The Ugandan Law Concerning Fortune-Tellers

Imisioluwa Ogunsunlade
January 7, 2023

Once upon a time there was a woman who had a beautiful daughter whom she loved very much, and she was very anxious that she should find a nice husband. So many men wanted to marry the girl that the mother thought it would be very difficult to choose. There was one very nice Chief who lived in Kyadondo; but the mother was so worried about it that at last she went to a witchdoctor who told fortunes, and asked him to tell her whether the Kyadondo Chief would be a good husband for her daughter. Now, this old witchdoctor wanted to marry the girl himself, so he made a great fuss getting out his cards, which were made of buffalo hide sewn over with shells and beads, and then he told the woman her fortune:

"On no account should you let your daughter marry the Kyadondo Chief." he said, " She willbe most unhappy if she does. There is another man who will make her a good husband, but Icannot tell you who he is yet."

He then taught the woman to sing a song which he said would prevent her daughter from leaving home. It was a bewitched song. So the woman went home, and all the preparations for the girl's marriage to the Chief were made by her guardians, and at last messengers came from the Chief to take the bride to Kyadondo. As they started down the road the mother followed and sang the song the witchdoctor had taught her.

When the bride's party heard this song they all stopped, and as the old woman went on singing, they turned slowly back and followed her to the house, and the girl went into her mother's hut and the messengers returned without her to Kyadondo. The Chief could not understand what had happened, so he sent other messengers for his bride, and the same thing happened three times. The messengers always returned without the girl, and could notgive any account of what had happened. Everybody in Kyadondo heard about it, and they said, "The girl is certainly bewitched."

Now, there was a leper man living near the Chief's house to whom he had been very kind, and the leper went to the Chief, and said, "something about witchcraft; if the girl is to blame, I will not bring her, but if she has only been bewitched by some wicked person I will surely bring her to you."

So the Chief sent the leper man to fetch his bride, and he set out, carrying a little goatskin mat and a reed pipe. When he came to the woman's house he sat down in the courtyard outside, on his little mat, and began to play his pipe. When he had finished they thanked him for the tune, and he got up and went away, but he left his little mat in the courtyard. When he was a little way down the road the woman noticed the mat, and she said to her daughter, "Look, the leper has left his mat! Go after him with it, but do not touch it with yourhands, lift it with a stick and carry it to him like that."

So the girl took a long reed and lifted the goatskin mat on it. and hurried after the leper.When she came near him she called:

" Look, my friend, here is your mat which you left in our courtyard. My mother has sent mewith it."

The leper did not answer; but suddenly he began to sing, and as he sang the girl followedhim down the road further and further from home.

When the woman saw that her daughter did not return she went to find her, and saw her far down the road following the leper and still carrying his little goatskin mat on the reed. At once she thought that some trick was being played, and she hurried after them singing her bewitched song; but she was old, and her voice was too feeble to reach so far, and neither the girl nor the leper heard her. They went straight on, and came to the Chief's house in Kyadondo.

The Chief was much pleased, and all his people rejoiced (for they had felt it very much that he had been slighted by the girl and her people), and there was a great feast, and the Chief gave his bride a beautiful house and many servants, and she was quite happy. Meanwhile the poor old mother sat mourning in her hut, thinking that the girl would be very unhappy and that many misfortunes would come to her. But as time went on and the girl grew happierand happier, at last the woman sent a messenger to the Chief to tell him the whole story, for she knew that the witchdoctor had lied to her. The Chief went to the Capital and told the story in the King's Council, and they sent for the witch- doctor to hear what he had to say.

"My Lords," he said, " I have done wrong. I wanted to marry the girl myself, so I lied to hermother."

Then the King commanded that the witch- doctor should be killed. And that day a law waspassed in the King's Council, and it was published throughout the country and everybodyheard it:

“That if any woman goes to a witchdoctor to have her fortune told, a man of her tribe mustgo with her, and hear everything that is said."

This became a custom in Uganda in the old days; but now there is a new law, and no one may go to a witchdoctor at all, and if the police find a man telling fortunes they take him to prison. But still some people are naive enough to go in secret, and have their fortunes told, even though they know this story.

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