Uganda: A Refugee’s Poetic Clash of Cultures


In the 1970s, in the middle of the murderous Idi Amin regime, Godfrey Lubulwa fled Uganda and sought asylum in Australia.

Having been born and raised in the rural village of Ssanda, Busiro County in Buganda, in central Uganda, Lubulwa was a stickler for traditions.

So when his first born son was born in Australia, Lubulwa wanted to name him the traditional Baganda way by giving him the name Mpeewo, his own clan name. The midwife refused Lubulwa’s explanation and registered the infant under Lubulwa’s name arguing that in Australia, all children take their fathers’ names.

The second shock came when he asked to be given his infant son’s umbilical cord for safekeeping according to his culture.

He was duly informed that hospitals in Australia are not culture preservation centres and that babies’ umbilical cords are discarded as a procedure and for hygiene purposes.

According to Lubulwa’s Baganda tradition, a mother dries the umbilical cord of her infant, and wraps it in a bark cloth that she wears around her waist to keep it safe from rodents and witches. Every mother is supposed to know the whereabouts of their child’s umbilical cord.

Lubulwa found himself at sea with the new found Australian “culture” but he adhered because they it was also the law.

As his two children grew up in this “new” culture, the only one they knew, they embraced it and lived it. It meant talking back to their parents and not expecting corporal punishment for being “disrespectful” because it was their right. And once they reached 18 years old, they considered themselves adults who did not seek their father’s approval to live their lives the way they wanted. Lubulwa did not agree with all this but he conformed.

This lead him to publish a 202-page anthology in 2017 titled Half a Refugee in Ssanda and Australia: 100 Poems on memories of the old culture (poems 1-20), confrontation with the new culture in Australia (poems 21-32), marriage and starting a family (poems 33-57), parenthood in a multi-cultural setting (poems 58-80) and growing into old age (poems 81-100).

All the poems in the anthology address the cultural issues Lubulwa faced as an immigrant living in a community whose way of life contradicted everything that he left behind in Uganda.

The poems are aptly named with the obvious ones being Naming A Son, Unfair Exchange, The Mock Test, and The Umbilical Cord is Missing.

According to Lubulwa, Half a Refugee in Ssanda and Australia: 100 Poems is a celebration of successful refugee re-settlement. It is an honest depiction of the struggles new migrants face in Australia, particularly those who come from non-European cultures.

The anthology comprises two parts of a man’s life. One part is physical, on the man’s migration to Australia and the other relates to his psychological, emotional and cultural life he left behind. The book is about the sustaining, and nourishing power of culture.

By the time he was fleeing Uganda, Lubulwa was a BSc holder from Makerere University and a MSc from Southampton University, UK. He later got a PhD in Mathematical Economics, from LaTrobe University in Australia. Previously an economic researcher, he now writes poetry and fiction in Australia.

He prefers poetry over prose because “it has the capacity to compress complicated ideas and developments into a few lines: Its concise and precise.

On the other hand, I also like the way poetry is often open to more than one interpretation. I like the way a poem gives the illusion of pointing to truth, and yet every time one reads it, one finds oneself asking ‘What is truth here?'”

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Publish date : 2019-04-01 05:07:29

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