Skip to main content

Review of The Names of Ankole Cows / Oral Literature of the Asians in East Africa


By Susan Nalugwa Kiguli and Dan Twinomujuni

The Names of Ankole Cows by Mark Infield with Patrick Rubagyema and Charles Muchunguzi. Fountain Publishers,Kampala, 2003. 107pp. ISBN 9970 02 393 4 (pb). £16.95 $27.95

Oral Literature of the Asians in East Africa. Mubina Hassanali Kirmani and Sanuallah Kirmani. East African Educational publishers, Nairobi, Kampala, Dar es Saalam,2002.pp120. ISBN 996625085 9(pb). £14.95 $24.95

The two books under review explore aspects of cultural history from East Africa. They both passionately seek to preserve in writing this society’s largely oral values.

The first book is a valued attempt at furthering our knowledge of the names of the famous long horned cows in Uganda. The main author states that the book should be taken as a guide and not a comprehensive ethnographic study of the Bahima pastoral culture. Indeed the book acts as an excellent introductory guide to the names of Ankole cows chiefly because of the clear categorization according to appearance and shape plus the clear photographs of the cows. The authors’ choice to present photographs of all the different cows described in detail and the names of their owners not only provides the vivid illustration needed for a book of this kind but also acts as a symbol of the devotion and attachment that Bahima are known to show toward their cattle. Infield’s concern centres on the conservation of the names of Ankole cows and his listing of the original Ankole names followed by the descriptions of the details of appearance both in Runyankore and English is a useful effort to create awareness for the protection of these cows. The book also provides basic knowledge and interest about an important part of Uganda’s culture and environment particularly for pupils at primary level.

However, by just listing the names the book simplifies a very vital aspect of the Bahima culture and it would have done more justice to the subject of conservation by using a more detailed ethnographic approach. The book argues that the younger Banyakore are no longer as interested as their parents were in the beauty of their cow; it would have been more helpful, therefore, if the compiled lists of names had been given in the context of the history of naming procedures, the myths and legends involving cattle as well as the analysis of the changes and developments that inform the art of cattle keeping among the Bahima of Ankole today. Nevertheless, the book is a commendable rich visual aid in encouraging conservation and preservation of the long horned cattle of Ankole.

The second book portrays the quite unexplored area of the oral literature of the East African Asians. It is a laudable venture because the authors provide invaluable information on beliefs and ways of the Asians in East Africa through the presentation of folk narratives, poems, songs, proverbs and riddles. Since the volume is intended as a textbook, the review questions and project suggestions at the end of each chapter will greatly encourage students’ resourcefulness and initiative. The authors, though, should not have treated East Africa as a homogenous region given for instance the political history of Uganda that involved the Asian expulsion and could have produced different stories. It would also have been helpful if core issues such as the maintenance of a strong and distinct Asian community’s identity had been given more attention than just the brief gloss on Page 9.

In total the authors supply the readers with a rich resource on the cultural heritage of the Asians settled in East Africa.


[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 66 (2004), pp. 72-73]

Article keywords:

Article Categories: