Kigezi Praises Fallen Cultural And Language Icon Omugurusi Festo Karwemera

Kigezi people woke up on Sunday to receive the saddening news of the passing of their most intellectual language icon Omugurusi Festo Karwemera.

Karwemera a Runyankole-Rukiga culture and language master architect, author, editor and consultant met his angel of death at the age of 95 at his home in Kabale town, however his send-off program is yet to be released by the family.

Various people have described the late Karwemera as one of their icons whose contribution will live forever.
Rev. Solomon Mugyenzi, the former Academic Registrar for Bishop Barham University College, Kabale said Karwemera has been a champion of good values and practices that once upheld Kigezi will shine forever.

“Karwemera wrote a lot of books that were educating society on good moral practices. He took his biggest time in educating the public on how best they can adopt good conduct and develop themselves. Karwemera’s light will shine forever in this region,” said Mugyenzi.

The Kabale municipality deputy mayor, Kedress Mutabazi credited the late Karwemera for living an exemplary life that reflected Pan Africanism.

“He loved Kigezi, Uganda and Africa. His actions expressed it clearly that he wanted each one of us to appreciate their origin and live towards promoting their heritage,” she said

Meanwhile also among the condolences messages that flooded social media this morning is the bakiga nation page that wrote” Kigezi’s  true hero has rested”.

Why Karwemera is an Icon?

Omugurusi(old man) Karwemera was born in 1925 in Kaarubanda omu Ibandiro ry’Engwe owa Rwanteezi he Rubanyaga, in present-day Buhara, Ndorwa, Kigyezi. He is a Mukiga w’Omurihira of the Ba-Karobwa clan. Those familiar with Kigyezi know that Abarihira have a rather unfair abundance of the intellectually advantaged. No surprise, then, that Karwemera is one of them.

Upon his birth, his mother declared: “Nkarwemera!” literally meaning “I put up with it.” She had endured the torment and other consequences of producing four daughters in a row. Her husband had been urged to marry another woman who would give him a son.

While the name “Nkarwemera” suggested relief, it also expressed the anguish of the oppressed woman in a patriarchal culture that prized male offspring over females. She also spoke for her husband, perhaps inadvertently, for he too had endured the pressure and ridicule that came with his presumed “inability” to sire an heir.

Now that he was the name’s owner, a literal translation suggested that it was Nkarwemera himself who had endured the challenges. So, the young boy’s teachers kept telling him that it was his mother, not him, owaarwemaire (who had endured.) That is why he removed the first letter and became Karwemera.

Like most people of his generation, Karwemera started formal school late. He was 13 years old when he joined Grade One at Muyebe Primary School in 1938.

By 1940, he was in Primary Three at Kigyezi High School, where he studied  others who would go on to share his passion for preservation of the Rukiga  language and positive traditions.

However, none of his peers or their offspring devoted their lives and resources to the Bakiga Project the way he did. Starting in 1946, Karwemera interviewed elders and recorded nearly everything that constituted the canon of emicwe n’emigyenzo y’Abakiga (the traditions of Abakiga).

A teacher by profession, who served as an assistant supervisor of schools, Karwemera started writing for publication in 1956. Besides nearly two dozen books that he has written as the single author, he was also the actual writer of Paulo Ngorogoza’s Kigezi n’Abantu Baamwo (Kigezi and its People) and contributed a chapter in A History of Kigezi in South-West Uganda, edited by Donald Denoon.

Among his great contributions is a small book titled Empandiika ya Runyankore-Rukiga Egufuhaziibwe (Abridged Runyankore-Rukiga Orthography).

That such a book exists in a country where newspapers and other publications murder Runyankore-Rukiga and render many words and sentences meaningless is rather sobering.

A few words, including names, sound vulgar when read correctly. Many do not convey their intended meaning, while others mean absolutely nothing.

Karwemera has also used radio and video broadcasts to educate and advocate for the preservation and promotion of Rukiga and the traditions of the Bakiga.

His programmes have been well received by the listeners, and he has received verbal accolades and recognition by a number of organizations, including the International Community of Banyakigezi. Kabale University awarded him an honorary doctorate in literature.

However, he has essentially depended on his own resources to do the extraordinary work that has salvaged so much for the bakiga and future generations. That is why it is a national embarrassment that Omugurusi Karwemera, who worked as teacher and supervisor of schools for 20 years before retiring from the Uganda Civil Service, has died before not being paid his pension.

Furthermore, his books are not part of the primary school curriculum in Kigyezi. Not for lack of trying on his part. His offer was simply turned down. Dozens of copies of each of his books sit on shelves in his office, gathering dust, while Bakiga-Banyankore children struggle to read and write their language.

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