and inherently values and a type of capital capable of moving people from income poverty (Heine, 1985). However, a lack of appreciation of the value and significance of the cultural heritage of Uganda towards the country’s development goals realization does exist.
Cultural Heritage of Uganda
Uganda’s cultural heritage consists of cultural and artistic expressions. These expressions include handicrafts and visual arts, cultural beliefs, literary arts and language, indigenous knowledge, performing arts, antiquities, values and traditions and cultural monument sights.
Literary Arts and Language
Language is a mode of expressing literature and oratory creative arts. A rich variety of dialects and indigenous languages do exist in Uganda. For instance, the official Ugandan language is English followed by Kiswahili as the second official language. Literary arts, being a language by-product ensures literature and oratory development that usually depicts the Ugandan peoples’ culture (Heine, 1985). Many languages denote a unique knowledge storehouse for communication facilitation between people outside and within the country. Moreover, literary arts add up to cultural industries existing in the country. Language development in Uganda has tended to benefit some languages more than others due to prevalence of non-uniformity in developments. In addition, language multiplicity has failed to aid in direct communication between communities. Thus, for the information to be shared, it has to be translated from indigenous languages to English and vice versa. Consequently, this leads to a gross loss of meaning and distortions. In connection to literary arts, there is a limitation of the literature available due to the lack of orthographies by some languages.
These consist of theatre, opera, drama, motion pictures, dances, music and traditional sports. Ugandan performing arts are used for education, self-expression and entertainment, as well as for communities’ sensitization. In the Ugandan society, there has been the popularizing of the modern and traditional performing arts as a way of facilitating communities’ participation in the country development. In addition, the private sector, educational and cultural institutions all back up the performing arts. As a result, there has been a job creation for a majority of Ugandan people. In the next place, inadequate capacity limits artists’ participation in the performing arts. Thus, available capacity building opportunities are within quite few formal institutions and are restricted to apprenticeship. The training does not include the promotion and marketing of the art and mainly focuses on skills acquisition in the art. In addition, capacity building has a limited scope only on the modern performing arts.
Handicrafts and Visual Arts
Handicrafts and visual arts comprise of ceramics, ornaments and bags, mats, beads, basketry, hand-woven products and textiles, pottery, paintings and wood carvings. Raw materials for the production of crafts and visual arts are available readily in the country. Moreover, the production of crafts and visual arts is almost everywhere in Uganda with the exercise of product differentiation founded on history and culture. This has promoted various communities’ identities, as well as creating income generation avenues. However, poor product quality and inadequate quantities are among challenges facing crafts and visual arts due to capacity limitation of marketers and producers (Kefa, 2006). In addition, there is a limited market and products research, and materials used to make handicrafts and visual arts vulnerable to environmental degradation.
This is the native local knowledge developed around and existing within a community’s specific conditions indigenous to a precise geographical region. Indigenous knowledge is affordable, accessible, acceptable and diverse to people. This is because it forms basic strategies for problem solving in local communities, particularly the poor. This knowledge is commonly applied to traditional medicine, agriculture, education, food preparation and management of natural resources, healthcare and many other rural communities’ activities. Furthermore, it is characteristically useful to women when performing their traditional responsibilities and roles. Nonetheless, little research has been carried out, despite the usefulness of indigenous knowledge to people. Consequently, this knowledge is inadequately developed, quantified and documented. In a number of cases, its extinction by environmental degradation and modern knowledge have marginalized and threatened it. Furthermore, the absence of organized information frameworks providing to innovators add up to other challenges (Kefa, 2006).
Cultural Beliefs, Values and Traditions
The people of Uganda have different traditions and beliefs deeply rooted in their religious and cultural values. Values, traditions and beliefs have made remarkable contributions towards development and social harmony propagation. However, sometimes a conflict arises between modern laws and these values, traditions and beliefs. For instance, genital cutting of females and the inheritance of widows are some of arising conflicts. As a result, culture is regarded as retrogressive by some people. Moreover, there is a continuous adaptation and adoption of Ugandan cultures due to foreign and local influences. In particular cases, the society’s moral fabric has been degraded with youth category being the most affected.
Antiquities, Monuments and Cultural Sights
There are several monuments and cultural sights in Uganda; some being natural while others are man-made. These antiquities, monuments and sights are pertinent for educational and socio-cultural purposes. This is because of tourism promotion which, in turn, creates an employment for Ugandan people. Moreover, protection of natural environment is enhanced by these natural sights. Despite monuments and sights’ importance, people have a low awareness of their value, as well as their documentation and maintenance is inadequate. In addition, antiquities kept in the Ugandan Museum are not easily accessed by all people and some are not collected.
The People of Uganda
Indigenous Communities of Uganda
The diverse cultural heritage of Uganda is represented by 65 traditional communities. A wealth of folklore, traditions and customs, languages, indigenous knowledge is contributed by these products and diversity that can be tapped for development purposes. The interrelationships resulting from intermarriage, work place and educational institutions interactions enhance the social cohesion and harmony, as well as understanding of other cultures (Kefa, 2006). On the other hand, tension within and between indigenous groups can be created by the same diversity.
The Non-Indigenous Ugandan Communities
Non-indigenous communities exist in Uganda due to intermarriages between foreigners and some indigenous people, whereas the rest are foreigners residing in Uganda. Consequently, understanding of other peoples’ cultures, as well as the emergence of new cultures, has been enhanced by these interrelationships (Shirley, 2006). However, indigenous communities do not fully accept the non-indigenous ones and they are not recognized in some cases.
In conclusion, cultural/traditional institutions such as family, chiefdoms, clans and kingdoms exist in Uganda, whereby some of them are supported and recognized by the government.