Glaydah Namukasa

Glaydah Namukasa




Glaydah Namukasa is a Midwife/ writer, member of the Uganda Women Writers’ Association, FEMRITE. Her young adult novel, Voice of a dream won the 2005/2006 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa-Senior Prize. She was awarded the 2006 Michael and Marilee Fairbanks International Fellowship to attend the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Ripton, Vermont, USA. In fall 2008 she was awarded the title of Honorary Fellow by the International Writers Program (IWP), University of Iowa, USA. Her short stories have been published in anthologies in Uganda, South Africa, UK and Sweden. She has written three books for children, all published under Pan African, Macmillan. She has also been a visiting writer in residence at City of Asylum Pittsburgh, and Ledig House International writers’ residence, Hudson, Newyork, where she began drafting her second novel. As a participant on Friends of Writing, she is working on her novel crossing the bramble field with mentor Angela Barry.


Creative Work

Crossing the Bramble Field (novel extract)

            “Do not tell me to calm down. If I say I am going to kill my daughter, it means I am going to kill her!”

            Namuli jumped away from the door. Her heart was roasting with the heat of her father’s words. She had been pressing her ear against the door, listening in to the jumbled conversation from the next room. Her father’s raised voice came to her like an erupting volcano shooting out blazing words that were now burning her heart to ashes.

 Nafuddedda! I am already dead,” she muttered. She snuggled into the pile of sacks containing dry coffee beans, wishing she could wrap herself up in one of the empty sacks and join the pile. Today was the day for her arranged wedding. But she had no regrets for confessing to her mother that she was pregnant by another man. And she felt no remorse for getting pregnant before marriage. She only dreaded what her father would do to her beloved man, Katumwa. Would her father kill Katumwa?  God forbid! She would never reveal her involvement with Katumwa to anyone.

Namuli wondered why her parents couldn’t let go. For four months she had battled with them against the arranged marriage but despite her continuous objections her parents had proceeded with the preparations. As she pondered over it now, Namuli thought she did not understand her father anymore. He had raised her and her siblings with a liberty to express their opinions. This was unheard of in the Baganda culture where a girl child was groomed to accede to the wishes of a man; obeying and respecting even her own brothers and all the men in the village.

Her father had been exceptional. He always encouraged them to make some of their choices because he believed it was an important aspect of modernity. “Civilisation is inevitable because we are living in a changing world,” he would say.  He worked hard to keep his children in school. As the eldest daughter in the family, Namuli was given the privilege to decide when they bought meat in a month; she decided on which new clothes to buy her siblings and she also took part in choosing schools for them. Namuli had grown up loving her father with a passion. But now, her father could not let her make what she considered the most important decision of her life. He could not let her decide when to get married and to whom. For this she hated him with the same passion with which she had loved him.

She was educated, civilized! So her father always reminded her. She loved it that her culture was now diluted. She was glad the practice of stigmatizing a girl who got pregnant before marriage had died out. Otherwise, she would be an absolute outcast now. Her brother would build her a hut at the far end of the banana plantation or at the very end of the coffee plantation. There she would be thrown to perish in solitary. She would never share anything with anyone. No one would ever touch what she had touched. She would be like a leper, a mould of shit that everyone spat at, until she would give birth to a bastard who would then start the lineage of village outcasts. 

Namuli looked up on the wall at the rays of the morning sun that had broken through the brick ventilators and into the coffee store room. The rays were half the size they had been when she had just been locked up in the room. If she could guess right, that was the midday sun shortening the rays. And that meant she had been imprisoned for five hours. Already she had lost the fragrance of the crushed coffee flowers she had smeared all over her face, neck and under her armpits; now she smelt like the decaying coffee husks used for manure.

 For a quick way out of her prison, Namuli considered climbing up the pile of sacks, but that option would lead her to a blind end on the upper wall. She scuttled towards a ladder inclined against the wall opposite to the coffee sacks. Her father rented out the ladder to the village latrine diggers for 50 simmoni. The ladder had been used and returned the previous day. As Namuli tried to move it against the wall; she mashed pieces of the crumbling loam soil stuck on the wood. She struggled to move the ladder to the side of the wall from where she could climb, jump over the edge, and fall into the next room. But this room was the venue for her parents meeting!

In increasing desperation, Namuli climbed up the ladder and peeked at her parents from over the wall. Her father had tucked the right side of the kanzu into his trousers. The other side was hanging by his left thigh, swaying as he paced the room. The muleera, collar button of the kanzu, was undone, revealing the thick hair on her father’s upper chest; hair that made Namuli cringe with mortification. He was not wearing the round fiber hat; instead he had it in his right hand and he kept flashing it into her mother’s face with overt aggression every time he stamped by her.

  “And why did you wait until today to tell me?” he was saying.

“I learnt about it earlier today and I told you as soon as I was sure she was saying the truth.” Her mother whimpered.

“Surely you should have noticed earlier. You are a woman and you know these things!” Her father said. He suddenly halted in his steps, turned and looked through the open window and then, as if stung by a gnat, he started towards her mother. He dragged her to the window.  “Look!” He pointed out to the newly erected shade in the front courtyard. “That is where my daughter’s marriage is scheduled to take place in a few hours. And here you are telling me she is pregnant!” His tone was plaintive. The voice wobbled on and off as if he was trying to stifle threatening tears.

Namuli turned to look outside through the brick ventilators in the upper wall. The courtyards were crowded with women and men, boys and girls from the neighbourhood. Namuli knew everyone in the front courtyard, and even though she could not see the people in the back, she knew the regulars who never missed out on helping with marriage preparations: Mukyala Kikonge,  Maama Seki and Namwandu Kiberu were the specialists when it came to preparing the Mpombo for the Bako. Hajji Kiwa and Hajji Serunjoji were known for preparing Pilawo, and Jjajja Zefania was always available to advise the women who prepared Matooke. Zakaria, the village drunkard was the most reliable person who split firewood.

Namuli could hear the mixed noises from the back courtyard; log fires crackling in the hearths, water gushing from pots into the steel water-drums, breaking sticks as axe split firewood, splintering bones as the machetes cut into the slaughtered bull her father had proudly reserved for this particular occasion. For a moment Namuli felt concerned that she had disappointed each one of these good people who had enthusiastically taken charge of the preparations. But then, what did they know? And would they agree with her if she told them she had a say in her future? This was a modern era, and they all knew it. Some of them sent their children to school. Even the girl children. Couldn’t they support a decision a girl could make for herself?

Namuli looked away. She was in time to see her father shove the hat in her  mother’s face, and he was saying, “Now go. Tell them to undo everything. No, wait. Go to the kitchen first. Tell the men and women to share the meat among themselves. Tell  the girls and boys to stop fetching water. Tell the whole village that the marriage will not take place!”

 Namuli’s mother pulled back. She knelt down in front of him and said, “The marriage… may not take place. But surely, a marriage will take place—”

“Sure! A marriage will take place. I will marry off a daughter who is already pregnant by another man! And yes, I will let my family become the disgrace of the village!”

Namuli's mother was tugging at her gomesi as she said, “Nankya will be the bride instead.”

 Up from where she was peeking, Namuli barely caught an escaping gasp, opening her mouth and dilating her eyes. She cowered, lowering her head out of view. Slowly, she climbed down the ladder, taking care to avoid slipping on the clusters of soil on the ladder. She resumed her position next to the coffee sacks and squatted, hugging her knees. Nankya, her younger sister, would be taking her place beneath the wedding shade. It was a relief to learn that she could no longer be the bride. But it was also disturbing.

 Nankya was only fourteen. She had not yet visited their Senga and therefore had not yet gone through the long litany of the dos and don’ts of a married woman. Why couldn’t her parents call off the wedding? Why wouldn’t they ignore the cows, the goat, the kanzus, the gomesis, the money and the famous Mutwalo that the so-called suitor was obliged to bring? Why would they marry off Nankya before her time? Or perhaps Nankya would rejoice in her expediential position. Namuli found solace in the fact that Nankya had on many occasions said she looked forward to the day she would be a bride. And Nankya never stopped envying Namuli because Namuli’s wedding day was near. If only Nankya had known that she was cursing the ripening day!

But whether her sister Nankya would be the bride or not, one thing was clear to Namuli; she would not stay and abide as if she was a bull on its way to the slaughter house.


The celebrations began. First, the Namunjoloba gave off a beat that tore through all the mud-and wattle huts, mud-and –brick houses, maize plantations, coffee gardens, kisubi, musa, gonja, and matooke plantations; through the elephant grass, through kawunyira shrubs, and sending news to all the neighbouring villages that the bride was making her first official appearance to the groom. The Bakisimba and the Mugalabi joined in with a unified beat that set the pitch for an explosion of hand claps. Buligi traders’ choir set the ceremony ablaze with a song, “ye wuuyo omulindwa…” the same chorus that was sung on every marriage ceremony. The guests joined in, their chorused voices in synchrony with the rhythmic throb of the mpunyi. Ululations exploded in the room from where the bride was coming out. The bride followed a line of ten girls who were walking the bakisimba dance. The girls were dressed in white nylon dresses with bikoyi wrappers and goat skins fastened on strings around their waists. The goat skins exaggerated the gyrations as the girls swung their hips.

Namuli tucked the lower ends of the gomesi into her knickers. She had been waiting for this particular moment. The moment when all necks would strain, when all eyes would make blinking movements to clear any fog off the pupils; this moment when all faces would be stark with eager smiles exposing either yellow teeth or toothless gums or missing teeth. This moment when Namuli, the eldest daughter in Kimuli’s compound, would be expected to take delicate steps down the fibre mats, slightly kicking the front of her gomesi to avoid stepping into it, left hand clutching the side of the gomesi to prevent the laces from sweeping the floor, face arranged into a shy smile and eyes cast down lest the groom thought she had already seen half of the world…

But Namuli would be racing through the coffee trees to Katumwa’ s house.



When I write, I spread knowledge about my part of the world to readers beyond its borders. My work is considered Ugandan writing, and even though I write in English, a "foreign" language, the content remains Ugandan: setting, characters, events, images. When I write, I present the truth of the experiences of my characters and their stories and see myself as a writer holding up a particular mirror for Uganda to look into and see a particular image of itself, and, also, for the world to see this image of my society.

Crossing the Bramble Field is the working title of my novel; the project I have been working on on the Lancaster/Uganda Friends Writing Project. It is a historical novel dating back to the late sixties and cutting through the seventies. It explores both the rural and urban Ugandan society, giving an account of the changes which were imposed by the recurrent political, social and economic instability in post independence Uganda.

The novel centers around two lovers: Katuma and Namuli who elope to Kampala city which is buzzing with the activity of the Asians who have just been dismissed from the country. Here, the lovers take a route that later defines their destinations as their lives get interweaved with the social and political struggles. Namuli is kidnapped by the soldiers, and taken as a sex slave to a high ranking army official. Katumwa is arrested and taken to prison where he meets an old man who changes his life forever.

I have submitted an excerpt from the beginning of the book mainly because this is where I start to explore the aspect of Uganda's cultural history, in this case focusing on the disintegration of cultural norms in the central part of Uganda, as connected to development. This particular extract talks about Namuli, a bride-to-be, and first daughter of a village elder. Ten hours before her wedding, Namuli discloses to her mother that she is pregnant by another man. Moments before her official appearance to the groom, Namuli disappears from home.




Voice of A Dream, Macmillan publishers, UK, August 2006
The Deadly Ambition, Mallory International publishers, UK, March 2006


Ojera’s Final Hope, Michael’s Eyes: an anthology of war stories from Northern Uganda, Umea, December 2005
And Still Hope Survives, Dreams, Miracles and Jazz, Picador Africa 2008
Then Now and Tomorrow, Caine Prize Workshop Stories – Jung Frau Anthology, New Internationalist publications UK and Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, South Africa, August 2005
The Second Twin, I Dare to Say, FEMRITE publications, June 2004 (This was shortlisted for the Suzie Memorial Prize for HIV/AIDS stories in Oxford, 2005)
The Naked Bones, Gifts of Harvest, FEMRITE publications, 2006


Yet hope survives, Sable Magazine, UK (short listed for the Ken Sarowiwa Legacy 2004
That Place, FEMRITE Word Write Journal 2004, republished in Poetry Poster Project, 2008

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