Dr Jimmy Lamo

Aber Primary School @100 years: Dr Lamo Jimmy shares the history of Aber and school memories  

Old Boys and Old Girls of Aber Primary School in Aber sub-county continue to share stories and memories of their time as pupils. The school that has produced professionals for Uganda and beyond will celebrate its 100 years on December 16, 2023.

The significant event in the school’s history is expected to bring thousands of OBs and OGs together for the “first time” including welcoming dignitaries across the country and afar. 

As The Anniversary Series continues to release memories and entertain people, the ninth edition brings an exciting story and memories by Dr Lamo Jimmy – who starts by telling us the difference in his surname and the history of Aber.

The name given to me at birth was Lama. This name got corrupted into Lamo when I received my Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results in 1979. In my mother tongue (Luo language) Lama means ‘Bless me’ while Lamo implies a blessing. The Italian headmaster of my secondary school, St Joseph’s College Layibi, Fr Cona preferred Lamo to Lama, claiming it was the name of one famous Italian, so I did not correct it.

I need to explain Aber as a geographical location before I delve into my experiences at Aber Primary School. Aber is one of the last sub-counties that stretch to the River Nile from the Lango side, in northern Uganda.

Two important rivers join the Nile within Aber sub-county. One river, the Tochi, begins its journey near Gulu district, joining the Nile within the sub-county. A second river, shallow and marshy, the Okole, joins the Nile within Aber. 

Aber also borders Murchison Falls National Park on one side. Where else would one have longed to grow up and go through the experiences of childhood! Some of our school stories revolved around swimming, fishing, hunting and poaching. Interestingly, before Karuma Bridge was constructed, the gate to Northern Uganda was Atura Port, nestled within Aber.

According to my grandfather, Lay Reader, the late Yeremia Odyek, Aber was named by visitors who liked its scenery. It is a high rocky spot that affords one a view of the Nile, the Karuma Falls and beyond to Murchison Falls National Park.

Also read:  Anniversary Series, Aber P7 @100 years: Sweet memories by Ameny Owalinga George

The full name of the place is ‘Aneno ber,’ implying nice scenery, and was corrupted as ‘Aber’. In the school area, there was a tree planted by a Church of Uganda priest – Rev. Baguma from Bunyoro, a neighbouring sub-region. Another tree was planted by the vernacular teacher of Aber Primary School, Yafesi Ogwang.

My story about Aber Primary School explains the foundation of my existence and faith. My grandfather, the late Mzee Yeremia Odyek, worked as a Lay reader in many places, including Aber Church (now St John Church of Uganda, Akaka Parish). The former and the latter are the foundation body of Aber Primary School. 

Yeremia Odyek and our grandmother Jenty Odyek had a daughter, the late Jostina Abuk and a son, the late Julio Peter Ayo, my father.

My father studied at Aber Primary School in 1945-1947. At that time, it was called Elementary Vernacular School (EVS) and later in Ibuje, in the southern part of Lango sub-region, where he did Primary 5 and 6, and in Duhaga, Bunyoro, where he did Junior secondary. 

He continued his studies at Cannon Lawrence Teacher Training College, where he qualified as a primary school teacher. Thereafter, he taught at Aber Primary School, among other schools. Coincidentally, my mother, the late Margaret Ayo, who became an evangelist after accepting the Lord as her saviour in 1973, also studied at Aber Primary School and later at St Catherine School. In line with my mother’s faith, I accepted the Lord as my personal saviour too. 

Similarly, his sister Jostina studied at Aber Primary School and later Boroboro Junior Secondary and Buwalasi Teacher’s College in Mbale. She was on this journey with her sister, the late Helen Kerwegi, daughter of Canon Erecenia Opito, our great-grandfather.

Also read: Lango, Teso teenage mothers and youth trained to fight poverty

Justina later got married to CP Ogwal-Oruro. Both Jostina and Julio Peter Ayo had all their children study at Aber Primary School. Among their children are professionals including, 2 medical doctors, 1 Forest and Wildlife conservation scientist; 1 Industrial Chemist, and 1 Agriculturist, several nurses and school teachers, among other professions, had their foundation in Aber P7. 

One of the grandchildren is a school head teacher and a Lay Canon, Grace Kiza.

I studied at Aber Primary School for only one year. That was in 1979, and in Primary 7. My parents felt we did not need to remain in the school where I had been studying then, Kamdini Primary School, and yet the whole family had relocated to Aber, where both my father and grandfather had settled close to the school. 

The schools located along the main highway running to Kampala, the capital city, were getting more and more unsafe during that period. 

“Baptism of fire” 

I had a very scary orientation at Aber Primary School. The first baptism of fire was the school parade the day I reported! As the system was then, and might even be up to now, there was always a warning bell followed by a last one. School opening was expected to be sluggish and slow, but not in Aber Primary School! 

On the first day of the year, I got all that was needed for a proper orientation. Immediately the warning bell rang, and one school prefect ordered us to stand according to height. This resulted in three of us being sent to the front row of the parade. The other two were Odongo Willy ‘Atidi’ and Ogwal Orwenyo, who was better known as Ogwal Imany. The explanation for how he came to possess the name ‘Imany’ which literally means ‘Liver,’ is for another day! 

One teacher, dressed in an oversized shirt and baggy trousers, appeared and started shouting at the top of his voice: “Left-right! Left-right! Left-right! ….. Turn around!” Or so the words should have been. In actual fact, the words were not clear. I heard as if he had said, “Lef—ra! Lef—ra! Lef—ra! Lef—ra!” When everyone had turned around, I was still facing the parade commander. That was the master on duty, a teacher whom I had heard other children speak of as a no-nonsense man, Mr Wilson Olwa-Olok. 

He was a Primary 4 (P4) teacher. Lucky me, I was already in Primary 7! After the drill command, there was a moment’s silence. Then the teacher said, further frightening me, “Aneno gi…Gweno awelo otimo nadi?” (I have seen the new birds …What do we do with a new chicken?) My fellow pupils answered in chorus, “Oputo toke!” (You pluck some feathers from the back of the head). Plucking feathers was therefore intended to ease the identification of a newly arrived chicken (pupil). This implies that I was already identified as a visitor and I had started by failing the first test. The teacher would thus follow me up till I drew level – so to speak – with my peers. 

Of course, this included administering the dreaded cane! I could not understand the next statement. The teacher announced, “Tin aleko ni aneko dano. Bin abongo kweri me inge ni Olwa-Olok wie rac!” (Last night I dreamt that I had killed someone. If you do not come with hoes, my dream shall come true, unfortunately to your peril!) 

The hoes referred to were used for general cleanliness at school. At that age, we felt that all dreams were supposed to come true. In our case, we believed that whoever turned out to be the victim of the teacher’s threat would suffer the foretold fate within the week that Olwa-Olok was the master on duty.

The message was simple and straightforward, and he had driven it home in a very powerful way! That evening, I approached my mother and told her that I would rather go back to Kamdini and complete my studies there. My mother tactfully referred me to Daddy. Her own opinion was clear; it was that she needed a better place – that is, the Aber community – and not a trading centre in Kamdini to raise her children. 

When I approached my father and expressed my desire to return to Kamdini, he laughed out loud and said Olwa-Olok was a very good fellow teacher and very intelligent. He instead took me to the photos in the sitting room and showed me a photo he had taken with Olwa-Olok while at College, referring to him as his best friend for a long time. I expected my father to support my wish. The only option I was left with was to do my best so that I could leave the school and go on to secondary.

Mr Olwa-Olok knew how to address issues of class performance. He expressed his disappointment at the performance of Aber Primary School the previous year by pointing out that the community had been eating too much warthog meat (meat from a confused animal – he said).

Mr Olwa-Olok was the only teacher who never punished any pupil in the morning hours. He would take you to the Primary 1 or Primary 2 block and beat you there in the afternoon. He referred to that block as “Namugongo,” synonymous with the infamous Namugongo outside Kampala where some of the world-famous Uganda Martyrs were killed. I came to know much later that even the Uganda Martyrs had been executed in the afternoon. Mr Olwa-Olok was to turn out to be a very good teacher and the most carefree in the community.

I have no regrets for having studied in Aber because it gave me a good foundation and later to earn a BS and an MSc in Agriculture from Makerere University, and a PhD in Plant Breeding. Overall, I was never taken to “Namugongo” by my good teacher Mr Wilson Olwa-Olok. His sons Counsel Bernard Olok-Olwa and Immigration officer George Ameny-Olwa count among my closest friends and Aber P7 OBs. I am happy my teacher (Mr Wilson Olwa-Olok) is alive and ageing gracefully.

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