Beatrice Lamwaka

Beatrice Lamwaka




Beatrice Lamwaka was born in Gulu in northern Uganda, and now lives in Kampala. She is the General Secretary Uganda Women’s Writers Association (FEMRITE) and a free lance writer with Monitor Newspaper, UGPulse and the Press Institute. She is currently studying MA in Human Rights in Makerere University. This year, she was Laureate for Council for the Development of Social Science (CODESRIA) Democratic Governance Institute. She was a Finalist for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award 2009, and a Fellow for the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation/African Institute of South Africa Young Scholars program 2009.  She has worked as a researcher and teacher in Uganda; and in Italy and Sudan, she worked with an international humanitarian agency. She writes poetry, short stories and is working on her memoir, The Market Vendor and a collection of short stories, The Garden of Mushrooms.


Creative Work

The Market Vendor (novel extract)

I was born and raised in a family where it was important to call everyone by their names. I called my mother, Rosa and my father, Zakeo until he was old enough to be called Mzee. I was born at the beginning of the year and my name automatically became Lamwaka, a girl born at the beginning of the year. The Acholi name people according to the circumstance around their birth example the name Aya is given a girl child among boys. Everyone called me Lamwaka even when I was baptized in the Alokolum Church, Beatrice was a name I used in school otherwise it remained on the baptism card. I never heard Rosa call me Beatrice. She probably didn’t even know how to pronounce it or didn’t even remember it. My elder sister who went to Sacred Heart School had imposed it on me. Beatrice, a name that no one had heard in the whole of Alokolum village. I have made efforts to know my siblings Christian names otherwise only the people who go to school with them know their Christian names. I remember one time a girl came home and asked my mother for Cecily and she didn’t know who the girl was talking about. My elder sister had to remind her that it was her who gave her that name. My mother probably didn’t even remember how my sister got that name. It is only my sister Alice who was able to bully people into calling her with her Christian name. She didn’t like her name Anywal so when she went to school she registered herself as Laker which remained on her report cards. My brother Rafa got his name Acholinized so Rafael became Rafa.

My family had enough food and many animals. My father was a typical African man with more children than he could take care of. He made sure that we went to school and that every Sunday we went to Alokolum Seminary church. He would give us the young ones money for offertory which sometimes I bought sweets with instead. My father was well known; everyone in Alokolum Village called him Daktar when he was only a medical assistant. He treated people who came from very far way, as far as Anaka. My home was more like a health centre. We would wake up to queues of people waiting for treatment. As much I could I kept away from the people so I would avoid the endless greetings. Some came with chicken. I liked those who came with chicken because sometimes my father would call my name and I would go get the chicken and let it free from strings. That meant the chicken was mine.

Zakeo had love for trees and fruits. He planted every tree or fruit he could lay his hand on. We had labolo (bananas) different kinds, avocado, fene, jack fruits and other fruits like pull munu, that I didn’t know English names for. Our ten acre home was energetic with loads of food and activities.

I don’t remember much about my childhood. I’m amazed when I hear people talk about what they did as four year olds. For me, I began to realize that I’m alive and could remember something about my life when I was around nine years old, perhaps because that was an important mark in my life. I remember clearly as Rosa sat my younger sister Akech and me down. She told us that there was a war – the war turned out to be a coup de tat that saw Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda in 1986 - and all Acholi would be killed. I didn’t know anything about wars. She explained there were men with guns. I hadn’t even seen guns before, but I had seen soldiers because one of my sisters was married to one. I couldn’t imagine who would want to kill me and my family. Before I could ask her questions she said she would send the two of us to my aunt Aya’s village- aunt Aya’s fingers and toes eaten by leprosy and lives in a designated Aleler Village where lepers live. She said that aunt Aya was on medication and her disease wouldn’t affect us. I wasn’t worried about that. I had eaten with aunt Aya in the same bowl and she had not infected me with her disease. She had children who were not infected either. Rosa said we would be safe there. She said the war was in Kampala but in a few days it would reach Gulu District. I didn’t want Rosa to be killed and I couldn’t tell her that so I just nodded my head.

At home it was more of a celebration; goats and chicken were being slaughtered. My brother, Nyeko was excited he had found himself a place in the bush where he would sleep in the night. He was happy about so much of the meat. He roasted some meat which he shared with me. I didn’t know why my father had allowed all these to happen. He was very strict when it came to his goats, chicken and sheep. We only killed many during Christmas and Independence Day.  I heard one of my brothers say that it would better to get killed when we had at least eaten some of the animals we had been keeping. I was not even thinking about death. I somehow knew that this would pass and we wouldn’t have so many animals anymore. Rosa dug a hole in the maize garden where she buried her atabo Sudan (bowls from Sudan), saucepans, yellow and green gomesis which she used to wear on special occasions.

Akech, who was six by then and I walked for a whole day to Aleler village.  I was tired. Akech cried a lot. There were other children walking along the road with small bundle on their heads. This made walking more interesting although I never spoke to any of the children. I just wanted to keep up with them. We had carried roasted sweet potatoes and water which we drank and ate when we felt angry. I had already been to Aleler on foot before so I knew my way. Rosa had insisted we keep going straight and should not branch on any road. She said my instincts would let me know when I reached. Aya’s home was close to the main road and I didn’t find much trouble finding it.

Aya’s home had already been filled with children of all ages. Aya busied herself making sure that they got water when they wanted to. When she saw us she muttered ‘Mama you have arrived’ I nodded. Aya and Rosa are very light skinned compared to most Acholi. I heard a neighbor say one time that when Zakeo married Rosa he told whoever cared to listen that he had the most beautiful woman. Aya is Rosa’s elder sister. Besides the missing fingers and toes she is a beautiful woman. She was the only relative to Rosa that I knew so I made sure that I did whatever she asked me to do.

Aya’s compound was buzzing with children. Some sat under the mango tree that stood at the end of the compound. Some around four years were crying for their mothers. It took me a long time to realize that aunt Aya wasn’t my aunt alone but also to a bunch of children. Her two huts had been occupied by children I heard about but not seen. Later in the night, Aya asked me to sleep with her outside in the compound. I guess she didn’t want to tell me that there was no space in the house for the two of us. I was at first afraid thinking that somebody would sneak and kill us. Other older children came out saying it was hot inside I was happy that at least many of us would be killed and many parents would be affected. I stayed awake most of time wondering whether Rosa was fine. The moon was bright I could see the shape of aunt Aya sleeping.

I worried every now and then what had become of Rosa, Zakeo and my siblings. We waited for news for days but nothing arrived – there were no phone calls or letters but word of mouth to wait for. I thought Rosa would send Nyeko to tell us they were alright but no one came. I always scanned the path leading to Aya’s home but no one came. Soon we run out of salt, odii (peanut butter), cooking oil, soap and sugar. We had to eat salt-less lapena. Lapena itself is tasteless and without odii and salt, it was almost inedible but that all we could have. We all ate in one bowl and the amount of food one could eat depended on how fast they could get the food to their mouth. Every child bolted as much food as they could and afterwards we would drink water to feel fuller. Akec didn’t complain about the little food she ate.  Perhaps she had learnt that there was no way to have enough.

Eventually we heard the sound of the train; we knew that all was well. Aya had saved some money for our journey by train to Alokolum. The journey was fast, although the train stop was two kilometers from Alokolum the walk back home was exciting but what I found made my heart sink – Lugul, the village mad man had been killed by the new government soldiers because they thought he was a spy. He had gone to town and as usual was sweeping compounds and writing things he alone understood on the ground. He was the only one that I knew was dead and everyone else was happy as it seemed like business as usual. Orere had killed most chicken. Nyeko never missed an opportunity to tell me how he was now tired of eating chicken and meat. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him of the salt-less lapena.

I was so sad about Lugul’s death that I refused to speak to people for a while. Nyeko however kept saying that I was sad because my chicken was killed. Yes, I was sad about that too, but Lugul’s death hurt me so much. He was this guy who never spoke much. He would sweep our compound when he found dry leaves. The men in my family swept the compound in the morning but by the time that Lugul came in the afternoon avocado leaves would have littered the compound. He even waited for rubbish as Rosa peeled sweet potatoes. Unlike other mad people I knew he wasn’t violent. He was a present that everybody loved to have a round. It was nice watching him as he wrote on the ground. It seemed like he was always solving some mathematical equation which he would rub afterwards. I did not know where he came from but everyone knew he always walked from Bwobo Manam about three kilometers from our home.

I went back to school, the new government didn’t kill us, Zakeo went back to work and the train kept moving in the morning and by five it would pass. I would always run to see it pass and wave to the people I didn’t know existed. Most people in my village knew that the train never causes an accident it people who knock it and die. I always kept away from it track because I knew wanted to knock it. There was a rumor that if you placed a needle in the track, the train could slide off the track. I could never understand how such a powerful machine could be weakened by such a small thing. I never wanted to cause such an accident but sometimes I wished to prove that theory.

One day, in the evening strange men with guns slung on their shoulders came home asking Rosa for goats and chicken. I had never seen Rosa or Zakeo give out chicken or goats to whoever wanted. You could see that they were trying really hard to be so nice to Rosa. And then they warned ci lil – go tell them. I later learnt that the them they referred to were government soldiers. Soon the villagers referred to the men with guns as ci lil. I didn’t know then, that was the beginning of a war that would see the death of about 200,000 people, abduction of thousands of children and that our home would eventually become an Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) Camp.

One time, a relative of my step mother also arrived with his group. My family gave him a warm welcome. We gave them food to eat and goats that they went with. My father was always asked for medication he gave them willingly since he would always get some more when he went back to work. We hardly had any goat’s feces to smear with our odero, granary. The neighbors were going through the same although I never heard anyone complain. You could hear people talk but when you get near them silence met you perhaps nobody trusted each other anymore.

I don’t know how Rosa reacted to all this because she kept everything intact. She always handed chicken or goats to the ci lil with a smile. I heard her complain how expensive the ropes they used to tie the goats cost in the market. My father, however, received some more goats and chicken from his patients who couldn’t pay him in monetary terms. They complained that it was now harder to get money from the new government. Some of them promised to pay Zakeo when they got some money.



The Market Vendor is the working title of my memoir. Writing a memoir didn’t come easy for me. I always wanted to hide behind other characters when I wanted to tell my story, so I wrote short stories. But after a while I realized that I am also a character living my life on stage and my story deserves to be told. It is not easily to lay down my life in front of the readers but it is a road I would like to take.

My story starts with my life before the two decades of armed conflict that savaged through northern Uganda. It talks about the life I knew before it was interrupted with guns dictating how my family lived our lives. I am not sure at what point of my life I will stop to write about but for now I am enjoying traveling back to yesteryear of my life.



Short Stories

Butterfly Dreams, Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories From Uganda, CCC Press Nottingham, UK, July 2010
Village Queen, Talking Tales, FEMRITE Publications, October 2009
The Family of Three; The Bully; and The Garden of Mushrooms, Women in Warzone Experiences, FEMRITE Publications,  April 2009
The Star in My Camp, Writing from Africa 2009, PEN South Africa, May 2009
Sunshine; and Village Queen
, Aloud: Illuminating Creative Voices, evaluating and documenting students’ experiences, Ford Foundation and Makerere University, 2006
Kilama’s Notebook; Paul Okeny’s Story; and Christine Lamunu’s Story, Michael’s Eyes; The War against the Ugandan Child, Institionen for Moderna Sprak UMEA Universitet, 2005
Just Like Ma, Wordrite FEMRITE Literary Journal, FEMRITE Publications, 2004
Queen of Tobacco, Gowanus Books, 2002
I am Still Young; I am Worth Something and Kuku, Today You will Understand; Women of Northern Uganda speak out, UNOCHA/IRIN & FEMRITE, 2008
Vengeance of the Gods, Words from a Granary, FEMRITE Publications, 2001, reprinted in


The Market Vendor, (Memoir) PMS 9, University of Alabama,  February 2010
The Stars in Gulu, (Poem) and I Always Know (Short Story), Painted Voices, FEMRITE Publications, March 2009
Anena’s Victory (a Supplementary Reader in primary schools in Uganda), HIV/AIDS Youth Living Series, Fountain Publishers, 2002

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