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The Documentation of Bark-cloth making: An endangered cultural activity among the Baganda


Language Luganda
Depositor Saudah Namyalo
Affiliation Makerere University, Uganda
Location Uganda
Collection ID 0170
Grant ID SG0165
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The project documented the art, of bark-cloth making; an endangered cultural activity practiced by the Baganda from the Central region of Uganda. The project, on the one hand, recorded the socio–cultural features in terms of the ritual and taboos related to bark-cloth making. In addition it video recorded the art of bark-cloth making and also collected the specialized language in terms of idioms, proverbs, rhymes and the lexicon associated with bark-cloth making.


Group represented



Language information

Luganda is a Bantu language and a native language of the Baganda found in the central and Southern parts of Uganda. Luganda is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Uganda with a population close to eight million speakers. It is not only spoken in the Central and Southern parts which is primarily the Buganda province but also in the Western and the Eastern parts of the country, including areas bordering Kenya and Tanzania. From a purely linguistic viewpoint, one may argue that Luganda is the lingua franca of Uganda. It is used in the media put in print radio and TV, in churches and other social domains. Sometimes it is referred to as the Ganda language.

Although Luganda has a large number of speakers, certain Luganda dialects are endangered. For instance, the Kooki, the Vuma and sese dialects are also highly endangered. As earlier observed, although the language is spoken and taught in schools its culture is highly endangered. This has been due massive migration of other ethnic groups to the central region where Luganda is primarily spoken, influence of globalization, Christianity and the desire to copy European ways of living.


Collection contents

i) Audio-video recording in ELAN highlighting the art and process of back- cloth making among the Baganda. The recording was transcribed and translated from Luganda into
ii) A transcribed text of idioms, proverbs and rhymes associated with bark-cloth making.
iii) A specialized mini- dictionary comprising of words used in the process of back- cloth making presented in Tool-box.
iv) An extended essay outlining the social–cultural information (like the ritual importance of the bark-cloth, the taboos and values) related to bark-cloth making.
v) CDS, DVDS and a pamphlet to serve as pedagogical materials for Luganda teachers and students.


Collection history

The project was proposed against the state background that although Luganda is widely spoken its culture is highly endangered. The project proposed to document the art and process of bark cloth making because it is one of those cultures which are highly endangered. The state of endangerment of this culture stems from the abolition of kingdoms in 1967 in Uganda. The abolition of the Buganda kingdom for example forced people to deny their cultures and some of the cultural activities they used to perform for fear of being killed by the ‘Obote regime’ which was in power then. This led to the suffocation of cultures including material cultures like bark-cloth making. It is further noted that whereas a few individuals still practice this art, the emphasis is more on the production of the bark-cloth (Olubugo) but not the language associated with the art of bark-cloth making. The unique language in terms of idioms, proverbs, rhymes and lexicon associated with this activity is hardly known to the young adults and the youth. There is need, therefore, to document this culture before the language register becomes extinct.

Besides the cultural suffocation by political players, Buganda was and still is a centre for many religious activities. These religions, especially the Pentecostal movements preach about bark-cloth making and most of the products as satanic. They hold the view that since the products are the major items used by the practitioners of the Baganda traditional religion, therefore, Christians should not associate themselves with it. Because of this, the young adults and the youth of this generation fear to associate themselves with this practice. Therefore, the documentation of this activity using modern tools and the CDs and DVDs are likely to counteract the negative picture which has been painted by the various religious groups and individuals.

In addition to the above, the practice of bark-cloth making faces the challenge of deforestation. Bark-clothes (embugo) are made from a particular tree known as “Omutuba’ Ficus natalensis. Unfortunately, it is a rare species which is not only good for making bark-cloth but also firewood. The trees that provide the material for this activity, therefore, are highly threatened and if no immediate measures are taken to grow them, they face extinction. This will finally affect the production of backcloths as well as the practice. Therefore, the documentation will help in the sensitization of the public about the importance and usefulness of the backcloth and its associated language and may finally serve as a stimulant for people to grow more ‘Mituba’ trees.
Many people further argue and believe that with the introduction of cotton cloth by Arab caravan traders in the nineteenth century, bark cloth production slowed and eventually faded out, reducing the wearing of bark cloth to particular cultural and spiritual functions.

The National Candidature file (Uganda), however, outlines the major threats facing the bark cloth industry in Uganda to include: cultural uniformity brought about by missionaries, little attention by the education system, economic hardships forcing bark-cloth makers into other trades and marginalization of the bark cloth makers.


Other information

The documentation was done in Buganda the Central region of Uganda specifically from Rakai district. It was done by a group of individual who especially wanted to get exposure to documentation techniques.


Acknowledgement and citation

Saudah Namyalo (2013) Makerere University.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Namyalo, Saudah. 2014. The Documentation of Bark-cloth making: An endangered cultural activity among the Baganda. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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