In a remote lake of Uganda, girls who were getting pregnant before marriage were abandoned on the tiny island of Akampene, aka Punishment Island. Here most died, but some were saved by men in search of free brides.
Laura Cini, an Italian filmmaker, went to the area on 2011 to look for survivors. The mission was successful and now she completed a hour documentary on the story which was supported by crowdfunders and the Italian Ministry of Culture. Premiering soon.
Judged without a trial. Condemned to capital punishment. Died of starvation or drowned. Saved as free merchandise. Mothers of babies never born or never lived. Isolated and stigmatized. Never helped. Never listened to. Never searched for.
This is an example of the drawings that will be used in the documentary to illustrate the tragic events that took place in Akampene. Comfort Abemigisha, Ugandan young emerging artist, living in Kampala and author of this drawing, will take care of the art work.
Today around twenty
communities overlook the lake with a total population of around
100.000 inhabitants. Life seems to have a quiet and peaceful pace,
which twice a week is accelerated by the market of Rutinda, a tiny
village, yet principal centre of the lake. Rutinda can be reached
from Kabale, the main town of the district, by private car, boda-boda
- a moto-taxi driving crazily - or a couple of hours walk along a
winding and scenographic country road. Rutinda, a small fishing
village with some local bars, is not particularly attractive nor
interesting, but becomes lively on market days - Mondays and Fridays
- with a multitude of colourful canoes arriving since early morning
from all the different sides of the lakes for buying and selling
fruits, vegetables and second hand clothes.
The lake is essential
to life and survival of its inhabitants, despite the fact that there
is not much fish. Data on the lake depth are uncertain and vary
depending on the sources. For some, it is the second deepest lake in
Africa. According to Paul Ngologoza, an eminent historian and
politician of the region of Kigezi, before 1919 in Lake Bunyonyi only
the encere, a type of edible frog, lived in the lake. Although
this is unlikely, the lake has never been inhabited by large
quantities of fish, being oligotrophic. Probably, the immediate depth
doesn’t create the ideal habitat for the survival of species that
live in shallow waters, such as the Tilapia or the Nile perch, which
lived in the river before it became a lake. During the colonial era
great efforts were made to supply the lake with fish. According to
Ngologoza, the biggest dates back to 1927, when the district
commissioner sent the order to manually carry a certain amount of
fish from Lake Edward to Lake Bunyonyi. Initially, the experiment was
a success that made commercial fishing proliferate. But then, in the
early '50s, for reasons that remain unknown, the fish died in mass,
to the point that "the lake was covered by floating bodies of
Today only small
amounts of African catfish and of the small but delicious crayfish
live in the lake. But the other hand, the lake is the main supply of
water. It supplies the whole town of Kabale for both domestic and
industrial use, while many of the local communities take water
directly from the lake. Its water is used for drinking, cooking,
washing, irrigating the fields. But if the lake is essential to life
in this corner of the world, it is often fatal. Canoe is the usual
means of transport and locals are expert navigators since early
childhood. Despite that, very few are able to swim. As a result, the
annual rate of drowning is very high. After AIDS and malaria, it is
the third cause of death for local communities. Today, local
association Edirisa has built a swimming pool on the bank of the
lake, where international volunteers give swimming lessons to
children, hoping to partially solve the problem in the medium term.
Third article introducing you to culture and geography of the Lake Bunyonyi.
The ethnic group
Locals speak Rukiga, a Bantu language, and the ethnic group is that of
Bakiga, a tribe that came here from today's Rwanda centuries ago. They were
farmers mainly devoted to the cultivation of sorghum, peas, beans and millet.
They distilled local beers from sorghum. The women took care of the work in the
fields, while men cleaned the bush for agriculture and built the typical grass
thatched huts. They were wearing skins of goat or cow. The Bakiga were
described by other Ugandan tribes as "tough hard-working people." A
marriage was a real contract between two families and the groom's family had to
pay a dowry to the bride. In their culture, virginity before marriage was
essential. Unmarried women who became pregnant were left in the forest at the
mercy of wild animals, thrown in the lake from a cliff or abandoned on the tiny
island of Akampene, also called Punishment Island.
Polygamy was the norm. Men who could afford the bride price could take
as many wives as they wanted. On the other hand, it seems that both men and
women were free to divorce. The Bakiga were organized in clans, which
represented the highest authority. The leaders of the different lineages
discussed the most important issues and when they could not solve disputes
through dialogue, they passed to fighting, in which they showed to be fierce warriors
Today 1.7 million of Bakiga in the region accounts for 7% of the total
population of Uganda. They are Christians, divided between Catholics and
Protestants. Muslims are a small percentage.
Lake Bunyonyi is a magical place which surprises for the rare beauty of its landscapes. The extremely ragged coasts feature intensely cultivated hills and a luxuriant tropical vegetation. The surface of the lake is dotted with 29 little islands with the peak of the Virunga volcanoes looming in the horizon. Bunyonyi, in the local language, means “place inhabited by many little birds” and in fact 200 different species live here. It is a young lake probably created by a volcanic eruption that around 8000 years ago blocked a river exit. The lake has a total area of around 50km2, but it is the centre of a wetland of around 180 km2. Lake Bunyonyi rises about 2000 meters above sea level, but some of the hills reach 2500 meters. The altitude assures a moderate climate, often cool after sunset, and a lower incidence of malaria. Free of bilharzias, crocodiles and hippos, it is one of the few African lake where it is safe to swim.
Lake Bunyonyi is situated a short distance away from the border with Rwanda, in the region of Kigezi and district of Kabale. The whole region, that occupies the South-Western corner of Uganda, is probably the most fertile and scenographic of the whole country. However, despite the landscape attractions, to most tourists the area is known almost exclusively for the closeness to the national parks of Bwindi and Mgahinga, where it is possible to see the endangered species of mountain gorillas. Therefore tourism is marginal, with the huge trans- african expeditions that stop here just overnight and a few independent tourists coming for a few hours walk from the nearby town of Kabale, the main centre of the Kigezi region, and last stop before Bwindi. Of all local attractions, the most popular is the guided tour of the Batwa Pygmies, a minority that has always been persecuted and discriminated. Today they have no land rights or legal access to the forest from were, being hunters, they were traditionally getting their sustenance. The Batwa Pygmies today perform for cash to tourists, which remains their only livelihood. Today there are organizations that protect them
A screening an a laptop was arranged for women from Lake Bunyonyi to see the video documentary about crafts making, "Creative Women of Lake Bunyonyi" (DV, 28' 20120). This is the first time most of them were watching themselves. Not easy, as they come with canoes from different parts of the lake and there one can only rely on weak solar power for electricity. But Edirisa managed to organize that, somehow!
We are going to publish a series of brief articles introducing you to culture and geography of the Lake Bunyonyi area. But first, a little introduction to Uganda for those not familiar with it.
Uganda is a
landlocked country in East Africa, divided into four reigns. British
protectorate during colonialism, independence was led by Milton Obote in the
mid of the fifties. Later, a coup d’état by the Army leader Idi Amin established
a bloody military dictatorship. During the so called Reign of Terror, atrocious
murders were committed, the population was totally repressed and the economy
quickly collapsed. In the mid of the eighties, after a civil war, NRA (National
Resistance Army) deposed the dictatorship and demilitarized the country. Today
it is a democratic republic with a non party political system and Museveni,
once leader of NRA, has been its President since 1994. The political situation
is still precarious, mainly because of the demands of the different tribes.
Uganda’s economy if mainly agricultural. The population is a melting pot
of different tribes. The official languages are English and Swahili, but over
40 different languages are spoken throughout the country. Two thirds of the
population is Christian, between Catholics and Anglicans, while the other third
is divided into Muslims and Animists. Uganda is the youngest country in the
world: half of its population is less than 15 years old. The estimated life is
53 years and the fertility rate is 7 children per woman.
Hello, this blog was created to support the making of "Punishment Island", but the purpose of any documentary is to know more about the world than we knew before. So why don't we start now? We would like to use this blog to share point of views, stories, personal opinions. Obviously in theme with the documentary subject and that is African women, which involves men too. And being an European trying to make a documentary in Africa, I am open to judgment... or, even better, advise by Africans about what NOT to do. Comments are already open to anyone, but we welcome you to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to write something, open a new topic, share anything you know. We will be pleased to publish it. Also follow us also on https://www.facebook.com/PunishmentIsland where we try to translate (almost) everything in Italian too.