By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published July 3, 2006
During the Nokia Face of Africa contest, many Ugandan girls were turned away for possessing what was described as hips that were too big and could thus adversely affect advertising and sponsorship for any modeling agency that signed them up. But as if to challenge this Eurocentric definition of a beautiful woman as one who is pencil-thin with high cheekbones, straight hair and stands at least six feet tall, Uganda has held a music and dance festival and embraced women with fuller lips, generous hips, fuller faces and wider noses. Bamuturaki Musinguzi reports.
At the noon of the M-Net Face of Africa contests in the last decade, several African girls who could not fit in the mould of 24-36-24 that is said to represent a perfect size of a woman were sent packing by judges. This trend has continued and is the standard used in beauty pageants all over Africa. However at the inaugural African Beauty Pageant during the Kwetu Festival in Kampala, the organisers, Ndere Troupe, opted against adhering to this definition in order to demonstrate how the Ugandan nationalities perceive beauty.
To spice up the Kwetu Music and Dance Festival, the African Beauty Pageant was introduced to set the standards of beauty of the diverse cultures across the country dubbed Pearl of Africa. Each performing group participating in the festival selected a male and a female model to represent it in the beauty contest. Models from nearly all corners of the country appeared in various types of dressing ranging from the Stone Age to the present day. The organizers having dispensed with swim suits, evening wear and other catwalks rigmarole, all the models did was to move about naturally on the Ndere Centre amphitheatre stage in their ‘daily’ wear.
The models showed that Uganda is rich in culture as they gently displayed leaves and animal skin dressings, bird feathers, bark cloth, cotton, jewelry and skin paintings and tattoos, basketry, hand bags, spears and shields, bow and arrows, and walking sticks, among others.
Each group echoed and defined its own dressing and beauty besides displaying its music and dance, and unique forms of art such as paintings and music instruments.
To the Lugbara, a beautiful woman wears beads on the wrist and neck, and earrings and bangles on the hands. Such a woman should have tattoos, Oce in Lugbara, on the forehead, cheeks and navel.
“She should crown her beauty with respect to her husband and the entire community, following the norms and traditions of the tribe,” said Likico, adding that the Lugbara do not permit mini skirts, transparent clothing and trousers for women.
According to Charles Were from Bugiri district of Busoga region in central Uganda, a beautiful woman is the one who welcomes guests in a home and cares for both the husband and children.
“Physical appearance is not an issue,” he said. “I will try to improve her provided she has the above qualities.”
To the Bamba of Bundibugyo district on the slopes of Mount Rwenzori, beauty goes with discipline, generosity, honesty and hard work.
Among the Bafumbira from Kisoro district honesty is extremely important. While a man must be assertive, both sexes do not expose certain parts of the body.
The Banyankole from western Uganda consider strength, honesty, nobility and assertiveness as being part of beauty. For the physical appearance one should have a pointed nose, chocolate skin, and white teeth.
The Batooro also from the slopes of Mount Rwenzori consider beauty as one having black gums, long neck with natural rings, chocolate skin, dimples and large white eyes.
“We were looking at what an African is, the beauty in us that makes us different and which is not measured by Western standards but based on our cultures, tribes, norms and values that we respect and hold onto,” said Susan Bamutenda, the Ndere Troupe Centre’s curator.
Stephen Rwangyezi, the executive director and founder of Ndere Troupe, observed that beauty pageants “have been based on Western values and cultures and ours undervalued. By creating the African beauty pageant we want to know what an Acholi or a Musoga would consider beauty in a woman in all terms, including dressing.”
Rwangyezi said the festival originates from the philosophy of the troupe of making Uganda’s arts famous and move away from the negative attitude attributed to it by the Western world.
“We wanted to move the arts from the communal level to the theatres with costumes for the general public to watch and in the process improve the individual lives of the disadvantaged groups,” Rwangyezi said.
The festival, held at the Ndere Centre in Ntinda-Kisaasi annually since 1997, attracted more than 1,000 artists from 41
Uganda Development Theatre Association (UDTA) groups as well as exhibiting handicrafts and traditional medicine. The artists also participated in workshops and exchanged ideas on how to manage theatre groups.
UDTA was formed in 1997 and coordinates and links up the activities of the various 1721 groups all over Uganda.
Since its inception in 1984, Ndere Troupe has endeavoured to rekindle the sense of self-esteem, pride and confidence among young Ugandans by liberating the performing arts from being symbols of backwardness to highly respectable and admirable stage arts. It is geared towards organising, developing and enabling the artistically talented but socially disadvantaged young people to break the vicious circle of poverty and misfortune and realise their full potential.
This year’s festival, based on peace under the theme, “Determined to achieve wellbeing peacefully” was, among other objectives, aimed at increasing the technical theatrical skills of UDTA groups and enable them to develop attractive and thematically well-focused entertainment performances suitable for both rural and urban audiences.
To qualify for participation, Ugandan groups competed in singing, dances, solo performances, plays, product exhibition and local technology demonstrations.
Among the local dances performed included Owaro (from Samia-Bugwe),
Orunyege (from Bunyoro-Tooro), Larakaraka and Bwola of the Acholi, and Bakisimba, Nakasa and Muwogola of the Baganda and Ndara of the Alur.
Also performed were Luma circumcision and friendship dance from Bundibugyo district and Ekyevugo dance of happiness and Omuhogo wedding dance from Ankole.
The concerts were presented by international groups that broke the monotony of competition by staging items on various stages throughout the day.
This year artists came from as far as Austria, Holland, USA, India, Scotland, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania and the festival was sponsored by the Austrian Development Agency.
The performance that attracted most attention was an 11-drum royal dance presented by Intashikirwa Rukinzo Legacy group of Burundi. The dance, originally performed only at a king’s coronation and funeral, is today played at national days and before foreign guests. The monarchy was abolished in Burundi in 1966.
Dismas Ntiranyuhura, leader of the drummers in Intashikirwa Rukinzo Legacy, each movement in the dance signifies either war, peace, prosperity or procreation.
This year’s overall winners were Birungi Byensi Drama Actors from Kabarole district in western Uganda for excelling in all the events.
“This is meant to improve the quality of our performing arts and when you make it competitive people improve in performance and presentation among others,” Rwangyezi said.