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Dolwe Island: A story of fascinating rocks and mystery paintings

Dolwe Island is the largest of the numerous rocky Islands found on the eastern side on Lake Victoria in Uganda. (PHOTO:PML Daily)

DOLWE- Some 300 to 500 years ago, on a little known Island East on Lake Victoria in Namayingo district, ancient islanders painted rocks with maroon colours that have lived to date. To touch the paintings, one travels three to four hours by boat from Bwondha landing site in Mayuge district.

The paintings on Dolwe Island portray shapes of beings unknown to the current inhabitants of the land who comprise mostly the Jaluo from Kenya and Ugandans from different tribes.

The Jaluo form a bigger majority and they named the villages according to the shapes of the rocks and other features on the Island. Among inhabitants of the island are Baganda, Iteso, Langi, Basoga, Acholi and Banyankore who have built homes and set up businesses in a quest to develop the area.

Chief Nyamulolwe, a Jaluo from Kenya, who died at the age of 98 and buried many years ago on the island, told stories about the wonders of the isle. Nyamulolwe was among the first Inhabitants of the island who contributed to naming the rocks and art.

He used to say the island is called Lolwe to mean flats, depicting the nature of rock formations while the Basoga insist the name is Dolwe, to mean the same.

“It is not Dolwe but Lolwe, a Kenyan word to mean a flat because of the nature of the rocks. The Kenyans named the places according to happenings and features. There is Kandege (a plane), Golofa (flat building), Singira (moving), Mwango, Bukangawa among others.

There are 14 villages here,” Sheik Juma Said, Chairman of the rocks and a relative to the Nyamulolwe family explains.

The community entrusted Juma with the role of caretaker for the paintings, although residents have started distorting them by using modern paints to write on the rocks.

The Kiswahili, Luganda and Lusoga writings are legible while the ancient paintings can hardly be interpreted by the locals.

“The rock paintings in there are permanent. However much you scrub them, they cannot go. We wonder what kind of paint they used,” says Juma, adding, “Paintings done by the locals can easily be washed off by rain. Some [actually] write on the ancient painting.”

According to Juma, the locals discovered the rock paintings about 40 years ago when they resettled on the island after a tsetse fly infestation made the then government to evacuate the area for aerial spraying to be done.

Painting and writing on the rocks have since become a way of advertisement for businessmen and artisans who resettled on the island. Juma fears that if not controlled, such paintings could erase the historical paintings.

Tourists on the Dolwe Island.(PHOTO:PML Daily)

Paul Lando Juma, 58, a Jaluo from Kenya has lived on the island since 1973. He told our reporter that the rock paintings could have been done by their forefathers.

In November, 2017, an Italian tourist set out to understand the paintings and camped at the Island for two days. Juma could not readily remember the name of the tourist but says the visitor was unable to interpret the paintings. All he saw, according to Juma, were the shapes and stripes that he could not make sense of.

Juma says he plans to fence off his land because he has not benefitted from the people who come to view the rock art and paintings. That way, he will put a gate for tourists, so they can pay before they gain access.

John Bosco Nyembeza, the chairman Local Council III of Dolwe Sub-county says the rock paintings and art fascinate the locals, “There are about seven shrines where the rock paintings exist. The locals don’t talk of the rock art or paintings they come to praise their gods,” Nyembeza says.

“Everybody goes to the rocks for their own will. The big stone sitting on a smaller stone without falling off or breaking is a wonder to them. That is what makes people praise their gods there,” he adds.

Nyembeza is disappointed that the world knows little about the natural beauty bestowed upon the Island that could be a source of revenue to the country. He laments that only five tourists visited the island in 2017 to take pictures and marvel without much contribution to the development of the community of over 35,000 people living on the island. The island lacks basic social services like healthcare and transport. “Those who look at the pictures on the internet fear to come here because of the canoes and size of boats we use for transport to this island. We do not have vehicles, only bicycles and boda boda,” says Nyembeza.

The journey to Dolwe Island from Bwondha landing site by motorized boat is three to four hours on calm waters. It costs 20,000/= to and from the Island while a journey on the police marine boat or fibre boat costs more than 350,000/= including the cost of petrol to run the engine.

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