HIPUganda weekly, July 18th-24th, Why No Shoes

This weeks most popular post shows a group of men. Each one of them wears, going from head to toe, a fez (all tassels to the left!), a buttoned shirt, a belt, shorts, socks. And no shoes. The photo is part of the colour slides made by Dr. A. T. Schofield, when visiting Tooro Kingdom in 1959. The short description on the slides tells us that these are the Omukama (of Tooro)’s Policemen. I remember seeing men dressed similarly, in similar but different functions. And I remember seeing people without shoes, in situations where this seemed slightly odd, to say the least.

The photo below was made in 1936, by an american photographer, Eric Matson. These men are ‘Uganda Soldiers’ and placed on Jinja road. The tassel on their Fez are on the right, making me wonder whether I should have mirrored Schofield’s slide. What seems to be a logo on the Fez does not give a clear indication, as the numbers on the men’s headgear below does.

The men photographed by Matson are just as shoeless as those photographed by Schofield, even though their outfit does, just like the one of the Omukama’s police officers, not suggest a lack of attention, or money invested in the outfits. Actually, the tunic like sweaters that the policemen below wear, suggest that the clothing had an important role to play in keeping them warm.

Then why no shoes?

I have seen many people walk their way through life without shoes most comfortably. I am not among them. I love to feel the soil, to touch the ground, play with grass between my toes. Sooner as I wish for though, I become painfully aware of the fragility of the skin underneath my feet. More importantly, looking at the photographs in this post, I wonder who decided on the shoelessness of the people I look at?

Photographs made around 1900 of K.A.R. soldiers show that there were those wearing uniforms with, and those wearing uniforms without shoes. Check the album with some photographs taken from a book dating back to 1926 for the ‘with’ photo. Here we share the without, in which soldiers are photographed to show the variety of ‘types of races enlisted in the K.A.R. This photograph is, it seems, about their diversity, and how that diversity has been molded into a unity, helped by their uniforms.

A remark made with the post of the Schofield slide above suggests that the Omukama of Bunyoro’s police men would have looked more or less the same. Unfortunately I don’t think we already have photographs to visualise that, or I just cannot think of them at the moment. What we do have are photographs of the Uganda Police that also made during the last years before independence. Here too we see shoeless men (and women), and others, of higher ranks? who were provided with army boots. Again, go and look for the photographs with shoes yourself in this and this album. Here are some barefooted ones.

The, at least in photographs, hard to follow logic on shoelessness does not end with police and ‘Rifles.’ It can also be found in the boxing ring. Nowadays Boxers are ‘at all levels are also required to wear loose-fitting trunks and soft-soled shoes’. But those rules may not have been implemented at the time the fight below was photographed and in any case no concern for the audience that, looking beyond the boxers who were illuminated by a flashlight, was majorly white. This photographs was (also) made by the photographic division of the Department of Information of the Uganda Protectorate, pre1962’s independence.

Probably, or at least to me, the oddest of explicitly public (and photographed) appearances without shoes appeared was also made by the same ‘photographic division’, but is part of the collection of Gayaza High School. is the one of the four flower girls, welcoming the British Queen Mother and Princess Margaret to Uganda. This too was 1959.

I might be reading too much into it… But over the years I learned that during colonial times there were, apart from other already existing and without a doubt in many people’s lives also relevant hierarchies, four classes. Representatives of these classes, all girls in this case, were present at Entebbe airport and photographed on the occasion. As types, just like the ‘Races enlisted in the K.A.R. above.

1. Whites, here ‘Europ.’, blond, shortest skirt, most extravagant flower arrangement.

2. Goans, here in longer but also light coloured dress, with socks pulled up over ankles.

3. Indian (or Asian), here in a dress that could be a school uniform, or not. With shoes, but the socks barely visible.

4. Ugandan, here ‘Af. from Gayaza’. In school uniform, and with bare feet, just like the uniformed man behind her.

I guess I can figure it out. Why no shoes. But I prefer to keep on asking…

(thank you Rumanzi Canon, helping to find more shoelessness)

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