I have been spending the past week in Kitgum, the real heart of the LRA war. They would pass through the district on their way to attack from their Sudanese bases, and so Kitgum would be attacked on the way in and on the way out. Small wonder, then, that almost the entire rural population was displaced. They are now largely returned, and I have spent three days looking at village life in Lubene Village, which was resettled last year.
During the war years the bush was out of bounds in vast swathes of Northern Uganda. The rebels were a serious threat, and so too were the UPDF (the Ugandan army), who were alleged to have attacked some civillians simply because they could have been rebels. For this reason I chose to follow the hunters who roam through the bush in search of rabbits, because they were unable to do this for almost two decades.
The anatomy of a rabbit hunt is hard to discern. None of that “line of beaters” business, this is four or five men armed with bows, arrows and axes crashing through bushes. They are accompanied by their dogs, who seem to serve more as pointers than greyhounds. Hunts take place mostly after a rainy night, when fresh prints are more visible in the wet dirt.
Prints are followed carefully, but I can’t quite discern the actual trigger for what follows next. On the rumour of bunny-related activity, three things happen in quick succession. Firstly the dogs scatter, disappearing into the shrubs in no particular direction. Two, everybody starts yelling. Three, the chase is on!
Yahooing and diving through thorn thickets (just this morning I found a thorn lodged in my knee from Tuesday), the hunters gallop after their prey, trying to drive it to ground. When it is grounded the hunters surround the thicket, sending the dogs in (they soon come back out, looking insulted) and swiping with axes at the branches. On neither of the hunts I have been on have we actually caught a rabbit, but they assure me that what happens next is that it will be flushed, poked with arrows and dispatched with the flat of an axe.
The rainy season is a slow time in the country, a time for casual harvesting and nothing like the intensive cultivation which will happen in the new year. That might explain today. Having arranged a 7am meeting with some hunters in which they assured me we would perforate at least one of Peter Rabbit’s friends, I woke at six and endured the shower’s insipid widdling rather that my usual “clean me, dirty the pool” swim. I arrived at 7.10am to discover silence. The hunters had decided that the best way to prepare themselves was to get skull-crumblingly drunk, so they were all fast asleep in their huts trying, no doubt, to avoid the waragi hangover, something akin to a jet engine of pain behind the centre of the forehead.
So that is all the experience I have of trying to stick rabbits, and it’s not for lack of trying. Anybody who has seen me in a hurry will agree I am not a natural athlete. For good measure, however, Dickens Canwat took me bothering songbirds with a slingshot. We didn’t get any, but I did get this shot.
I’m going to try again tomorrow. Apologies for the lack of blood.