Sounding the Ngoma
News from the Ngoma Ecumenical Publishing Consortium
Our Ngoma Writers' Workshop at the end of August was a great success. Let me share with you some of the reasons that stood out just for me, but for other participants, using their own words.
We began our time together with a ritual, the sounding of the ngoma (drum). Dr Paddy Musana from Makerere University led us and Professor Christopher Byaruhanga from Uganda Christian University performed the honour of sounding the ngoma, followed by several other participants. Everyone agreed that ngoma is an apt symbol for our activities. Ngoma is used to communicate in a wide variety of situations by all the different ethnic groups in Uganda. You can watch the ngoma being sounded at http://youtu.be/IHKQZXZWGXQ. Dr Musana and I also shared something of the vision that led to the founding of the Ngoma Ecumenical Publishing Consortium, reaching back to an initial consultation at Namirembe Guest House in December 2007. One of the individuals at that consultation stated: 'what we need is a fellowship to research and write the Ugandan Christian story.' The first Ngoma Writers' Workshop over four years later is the fulfillment of that prophetic word given in 2007 and the endpoint of a long process of investigation, consultation and planning. Our fellowship was expressed through our morning devotions, led with great insight by Father Alex Ojacor, and in our commitment to listen and respond to each others' presentations.
The Ngoma was sounded: content to communicate
By the start of the workshop, we had received 14 papers which were circulated ahead of time to all the participants. The papers covered an impressively wide range of topics and time periods, understanding politics broadly, as to how the Ugandan churches had engaged with Ugandan socio-political realities. Therefore we had papers on preaching reconciliation into a divided Uganda and rituals to reintegrate female child-soldiers back into the community in northern Uganda as well as theological explorations of the churches' prophetic role in relation to the Ugandan government. While the workshop was far from exhaustive in tackling such a complex and significant theme, many of the papers broke new ground and will publish research which hitherto has been difficult to access. Over half the speakers were drawing on their post-graduate research in their presentations.
Dr Paddy Musana welcoming Sister Anne Nasimiyu-Wasike from Mother Kevin Centre to the Ngoma workshop
Father Alex Ojacor and Mrs Christine Mbabazi
Most of us were aware that our papers were very much 'first drafts', written in the midst of many other pressures and demands. Each paper was assigned beforehand a respondent who made a more formal response before the rest of the group added their observations. We benefited from this process of reflecting together as a fellowship of research and writing and our final papers will be stronger as a result.
The Ngoma was sounded: communication across boundaries
While the writers' workshop was an effective format in encouraging the publication of research, building bridges across boundaries was just as significant. We benefited from the company Ofwono-Opondo, the spokesperson for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, for the entire workshop. As Father Alex Ojacor stated: 'I really wanted Ofwono-Opondo to be here so that we are not soliloquizing alone and in our corner, we are talking around on the other side and so we can share.' The importance of genuine dialogue was highlighted by several participants as we reflected on our time together at the end of the workshop.
Professor Byaruhanga admitted to having held reservations about politicians, but, on the basis of his interactions at the workshop, stated: 'I will go as a changed person. I wish Ngoma would continue in that direction. Because at times the attitude we have towards especially government people also brings us into trouble.' Ofwono-Opondo was as forthright in his concluding comments: 'I am grateful to Father Alex. He has enabled me to know the thinking of religious scholars about politicians and in particular the political thought of the NRM. I think I can clearly see that NRM is greatly misunderstood and has not made the effort to try to explain itself and is not about to do so, maybe because it is worried this inquisition is likely to expose its weaknesses and consequently loose power.'
Father Ojacor summarized the impact of the Ngoma workshop on all of us: 'Ofwono-Opondo will not go the same way he came, neither will Professor Byaruhanga, neither will we. We have now built up a new alliance based on this close interaction we have had. It does not mean that we will agree on everything, we will agree on some things and this makes an awful lot of difference.' Father Ojacor went on to challenge us to take the resulting insights back to our churches and institutions rather than letting them remain in an edited publication that gathers dust on a bookshelf. These experiences strengthened our commitment to work ecumenically and the value of inviting key resource people with alternative perspectives to ensure genuine dialogue.
Some of the participants drawn from Makerere University, Uganda Christian University, NRM, St Mary's Seminary, Henry Martyn Centre and the UN's International Criminal Tribunal
Bishop Zac Niringiye and Ofwono-Opondo crossing boundaries
During our time at the Mother Kevin Centre, we were most ably cared for by the Franciscan sisters, who provided us with an agreeable environment for our workshop.
The Ngoma will sound: revising, editing, publishing and planning
All the participants are now revising their papers in the light of feedback from the workshop and must submit their completed manuscripts by the end of October. After further editing, the resulting typescript will be submitted to Paulines Africa for consideration. The Sisters of St Paul operate an effective publishing ministry out of Nairobi with a well-stocked book centre in Kampala (see http://www.paulinesafrica.org/). If our manuscript is accepted by Paulines, it will ensure the resulting multi-author volume will be available in Uganda at a reasonable price. Professor Byaruhanga highlighted the significance of this for students at Uganda Christian University, where he teaches: 'If God blesses us and our articles are put in the Ngoma journal successfully, I think it will be a very rich resource for our students in the universities and colleges because our Masters and PhD students are always saying: 'please give me primary sources.' So this is actually the right direction.'
There was a clear consensus that we should organise a second workshop in 2013 with the theme: 'Unity and Diversity: Ethnicity and the Ugandan Churches.'
We are grateful for your prayerful interest:
- We are thankful to the Lord for the first Ngoma Writers' Workshop: for every paper presented, for valuable feedback offered and received, for fellowship across boundaries and for safety in travel.
- For the participants as they now revise their papers in the midst of many other demands and for their final editing and submission to Paulines Africa.
- For the planning the second Ngoma Writers' Workshop, as we make a start on identifying and inviting potential presenters.