The pink elephant represents Elephante in so many ways. It cannot be denied how much it means to the Acholi people, but we can't take much credit for coming up with the symbol ourselves. The truth is the pink elephant found us.
The ACHOLI Elephant
When the British colonized Acholiland, they needed something to identify the tribes (as if their original tribe names wouldn't suffice) so they gave each tribe an animal totem to represent them. Guess which animal the Acholi people were given?
Even though we don't agree with the origin of the totem, the Acholi people have been proud to adopt this identity because elephants have always symbolized strength, peace, unity, and family. Our favorite explanation for the elephant is they are gentle and peaceful...until they have to be fierce.
Elephante is a completely made up word, not to be confused with "elefante" in Spanish or Italian. The name was introduced in 2015 when the cafe first opened. This was on the heels of a very debatable corrupt election in the country, and the we decided the staff should be voting on the name.
Four names were given by me, Brit, an American who was still quite new to Uganda. One was politely thrown out because the very innocent American name turned out to be quite inappropriate when translated into this culture. Then the staff were called to vote on the remaining three.
It was a completely unanimous vote. Every single person voted for the name Elephante.
When it came time to evolve into the much bigger vision that is Elephante today, we discussed changing the name but it was quickly silenced by the adamant staff voices who refused to believe a better name could ever be created.
The Pink Elephant
It wasn't until the moment this photo was taken when I remembered a discussion early in my time here. A friend of ours was teaching an art class and she came home completely discouraged because a child had tried to draw a pink elephant, but a co-worker shamed him for it because "everyone knows elephants aren't pink."
The Acholi people are not against art and creativity. This is, however, a common side effect of an area that has been struggling with war and poverty for as long as they have. When you operate in survival mode, one of the first things to dissipate is innovation and creativity. In order to survive, you stick to what you know. Anything outside of that is seen as a risk, including pink elephants.
Acholiland is quite different than it was in 2015, and we're starting to see more and more innovators and outside-the-box thinkers who are pushing Gulu into a new era...a great one. Our partners are constantly challenging the status-quo, each creating their own pink elephant and proudly sharing it with their community.
Ironically, we didn't ask Vava and Myron to paint a pink elephant. We just gave them a blank canvas, and Vava said he wanted to paint Elephante. We are so blessed by his insightful spirit that was able to capture what we stand for so perfectly.
It seems only fitting that the symbol of Elephante would represent the proud and deep roots that are uniquely Acholi, but something that is transformed into something new, something better.
Our logo didn't come into the picture until we reopened as a community center. Our geometric shape symbolizes everyone at Elephante as one important piece to the whole picture, each doing their part to rebuild Gulu and lead it into a brighter future.
Maybe our logo will never be as iconic as the Nike swoosh, but we are so proud to see it every day, and to continue to live up to everything it represents.