A banana or Matoke or bitokye as it is locally known in Uganda is a simbolic food in most ethnic groups of Uganda.
Traditionally, it is more attached to Buganda. Infact, to a Muganda food means Matooke. To them it’s a sign of wealth and respect.
A Muganda has different types of Matoke for different occasions. For instance; Gonja is for the Spirits, Kayinja is for the breweries, Ndiizi is for yellow bananas and Nakitembe for the best meals.
However, the crop is now spread allover the country as a cash crop due to its popularity among city dwellers and hotels
Other areas in Uganda where you can find plenty of Matoke include eastern Uganda in the Elgon region, Western Uganda in Ankole region and Masaka in central region.
Besides matooke being a staple food, it is also a simbol of ethnic differences between the Baganda and Banyankore in western Uganda. It is a crop that tells how the differences between the two ethnic groups have remained unsolved for generations and how it is being carried down to the young generations.
Before the last 3 decades, baganda were the wealthiest community in Uganda.
Their strong economic power allowed them to keep some non baganda as slaves. Infact, a non muganda was called a foreigner (munamawanga) and treated as an inferior.
The slave in a Muganda family was called a mupakasi. These bapakasi were treated almost like dogs and it is said that they were called Mbwa, literally meaning dogs.
Although the bapakasi used to work so hard for the Baganda, these bapakasi were never allowed to eat on the same dinning place with their master’s family. Food for the bapakasi was served on a banana leaf instead of plates like for other family members. They were then asked to sit at a distance away from the family just as the dogs did.
This could be one of the reasons why “Twalyanga namwe… embwa eno” became a modern insult by baganda especially to the people of Western Uganda. This is loosely translated as, “You dog, we used not to eat with you”
This however caused the bapakasi to bleed with hatred especially on the thought of being treated as a dog.
In order to end this treatment, the bapakasi decided to work hard and regain their freedom. It is said that whenever a mupakasi went back home, he carried with him a Nakitembe crop which he planted in his farm.
A respondent in Bushenyi told us that every home in western Uganda has a plant of Nakitembe and that in that region it is called Mbwazirume. Mbwazirume is said to have come from a common kiganda saying “mbwa zirime”. This statement Mbwa zirime or mbwa zirima was referring to the bapakasi who were cultivators in baganda’s banana plantations as “mbwa” or dogs.
In order to preserve the story of how their grandparents were treated when they were slaves in Buganda, the “bapakasi” resolved to plant Nakitembe in their homes as a story telling tool and a warning to their children against the Baganda.
Another story about the banana is a banana leaf called Akawuuwo. This is what a Muganda used as a plate to serve food to the bapakasi.
A story is told that because of the cruel treatment a mupakasi received from his masters in Buganda, it became a cultural practice among the people of Western Uganda to first purify their relatives coming from Buganda before they are welcomed in the house. The practice involves serving Matoke on a banana leaf. Thereafter the returning relative is welcomed to the dining table with a befitting meal. The practice aims at making the retuning relative feel like a human being again.
This could be one of the reasons why western Uganda is the leading producer of bananas in Uganda today.
The ethnic hatred between these two groups has been silent for generations and no one wants to publicly talk about it. We are however concerned that this is a historical matter that requires to be addressed with serious care and caution.
If it requires reconciliation as peoples of Uganda in order to build lasting peace, let us invest our national resources in solving this conflict between the two Uganda’s largest ethnic groups.
We should not allow the mistakes of our fore-parents to decide our future.