Nelly Bassily | August 30, 2010
Life in Kapchorwa District, Uganda is incomplete without donkeys. Donkeys have become a prime asset for many families. Farmers rely on them for transport, security and farming. The animals can even predict changes in the weather.
Tiyoy Solomon is a 65-year-old smallholder farmer and donkey trainer. Donkeys have been part of his life since he was a child. Mr. Solomon lives in Kwosir village, Binyiny sub-county. The village borders the conservation area around Mount Elgon. This is a hilly and rocky area. Its fertile soils make it the food basket of Uganda.
Mr. Solomon explains some of the tasks donkeys perform in Kapchorwa. “Without a donkey we cannot carry luggage downhill. We use the donkeys to carry as much firewood as we can because we can only go to the forest once a week. Our women use the donkeys a lot for domestic chores.” A donkey can carry up to one third of its own weight and can walk uphill for 15 kilometres.
But donkeys are not only used to carry things. They have become items in the bride wealth used for traditional marriage ceremonies. Jafari Kamwaina, a local resident, confirms the importance of a donkey to the community. “My father-in-law asked me to offer him a donkey as part of the bride wealth,” he recounts.
Chepkrui Immaculate owns a herd of seven donkeys. She watches her donkeys carefully for signs that the weather is changing. She notices that when a donkey drinks lots of water and passes little urine, the dry season is approaching. When donkeys raise their ears in the direction of the wind, “This is a sign that the rains are near,” says Ms. Immaculate.
Donkeys plough fields just like oxen. Ms. Immaculate says, “In fact, the donkeys are faster and swifter than bull oxen, which sometimes drag themselves because of the heavy body weight.”
Donkeys also alert villagers to strange movements or unwelcome visitors. They stamp the ground or make shrill braying noises. Mr. Solomon finds this useful: “At night they can alert [us that] strangers are coming to a homestead.”
Useful as they are, donkeys require good treatment, just like any livestock. Simon Nyangas is an agricultural extension officer in Kapchorwa District. He says, “They require de-worming just like goats, spraying against ticks, loading with appropriate weight and good feeding. They do well with shrubs and ample drinking water.”
Above all, a donkey needs to be trained. “Donkeys that are not well trained … get angry and kick their victims,” says Mr. Nyangas. He explains that once a donkey has been loaded with luggage and directed down a specific track, it does not need to be directed for the second time.
In this hilly region of Uganda, donkeys are invaluable. Says Ms. Immaculate: “There is no household that does not use a donkey. If they do not have one, they borrow from their neighbours.