The picture above shows the typed out manuscript of part of Simuda Nyuma, a historical account of the times of the successive Ba Ssekabaka Muteesa I, Mwanga and Daudi Chwa by Hamu Mukasa (ca.1870-1956). The picture was cut out of a photograph that was produced in 2014 in the Africana section of Makere University’s main library, where the manuscript is held, and the manuscript was photographed as part of our efforts to investigate a list of descriptions of illustrations that was until then not produced. We encountered the list while digitising the photographs in the collection of the Hamu Mukasa Foundation and started activating it, with a range of Ugandan artists and art students both in Uganda and the Netherlands, in an effort to engage with the images and imaginations of the history of Buganda. These efforts resulted in several exhibitions (for instance these two), a publication and a speculative correspondence with Hamu Mukasa.
The artists and students who engaged with the list, which describes over one hundred images, either picked a few of them each to interpret into a picture, or adopted a topic addressed by a set of descriptions. The choices made were based on their own interest. As a result some of the description were interpreted several times while the majority of them did not yet result in a picture at all. Meanwhile our interest in the list and the histories it refers to never waned.
From Simuda Nyuma to Tudda Nyuma.
The title of Ham Mukasa’s historical account has been interpreted differently through time. In the publication of edited versions of the first two manuscripts as Christian propaganda by CMS in 1938 and 1942 Simuda Nyuma was interpreted as Go Forward. During the 1960s British historian John Rowe (1918-2004) interpreted the text, for the third unpublished part the manuscript helped by Andrew Kambazza, into English. These translations are available on microfilm in several university collections. Rowe interpreted Simuda Nyuma as Do Not Go Back. In 2012, more or less simultaneous with our digitisation efforts of the collection of photographs held by the foundation, the Ham Mukasa Foundation published an English translation of, again, the first two parts of Simuda Nyuma. This time the phrase was translated as Backward Never Forward Ever, which was turned around to Forward Ever Backward Never in the book about and with the list of described illustrations.
In Rowe’s translation the first part of Simuda Nyuma starts as follows:
I have written this book “Do not go back”, above all in order that you progress – to progress in two ways, which are there – that of the spirit and that of the body. The child, while he is not young, all his customs remain young, but as he continues to grow, these customs remain young, but as he continues to grow, these customs of youth come to an end, because he is beginning to understand the good things and the bad things – to sense these himself, and how the bad things bring him to grief, while the good things cause him happiness. Thus the child, if he dow not give up the things of youth when he has grown up, all those who see him will say, “Will not this child grow up”?, “Will he remain childish all his days”? For he does not progress to the place where his friends are.
These friends are not only fellow members of the Baganda elite, but also included missionaries and colonials, and perhaps also the books read by Hamu Mukasa, who is remembered fondly within his family as ‘The Scholar Who Never Went to School. Hamu Mukasa adopted not only a religious worldview from these foreign friends, but also a thoroughly modernist one in which the only way is, indeed, forward. This, arguably, is another kind of Forward than the one famously advocated by and associated with Kwame Nkrumah who would, not long after Hamu Mukasa’s death, become Ghana’s first president. Nkrumah’s 1977 It is tempting to think that Hamu Mukasa’s Forward is a way into colonialism, while Kwame Nkrumah’s was meant to be a way to get beyond it.
While we are thoroughly fascinated by Hamu Mukasa’s life and world view, we take the position that his call to not look back entails a risk that is not at all justified, even by the content of the manuscript, in which Hamu Mukasa also time and again reflects on the historical context his present resulted from and at times states that tradition can also be valuable and even important to help understand current conditions. We therefore started a new venture, this time titled Tudda Nyuma.
Tudda Nyuma is, once again, a collective undertaking in which the core History In Progress Uganda team, Canon Griffin and Andrea Stultiens, work with several other artists, art students and authors to this time more rigorously and comprehensively work with and through Hamu Mukasa’s list of described illustrations.
For the unforeseeable future this blog will, in irregular intervals, be used to present and reflect on these efforts in terms of both the methods of investigation used and the artistic outcomes yielded.