Learning to Live: The Formation of a “Model Community” at Lake Bunyonyi Leprosy Settlement, Uganda, 1931–51

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:50 PM
Superior Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Kathleen Vongsathorn, African Studies Center, University of Oxford
Learning to Live: The Formation of a “Model Community” at Lake Bunyonyi Leprosy Settlement, Uganda, 1931-1951


            In the early 1930s, the British Church Missionary Society (CMS) founded two leprosy settlements in Uganda.  In these leprosy settlements, they perceived a responsibility and an opportunity: a responsibility to provide a new community for leprosy patients who were living in relative isolation from their kin and former communities, and an opportunity to engineer that community as a fulfillment of their ideal for an integrated, “civilized,” and Christian Uganda.  One of these leprosy settlements in particular, on Lake Bunyonyi in southwest Uganda, was held up as a model for social engineering and the creation of a new community that blended aspects of ‘traditional’ Uganda life with British modernity.  CMS missionaries structured aspects of life within this settlement to conform to this blended ideal, endeavoring to recreate ‘normal village life’ for Ugandan leprosy patients, only better.  Within this island settlement they had four villages, each represented in the council that governed the island’s inhabitants.  There were schools, brick houses, a hospital, church, shop, and policeman, cultivation plots, informal training programs, and a variety of social and leisure activities such as football, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and a brass band, all of which were visible symbols of Britain in Uganda.  This paper will use mission, government, and charity archive materials and journals from the UK and Uganda in order to explore the negotiation between Ugandan leprosy patients and British missionaries as a new community formed with and around the Lake Bunyonyi Leprosy settlement.