Day 7: ‘Darkness to Light’ [Deep Discoveries]

After compiling the data collected from the previous day, we enjoyed a heavy breakfast to get us ready for the trek. We set off for our next destination, Kisiizi Falls in Rukungiri District.

Kisiizi Falls, commonly recognized as a former execution site for pregnant unmarried Bakiga girls, has quickly become a popular tourist destination since Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) took over management in 2017. The rich history of the site highlights the establishment of Kisiizi Hospital, a mission hospital set up by the Late Leonard Sharp, father to the first superintendent of the Hospital in 1958, Dr. John Sharp. The hospital was constructed at the site of an abandoned flax factory which was previously set up in close proximity to the falls which were a source of Hydro-Electric power for the industry. The dam at Kisiizi Falls, which is currently controlled by the Hospital was developed in 1945, and produces up to 300W for about 700 customers including the local community and the Visitor’s centre within the area.

The visitor’s centre receives an average of 50 visitors on a good day and when we got there we were welcomed by Tour Guide Maureen who briefed us on the available activities and the Kisiizi Falls experience.

Grass thatching is used for the roof of the visitors centre

A walk over a lagoon took us into the hills, as we enjoyed the ambience created by the crashing sounds of the falls in the distance. As grey clouds loomed over us, we bypassed the sky-trail and zip-line along the route until we reached a suspension bridge that gave us a magnificent view of the waterfall. As the rain began to pelt down, Maureen narrated to us the culture in Kigezi of throwing pregnant unmarried Bakiga girls over the waterfall as a punishment, a practice which was a custom in ‘Kiga culture’ until the 1930s when intervention from missionaries and the Church of Uganda put an end to it. However, punishment of these girls was not omitted: Girls were alternatively sent to Punishment Island on Lake Bunyonyi to live out their days and starve, or to be hung and killed on spot. It’s clear that the Bakiga were determined not to leave the girls unpunished. However, fishermen at the lake would sometimes take these neglected unmarried girls from Punishment Island to be their wives, avoiding the need to pay dowry. During our earlier explorations, we discovered another Punishment Island on Lake Mutanda in Kisoro District, used for the same reason. Interestingly, we also discovered that the Lake Mutanda is the source of water for Kisiizi Falls.

The lagoon formed by the water from Kisiizi Falls

Over time however, the waterfall at Kisiizi has lost it’s natural colour and beauty due to the destructive forces of man: Bush-burning and deforestation has led to soil erosion on the Kigezi Highlands whose run off carries loose soils with the water which flows to the dam and in-turn affects the colour of the waterfall. This shows how farmers within Kigezi have lost appreciation of nature, and prioritised personal gain through agriculture over the bigger picture which is Kisiizi Falls.

The water of Kisiizi Falls which was once clear now appears brown in colour

The last and by far most intriguing part of the tour was the ‘Kisiizi Falls Monument’ which summarised the historical narrative behind Kisiizi Falls and the changes it experienced becoming a historically and socially significant site within Kigezi.

The Kisiizi Falls Monument depicts the scenes which would take place at the site until the 1930s when the practice was stopped

The clay pot at the bottom of the monument symbolizes the Kigezi Culture of beer parties and alcohol drinking that would often take place within the community.

The stretcher, which was commonly used as a means of transporting sick people within the Kisiizi village is also represented in the monument. The map of Kigezi with it’s four districts: Kisoro, Kabale, Rukungiri and Kanungu sits above the stretcher engraved with the Holy Cross, the Bible, the hospital and the ambulance representing the Anglican community and the mission hospital respectively. The 2 sets of human sculptures show the two sides of the story, darkness and light; the first set shows an enactment of the execution, with the brother of the pregnant girl, and the village elders witnessing the act taking place as it was practiced. The second set shows a mother and her new-born child, a pregnant lady and the nurse who delivered the baby rejoicing the blessing of a child. The two scenarios represented show the change in situation at Kisiizi Falls; the execution of young unmarried pregnant bakiga girls as a cultural custom (darkness), to now where all people are welcome by the Church of Uganda and Kisiizi Hospital (light). Day 2 concluded with a gallery viewing, which showcased the unforgettable Kisiizi Falls experience, an illustration of ‘Darkness to Light’.

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