The British Empire Library

The Early Postcards Of Uganda

by P C Evans

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Andrew Stuart (Uganda 1929-65)
I have just had an unexpected windfall. Knowing that I first arrived in Uganda over seventy years ago, David Le Breton has sent me this book for review. It will send a shiver down the spine of anyone who knows and loves Uganda. What s more, as the reviewer, I get to keep it, while the rest of you will have to pay at least 16.25 pounds for only 90 pages in soft cover. But you would be crazy not to buy this incredible record of times past. Page after page of postcard pictures, mostly from the first decade of the 20th century, recall a Uganda that was long gone even when my family first arrived.

I thought I knew about Uganda, but this lovingly produced book has taught me things about my country that I never knew. Were you aware, for example, that in 1907, when the Uganda currency was still the rupee and smaller amounts were paid in cowrie shells, the rate was 1,000 shells to a rupee? How on earth did anyone count out a thousand shells? And this book has not only exposed my ignorance about the past. Had you ever heard of the "East Africa Study Circle"? It seems they are a flourishing, mainly philatelic society, with a regular newsletter and a list of occasional publications, of which this is one. Did you know that postcard collectors are called Dentologists? Maybe you did know all this, in which case I am doubly ashamed.

I don't think I have ever met a Dentologist, but the loss is clearly mine. There is an element of magnificent obsession about their craft. The pictures on the front of their cards are umivalled, and the author whets our appetite with lists of other cards which he has not chosen to reproduce. Instead about a third of the pages are occupied by reproductions of the blank sides, sometimes with writing on them, but more often with nothing but a printed "POST CARD" (or "Carte Postale" on the White Fathers' cards). It seems that, to a true Dentologist, the layout of the empty side of a card is as interesting as the front. Don't misunderstand me. I mock not. I am overcome with admiration.

If the Study Circle ever choose to reproduce the other pictures in their possession, they will find me an eager buyer. But meanwhile, what pictures! And how many questions remain unanswered. For example there is one photograph, sometime between 1911 and 1921, of "Four Kings in Uganda Protectorate", with the young Daudi Chwa of Buganda, looking distinctly cowed by the massive Bakama of Bunyoro, Toro and Ankole. But why, by that date, were the Swahili forms of "Unyoro", (for Bunyoro) and "Uganda" (for Buganda) still in use? And why, around 1905, did it take thirteen porters carrying massive headloads, to deliver the "Christmas mail to the CMS at Namirembe"? I know that nowadays letters have largely been superseded by e-mails, but this is ridiculous. And what kind of tree can it have been, even in the days when a Muvule was really a Muvule, that could be hollowed out to carry fourteen people across the Mpologoma swamp in the early 1920s?

There are some regrettable omissions. For example the author has deliberately left out any pictures of the "Uganda Railway" on the ground that in those days it stopped at Kisumu in Kenya and the rest of the journey had to be done by boat. But the history of colonial Uganda is so tied up with those huge trains, with their woodbuming engines spitting out bushfire-causing sparks, that the record is incomplete without them. And he does anyway sometimes bend the rules. One card, magnificently addressed to "Colonel Sir Edward Ward KCB, Under Secretary of State" with the throwaway remark "This morning shot a big elephant" was actually written in Kordofan, Southern Sudan, albeit posted in Kampala.

But no matter. Buy the book if you can, or if you are too impoverished, borrow it from me.

British Empire Book
P C Evans
P A Chantry
0 9515865 4 8


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