By Dominic Dipio
Published January 7, 2022
What I am and what we all become is largely a result of our roots. For me, one of the most important qualities I have drawn from these roots is integrity that can be defined as authenticity, truthfulness, and honesty. This is an imperative and a universal value. It is with this in mind that I write to introduce myself and my background to you before I tell you why integrity matters.
I am the seventh of 10 children born to Ma’di parents in West Nile District of Uganda. I joined the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church (MSMMC) in my early teens after the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).
I have lively memories of growing up in a large-compound surrounded by immediate and extended family members. With a Senior Medical Assistant for a dad and an enterprising full time housewife for a mother, I can assert that I had a happy childhood and was well brought-up.
I remember my family as a ‘hub’ for scholarly activities in the evenings when my siblings and cousins in upper primary came to our compound to study in preparation for PLE. At a time when there was neither electricity nor solar lighting systems in families, my family had a petrol-max lamp that provided good lighting and attracted studious school children to our compound for revision. Because the PLE revision books that we had were questions with objective and multiple-choice questions and answers, even those of us in lower primary participated in answering them, mainly through guess work; and it was such fun!
The spiritual life of the family was largely the domain of our mother. Prayers accompanied all our activities: from waking up, taking meals, to going to bed. The Rosary was the capstone that ended the day.
My parents groomed us to work hard. My father engaged in large-scale agriculture and had cattle as was the case of many Ma’di dads of the day.
Farming the land and keeping cattle were part of the cultural heritage of a Ma’di; and so monthly salary could not distract parents in the civil service from this practice. On holidays, we would all be in the farm with our parents.
My mother, a stay-home mom, was an independent-minded woman who did not depend on my dad for the everyday needs of the family. She had her well-kept garden at the backyard of her kitchen, with assortments of vegetables like osubi, lakabi, jiri, injubi, uruju, mola/loka; and condiments like kikita, binzari, tangauzi, and kitunguru. She also kept chickens.
I was in Primary Four when I planted a few seeds of cotton behind our house. I tended my cotton garden and weeded it every morning before I went to school. At harvest time, I took my handful of cotton wool to the collection centre close by. The guy at the weighing scale was amused to see my harvest that could not even be weighed on its own! He nonetheless received it and gave me some coins, which I delightfully brought to my mother with an expressed request to buy me a dress out of it! I loved manual work as a child, and exuberantly ‘poured’ myself into whatever I did.
I had a gender neutral educational upbringing. There was no gender-based discrimination in my family. Both male and female was treated equally in this regard. Contrary to the commonly held view that the Africa girl is readily discriminated against in favour of the boy, in the Ma’di traditional logic, parity and complementarity are embedded in all aspects of life.
Today’s trend of looking at the female as an object of economic transaction during marriage is a departure from the culture. Putting emphasis on ‘reaping’ from the marriage of a daughter is an abuse of Ma’di culture. The so-called traditional marriages today end up objectifying females and putting much pressure on the males. I wonder what is left of the pleasure of creating new relationships that used to be at the heart of the marriage ceremony!
I consider my primary school years important in shaping me for life. I was one of a few girls selected to move from St Theresa Girls to the neighbouring Cesia Boys to complete our upper primary education. The teachers assessed us as intelligent, focused and competitive enough to study with boys. Also from primary five to seven, one could join the school Debating Club that offered an opportunity to exhibit skills in public speaking, constructing arguments, and self-expression. I see myself principally as a human being who happens to be female. And this is not a problem. Hence, I have always reached out for opportunities available to other humans, as long as they are compatible with my values. My humanity precedes my other layers of identity as a woman religious.
As a child, I had a ‘restless’ energy about me that found expression in ‘creating things’, whether this was composing a song and singing it on my mother’s grinding stone when I helped her grind the yeast for her pwete brew; or when my dad handed down to us an old bed-sheet that I tore up to make, one day a dress which in coming days I would turn into a skirt or, a tight dress which soon became useless because it became too small for me to wear! Looking back, I thank my mother for not inhibiting me in these ventures that allowed me to express my creativity.
I loved ‘navigating’ the world through the lens of books long before I crossed any physical national boundaries. In books are found the thoughts of people like you and me, who take their precious time to construct them. I read a wide range of books, from popular fiction to philosophical and spiritual stuff. I love the literary art, vital for the formation of character and morality. The wise people of every society, including those who crafted our traditional folktales and the classical philosophers like Aristotle, have elevated fiction/the arts as bearers of a people’s philosophy, history and spirituality. I would rather withdraw to read an inspiring book than spend a disproportional amount of time chitchatting. I remember how, in my secondary school days, the nuns would say, ‘Leave her alone! She is now in West Africa’ or whatever country the novel I read was set in.
Today, with over 50 titles in books, journal articles, book-chapters and films published in my name, I am not just a keen reader of books; I am also a participant in researching and assembling knowledge for others to find inspiration in. I see this as a calling. I recall, when I became a full professor, one of my younger colleagues excitedly told me, “DD, you are lucky you have reached the peak of your career. You can now relax and not be bothered by the stress of publications.”
This was not how I felt when I became a professor. I thought, ‘Now is the opportunity to broaden my research and publication interests to areas beyond my discipline’. And this is what I am doing right now. This platform is so large, and there is so much to do, especially in researching and publishing on our cultures.
Because books have had such a positive influence on me, my dream, right now, which in fact, is an inherited dream of my father, is to share books with my community, by contributing towards starting a public library in Adjumani, a district that has none! I am certain that the hunger I felt for books as a child is still felt by the children in my community. Hopefully, they will enjoy the curiosity of travelling other lands, and expanding their humanity through experiencing other cultures via the lens of books.
We all need role models and mentors. These may be people within or outside our families who inspire and challenge us to be our best selves. I have had people who have facilitated my human and spiritual development; and some of these are not even aware of their role in my life.
Our family, ethnicity and educational background determine what we all become. For me, one of the most important qualities I have drawn from these roots is integrity.
But why does integrity matter?
RELATED: Learn How to Analyse Movies Now!
To save our community and restore its soul, integrity should once more take centre stage in our identity. It is my conviction that every culture has the needed ingredients to lead its community to the realisation of its material and spiritual development.
Sr Dominic Dipio (MSMMC) is Professor of Literature and Film at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Member of Makerere University Senate, Prof Dipio is also a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture, a team of professionals from around the globe that offers advice to the Vatican.