The story of Akampene Island on Lake Bunyonyi is one that has been told as a myth for the longest time; it’s an island that for very many years was a place where they girls that got pregnant before they got married were dumped off.
On Sunday 24, during the tenth Bayimba International Festival celebrations, courtesy of African Movie Night Kampala, Punishment Island, a documentary by Laura Cini about Akampene got its world premiere at the National Theatre.
Much as the documentary has been done and ready for showcase for some time, Cini allegedly delayed its premiere since it was her dream that it premieres in Uganda, and better, in the communities surrounding Lake Bunyonyi.
But when things didn’t move as planned, the premiere in Kampala was scheduled with appearances from Cini via Skype, as well as some locals that helped in the making.
The documentary takes on the persona of the island talking about the glorious days when it was treated like a god – with fine writing, Cini gives the island a female persona that in a sad voice reminisces of the green and life that filled the small island.
“But all this is gone,” the voice says.
Akampene has for the past years been endangered, with water levels at Lake Bunyonyi increasing by day, it’s possible that this island has a very short time before it finally submerges and thus its existence and stories being buried.
It is the fear of her story being buried with her that Cini uses to drive the storytelling in Punishment Island; from one shot to the next, Akampene is troubled and asking if there are survivors that can get her story told.
With the use of actors as well as a sketch artist, Cini’s film tries to give us a feel of how life must have been for girls that were abandoned on the island, with the accompanying voice we learn that in the twentieth century, girls that had been abandoned at Akampene either starved to death while others drowned while trying to leave.
All these girls had been deemed evil for getting pregnant before marriage and thus a possibility of shaming their families, in order to avoid the shame, the father or the older brother would sail the girl to Akampene in the wee hours of the morning and dump her there that by morning, they too can pretend that they had no idea where their daughter or sister was.
The film tracks down three women, Mauda, Jenerasi and Grace, survivors that were saved by some poor men that frequented the island in search of free brides they didn’t have to pay dowry.
Jenerasi was abandoned on the island when the practice was common use and witnessed women drowning themselves out of desperation, dying of starvation and others having miscarriages.
She reveals the way women were exposing themselves on the arrival of man in a canoe circumnavigating the island to choose the prettiest wife.
Mauda was probably one of the last women to be abandoned on Akampene was taken to the island as a lease for life.
She notes that after realizing that she was pregnant, she was badly beaten before being taken to Akampene to waste away, it’s probably because of the treatment that she had a miscarriage as she notes that the child from the pregnancy was never born.
Punishment Island thrives on a brilliant storytelling style that merges visual art and drama to drive the point home, her choice of respondents that go from survivors to church elders too add color and information to the whole film.
In collaboration with African Movie Night Kampala, Punishment Island will screen at a yet to be communicated location on Lake Bunyonyi this independence.
First Published in The Observer