Joke/Rumor – Uganda

Hamis told me that he heard this joke when he was about fifteen. He said that it was a common joke among people living in central Uganda. He told me that Idi Amin was a former president of Uganda that was largely unpopular among central Ugandans. That central Ugandans, Democratic Party members in particular, continuously shared and still share funny stories about Amin, which were and are still believed to be true by some people. Hamis told me that rumors had it that Amin was not formally educated.

The story goes like this: One time during his presidency, Amin had to attend a United Nations meeting. On his way to the meeting, he took with him one of his old good friends. While on the plane to the meeting, Amin gave the following instructions to his friend: “You are going to sit next to me at the meeting and tap on me whenever something funny is said”. Amin’s friend accepted the order and did exactly that when they were at the meeting. However, sometime during the meeting, Amin’s friend felt something itching him around his shoulder and lifted up his hand to scratch the itching part. As he lifted his hand up, he accidentally taped on Amin – who started laughing so hard on his own.  His (Amin’s) actions stunned everyone at the meeting because of the seriousness of the war issue that was being discussed at that particular moment. After seeing no one else laughing, Amin stopped immediately. After the meeting was over, he killed his friend on the plane and ate his heart.


If a person from a different culture was to be told this joke, they could most likely find it not funny at all. But again, that is the nature of folklore. Different cultures have different folklore. Therefore, what is seen as funny in one culture might not seem funny to someone from another culture. That means jokes can tell us about a cultures sense of humor. In this joke, it is noticeable that this culture considers illiteracy to be funny. That is why they poke fun at Idi Amin that he took a man with him to a meeting. This culture also considers cannibalism funny as shown in the joke. They make fun of Amin that he ate a man’s heart.

Whether he actually ate the man’s heart or not, this joke is enacted in the movie Rise and Fall of Idi Amin. In this movie, Joseph Olita (acting as Idi Amin) goes to a mortuary to pay last respect to his dead friend. He kicks the doctor out of the room, cuts a piece from his friend’s body, and eats it.  Like the joke, that scene was meant to poke at Idi Amin that he was a cannibal. Including that scene in the movie shows how important folklore is in the production of mass media.

Mass media produced anywhere in any culture is often inspired by folklore. Book authors, movie directors and all producers of mass media often use folklore as a basis on which to build their ideas. If someone was seating in the USA watching Olita cut a piece from a man’s body and eating, they could most likely find that bizarre and disgusting. On the other hand, a person in Uganda who knows about the joke would find it funny. The difference in the way two people perceive the same action is due to the fact that one person knows the folklore behind the scene’s production and the other does not.

Annotation: Rise and Fall of Idi Amin. Dir. Sharad Patel. Perf. Joseph Olita, Dennis Hills, Tony Shibbald. 1981. VHS. Twin Continental Films. 1981.