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Sounding the drums of change

Reid Williams

KEYSTONE – His name is Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV, but you may call him “your majesty.”

King Oyo of Uganda and his royal entourage, including the queen mother and the kingdom’s prime minister, visited Keystone Resort Saturday and met with Ute Indian representatives from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah. The Ute contingent included drummers, dancers, a teacher and James Martinez, who carried the Olympic torch through Aspen. Ugandans living in Denver and representatives of the International Olympic Committee, along with donations from Keystone and the Four Points Sheraton in Silverthorne, made the cultural exchange possible.

Former U.S. Olympic Team skier Suzy Chaffee took the groups to the top of Keystone Mountain for a skiing lesson – “the first inter-tribal ski exchange in the world,” she said. The Utes later performed traditional drum songs and dances for the group, the same arts some of them shared with the world as part of the Olympic opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City in February.

“In order to ensure a sustainable future for the Olympics, we must include indigenous peoples,” Chaffee said in introducing the Indian performers. “We hope that by bridging these cultural barriers, we can spread the Olympic spirit and create opportunities for all people.”

The king’s regent, or spokesman, Monsignor Thomas Kisembo, said the skiing experience was perfect for the king. After all, he is an adventuresome 10-year-old. Kisembo said his majesty “wants to be a boy like any other” – his favorite day on the trip so far was the one he spent inside watching television – and away from the public pressures of being a king. The two love to wrestle.

“But skiing is not for me, I think,” Kisembo said. “His bones are much younger, and mine I do not think would heal.”

The Ugandans said they found Keystone’s climate quite cold, but they were all smiles at the end of the lesson. Kisembo asked the king, always closely followed by his family, if he enjoyed the experience and translated the answer.

“He said he enjoyed it very much,” Kisembo said. The king’s smile broadened when the ski instructors tossed him a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Despite a separation of thousands of miles and distinctly different cultures, the Indians and Africans found they shared common bonds. Loya Cesspooch, a Ute elementary teacher and leader of the Northern Ute Dancers, said her students’ performance is their way of showing they love their culture and its traditions.

“Like you, god and nature come together and are very important in our lives,” Cesspooch said. “The drum is sacred to us: its circle represents the earth and it is the heartbeat of our lives. The songs we sing are prayers to the Creator, and we are proud to share them with you.”

Cesspooch presented King Oyo with a traditional headdress of feathers and beads. She hugged the king and gave him a new title, King of Peace. In return, Uganda Tooro Kingdom Prime Minister Stephen Nyabongo gave the Utes an African drum and told them to sing and play it when they are happy to remember Saturday’s encounter.

“We feel touched by hearing the sound of the drum,” Nyabongo said. “We have opened our visit with a blessing and this has opened our mind.”

The Ugandans departed for Denver to continue with a fundraising tour. The group is raising money for a children’s hospital in their home country, to which they will return May 4. The Ute dancers and musicians perform around the West to share their culture and history.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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