"There are no
ordinary people..."
C. S. Lewis

Joseph Ssebanakitta

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weraba! (fare thee well) Joseph Ssebanakitta. Born September 19, 1941 to Sam Kasaato and Janet Najuka in Kitagobwa, Uganda, he died December 14, 2011 encircled by those he loved. Joe will be missed by Karen and Bakima Ssebanakitta of Bellingham WA, and brother Fred’s family of Kampala, Uganda.

Always adaptable and self-confident, Joe’s life journey spanned eras and oceans. After childhood in colonial East Africa, his US adventures began as a Russian Orthodox seminarian at Holy Trinity in Jordanville NY. He also sampled the classic immigrant life of NY City dishwashing and taxi driving. When the time came to resume an education, he chose Milwaukee for its Great Lake -- a reminder of his roots near Lake Victoria, the great lake of Africa.

Joe raised his first family in Milwaukee, where he later married Karen in 1982. They moved to the Northwest and Bakima - the light of his eye - made them a family.

Joe was equally proud of his roots as a Baganda of the Lungfish (mmamba) clan, and of his master’s degrees from U of O (go Ducks!) and OSU. He loved coins, cooking, the New York Times and observing nature, especially birds.

There will be an informal gathering for his burial at noon on the winter solstice (Wednesday December 21). Donations in Joe’s honor would be welcome at Whatcom Hospice Foundation or the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Integrated Cancer Center fund.

Webale (thank you) Joe for our wonderful life together.

The family would love to have you share your stories and memories of Joe below.

Guestbook Entries

Submitted by Carol Brumet on

I usually got to "catch up" with Joe when he came to the Cancer Center to see Karen. An encounter with Joe was always jovial and friendly and usually Karen would come in to remind Joe that I needed to get back to work - he loved to chat! A sweet and kind man. I know you will be missed by many! Rest in peace, my friend.

Submitted by Diana Parker on

Karen, I am so sorry to read this news. Joes memories will grow each day. Treasure them.

Submitted by Laura Hitz Heeringa on

My Aunt and Uncle, Jim and Veray Hitz, from Mt. Carroll knew your parents back in Illinois. I believe my cousin, Leonard stopped at the hospital to see you a few years back. I work in the CBC at St. joe's. I don't think we ever met each other back in Illinois, but I remember your parents. I want to say that I am truly sorry for your loss. Joe sounds like he is an extraordinary person. Hold your memories close. Take care.
Laura Heeringa

Submitted by Bill Freeman on

I never had a chance to meet your husband, but, from the "bio" here, I wish I had. We could have chatted about (among other things!) perhaps similar experiences -- his growing up in Uganda, my working alongside villagers of a small village in Ghana building a school they wanted in summer 1961. Plus, anyone who had the good judgment to marry such a dedicated, ethical, caring person that you are, ...! :-)
I, and all of us at the Northwest Indian College Institutional Review Board, wish you and Bakima to "Take good care."
You wrote "Weraba" (Thank you) in his language. In Lummi Language, that is "Hy'shqe siam!" :-)
Bill Freeman

Submitted by Andrea @ Aylin on

Joe was such a splendid person and always helpfull !
We will miss him !
We wish you the strength to carry you through
this sad time. You are always in our mind - take care
Andrea and Aylin

Submitted by Charles and Jan... on

Bakima, our thoughts are wish you at this sad time! Karen, we don't know you or Joe but you must be special people to have such a dear daughter.

Submitted by Kathleen and Rolan on

Our thoughts are with you both today and wishing Joe a safe passage of peace. Joe you are a beautiful soul and our lives have been made richer knowing you. We do know that Bakima was truely Joe's treasure. I hope you focus on all the wonderful memories. Love, Kathleen and Rolan

Submitted by Barbara Hahn-Künitz on

We allways will remember the wonderfull salmon joe cooked for us when we stayed
with you some summers below. And we will also nevere forget your standing with us in
Berlin. When we are talking about Joe with our neihtbors,they remember him as

"My name is JoeAngenehm"
I think, we will miss him.

Submitted by Cindy Brinn on

Dear Karen and Bakima,
I will remember Joe for his wonderful smile, great conversations and compassionate heart. What an incredible life he led . . .Uganda, New York and Bellingham. He was determined, disciplined and I know he loved to walk and think. I amo so so sorry for your loss. May your warm memories of him always bring you hope and comfort. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Love, Cindy

Submitted by Mom on

Dearest Daughter Bakima, I think we will always remember the beautiful glow of sunlight reflected from the kanzu Dad wore in the casket. It was a ceremonial kanzu from your cousin Marjorie's marriage introduction ceremony. That rare noon sun of the winter solstice during his burial felt to me like the Universe reminding us of its enveloping love that is always present. I posted this as a tribute to the Buganda traditions that are part of the proud heritage you share with Dad: "A kanzu is a white or cream colored robe worn by men in East African countries. The men of Buganda in Uganda consider it their most important dress. Kanzu is a Ganda word of Swahili origin, which means robe, tunic. The Kiganda/Ugandan kanzu was introduced to the Buganda Kingdom by Arab traders.[2] Kabaka Ssuuna was the first Kabaka of Buganda to wear the kanzu. After the Kabaka adopted the attire it became the formal wear of all Baganda men. The kanzu spread from the Baganda people to other ethnicities and is a national costume of Baganda men. Originally, the kanzu was made from barkcloth. Today the kanzu is made from silk, cotton, poplin, or linen. Linen kanzus are the most expensive. The traditional kanzu has maroon embroidery around the collar, abdomen, and sleeves. The embroidery is called the omulela. The kanzu is worn at wedding ceremonies during the introduction, also known as the Kwanjula. During the Kwanjula the groom's family is required to appear dressed in kanzu and they must also present a kanzu to the bride's family." (from wikipedia)

Submitted by Mom on

Dear Daughter, Your heritage is truly ancient. Lineage and family were always important to your Dad. I learned this about your Lungfish Clan while preparing for Dad's burial:

The Mmamba (Lungfish) Clan (from m.e.ssemakula@wayne.edu)

The people of Buganda are referred to as Baganda (the singular form is Muganda), their language is referred to as Luganda, and they refer to their customs as Kiganda customs.

Buganda's clan system is central to its culture. A clan represents a group of people who can trace their lineage to a common ancestor in some distant past. In the customs of Buganda, lineage is passed down along patrilineal lines. The clan essentially forms a large extended family and all members of a given clan regard each other as brothers and sisters regardless of how far removed from one another in terms of actual blood ties. The Baganda took great care to trace their ancestry through this clan structure. A formal introduction of a muganda includes his own names, the names of his father and paternal grandfather, as well as a description of the family's lineage within the clan that it belongs to. The clan has a hierarchical structure with the clan leader at the top (owakasolya), followed by successive subdivisions called the ssiga, mutuba, lunyiriri and finally at the bottom the individual family unit (enju). Every Muganda was required to know where he falls within each of these subdivisions and anyone who could not relate his ancestry fully was suspect of not being a true Muganda.

After the coronation of Kabaka Mutebi II in 1993, a survey of the clans was carried out to establish definitively the number of clans, corresponding clan heads, and all other positions of authority within each clan. 46 clans are officially recognised by His Majesty's government as constituting the clans of Buganda, as of August 1996. Oral history has always maintained that there are 52 clans in Buganda. This anomaly may be because some clans have not been able to establish their claims legitimately, or possibly that some clans may have died out, with no heirs to carry on the clan heritage.

It is a curious fact that the clans are not known by the names of the respective clan founders. Instead, totems were adopted by the clans, and the names of those totems came to be synonymous with the clans themselves. Each clan has a main totem (omuziro) and a secondary totem (akabbiro). The clan is a matter of genealogy and it is through the clan that the baganda trace their ancestry. A totem on the other hand, is just a symbol to represent the clan. In the west, a totem would be similar to a court of arms.

There's lots more at http://www.buganda.com/buganda.htm

Submitted by Maggie Friedenbach on

Dear Karen and Family, Although I did not know Joe, reading his life history made me feel as though I had met him. It seems he was a remarkable person. I am sorry for your loss. Maggie

Submitted by Sue Walker on

I never had the honor of meeting Joe yet I knew he was a kind, loving person from how Karen spoke of him. If we could all be surrounded by the love and compassion as your family has been, this world would know deep joy.
Meta (loving-kindness),

Submitted by Kathy Friedenba... on

Dear Karen and Bakima, so sorry to learn of Joe's passing. It seems my life is less rich since I never had the honor or opportunity to meet him. What an interesting man he must have been. I hope your memories give you warmth and comfort. Kathy

Submitted by Kasaato Samuel on

I never had the honor of talking to my paternal uncle yet hear has was a kind person.may his soul rest in peace.

Submitted by christine kasaato on

Dear Aunt Karen and cousin Bakima,
Life is too short to have taken a dad,a husband and an uncle. Never met him but I know he was very kind. I will truly miss him. May God help and guide you in whatever you do.

Submitted by Karen Ssebanakitta on

Hi Laura, I'm sorry I let so much time slip by without response. It was wonderful to receive your message, it shows the truth of the "degrees of connection" in this life. The entire Hitz family was one of the most awesome and favorite in our lives back in our Savanna days. Even though we don't remember meeting each other then, I'm sure we were together at one of their huge Thanksgiving gatherings where the entire county seemed to show up. Do you know if Lenny is still over on the Penninsula? We visited Forks a couple years ago and thought of him but couldn't find a listing for him. Anyway...here we are today both landed at PeaceHealth. My first nursing job in Indianapolis was in childbirth. I loved it, hope you are loving it too. Thanks again for your kind message, it warmed my heart.

Submitted by Karen Ssebanakitta on

Dear Aylin, Joe loved the rare chances we had to spend time with you, and would have been extremely proud to hear (as I am!) of your recent graduation. Great job. What next? Thinking of you and wishing you all the best.

Submitted by Karen on

Hi Maggie, it is so nice of you to send a message. We are making lots of adjustments around here, but it's all going to be OK. You are right, Joe was a remarkable person and I feel so fortunate to have shared such a large part of his life. And to still have his beautiful daughter with me. Life is good. Greetings to your family. Someday I'll get back to Savanna again, still remember that wonderful breakfast with all of you!

Submitted by Karen on

Dear Kathy, thanks for your sweet message. You & Joe would have enjoyed each other. I always looked up to you so much when I was a child. One of my favorite pictures has always been you and me sitting on the front steps at your neighbors' house (the Johns I think). Many miles are between us now that we're both adults, but it was sure great to meet you again a few years ago and hear about your passionate work in advocacy. Hope all is well, and that there will be another chance to see you and get better acquainted. Thanks again for writing.

Submitted by Astrid, Werner,... on

Liebe Karen und Bakima,
nie werden wir Jo vergessen. Es war unendlich interessant, wenn er uns über sein Leben in Afrika erzählt hat. Mit Jo konnte man einfach gut über alles diskutieren. Auch die gemeinsamen Spaziergänge in und um Bellingham, bei dene er über seine Beobachtungen der Vögel berichtete, werden uns immer in Erinnerung bleiben. Es war einfach toll, dass Ihr uns in Schortens /Friesland und in Alamogordo, New Mexico besucht habt. Es war eine sehr schöne Zeit. Wir werden immer an ihn denken. Euch Karen und Bakima wünschen wir trotz der schweren Zeit alles Gute für die Zukunft.

Joe is one of the most wonderful people I have ever had to pleasure of being friends with. He helped many of us on our difficult paths. God speed!

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