‘I inherited the position from my father, who inherited it from his father. The word nzururu means snow and we are called banyarwenzururu, the people of the snow. After elders sacrifice to Kithasamba you see the snows shining bright, telling you that the planting season is starting. If the snow isn’t visible, it’s a sign of calamity.’
Baluku Mikayir, Ridge Leader and responsible for protecting local heritage
International National Trusts Organisation, Cross-cultural foundation of Uganda
To assess the impact of the melting snow and rising rivers on the cultural heritage of local people and to help these communities preserve this heritage.
As climate shifts have a devastating impact worldwide, treasured heritage sites are increasingly at risk of disappearing. The changing weather patterns alongside the melting ice caps of the Rwenzori glaciers threatens the cultural heritage of the Bakonzo people. Intangible cultural heritage (e.g., stories and rituals) that is practiced here creates a blueprint of meaning for all elements of Bakonzo life. Waterfalls are the grounds for rites of conflict resolution, and hot springs are used for physical and spiritual healing. River confluences also act as sites of consultation with the spirits in times of crisis.
‘Melting Snow and Rivers in Flood’ is a project that explored a community-led approach to document tangible and intangible cultural heritage surrounding the spiritual value of the Rwenzori glaciers. This included identifying sites threatened by flooding to support their preservation in the face of climate change. At the centre of the project is the preservation of Wang Lei, a sacred site revered to be where Adamic figures Nyipir and Nyabongo of the Luo people parted ways, leading to the formation of the Alur and Acholi peoples. The project has helped to build bridges between the Alur and Acholi people through consultation, with both groups coming together to consider the importance of their shared cultural heritage. At the Wang Lei ground-breaking ceremony (to bless the ground before physical works started), Acholi chiefs and Alur leaders stood side by side for the first time and pledged to work together to protect this important cultural site.
In addition to documenting cultural heritage, heritage sector training has resulted in site management plans being adopted by community leaders. Sector advocacy, knowledge-sharing and community awareness-raising activities have all highlighted the importance of heritage and the risks posed by climate change. The project also highlighted the unique impact a warming climate poses on the preservation of intangible elements of cultural heritage.
A huge achievement has been a Royal Announcement by the King of the Alur to officially recognise Wang-Lei as a significant heritage site for all Luo people, and to proclaim 18th February as Wang-Lei day to be celebrated annually as an Alur Kingdom event.
The project-sharing event in Kampala was attended by a range of policy-makers and influencers, and a government representative pledged to support cultural preservation and climate action.
The Cultural Protection Fund (CPF) promotes a people-centred approach to Cultural Protection. It encourages partnerships at an institutional level by using our global network and cultural relations approach. Half of CPF projects are led by UK organisations, encouraging international knowledge exchange on common issues, best-practice sharing and influence on heritage protection processes and policies worldwide. The CPF is connected to a wider network of heritage protection funders and agencies, feeding into and benefitting from a wide range of research and intelligence on heritage protection. Heritage protection is a global, shared challenge and the learning and evaluation from CPF projects is fed back into a network to create better conditions for heritage protection and increased understanding of its positive impact on individuals and societies.