USING VIRTUAL REALITY TO PRESERVE CULTURE
Elsie Nantaba Brenda, team lead of the Enju Heritage Project, aims to bridge the generational gap by preserving Ugandan culture through virtual reality, storytelling, and 3D technology. As a pioneering force, the Enju Heritage Project showcases the potential of technology in preserving and celebrating tradition.
Moslih Eddin Saadi once remarked, “A traveller without observation is like a bird without wings.” Elsie Nantaba Brenda is the team lead and project manager of Najuma’s House Limited. She got the idea of preserving culture through virtual reality, storytelling, and 3D, based on an observation during a trip to Nairobi in July last year. She was filled with questions when she discovered that Sarit Centre, the city’s oldest shopping mall, was celebrating its 40th anniversary, yet it appeared new.
The project launch
On her return to Uganda, she started working on executing the “Enju Heritage Project” under Najuma’s House Limited. Its goal is to research and document Ugandan heritage, preserve culture, and promote tourism through 3D virtual reality storytelling. During the project launch, her tone revealed her disappointment about how present-day generations have become disconnected from their past. “But just that juxtaposition of the new building, new elevators, freshly painted walls …yet, 40 years ago is not a short while,” she dismayed.
Nevertheless, she spoke with so much enthusiasm and desire that her eyes lit up when she talked about the need to preserve our culture and bring Africa back—as the “Enju Heritage” slogan highlights. In many Ugandan-Bantu languages, “Enju” means “house” or “home.” The philosophy behind this is that buildings hold stories, and storytelling forms the foundation of African education and heritage.
According to Nantaba, there is a criterion. They seek for the oldest buildings in Uganda. Through interactions with these sites and the people whose lives have intertwined with them, history is brought to life using the Enju Virtual Reality app and similar features found on the Najuma House Limited website.
During this project’s execution, Nantaba worked as the environment designer alongside a team of four: Robinah Babirye and Eva Nakato, who helped with the event’s preparation, and Emmanuel Rukundo and Collins Mumbere with the application’s creation. The team designed and split the application into three scenes of the Buganda Kingdom, which were showcased during the Enju Heritage launch.
Two lion sculptures stand opposite each other on both sides of the entrance to the palace. A bamboo fence can be seen all around as the video starts. A palm tree is seen in the distance. You can feel the serene nature that comes with the green. One can see a road leading to a magnificent white building that stands prominently in the middle background—the Kabaka’s Palace (I could not seem to take my eyes off it).
With traditional songs playing in the background, Eva Nakato’s voice reflectively narrates a story, capturing you excitedly and at once. “Haa! We used to dance! The stories from the Buganda Kingdom are colourful,” she starts. She beautifully elucidates the origin of how some names in Buganda Kingdom came into existence. She amazingly paints the Kabaka’s love for his people, his home, and the extent to which he could go to protect this land. Nakato then drives the narration into the most joyous and sadly, tragic days of the Kingdom.
A gloomy sky full of stars and a long, dark walkway leads to dark chambers—Amin’s torture chambers come into focus. A flashlight is used in the scene. “We are conditioned towards greed,” Nakato’s sombre voice is heard. A sense of fear permeates the atmosphere as she narrates mixing anger, terror, and anguish as the flashlight hits the walls. Blood, mud, human waste, and sad memories are etched on the walls as premonitions left by those who were incarcerated and tortured here, literally sending messages and screaming for help.
Nakato explicitly paints loss, greed, and betrayal among Africans for their own selfish needs. There is a pain in her narration as she highlights a dark period in the kingdom. “Is it not strange when people decide to turn against their own? My heart bleeds for the people that never got a choice,’’ she says in a shaky voice.