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The Tamushangyes’ life of struggle and 62-year matrimonial journey


The Tamushangyes share a cake to celebrate 62 years of marriage

Henry Tamushangye and Louisa Maria Bitwiromunda met around 1954. He was a Grade II teacher at Ibaare primary school in present-day Bushenyi district, and she was just another village girl.

They met through Louisa’s brother who was Tamushangye’s teaching colleague. The rest, as the saying goes, is history, for the two have been married since 1955, clocking 62 years in 2017 as husband and wife, and raising nine children along the way, including this writer.

To celebrate this milestone, the now ageing couple hosted at least 600 guests at a colourful thanksgiving ceremony at their home in Ibaare sub-county, Igara county, on December 27, 2017.

During mass led by Mbarara archdiocese’s Monsignor John Baruhagare and at least 20 other priests, Henry and Louisa renewed the matrimonial vows they took 62 years ago, as the congregation of mostly relatives and friends burst into cheers and ululation.

Tamushangye, now 84 but healthy and agile enough to ride a bicycle, remembers being led by his father and the go-between (omugambi w’obugyenyi) to his future wife’s home carrying a pot of local brew (tonto), as the custom demanded.

After one week had elapsed, they went back with another pot of tonto. Over this drink, bride price was discussed. The bride price value depended on the social status of the bridegroom; it could be two or more cows. In addition, goats were given to the aunties and uncles of the bride.

After these two stages, his father took a third pot of beer. Upon receiving this round of beer, the family of the future bride dispatched a team of about 24 people to visit Tamushangye’s home to collect the bride price. This elaborate custom culminated in a church wedding at Kitabi Catholic parish in April 1955.

Tamushangye remembers a modest but colourful wedding and, being a teacher, he could afford a wedding gown for his bride – a rarity at the time, which left onlookers in awe.

Growing up

Tamushangye’s story starts in the village of Bunyarigi in Ishaka-Bushenyi municipality. It is here, at Rwabahambi hill that he was born to Bernardo Kyaburijo and Veronica Mugombore.

On her part, Louisa was born on August 16, 1936. Her family originated from Bwoma village in Bushenyi district, and her father Anselm Byambara was a catechist and her mother Rosa Bagarimu a housewife.

One of the places where her catechist father worked was Kabaare, near Ishaka, and it is here that he bought land and settled. This is where Louisa was born. Unlike her husband, Louisa did not join formal school. She learnt to read and write through catechism. However, her enthusiasm for her own children’s education was unmatched.

When Tamushangye grew into a youth, he attended Catholic catechism (mugigi) and primary school at Kitabi Catholic mission, starting in 1945. However, when he got to second term in Primary Six, he developed differences with his father who then refused to pay the school dues.

Just as many parents of his time, his father preferred that his young boy stayed home to look after cattle, while Tamushangye had an insatiable appetite for education.

He was later chased from the home and went to put up with friends with whom he was studying.

“After school at 4pm, I would beg one of my friends to stay a night at their home. I did this for one week,” Tamushangye recounts.

The author (R) and other relatives join the Tamushangyes to cut the cake

Out of these friends was one Gabriel Behakanira who took him to his home in Numba where Tamushangye stayed during the entire Primary Six. But school fees remained a challenge; so, he appealed to a teacher who had taught him in Primary Five before he was transferred to Kagamba primary school, almost 30km away.

“I decided to walk from Numba to Kagamba, hoping to get school fees from him. At that time vehicles were very few and, moreover, I had no money to pay for the fare,” he says.

“As I walked through Rusindura, a stretch of about 4km of bush and forest, I got scared and decided to run. When I was almost through, I met a man who asked me whether there was something I was running away from. I told him I was just afraid, and we both continued our opposite ways.”

His trip was not in vain; Tamushangye’s former teacher helped him complete second and third term, and with that he was through with primary school, which stopped at Primary Six at that time.

Desperate to continue his education journey, he got a bursary of Shs 150 to train as a teacher at St Joseph’s College Nyamitanga, Mbarara. However, the condition was that his father tops up with another Shs 150, which he refused to do because of their differences.

But another window would open when he was offered a vacancy at the Vernacular Teacher Training College (VTTC) at Kitabi. This vacancy, Tamushangye says, was the opening that changed his life forever.

“I joined the college in 1950, still coming from Numba, my adopted home. A relative named Boniface Rufunga gave me Shs 160 in support. My blanket was made out of bark cloth (ekitooma) and the mattress was made of a sisal sack merged with a mat (omukyeeka),” he recounts.

“I spent three years at the college where I now had free accommodation. To cover my basic needs, I did petty jobs such as washing clothes for a white priest who was teaching at Kitabi Seminary. After doing his laundry for four consecutive Saturdays, the priest would pay me Shs 5, which I saved till I raised Shs 20. With this, I bought the first real blanket in my life. That is when my bed looked like those of my colleagues. I was so happy that until now I have a mental picture of that blanket.”

At the end of the three years, Tamushangye graduated as a teacher. The year was 1953. Now, no longer afraid of his father, he made his way back home for the first time in many years.

“My father was also now in awe of me because I had defied all odds to become a teacher. My mother was the happiest woman in the world,” he says.

Tamushangye started teaching in 1954 as a vernacular teacher, which meant that he taught pupils in the local language, from P1-P4. The education system of the time was such that teaching English started in P4.

After sometime, the colonial government gave teachers of his standard an opportunity to upgrade to Grade II, which he did following a course at Kakoba in Mbarara.

Tamushangye taught in many schools in the Ankole sub-region, and thousands of children passed through his hands. Among his former pupils who have grown into prominent people are Mbarara Archbishop Paul Bakyenga, Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere, General Kahinda Otafiire, Francis Bwengye and Hassan Basajjabalaba.

Toiling housewife

As Tamushangye was transferred from school to school or went away for days on business trips, he did not have to worry about his home because his wife Louisa, now 81, toiled day and night to grow enough food for the family.

Every single day, apart from Sundays, she got up very early in the morning and went to work in her gardens. One time, she said, thinking it was early morning, Louisa got up as usual to go to her garden. But after digging away for three hours or so, she realised day was not breaking. There was no watch or phone to tell the time. It must have been 2am when she left her house, she later realised.

Louisa also tells stories of coming face to face with a porcupine, a python and a fox on some of her early morning digging missions. As the couple began to struggle raising their children, Tamushangye took early retirement from the teaching profession in 1978 to engage in private business.

He became a fairly successful timber dealer with stores in Ishaka and Rwashamaire towns, but his success was short-lived as his stores were looted bare during the war of 1978-79, bringing his promising private business journey to a sudden halt.

Tamushangye returned to teaching briefly before finally retiring. The couple has been blessed with nine children, including three who are deceased; 15 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Growing up, the children remember a strict and somewhat distant father who never spared the rod. When he was not being transferred from school to school far away from home, he stayed at home working in the banana plantation and compelling the children to read his small collection of text books after dinner.

Our mother, on the other hand, was and still is the family’s Ms Fix-it. Religious to a fault, she struggled to take care of every child’s basic needs amid scarcity.

Now in the evening of their lives, the Tamushangyes who raised not only their own but many more children, are back to where they started 62 odd years ago - two in the house, with their now mature children and grand children scattered around Uganda and the world.

How he got his name

Owing to its uniqueness, many people wonder how Tamushangye got his name. Like many youths of his time, Kyaburijo, his father, once sought employment in Buganda, mostly to work in coffee and banana shambas.

Kyaburijo must have liked the Kiganda name we know as Tomusange, or the less common Tamusange. So, when he got his first baby boy on May 12, 1933, Kyaburijo named him Henry Tamushangye.

At the time, what is known as Uganda today was part of the British Empire, which is believed to explain the origin of the first name Henry. In the year Tamushangye was born, 1933, a film named The Private Life of Henry VIII was made. Henry VIII was one of the most famous kings in English history; so, the film made international headlines.

Henry VIII is remembered for marrying six times and leading the break-away of the Anglican faith from the pope’s authority. Around this time (1933), the king of England was George V. Among his children was one named Henry. It is further believed that young Tamushangye got his Henry name from this English context.

After his escapades in Buganda, Kyaburijo settled down in Bunyarigi as a relatively wealthy family man with a lot of cows and a large banana plantation, and got married.

Veronica Mugombore, his wife and Tamushangye’s mother, hailed from Ruharo, a neighbouring village. She gave birth to 14 children, including two sets of twins. The number could have been 15 but one of the offspring died in the womb and almost took the life of the mother with it.

She had to be operated on to remove the foetus. With health centres few and far between at the time, this delicate operation was conducted by a ‘local surgeon’ called Rwakajugute, who hailed from Mitooma.

This man had a sharp little knife with which he would aim inside a woman’s private parts and cut the foetus until he removed it, piece by piece. The operation was so successful that Mugombore was able to have another child after that.


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