Africa-Press – Uganda. On Monday, the Bagwere community from the four districts of Pallisa, Butebo, Budaka and Kibuku, woke up to the news of the passing of their cultural leader (Ikumbania), his highness John Chrisostom Weyabire. Mudangha Kolyangha explores the life and times of the deceased leader.
Fallen Ikumbania Bishop John C Weyabire was born in 1957 in an aristocratic family in Kenkebu Sub-county, Budaka District to Lawrence Mwoyo, son of Daniel Kawu of the Abakatikok Abanamwera Katikati clan. His mother was Christine Naguti Mwoya. They were both peasants.
He was the first born in the family. Although it was an extended family, it was a staunch Catholic family that took spiritual matters very seriously.
The late Ikumbania spent much of his childhood looking after the family cattle, an activity he loved and cherished.
He studied at Kenkebu Primary School, where he actively participated in music, playing traditional instruments during school musical festivals and in church.
On Sundays, his parents would take him to a nearby Catholic Church for service and made sure he observed all religious rituals and ceremonies.
Weyabire was so loved by his grandfather that he used to sleep in his tin-roofed house.
Getting a vision
At about 12 years of age, while sleeping, he reportedly heard a voice calling him. He woke up and went to the grandparent, thinking he was the one who had called him.
“But the old man denied. He told me to go back and sleep. I heard the voice the second time. When I again called him, he kept silent for a long time, puzzled. He then told me that should I hear the voice again, I should respond thus: ‘speak, your servant is hearing’,” Weyabire said in an interview some time back.
When he heard the voice for the third time and responded accordingly, he heard something ring in his ears and felt them shut. He later related this to his grandfather.
A devout Catholic, he immediately organised to take his grandson to a one Fr Benebec, the then Parish Priest of St Anthony Catholic Parish, Namengo, in present-day Budaka District.
Fr Benebec had to orient him in church protocols and order of Mass.
He subsequently served as his altar boy. Some years later, Weyabire’s grandfather developed fears that Fr Benebec would inspire his grandson to join priesthood yet he wanted him to marry and continue the family lineage.
He thus picked him up from St Anthony Parish and took him back home in Kenkebu. The young Weyabire joined a nearby Catholic church, where he used to take readings, as well as serving as the choirmaster. He would later become the catechist of that church.
According to the narratives, in 1985, Weyabire developed a strange but severe illness and was bedridden for weeks, losing consciousness for hours several times. During this time, he allegedly had a vision where a man clothed in a white gown, whom he thought to be Jesus, held him by the hand and took him to a makeshift house built with eucalyptus poles and reeds and roofed with dry banana leaves.
He reportedly saw people lying on makeshift beds with dry banana leaves serving as mattresses and bed sheets. The man he saw in the vision then said: “This is the house you have been living in. I am removing you from this to a permanent house.” He then suddenly disappeared.
When he regained consciousness, he saw people wailing and crying. They thought he had passed on. The following day, h received another vision in which he saw a bull tethered on a tree.
There was pasture around the tree and within the radius of the tether. Beyond the radius of the tether, there were crops. Whenever the bull wanted to reach out and eat the crops, its tether couldn’t let it.
The same man then cried out: “I will tether you like that bull. You will no longer do your will. I will use you. You are henceforth my prisoner.”
A prisoner has no will of his own. On the third day, the same man appeared and showed him a pumpkin plant with pumpkins of various sizes. He asked him: “Can you count them?” He said no because they were too many.
“As you have seen, the farmer planted one seed, but it has produced so many fruits on it. Its leaves are used as a sauce, the seeds as medicine, and its flesh as food. Like that farmer, I am planting a seed in you.
I am going to use you to serve my people and prepare them for my second coming. I have healed you, and I have set you free,” he man said before he again suddenly disappeared.
Weyabire sat up (after weeks of inability to do so) and asked for food.
Upon regaining his normal health shortly afterward, he visited my uncle and relayed to him that testimony. He organised a thanksgiving prayer where he invited a one Mr Wamika, the head Christians who, together with the parish priest, came and prayed for Weyabire.
He continued with his usual roles in the church, but this time, with greater devotion and dedication.
In 1989, he moved to Busia District, where he joined a Born-Again church. A few years later, he came back home.
He started a Born-Again church under an orange tree. He was later joined by his cousin, Antony Mwiraguzu, his brother-in-law Patrick Mugole (now deceased), and cousin Dan Tatera. Mwiraguzu had been in a childless marriage for more than 15 years and he prayed for them, and God apparently showed him a baby boy that he would plant in the womb of his wife.
As usual, he never fully believed it, but it came to pass. The couple would later produce eight more children! Weyabire later established several churches not only in Bugwere but also other regions.
He started social support programmes where he cared for orphans and widows. When some missionaries from the US came to his area and saw the sorry state of the house in which the orphans and Weyabire were staying, they decided to build them a better house.
This marked the beginning of a long-term relationship with them. They even helped him obtain a Visa to the US, where he would later stay for several years. After many years of ministry in the US, where he had also been ordained Bishop in Chicago, he is said to have started having visions where he was being told to come back home and help his suffering people of Bugwere, that there was some bloodshed that he had to help stop.
When the dreams became persistent, he shared it with his wife and the church. They encouraged the couple to respond to that divine call.
When they finally came home, they found a lot of conflicts and disorganisation among the Bugwere, a lot of disunity and infighting among the more than 100 clans of Bugwere.
There were also inter-ethnic clashes between the Bugwere and the Bagisu and Banyole over a narrow agricultural strip around River Namatala. A lot of lives were being lost there.
When they came in with alternative conflict resolution approaches, his clan (Abanamwera) seconded them and quickly chose him to be their head. He used this as a platform to reach out to other clan heads to build unity and harmony among the Bugwere.
The rest of these clans welcomed his initiative and unanimously elected him as their Ikumbania (the one who brings together). He was officially crowned in 2013 in a historical ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of Bugwere.
His first task was to put a stop to the bloodshed between his people and the neighbours, the Bagisu and Banyole.
Badiru Kirya, a former prime minister in the cultural institution, said with the prevailing peace, the Ikumbania embarked on his next move of development; socio-economic transformation.
Through his development partners both locally and internationally, they have, over the years, initiated and managed a number of development interventions to foster socio-economic transformation among not only his subjects but all the people living under and around his jurisdiction.
Those who understood the life and times of Weyabire during his childhood say he was humble, polite and a person who loved development. He used to ride and trade in charcoal in Mbale and later opted to carry out illegal smuggling in Busia.
Joel Mugulusi, the current prime minister in the institution, says the sudden demise of the Ikumbania is a big blow to the people of Bugwere and other cultural institutions. “The Institution and the entire Bagwere fraternity have lost a strong pillar, unifier and developmental person. We don’t expect to get a person who will fit in his shoes,” he says.Several subjects have described the Ikumbania as a person who loved all categories of people.
“The Ikumbania has been remorseful in case he thinks he has annoyed anybody during his line of execution of duties as the Ikumbania. The most important element I know about Weyabire is that he was a person who didn’t keep grudges,” Jamada Muwandiki, one of the clan heads, who also doubles as the institution minister for agriculture, says.
MPs from the four districts of Pallisa, Budaka, Butebo and Kibuku and as well those from the neighboring districts, have also joined in sending condolence messages to the cultural institution.