the face of it, Western Uganda is a very conservative region with
traditional values and a religious conviction deeply embedded into
its very essence. We write "on the face of it" because despite its
purported religious culture many of the locals will steal from
each other (even friends) without any regard to those religious
beliefs and often the villagers show little compassion to others
in need. That's not to say its a "bad" community, just one whose
will to survive often overshadows its more spiritual aspirations!
However that conservatism does extend to seeing women as
subordinate to men and a clear
expectation that all women, whether they be locals or outsiders
such as volunteers or tourists, will wear appropriate dress such
as ensuring skirts and shorts are at least knee length and
generally take their cue from men. Women are also advised to
wear other clothes that do not reveal too much flesh!
If not doing so, you may not only offend the older generation but
inadvertently give out the wrong messages to local male youths
many of who already believe that "western girls" are easy.
Regrettably, they have much evidence that some actually are
especially after a drink. Is this pandering to what called be
called a sexist culture? That's your call, but this is the culture
in Uganda and you are the visitor there so if its not something
you can tolerate best not to visit.
may also be surprised how tactile people are in Uganda and, in a
country where homosexuality is illegal, its very common to see
adult men walking together hand in hand in public. This is just a
sign of friendship and respect, nothing more.
Being friendly communities, you will often get invited into
family homes. Its both courtesy (and expected) that you will remove
your shoes before you do so and having sat through the endless
photo albums (one for each person in the household) you may be
offered refreshments ranging from cut pineapple or mango to local
If invited for a meal, a cleaning bowl with water will be shared
beforehand. Even if you have just washed, you should wash your
hands again in front of the others as most Ugandan food is scooped
off communal plates and the others eating will want to know your
hands are clean before touching the food.
If the food prepared is not to your liking ~ and its very much
steamed vegetable based ~ best to eat slowly because the moment
you finish others will stop as well believing it rude to keep
eating after a guest has stopped. (As such they will insist on you
having more whether you want it or not ~ so eke out what you
have!) Offering to help wash or clean up afterwards will not be
welcomed as this is deemed the woman who prepared the food's role
~ and not to be taken away from her.
dancing are a vibrant part of Ugandan culture and most of
the children in rural communities will spontaneously break into dance
without much prompting. Whilst some
children practice their dancing routines from a young age,
most just go with the flow and whilst western teenagers may
become embarrassed when asked to sing and dance. Not so Ugandan
kids who will perform for nearly anyone anytime for your
enjoyment as these children above show when asked by other
village teenagers to dance for the video camera lent to them.
There's not much money in remote areas of Western Uganda, but the
know how to throw a memorable party whether it be a
graduation ceremony, christening, baptism or wedding. If
you are invited to such an event, we strongly recommend you
attend as they are great fun with dancing processions often
headed up by young girls in their Sunday best and boys
wearing top hat and tails leading the dancing with their
shepherd's crooks. Oh, one thing to watch out for is
the interminably long speeches in local Runyankole. In
Ugandan culture, there is no such thing as a short speech
when a long one will do!
Finally, there are so many differences
between western and Ugandan culture its impossible to cover them
all here. The best advice is to watch what others are doing, then,
if unsure, ask rather than assume as you may cause unintentionally
offence if you assume wrongly!