About Uganda

Uganda, your country destination was made a British Protectorate in 1894. It became an independent nation in 9th October, 1962. Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Price. Winner for Literature wrote in “Green Hills of Africa”, 1935 (Scribner. New York):
“where a man feels at home, outside of where he’s born, is where he’s meant to go”

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The Concept of Heritage

You are welcome to Heritage Safari Lodge and Murchison Falls National Park through “Wang Kac” – the open gate to an Acoli homestead. The nucleus of your welcome is the notion of the “openness of the gate” meaning the person who comes through the open gate has a soft heart and means no harm unlike the one coming in through the back door. And on departure, the visitor or guest will suffer not harm either as he leaves through the no-harm “open gate”.

You are welcome to celebrate the recreational value of the landscape and the flora and fauna Uganda’s largest National Park – this being the heritage, the Acoli tribe endowed, in perpetuity, for the preservation and conservation of wildlife for the benefit of humanity and future generations – wildlife tourism.

You will have the opportunity to enjoy the Acoli traditional hospitality and to see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the Acoli culture – cultural tourism.

The economic and long term developmental benefit of your visit flows directly to the Acoli community who supplied the building materials which the local artisans and craftsmen used during construction. The Heritage Safari Lodge is owned and managed by William Olwoch-Lalobo – a dedicated, hardworking and proud Acoli investor and entrepreneur. He is an energetic and engaging personality, standing at six feet – sustainable developmental tourism.

The Lodge is located on the northern bank of the Nile in the place of origin of the Acoli tribe. So right now you nestle in the place where the ancient Acoli tribe first settled, in the fifteenth century, during the southward Luo migration from north western South Sudan.

You are welcome to the ancestral home of the Acoli tribe. The round hut, called “0t”, was built using local wood and grass. The design is traditional and ethnic in character. It is a low energy structure. The interior has been re-modelled in order to accommodate modern fixtures. The compound lay-out is not the typical circular arrangement of the traditional Acoli homestead. It has been designed to facilitate game viewing from the comfort of your hut rather than for protection against the slave trade attacks of yesteryear. For want of a better word the “ot” at Heritage Safari Lodge is an “organic building.” In the moonlight the silhouette looks like a giant mushroom dotting the landscape – eco-tourism.

In the book “Uganda to Khartoum- Life and Adventure on the Upper Nile,” (E.P. Dutton & Co New York 1906), Rev Albert B. Lloyd wrote in reference to the Acoli tribe:

“They build very fine houses…. A circular wall is made of strong stakes covered with mud about four feet high, and from the wall is built a beehive-shaped roof with grass thatch put on in long circular ridges. They are kept clean inside.”

J.H. Driberg in “The Lango. A Nilotic Tribe of Uganda” (T. Fisher Unwin Ltd 1923) described:
“Ot (the hut) is a circular dome-shaped structure, the roof being thatched with grass arranged in flounces.”

Working as a young District Officer in Acoli region in the 1930s, Rennie Bere who later became the first Chief Game Warden wrote in “A Cuckoo’s Parting Cry – Life and Work in UGANDA 1930 – 1960 (Cedar Publishing Ltd. Cheltenham.UK)

“One particular memory is of my first proper look at an Acoli village where I was much impressed by the neat round huts with their evenly stepped thatching, each one a craftsman’s job. The huts were arranged in a circle round an empty space swept clean several times a day.”

Read more about the Lodge’s design concepts and the experience of the Lodge environments in the Poems entitled – The Creative Mind, The Riverside Experience at Heritage Safari Lodge, and The Butterfly- the flying flower.

In respect of Acoli hospitality, Rennie Berre narrated the experience of Colonel H. A. Lilley, District Commissioner at Torit, the most southerly district in the Sudan. He was well known and liked by many Acoli of the older generation having previously surveyed the Acoli/Lango boundary:

“The Acoli were quite willing to fight, if you sent an expedition against them. But if you just walked into their villages, they welcome you and killed a bull for you instead – killing a bull and sharing out the meat was their way of showing hospitality”

Welcome to “Wang Kac” – the open gate to the Heritage Safari Lodge. Read more about the concept of the “open gate” in the poem entitled – Wang Kac. Other related Poems include: The Hands That Serve You, and Your time With Us.

The Acoli had great admiration, and respect for Sir Samuel Baker and Lady Sarah Baker, holding both in the highest regard and esteem. Read more about this in the booklet – The Trail of Sir Samuel Baker and Lady Florence Baker.

Murchison Falls National Park

In terms of heritage, the Park, your ultimate destination is a place of natural beauty rather like the breath-taking Grand Canyon in the USA but with a plethora of flora and fauna instead. It is not man-made like cathedrals and castles in Europe.

In 1957 the American literary naturalist Loren Eiseley wrote:
“If there is magic on this planet, it is in moving water.”

You will find the “moving magic” in Nile River, particularly, at the world renowned Murchison Falls, and the preceding cascade of rapids and falls at the roaring Karuma Falls.

As was the custom during Victorian era the Falls, the Acoli tribe call “Wang Jok” – the place, eye or manifestation of God, was named by Sir Samuel Baker in 1863, after Sir Roderick Murchison the President of the Royal Geographical Society. Downstream Lake Albert, called “Onek Bonyo” – the killer of locusts, retains its Victorian name. All other places in the Park are called by their original Acoli names – “Paraa” – the place of hippos; “Pakwach” – the place of leopards; and the three entrances to the Park are called – Chobe, Wang Kwa and Tangi Gates. The names represent the dynamic and fluid nature of culture and heritage.

Sir Samuel Baker in Wild Beasts and their Ways (Macmillan, 1891) narrated unforgettable travel scene around Albert Nile in 1863:

“a vast concourse of elephants, grouped in parties of varying size from ten to one hundred animals, while single bulls dotted the landscape, with their majestic forms in all direction.”

At the turn of the century, Winston Spencer-Churchill in 1907 wrote in “My African Journey”

“The profusion of flora and fauna – birds, insects, reptiles and mammals are fused by nature on a vast scale astride the almighty Nile”

“One has to remember that here Kew Gardens and the London Zoo combined on an unlimited scale”

On Saturday 23rd and then Sunday 24th January, 1954 Ernest Hemingway the Noble Laureate, a tall, powerfully built man, who combined a life of action with writing some gripping fiction, was involved in two plane accidents, in company with his wife, whilst flying near the Murchison Falls. As reported by “The United Press”
He quipped:

“My luck, she is running very good”

The single-engine Cessna hired for the flight to Murchison Falls crashed trying to avoid a flock of black and white Ibises. The Pilot, Captain Roy Marsh landed with a jolt on an “Elephant Track” – the other landing option was a “Sandpit Where Six Man-eating Crocodiles Lay Basking in the Sun”

Hemingway the action orientated man survived the crash with a limp. His wife had two broken ribs. They had to camp overnight near the wreckage before the rescue the following day by a tourist steamer from Butiaba.

In the morning Hemingway joshed his wife, saying her snoring had attracted elephants as they camped:

“We held our breath about two hours while an elephant twelve paces away was silhouetted in the moonlight, listening to my wife’s snores,” Hemingway roared.

On Sunday 24th January, 1954, the second plane ground-looped and crashed in a plantation at the end of the run way in Butiaba. The action man had survived the second accident too. The trip to Uganda, he said, was his wife’s Christmas present. On Monday 26th January, he arrived in Entebbe by road in bandages, carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin.

The mystery of Wang Jok – the place or eye of “God” never ceases. In 1961 a foot bridge was constructed over the 6 metres rock- gap over the Falls. In the deluge of the following year’s rainy season the well-engineered viewing bridge was washed away overnight without residue. Since that day the Park engineers have stayed their hands.
Read more about Wang Jok in the Poems called – Murchison Falls and Riverside Experience at the Heritage Safari Lodge.

The Acoli Tribe

The Acoli tribe lived in close association with wildlife for generations. The tribe’s claim to the guardianship of wildlife is embedded in the Acoli custom, folklore and culture – perhaps in the DNA as well. Here is the Acoli and the wildlife story. It spans several generations.

Southern Luo Migration

In the southern Luo migration from Rumbek region of South Sudan passing through difficult terrain and dense jungle, elephant routes compacted hard underfoot, and clear of vegetation were followed. Where there is no water one was dug by the elephants without going on strike, belabouring politics or seeking any reward. Man-eating lions and leopards kept their distance. The Acoli gave, the elephant, the additional name – “Ocoro Oboke” for their bush clearing or trail blazing role. The odyssey of Luo migration through difficult ground was “unknowingly” reshaped by the elephants.

Rennie Berre the first Chief Game Warden of Uganda’s National Park, described in “The African Elephant” (Arthur Baker Limited. London & Golden Press. New York 1966) a vivid account of the elephant tracks as witness first-hand in 1932:

“Today few of these old elephant roads still operate. They are quite distinct, beaten hard underfoot with vegetation browsed back by the elephant’s habit of feeding on the move; these animals have a remarkable capacity for finding the best route across country particularly over difficult ground”

The elephant routes which served the Acoli well during their migration, proved to be the saving grace and the preferred landing site in 1954 when Captain Marsh, the pilot, was forced to land the bird-stricken single- engine Cessna carrying Novelist Ernest Hemingway in Murchison Falls area.

Wang Lei

The Heritage Safari Lodge is located in the place of origin of the Acoli tribe. In the southward Luo migration, Olum a clan leader settled in the area. His feuding sons Gipir and Labongo parted company to found Alur and Acholi tribes now living astride the Nile.

Gipir, surprised by a marauding elephant at the homestead, used Labongo’s ceremonial spear to drive off the elephant. The elephant escaped into dense jungle with the spear sticking on its body. Labongo, the heir, was incensed by the loss of the spear and the symbol of authority entrusted to him. He demanded, uncompromisingly, the recovery of the spear. This triggered the quarrel which led the brothers to part-company to found the Alur and Acoli tribes.

Gipir crossed to the western bank of the Nile at a place named Wang Lei – driving an axe on the river bed, swearing never to return. Today Wang Lei is under the guardianship of the Chief of Pugungu – the area across the river. A ritual sacrifice is undertaken whenever the Chief travels across the Nile to the eastern bank of the Nile.

In 1906 the British Protectorate administration established an administrative post in Pakuba a little distance upstream from the place of origin of the Acoli tribe. This was moved, in 1909 -10, to the more central location in Gulu when sleeping sickness epidemic threatened the area.

Acoli and the elephants

Here is the elephant again. The Acoli are very sentimental about elephants – they call “Lyec”. The Ocoro Oboke, the additional name given because of the elephant’s bush clearing role remind Acoli women of their duty as the home maker. With homestead located in remote location, the elephant tracks facilitated access to the water hole. The trees previously uprooted by the elephant are found dry and ready for hewing. They adore the elephants for looking after calves collectively, and for adopting orphaned calf just like them. The elephants mourn the dead just like them in a process called – “dipo lyec”.

The Acoli – Won Tim

Hunting and the preservation of wildlife was a well organised affair with very clear line of responsibility for well-defined tasks. Won Tim – the “Father of the Wilderness or the Jungle” is responsible for Tim – “the jungle hunting area” measuring on average 20 – 30 square miles, but determined largely by lay the out of streams, valleys and hills in the area.

Rennie Berre wrote in “A Cuckoo’s Parting Cry. Life and Work in Uganda 1930 – 1960:
“the Fathers of the Forest, the men responsible for hunting manors into which the whole country was divided. They not only controlled the hunting but also the grass-burning which preceded it, as grass for thatching had to be protected from the annual fires which swept through the grasslands early in the year.

Hunting was a necessary means of securing food. It also had a high social value as a test of courage and endurance and training for manhood among the youth of the tribe. But control was necessary, and this was well understood by the Fathers who restricted the big tribal hunts to one or two forays each year. The result was to preserve a reasonable ecological balance between man and wildlife.”

In an increasingly complex environment with rapidly expanding human settlement, extensive road network, and over grazing by wildlife, the moral and ecological governance framework which worked well between the traditional Acoli way of life and the natural environment required supplementary managerial, scientific and legal inputs. The British Protectorate Government and the subsequent independent Uganda Government implemented the bottom-up developmental approach grounded on the Acoli management of “Tim.”

Heritage’s Commitment to the Community

Heritage’s  conservation philosophy

Heritage’s conservation philosophy is based on two principles:

The first is the need to conserve rapidly dwindling wilderness areas and to provide a sanctuary for fauna and flora as part of Uganda’s heritage.

The second is the belief that the business must be a true example of eco-tourism effectively linking tourism with conservation and the community. Heritage’s environmental management system is a holistic one, where the ecological needs are balanced with the needs of people and their communities, i.e. focusing on the interdependence of tourism, conservation and local communities.

Heritage’s environmental management policy

“We need to conserve our rapidly dwindling wilderness areas and to provide a sanctuary for fauna and flora of our heritage. The only way a wildlife sanctuary can survive the onslaught of socio-economic pressures is by:

a) Employing people
b) Earning foreign currency
c) Paying tax
d) And promoting sustainable tourism

Each member of the Heritage team receives ongoing training in all areas of our business, empowering them and improving their skills; and each has a thorough understanding that an individual’s performance reflects and is dependent on the performance of other members of the team.

In the rural subsistence areas surrounding Heritage, the ratio of breadwinner to dependant is over 1 to 7. Therefore our 7 local employees at Heritage support over 50 dependants. These people are directly or indirectly dependant for their livelihood on the success of our enterprise.

Heritage Safari Lodge defines eco-tourism as the interdependence of tourism, conservation and local community thereby ensuring the optimum tangible benefit to each of the above.

Local community includes all of the staff employed at Heritage and the neighboring communities where they reside. The empowerment of all staff through training and development is a key policy at Heritage.

Heritage’s dedication to conservation

Unusual dedication and understanding is needed to manage our environment in an ecologically sound manner. It is also important to maintain economically viable tourist lodge, as well as meet the needs of a widely differing range of staff and neighbors. Heritage’s Management believes that it is meeting the challenge, and achieving this fine balance.

Environmental control forms an integral part of the conservation process. Heritage has an extensive Habitat Management Plan in place that is continually reviewed. This encompasses concepts such as

a) clearing encroached seep lines and grasslands,
b) and correctly planting and maintaining gardens.
c) pumping and treating water from the Nile

Other issues that constantly demand attention are the sustainable fire management programme and waste-water disposal.

Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, control of runaway fires is vital, but correct burning is essential for the long-term health of the natural environment.

The continued presence of humans makes it imperative to deal with the problem of waste-water. At Heritage, waste-water is treated naturally through oxidization tanks, which is ideal habitat for waterfowl. The treated water soaks back into seepage lines, which ultimately feed underground aquifers, thus creating a full natural water cycle.

Naturalists, Early Travellers & Hunters

Captain R. J. D Salmon was always called “Samaki” – meaning fish. He acquired the name in the present Tanzania during World War 1 when under enemy fire he jumped into and crossed the crocodile infested Kagera river to rescue his men who had been surrounded and out-gunned.

W.D.M Bell, a tough Scotsman, was always out of town, in Karamoja hunting elephants, hence the name “Karamoja Bell”. He is best remembered for developing the brain shot that is most humane and drops the elephant instantaneously. He was concerned about the elephant mourning process called by the Acoli – “dipo lyec.” He wrote in “Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter” (Neville Spearman. Suffolk 1923):

“The deadliest and most humane method of killing the African elephant is the shot in the brain, it causes instantaneous death, and no movement of the stricken animal communicate panic to others in the vicinity”
But he added:

“he thing that did the most for my rifle shooting was, I believe, the fact that I always carried my own rifle. Constant handling, constant aiming, constant Swedish drill with it, and then when it was required there it was ready and pointing true.”

The third situation changing event was the paradigm shift away from elephant control to recreational and economic value of wildlife. In 1953, Acoli tribal elders, meeting in Gulu, accented formally to the creation of Murchison Falls National Park in their ancestral land north of the Victoria Nile. Christopher Powell-Cotton became the new Provincial Commissioner for the Northern Province, as Rennie Berre left the province to become the first Chief Game Warden of Uganda.

In 1903 -1904, Christopher’s father, Major Percy Powell-Cotton, a naturalist, anthropologist and a world traveller got married in Nairobi and decided to honeymoon trekking through Uganda and the Congo. On the western bank of the Nile he identified the white rhino species and named it – “Ceratoherium simum cottoni, which Christopher became very familiar with during the many administrative safaris he carried out in the Province under his charge. The grand old elephant that lived in the Tangi Gate area had tusks weighing 198 and 174 lbs respectively was collected, in 1909 by Major Powell Cotton, and now mounted in Powell-Cotton Museum in Quex Park in Kent. UK.

The objective of Powell-Cotton Museum resonates perfectly and harmoniously with the heritage concept and principles. The belief is in seeing what is held in the Museum: BBC Inside Out 2005 opined:

“500 stuffed African animals preserved for posterity and lovingly displayed in reconstruction of their homeland”
The museum’s benefits far exceed the recreational value. It provides vital conservation tool for today’s endangered species. The results of DNA analysis of samples of the stuffed animals inform and support wildlife breeding programmes worldwide.

Major Powell- Cotton’s recorded keeping was meticulous:
‘even the lines of latitude and longitude where the animal was found were recorded”
Collecting the animals became less of s sport and more of a science. At the apex of his noble activities is the extensive collection of over 100 years old traditional crafts and articles from areas travelled, all are housed and open to the public at Quex Park Museum.

The 19th & 20th Century – Risk and Opportunities

The management of “Tim” through Acoli traditional practice of devolved responsibility to “Won Tim” was no hunky dory affair. The juggernaut of the nineteenth century brought threats as well as opportunities. The ruthless, gun welding, and irascible slave and ivory traders posed overwhelming threat to both human and wildlife. The opportunity for modernisation as the spin- off the quest for the source of the Nile was the countervailing force. Naturalist travellers brought dedication, enthusiasm and shoots of scientific enquiry to the wildlife theatre. The Protectorate and Independent Uganda Governments instigated the much needed professional management informed and supported scientific evidence and legal framework.

British Protectorate Government

The Acoli and the British Protectorate Government worked collaboratively to create the Murchison Falls National Park. It was a long drawn out affair, lasting over 50 years.

The first situation changing event was the rinderpest epidemic that swept through Africa for the first time in 1898 in which buffalo and cattle suffered up to 95% mortality. The quarantine and separation of domestic and wildlife to contain the disease created wildlife sanctuaries that later facilitated the creation of the National Parks.

The second game changing event was the 1906 sleeping sickness epidemic which led to the evacuation of the land north of the Nile including the place of origin of the Acoli tribe. The British administrative post at Pakuba not far away was not spared either, and had to be relocated to its present and more central site in Gulu.

Sub-chief – “Jago” Adoniya Onen, the paternal uncle to William Olwoch-Lalobo, the proprietor of Heritage Safari Lodge, was appointed by the new the new administration in Gulu to oversee re-settlement of the displaced people. He was one of the first crop of Acoli administrators to be schooled and then trained in native administration in 1911, when the first school in Acoli area opened near the new administrative Post in Gulu.

Adoniya Onen’s new and most challenging duty was the management of the several “Tim(s)” – the managed hunting grounds in the triangular area between Tochi river in the east, Ayago river in the west and the Victoria Nile in the south. He was a family man, and a perfect single-shot only man when called to deal with marauding game.

In the aftermath of the Arab-led slave trade the country side was awash with guns. A country-wide disarmament exercise was undertaken by Major “Langa Langa” Delme Radcliffe. In one of the most efficient and effective disarmament processes he won the respect and affection of the Acoli tribe, who named him – Langa Langa a “werelion” with a legendary capability to appear anywhere overnight, the very large district with rudimentary road network notwithstanding. The disarmament exercise reduced the incidence of gun related poaching in Jago Onen’s administered “Tim(s).” TE-BITO

In 1911, J. R. P “Bwona Gweno” Postlethwaite C.B.E. was sent to establish the second Government administrative station at Kitgum in the east Acoli. He was a short stubby man but a very active and efficient administrator. He first settled in “Kitgum” but soon got attracted to a different location in which the present Kitgum is now located. He renamed the first location for the station, “Kitgum Matidi” – meaning the little Kitgum.

He loved to eat chicken, so he became known as Bwona Gweno – “Mister Cockerel”. The African orderlies who chased and caught the free-range chicken for his table were called Ogwang Gweno – “The Wild Cat” – they had to succeed and win the chase. He sent game rangers to Jago Adoniya Onen to be trained in augmented (modern) bush-craft.

In 1924, the Acoli tribe adopted the elephant – lyec as the emblem of the tribe. Soon after that historical event, marauding game began to destroy crops in the newly settled areas and rapidly became the scourge of the land. The Game Control Department was formed under the leadership of Capt Charles Pitman. In practice the new government body was essentially the “elephant” control department. The elephant control or culling process brought in some colourful characters with well-oiled and tested competence in the art of bush-craft.

The Queen Mother’s Visit

The Queen Mother opened the Park Headquarter’s at Paraa – place of hippos in 1959. Earlier in 1954 Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip had visited Uganda towards the end of their world tour. The Acoli royal traditional dance – Bwola was performed for Her Majesty. In a performance at Entebbe Airport, Edward Omara G. C. led the dancing team and carried the Min Bull – the Mother Drum of the Paimol clan living in north east Acoli District. With his team of Acoli Royal dancers he was at hand once again for the Queen Mother’s royal tour.

The Queen Mother’s visit was short- just staying one night. For such a short visit the worry was the English conversation piece – the weather, and the animals of course – will they behave and be available and easy to see.

On the day all was fine. The animals gathered at the watering hole in the Noah’s Ark fashion. A pride of lions had apparently “starved” for the royal for the visit. They performed the group hunt technique of stalk and pounce. At night the moon light was magnificent, at safe distance hippo shapes were seen to leave the water to the Nile to graze on the river bank, and elephant shapes and silhouettes moved freely in the distance.

Then at dinner Sergeant-Footman Taylor’s elephant moment came. He was the man for all occasions. His voice was strong and sonorous; and the announcement came:

“Your majesty there is an elephant at the door.”

And there the elephant was.

Light-heartedly chronicled by, Rennie Berre. C.M.G in “A Cuckoo’s Parting Cry”. Life and Work in Uganda 1930-1960 (Cedar Publishing Ltd. Cheltenham. UK 1990).