The tradition of the Acholi dances is an invaluable treasure which has enriched the history of art and culture for generations. Dance has always been the purest manifestation of the Acholi cultural progress and reflects in a unique way the fine blendings of history, the present, future and a general expression of philosophy in the life. Acholi dances have a subtlety about them and are known for their universal appeal.
The cultural aura around his home reflects those Acholi cultural values and ideals. The wall of his living room is covered with pictures of traditional ornaments, pictures of traditional dancers and instruments like ‘Nanga’( Harp), ‘Lukeme’ ( Xylophone) and Drums.
Watmon talked to Acholi Times correspondent Eunice Lamuno, about his Struggle to Preserve Acholi Culture, which he says “is at the verge of destruction due to the effects of the war” and the “so called modernization by investors”.
“I did not go to school or have any training to play these traditional instruments, I inherited it from my grand father who was very good at playing the Harp”, Watmon explains his humble beginnings.
Born in Kitgum Matiditi Sub County, Pawidi village in Kitgum district on the 25/11/1951, Watmon said that he “did not have the opportunity to go to school so as to get a white color job”; but he had a talent which has enabled him to “secure a good future for his children and also live a better life.”
“I used to go with my father to graze cows, so whenever the cows were eating, my Dad would sit sown and play his harp, he did not allow me to touch, but deep inside I had the interest to learn, so I would watch him closely and keep whatever I have learnt close to hand.”
“When my Father left the village for greener pastures in Kampala, he did not carry the harp with him, so I got the opportunity to learn it fully by developing what I had already learnt. I dedicated most of my time to it and I was taken back by how people would gather to hear me play the harp. When I was 15, I joined a traditional dance group in the village and we would have competitions among ourselves and my group did so well that we were always called upon to entertain visitors at the sub county. I started training my fellow youths how to play the instruments”, Watmon tells Acholi Times. .
In 1982 Watmon got an opportunity to air his record on a live show on Radio Uganda with the help of friends like Ladit Latigo Lapoti who worked at Radio Uganda then.
“When the war intensified, I decided to come and settle in Kampala, from where I formed a dancing group which initially was comprised of only women because I believed they were easy to manage since I did not have enough resources and so I decided to call it Watmon Cultural Group. I gave it that name because despite the criticisms and envy I got from some people, I did not hold any grudge with anyone instead I treated everyone in the group in the same way, and because it was only women in the group, everyone called it ‘Wat mone’. That is how the name came to be.
The group did so well that over time men started joining us, they would perform at different functions and also participate in competitions with other cultures in Uganda. I recal one memorable event in 2008 when they participated at a competition with different cultures across Africa held at Namboole (Nelson Mandela Stadium); they emerged the winner and they won a grand prize of six million Uganda shillings, this shows how unique Acholi culture is.”
Watmon’s brand of experimental Acholi music attracted the Ndere Center on to us; they always called upon us to play the traditional instruments whenever they had any tours abroad. However in 1997 we stopped traveling with the Ndere Troupes in order to concentrate on Watmon Group, because we had earned enough money from our travels to keep us firm on our two feet. We performed at most governments functions and we have always been called upon to welcome international visitors. For example we were called upon to welcome the US president George W Bush at Entebbe airport, Bush was impressed and he left the red carpet to come and shake hands with us”, Watmon narrates with a smile on his face.
“We have also featured in a movie entitled White Light which was acted in South Africa in 2008 and launched in Uganda at Sheraton Hotel.”
“When asked why he decided to become an entertainer, watmon says “it’s the attention people gave me and the love they showed my work and the obvious one was looking for survival which encouraged me to continue doing what I am doing.”
To Watmon “Acholi Culture is one of the richest cultures in the whole world, the different dances, instruments and songs which have different meanings can not be found any where else in the entire world. Acholi Music is the the most effective means of communication that every one can understand despite their level of communication.”
“I want to put up a cultural Center where I will be able to train the young children and adults who have not been brought up in the culture that our forefathers passed down to us. I also intend to have in the center a section that will act like a museum where I will put all the traditional items of the Acholi culture”.
“My special message to the acholi people is that they should love each other more than anything, respect themselves and should strive at preserving their culture and they should teach their children to respect and love their culture”, Watmon concludes.
Acholi Times wants to thank Mr Watmon for this candid interview and wish him the very best for the future.