“Where the pillars of the earth are standing:” Centering spiritual, political, and ecological power in Uganda’s Lubigi wetland



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While most Ugandans remember that Idi Amin was ousted in a war fought by forces of the NRM led by Yoweri Museveni, the healer and python medium Sekyoka Nalubega Muzana Bemba Musota, describes a different war, fought with different forces, asking “Was this a war only of guns, not of spirits?” Her question draws attention to an expansive history of land-based mediumship and healing in the Lubigi wetland on the outskirts of Kampala. The forgotten history of this ecologically and socially marginal location reframes and redefines power in Uganda over the long term. Nalubega’s story demonstrates the enduring role of place and particularly territorial spirits, misambwa, in the history of Buganda and Uganda. This work follows the history of the spiritual being, Bemba, who takes the shape of a python resident in Lubigi, from the mythic origins of the kingdom, through anticolonial and postcolonial conflict, to the present and the future. Sekyoya Nalubega Muzana Bemba Musota and other mediums associated with Lubigi stress the critical importance of land in spiritual practice in conversation at their homes and at their shrines. Along with this, they assert that power in the kingdom is more often than not a product of the work of spirit mediums. Lubigi’s spiritual and ecological past emerges from ethnographic interviews conducted in 2018 and 2019 with residents of Lubigi and spirit mediums in conversation with previously published scholarship on lacustrine spirituality in and on Nalubaale. In an ecosystem that exists between land and water, interactions between individual humans, non-humans, and the landscape take on an in between, mediating quality. In its contemporary form, the Lubigi wetland is a liberatory space for those seeking to live outside the confines of a capitalism increasingly defined by shortages. In its historic form, Lubigi was a center of land-based spiritual practice and mediation that was largely forgotten in the face of Christianization, colonization, and land shortages in the Buganda Kingdom.



Environmental History, Spirit Mediums, Wetlands, War, Buganda Kingdom, African Great Lakes