By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published October 24, 2009
In the wake of adverse effects of climate change, there is need to conserve forests as Uganda’s National Forest Authority (NFA) is bent on doing. But in a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul, NFA’s efforts are threatening to drive traditional music instruments and crafts into extinction. BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI reports.
Despite the fact that traditional musicians do not consume a lot of wood in carving their instruments, they are prohibited from collecting any material from the forest and restrictions imposed on them on harvesting their own private planted trees further compounding the conflict between musicians and the conservation authorities. As a result raw materials have become very scarce forcing the local people to use whatever material they can access, largely scrap, something that is rubbing traditional music the wrong way.
“We don’t consume a lot of trees, yet we are not allowed to cut trees from our own private land without permission from the concerned authorities. It is painful to be prevented from cutting the tree I planted on my farm,” says Paul Mukwaya, a royal drum-maker from Buganda Kingdom.
The most desired wood for making clarinets, oboes, and bag-pipes for professional musicians is the Ebony. However, this tree is among the most endangered species and with some of the tree species taking a period of five years to fully grow, musicians are compelled to look for alternative trees to use or other available materials.
“Those who do not want to be in conflict with the law resort to using trees like the jackfruit to make drums, these trees that easily grow on private land are not good and they affect the real sound because it’s light wood. They are easily eaten by insects, can easily break and develop cracks after a fall,” Simeo Sebufu, who teaches the making of drums, tube fiddles, xylophones, thumb pianos and pan pipes at Kyambogo University, warns.
Ludovic Serwanga, a traditional musician and trainer based at the Uganda Museum is quick to caution that: “Plastic pipes are changing our traditional music presentation and preservation. With plastic pipes you can only make one flute, because you need bigger plastic pipes for a bigger sound to make the entire set of six flutes. The new materials being used to make the musical devices have caused significant adverse changes in the tone and quality of sound produced indicating that the traditional tone and sound has significantly been lost.”
NFA may be commended for its zeal to reverse the annual 2.2% loss of Uganda’s forest cover to subsistence farming, fuel wood, and human settlement. But the realization that the musical cultural heritage is at stake, there is need to get more worried of how long the silent conflict that has erupted between woodcarvers and conservation authorities is going to last. MOSES WATASA, the spokesperson of NFA, speaks to ArtMatters.Info in regard to the delicate balancing act of conserving forests and at the same time preserving the world’s musical cultural heritage.
NFA is accused of denying craftsmen opportunity to cut down trees used in the making of drums and many other musical instruments. What is NFA’s stand?
NFA manages Central Forest Reserves (CFRs) sustainably in accordance with the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003. To manage forests sustainably, we must regulate human activity. NFA doesn’t deny communities’ access to CFRs for purposes of obtaining materials for making traditional music instruments. However, NFA recommends that people seeking such items formally put in a request for us to supervise them to ensure that over-harvesting of trees doesn’t occur. There is need to retain a certain level of the materials to balance the eco-system and ensure that some are preserved for posterity.
What is the likely effect if a few trees are cut from the protected forests under your conservation mandate to make musical instruments?
I am not sure what you mean when you say ‘a few trees’; each tree in a natural forest serves a conservation, ecological and bio-diversity roles. That is why natural forests are divided into the Nature Reserve, Buffer Zone and Production Zone. Nature Reserves are purely for conservation, while minimal (or no activity) is permissible in the buffer zone. It’s in the production zones that limited harvesting is allowed. In this case, only mature trees that are nearing the end of their life spans are harvestable. In such cases, NFA doesn’t lose anything as this kind of harvesting is part of the sustainable management process.
Does NFA have plans to cooperate with craftsmen to allow them once in a year to cut a few trees to make traditional musical instruments?
While craftsmen may not be as dangerous and destructive to CFRs as charcoal burners, they can damage forests if their work is not regulated. It is also important to note that any unauthorised activity in a CFR–including extraction of items for musical instruments–is illegal.
Where do you draw the line between conserving the forests and preserving our musical cultural heritage?
Through a strategy called Collaborative Forest Management (CFM), NFA is already allowing craftsmen who are organised to access forest materials for musical instruments. Through this plan whose idea is to bring communities aboard and give them incentives forest-adjacent communities form groups with constitutions are allowed controlled access to such materials. NFA is seeking to expand such partnerships and manage more CFRs under CFM since this is proven to be more effective and cheaper than ‘policing’ CFRs.
How does NFA value the importance of this sub-sector?
At NFA we believe conservation of CFRs can co-exist with musical cultural heritage. This is why we talk about controlled (regulated) access to materials required for such instruments. The aim is to have the instruments in Uganda but also ensure that CFRs are not decimated by craftsmen as this would spark-off an ecological disaster. This is what we call sustainable utilisation of forest resources.
NFA values the importance of craftsmen; that is why some organised groups have been granted access to extract the materials. We believe forest resources should be utilised sustainably to improve livelihoods without annihilating CFRs. You can imagine what today’s craftsmen would be harvesting if our ancestors had utilised all the trees in yester-years! In fact, in CFRs where NFA has eco-tourism sites, our tourists are the biggest clientele for such equipment which they buy as souvenirs.
Have you done any studies on this particular subject? What have you found out?
NFA operates scientifically; most of our conservation interventions are guided by studies. One of our studies, for instance, indicates that if harvesting were not to be controlled, some tree species like Nongo (Albizia) which are getting endangered would get extinct in the next decade! As such we need to jealously guard the available trees as we undertake enrichment planting in natural forest to avoid extinction. The art of playing and the skill of fabricating traditional instruments are dying due to the ageing of traditional musicians which will result into the extinction of music instruments and instrumentation of the marginalized ethnic groups. Documentation and archiving of music, instruments and instrumentation is inadequate, increased scarcity of and inaccessibility to the raw materials that have been traditionally used to fabricate the instruments, poses a serious threat to both the continued production of traditional instruments and performances. Well managed forests and replanting of trees adequately replaces felled timber, the forest becomes a renewable resource where timber can be harvested while local employment is encouraged without threat to the eco-system.