Clan Chief Adopts Poetry in Fight Against Shea Tree Depletion

In the poem; Wagwoko Kabedo Ma Orumuwa (Let’s Protect Our Environment), Ongom allows the shea nut tree to lament in an attempt to squeeze sympathy out of the shea tree destroyer.
19 Jan 2022 13:56
Shea nut trees cut for charoal in Agago

Audio 8

The Cultural Chief of the Patongo Clan in Agago district Kassimiro Ongom has adopted a new approach to efforts to save the shear nut tree. He is using a poem, imaging a talking shear nut tree, pleading for mercy from mankind.

In the poem; Wagwoko Kabedo Ma Orumuwa (Let’s Protect Our Environment), Ongom allows the shea nut tree to lament in an attempt to squeeze sympathy out of the shea tree destroyer.   

"Come and save me in Adilang where I am being wasted at such as high level that words can’t explain. Come and see how I fall with dust-raising force. Do you allow me to suffer in your presence? Do you allow them to afflict me while you listen? Come and see me in Wol, Omot, Arum, in Parabongo, Lukole and the entire Acoli,” the poem goes in a call to Acholi chiefs, Acholi elders and children in different leadership roles.

//Cue in; ”Wululu…

Cue out…wa ilobo Acoli lung.”//   

On December 15, 2021, a team of cultural leaders from all the 15 clans in Agago district started a year-long operation to arrest and penalize persons who are indiscriminately cutting down shea nut trees and turning them into charcoal for sale.

Last week, Rwot Kassimiro Ongom, the leader of the operation says they are facing several hurdles as they carry out their undertaking. Now, the chief says he believes that the poem will help appeal to the locals who are abetting the illegal trade in shea trees and probably change their mindset.

In the second stanza of the poem, Rwot Kassimiro, lets the shea nut beg the community to get other ways of fighting their poverty, because their forefathers preserved ‘her’ for a reason. “Come and see for yourself how I endure the blade of the axe, daily, morning, afternoon, and evening…Other people debark me. Some people set fire beneath me. The wicked also perform their evil acts to kill me, while others sell me off from their land so that I am cut.

//Cue in; “Ubin unen…

Cue out…can gi ikome yo.”//   

"I am mostly burned into charcoal for sale. I won't lie to you, heavy trucks and lorries that cross Karuma with sacks of charcoal pack sky-high mostly carry me. Each day, I lose more than 20 lorries. Honestly, can’t you have mercy on me? Your forefathers saved me because of my importance. They didn’t turn their poverty on me,” He further cries out.

In the poem, the chief also explains why the endangered tree species should be preserved by highlighting its numerous benefits. He highlights it as a source of nuts for food, money, butter, moisturisers for the skin and cooking oil, amongst others.

“If you get hungry, you can eat my nuts and get satisfied. If you collect my nuts, you can get a lot of money. My butter is used for install a chief on the throne, performing rituals and a moisturizer that soothes you…the butter that comes from me can be used to fry food which is nice to eat. With all the help I give you for free, can’t you have pity on me?

//Cue in; “Wek awac berna…

Cue out… ikome ada?//  

Finally, the shea nut tree criticizes the women for turning against ‘her’, yet they used to conserve it and wished it grew in a foreign land than Acoliland.

//Cue in; “Awuru ka wa mege…

Cue out…uwinyo oduruna? //

Translation: I am surprised that even some mothers turn the axe on me, yet in the past mothers were my keeper... Sadness prevents me from bearing adequate fruits like before. Had I known, I would have lived in the land of foreigners. I had hope that you were merciful, but I was wrong. See how I’m pushed to the ground. Others don’t care whether or not I have fruits or flowers. Yet the bees that visit me produce the best honey in the world... All my tears are in plea for forgiveness. Allow me to decorate your homes. Let me continue helping you for free...?”

Rwot Ongom, who has written several other poems about societal injustices such as; Child Abuse, COVID-19 and Defilement, told Uganda Radio Network that he normally personifies his poems so that the message goes to each individual as if it were being communicated by a person in a regular way.

//Cue in; “Kit ma an aneno kwede…

Cue out…orom cing lwak maber.”//

Rwot Kassimiro says if they get financial support, they will move with a megaphone while playing the poem within the community, as well as given messages on environmental conservation.

//Cue in: “Ingeyo dano…

Cue in…walok ki community.”//

Peter Kagayi, a Ugandan Poet and owner of Kitara Nation Publishing company, believes that poetry has the power to change the way people behave because it is the most earnest form of communication.

//Cue in: “Poetry has a deeply…

Cue out: …awareness about the situation.”//

Besides, Kagayi says, poetry helps an individual to establish their true feelings, as language acts as a mediator in hard times such as during conflicts.

//Cue in; “Most importantly…

Cue out…through people’s interest.”//

Kate North, a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University in her opinion piece published on The Conversation, says poetry has the power to inspire change like no other art form. “People look to poems, most often, at times of change. These can be happy or sad times…Poetry can provide clear expression of emotion at moments that are overwhelming and burdensome.”