Ndorobos dream of returning to the Forest

By the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Eastern Uganda, lies a community of people known as the Ndorobo. Living on the hill-tops with ranges cascading into a border forest of Mt. Elgon national park, the community of approximately 500 indigenous people, like most Ugandan communities, look happy in their thatched houses made of reeds and wattle.

Commonly known as the People of the Mountains, we found the Ndorobo in Sabu village, Yatui parish, Kween district. With a warm reception laced with songs and traditional dances, they ushered us into their homestead.

Dressed in sisal among other traditional attire, ladies’ vocals were toned with instrumental beats from traditional acoustics and local flutes emitting a rhythm which was evidently a welcoming song. Men were holding onto their fighting regalia including spears, bows and arrows among others.

They could dance in circles, rotating around their huts pulling different moves and strokes all in the name of entertainment and cultural exhibition. The Ndorobos are a community of people who used to stay in Elgon forests before the place was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1983 and later, a national park in 1989. Their dialect is way similar to that of the Sabiny, akin to their way of life.

Lack Social Services

They continue to live in this part of the mountain with minimal social services like healthcare, schools, roads among others. They seem to be an isolated community always living with uncertainty. Everyday, they dream of returning to the forest from where they drew sustenance.

Dan Kiplangat, one of their leaders is fond of fresh memories about their ancestry way of life where they knew of every herb which could treat whichever illnesses. “In that forest where we were evacuated, lies our hope for medication and better life,” expressed Kiplangat.

The Ndorobos know of a medicinal tree which they believe, treats all kinds of sicknesses. “It is in that forest,” pointing to the Mt. Elgon forest, one of the community members intimated. However, none of the members is always willing to reveal the name of the all-round medicinal plant saying, it remains a reserve of their culture.

They were hunters, gatherers and herders. All their lives relied on the forest before it was gazetted as a National Park. Today, they are yet to fully blend into modern civilisation. Only one school with wooden classrooms was seen in this community. Known as Yatui primary school in Matipswoo village, Tuikat sub-county, classes start from P.1 to P.5.

Alfred Kariisa, the school headmaster says, many children in the community often drop out after P.5. “Other schools are very distant, making it hard for learners to commute there everyday,” noted Kariisa. Elders were unable to tell a single graduate hailing from this part of the mountain.

It’s the only place where the government resettled people after they were evacuated from the forest. They dream of the day they will return to the forest.

Timothy Arapghelimo one of the residents of Matipswoo village said, they don’t have a permanent settlement. He narrated of how some of their relatives were killed while being evacuated from now, Mt. Elgon National park area to where they are now.

Kween is located in the Eastern region of Uganda after Kapchorwa district, boardering Kenya. It takes an average of 7 hours by road, from Kampala to Kween, through Jinjam Iganga, Mbale and Kapchorwa. It’s a place dominated by the Sabiny people, although other tribes exist as well.

According to Javier Omagor, a journalist, Kween district is a collection of tribes including the Bennett, Rwandese and several other tribes that are predominantly found in Kenya. Kween which was curved out of Kapchorwa district, remains an amazing destination with unique and untouched cultures.

The stunning views on top of Tuigat hills is another magical adventure with great views of Pokot land at the flat plains of Nakapirpirit, Kenyan boarders, hunters cave astride the moorlands of Piswa trails and the mount Elgon forest is just a thriller.

The local drink known as lakwek which is made up of honey, unique traditional dishes of the indigenous, child naming ceremonies, the herbal vegetable plant known as Suiwondet, Mukuso cave that is said to be the longest cave in this region are such amazing tourist spots that are worthy being explored.

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