Proverb – Hoima District, Eastern Uganda

I heard the Nyabwino legend when I was still a little kid of about 5years old.  I first heard it in a conversation between my grandmother and one her friends. I went on to hear the legend a couple of times later and I believe it is still told around Hoima district and several places of Masindi district (35 miles away). The legend goes like this: There was once a lady called Nyabwino who lived in a remote village in Masindi district. Nyabwino was married to a certain man who also had two other wives. She was the most loved lady among the three because she was the most beautiful. After a while in marriage, Nyabwino got pregnant, had a baby, and dropped it (the baby) somewhere in a garbage heap. She did that because she wanted to punish her husband for being polygamous. She went back at her husbands place from the maternity ward childless. When her husband asked for the baby, she said she had had a miscarriage. Her husband did not believe that. Consequently, he went to a local witch. The witch worked his magical powers on Nyabwino for her evil doing. The magic works and since that day, Nyabwino had been walking from Hoima district to Masindi district searching for her baby from one garbage pile to another.

Personally, I once saw a mad lady called Nyabwino both in Hoima and Masindi districts. I also saw her searching garbage piles but not sure if she was the one the legend referred to. Nevertheless, this legend was and is still commonly told by various people around the two districts. I also heard of a similar account when I was visiting my brother-in-law in Entebbe. The account was very similar except for the ladies name. Instead of “Nyabwino” they had “some lady” or a “lady.”


Whether Nyabwino existed or not, I think this story is meant to protect male dominance in the cultures where it is told. As the story goes, Nyabwino kills her newborn baby to punish her husband for being adulterous. A person listening to the legend might feel sorry to hear that Nyabwino’s husband hurt her feelings by committing adultery. However, her reaction to her husband’s behavior would soon change the listener’s feelings. After hearing that Nyabwino killed her baby in revenge, the listener would most likely blame Nyabwino’s actions instead of her husband’s. In short, her husband’s adulterous behavior is overweighed by Nyabwino’s murderous action.

This shift from blaming a man to blaming the woman is exactly what the plot of the legend. It puts a man on the safe side. In a way, it is as if to say, men are not wrong for being adulterous. In that sense, the legend is meant to ensure stability in polygamous families.  In another way, the legend is meant to confirm and maintain male dominance at the same time male dominance maintains the legend. As we saw in the legend, a male heads the household in which Nyabwino resides and when she kills her baby, a “male” witch punishes her. As we can see here, males are taking up all the authoritative positions, which is typical of a patriarchy.

Nyabwino’s killing of her baby brings forward a gender roles issue.  The issue is: who actually owns children? Are they males’, females’, or both parties?  In the context of the legend, children are men’s and Nyabwino’s actions can be viewed as a push back to the system. It is as if to say that she kills her baby because it is not her baby but her husbands. All in all, what I am trying to say is that this legend is meant to negotiate gender issues in the societies where it is told.