The Block

A Crested or Crowned Crane balances regally on one foot at the centre of this block made by Betty Kieran. While it is Uganda’s national bird, it is one of more than 1,000 types of cranes or birds found there. He stands in the midst of Uganda’s wetlands, the resources of which have traditionally been used by Ugandans as a source of building materials and as hunting and fishing areas. Such wetlands are also an important habitat for the country’s diverse wildlife. Behind the crane grows an acacia tree with one of Uganda’s many majestic mountain ranges rising in the background. Folded fabrics in national colours create an inner frame, while appliquéd bark cloth forms the geometric outer frames. Colourful beadwork completes the piece. Beads are an important element in African life and are used as ornamentation, in jewellery, in ritual ceremonies, and for trading and play.

Boys and girls in kanzu 3
Wearing the kanzu
Young woman wearing the gomesi
Back cloth
Wearing bark cloth
After the Rainforest, Uganda (15277311729)
Fields and hills
Hut (Agriculturalist)
A painted hut
Java kitengi
Kangas for sale
Nubian baskets
Coil baskets
Grey Crowned Crane, Uganda (15069988693)
Grey Cranes
Bean trial8 lo (4108923572)
In the fields

Cultural Profile

Uganda, a former British protectorate, is a landlocked nation in east central Africa. The great beauty of this country led Winston Churchill to call it the ‘Pearl of Africa’ but it has weathered immense adversity since its 1962 independence. It is a land of many physical contrasts: open savannas, semi-desert regions, bamboo and rain forests, fertile grasslands and volcanic mountain ranges. The perpetually snow-capped Ruwenzori Range––Uganda’s only non-volcanic mountains––rises to more than 5,000 metres, earning it the nickname ‘Mountains of the Moon.’ Although Uganda is landlocked, it has access to several large bodies of water, including Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the primary source of the Nile River. The nation’s population is comprised of a complex and diverse range of tribes. The largest of these is the Ganda, from which the country’s name is derived. About two-thirds of the people speak Bantu languages, such as Luganda, while the remainder speak Nilotic or Sudanic tongues. The official language is English although Swahili is more widely spoken.

Most Ugandans live in rural areas. Much of the population is involved in agriculture, growing crops such as coffee, tea and tobacco to sell for local consumption and export, as well as for their own subsistence. Individual tribes maintain their own customs and practices, resulting in a national culture as ethnically diverse as the country’s population. Despite their differences however, tribes share many of the same values. Support for the extended family, for example, is considered to be among the most important ideals.

Traditional clothing, which varies among the groups, is generally worn only at local ceremonies and special events since Western attire has become popular throughout the land. Ganda and Soga men will often blend the two styles of dress, wearing their traditional kanzu, long white robes, under a sport coat. Some of the dresses Ugandan women will wear include the gomesi, an ankle-length dress with puffed sleeves, with a long sash called the kitambala tied at the waist. While some models are made of colourful wax cotton prints, others are made of silk and are used for formal occasions. A colourful kanga, a wraparound dress, is usually worn under the gomesi to prevent it from sticking to the wearer’s body.

National crafts include tooled leather and feathered headdresses. Ugandan women are known to be expert at weaving baskets that feature geometric designs in traditional natural colours of black, tan, and brown. These designs and colours can also be found on traditional huts. Made from bamboo frames covered with clay which is then painted, they are crowned with banana or grass thatched roofs. Beaded jewellery, made with locally made glass and paper beads, is also a popular handicraft. Pottery, batik, and making items out of calabashes are also popular crafts.

People have been coming to Canada from Uganda since the early 1900s, with the largest group arriving in 1972. Their numbers remain small though, numbering just a little over 4,500.

Sponsor: in memoriam David Barkway, from the Invitation Project volunteers | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons