The plant known as omugorora among my people, the Bakiga, is called dracaena in English. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word “drakaina” or “female dragon”. It is a genus of about 120 species of trees and shrubs, mainly growing in Africa, with a few species in Asia and central America. A famous member of this genus is dragon blood tree, confined to a single island off the coast of Yemen.
Many of the species are used as house plants throughout the world, for example lucky bamboo. Dracaena is in the family of Asparagceae that includes asparagus and agave, from which they make tequila.
The species most common in the Gorilla Highlands is Dracaena afromontana which naturally occurs from Ethiopia to Malawi, mainly in forests above 1500 m/ 4,900 ft.
FENCING AND DEMARCATING OF LAND
A dracaena can easily be planted everywhere. It is reliable, persists in all climatic conditions and grows very straight, therefore it is commonly used for fencing and particularly for demarcating land boundaries.
Overpopulation in southwestern Uganda leads to land fragmentation, as boys get parts of their father’s fields. People divide a piece of land amongst many family members and a dracaena tree is planted to indicate plot edges; nobody can cultivate across a line of dracaena trees.
Unscrupulous people do try moving it, most especially if you take long without visiting your land. If you notice that your neighbour has moved a dracaena for some distance you have to call community members to settle the issues. After a long time has passed it becomes tricky to judge where it was, so it is important that you monitor your land.
BAKIGA TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
In traditional medicine, dracaena is used for:
– liver disease: you crush the stem, dry it, pound it until it becomes powder-like, then mix it with food or with cold clean water and consume it three times in a day; alternatively you can also crush it without drying and mix it with water
– malaria: you crush the stem or leaves, mix with some water, sieve it and drink it three times a day; you can also peel the roots, dry them, pound them to make powder and drink with water
– stomach poisoning/dysentery: you crush the leaves, mix with some water, sieve it and drink it three times in a day, for three days only
BAKIGA CULTURAL BELIEFS
Funeral rites: To avoid misfortune dracaena leaves are crushed, water is added and then relatives of a deceased person drink it. A traditional healer also splashes water around the house using fresh leaves.
Infertility: You are not supposed to beat a girl using a dracaena because doing so can cause infertility in women.
Cattle reproduction: It is prohibited to graze cattle using a dracaena stick otherwise your cows will give birth to bulls only.
Magic: Dracaena is used for charming people. If you chew a dracaena leaf you silence everybody. For instance, children who have done something wrong would take it to stop parents from punishing them.
photo by Miha Logar