Interview with Nakisanze Segawa on her novel ‘The Triangle’


Nakisanze Segawa

Nakisanze Segawa was born in the Luwero Triangle, Uganda. She is both a fiction writer and a Luganda performance poet. Her poetry and short stories have been published by Jalada and FEMRITE. Nakisanze is a contributor to both the Daily Monitor and Global Press Journal.

A. What was your motivation in writing this novel?

N.S I always thought that Buganda has interesting stories to tell but I also thought that Kabaka Mwanga was a fascinating person… I came across an article that told me his age, he was a teenager when he came to the thrown, and that triggered me into wondering what I would have done if I had been in his shoes, but also what his subjects at the time thought, and the challenges he had from every sideThe House in Buganda’s context is very fundamental in our way of thinking…We have this saying that if the back door is open that says that you are very secure but if its closed it means you’re not…So when I learnt about the challenges he had and that enemies entered Buganda through the back of his house, his kingdom, people such as Bishop Hannington for instance …So that motivated me to read more and try to understand Mwanga as a person and his people, but also the politics at the time.

A. Can you tell me about some of your first thoughts on how you wanted to tell the story?

N.S Initially I wanted to tell the story from a woman’s perspective because in Buganda’s history no one talks about the women in the kingdom and how powerful and influential some of them were …To me I felt this was something I could explore because even up to now, the king doesn’t take after his father’s clan, he takes after his mother’s clan, how did that come about? …I don’t know but I think there is something about it that we as a people haven’t explored … But I realised I had very limited knowledge about the women of the past as all the texts I came across were written by men and told the male perspective so I thought I wouldn’t do a good job…So I used various characters to tell Mwanga’s story instead.

A. What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?

N.S I think researching… Because there are limited texts, you can’t access them all, you can’t access the elders to tell you their oral histories…Some of the written texts tend to contradict each other…Even by those people who knew Kabaka Mwanga…The missionaries wrote that he was gay for example…But Sir Apolo Kagwa, one of the pages in the palace wrote that he wasn’t gay and had never heard of such a thing and yet when I spoke to some of the people who know Sir Apolo Kagwa’s family, they tell you that actually he was Mwanga’s lover…So the more you research the more you get confused so have to choose what to take as real and what not to believe…But again there are stories that connect in the narrative that helped me decide what to incorporate in the work.

A. How did you decide what to put in and what to leave out?

N.S Things that seems factual to me, things that I could relate to I decided to keep… Also some of the things that didn’t contradict each other, as everyone knows that Mwanga was a teenager between sixteen and eighteen years old therefore I decided to go with that …Some tell you he was gay others say he wasn’t but in my interpretation I chose to make him bisexual…I also got advice from friends of mine and other writers like Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, this helped me as they picked up on some things that were wrong…So sharing my work helped me in the editing process, as I got so much information through my research and a lot of it wasn’t actually relevant to my story…It wasn’t helping the flow of my book as it was taking the narrative in too many different directions.

A. If you could go back in time and be any historical figure from any time or place, who would you be and why?

N.S There is this woman, she is called Nabuliya, she was a King and that’s why I told you that history tends to distort women’s contributions, history tries to deny it, but Buganda did have a female Kabaka… I would want to be her… It was during Buganda’s expansion so at the time there was a king called Nakibinge who had many wives, in my head Nabuliya is not beautiful…In the Bugandan context beautiful women are meant to be a bit plump, light skinned, a gap between their teeth and have long hair…So in my head she is not like this.

Anyway history has it that when Buganda was small under Kabaka Nakibinge it was constantly under attack from Bunyoro and other kingdoms , he was basically losing his territory…He had this wife , Nabuliya, his only wife who didn’t have any children but was apparently extremely intelligent, and it was because of her that Buganda expanded, because of her advice to her husband…But history praises only Kabaka Nakibinge…Anyway she advised him to enlist the help of Kibuka, a God of War who lived on Ssese island, he had supernatural power that would help defeat the other kingdoms who wanted to take Buganda…So Nakibinge listened to her …And Kibuka fought for Buganda, legend has it that he hid in the clouds and would throw spears at the enemy without them seeing where he was.

During these ongoing wars Nabuliya becomes pregnant but the King, Kabaka Nakibinge was killed …All of his other sons had also been killed or dispersed due to the war so the clan leaders decided to make her Kabaka until she gave birth…And she accepted…maybe they were under the impression that she would give birth to a boy and then he would be Kabaka, but she didn’t, she gave birth to a girl and that’s where the story ends, but she was a Kabaka until then!

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