Who are the Bunyoro Kitaran and where do they come from?
According to the history of Bunyoro Kitara, Bunyoro-Kitara is a Bantu kingdom found in Western Uganda in East Africa. The Bantu were named so because of the word ”NTU” in their speech. Bunyoro Kingdom was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Central and East Africa from the 13th century to the 19th century. Bunyoro Kingdom is ruled by the King who is given the title of the Omukama in Runyoro. The current ruler of Bunyoro is Omukama Dr. Solomon Iguru Gafabusa and he is the 27th Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
The people of Bunyoro are also known as Nyoro or Banyoro. The language spoken is Nyoro, also known as Runyoro. In the past, the traditional economy revolved around big game hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and crocodiles. Today, the Banyoro are now agriculturalists who cultivate food crops such as bananas, millet, cassava, yams, maize, and rice. They also cultivate beans, groundnuts, peagonpeas, pumpkins, cabbage, and greens among others. The Banyoro also practice fishing as their income, generating activity and also food. Crops such as cotton, tobacco, coffee, sun floor, tea, and sugarcane. The people are primarily Christians.
In my interview with Bityo Poroti the retired soldier in Uganda Peoples Defence Forces aged aged 86 years says the kingdom of Bunyoro was established in the early 14th century by Rukidi-Mpuga after the dissolution of the Chwezi Empire. The founders of Bunyoro-Kitara were known as the Babiito. The Babito are the people who succeeded the Bachwezi.
Bityo Poroti adds that the kingdom was formed after the collapse of the Chwezi Empire. Later, new kingdoms arose in the Great Lakes area, such as Ankole, Mpororo, Buganda, Toro, Busoga, Bagisu (in present-day Kenya and Uganda), Rwanda, Burundi, and Bunyoro itself. The kingdom rose to power and controlled a number of the holiest shrines in the region, as well as the lucrative Kibiro saltworks of Lake Mwitanzige which later was renamed as Lake Albert by Samuel Baker a European who was seeking the sources of the Nile. Having the highest quality of metallurgy in the region made it one of the strongest economic and military powers in the Great Lakes region.
He adds that the kingship of Bunyoro is the most important institution in the kingdom. The king is patrilineal meaning that it is passed down through the male line. This tradition comes from a myth the Nyoro people tell. Once there were three sons of the Mukama, all having the same name. In order to name them, the Mukama asked God to help him. The boys must go through a series of tasks before being named. The three of them had to sit all night holding a pot of milk. Milk is a sacred drink used for important events. Whoever had all their milk still in the pot by morning would be king. Poroti in his story says the youngest son dropped the milk and begged his older brothers to give him some of theirs and they did. When morning came the eldest son dropped a little more. When God and the Mukama came to observe the pots, the eldest son was named after the peasants who are not fit for cattle herding since he had no milk left. The middle son was named after cattle herders and the youngest son was named Oukama and later Mukama or king for having the most. This myth shows the ways in which the Nyoro infuses religion and kingship together.
In my other interview with the information minister of Bunyoro Kitara Owek. Francis Mugerwa was about how Bunyoro declined and in his interview, he said Bunyoro began to decline in the late eighteenth century due to internal divisions. Buganda seized the Kooki and Buddu regions from Bunyoro at the end of the century. In the 1830s, the large province of Toro separated, claiming much of the lucrative salt works. To the south Rwanda and Ankole were both growing rapidly, taking over some of the smaller kingdoms that had been Bunyoro’s vassals.
Owek Francis Mugerwa adds that by the mid-nineteenth century, Bunyoro Kitara also known as Unyoro at the time was a far smaller state, though it was still wealthy due to the income generated from controlling the lucrative trade routes over Lake Victoria and linking to the coast of the Indian Ocean. In particular, Bunyoro benefited from the trade in ivory. Due to the volatile nature of the ivory trade, an armed struggle developed between the Baganda and the Banyoro. As a result, he says the capital was moved from Masindi to the less vulnerable Mparo in Hoima district. Following the death of Omakuma Kyebambe III, the region experienced a period of political instability where two kings ruled in a volatile political environment.
Mugerwa says in July 1890 an agreement was settled whereby the entire region north of Lake Victoria was given to Great Britain. In 1894 Great Britain declared the region its protectorate. In alliance with Buganda, King Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro resisted the efforts of Great Britain, aiming to take control of the kingdom. However, in 1899 Omukama Kabalega was captured and exiled to the Seychelles, and Bunyoro was subsequently annexed to the British Empire. Because of Bunyoro’s resistance to the British, a portion of the Bunyoro kingdom’s territory was given to Buganda and Toro.
The country was put under the governance of Buganda administrators. The Banyoro revolted in 1907 the revolt was put down, and relations improved somewhat. After the region remained loyal to Great Britain in World War I a new agreement was made in 1933 giving the region more autonomy. Bunyoro remains as one of the five constituent kingdoms of Uganda, along with Buganda, Busoga, Rwenzururu, and Tooro.
In his interview on the size of the kingdom, he added that in 1993 the Kingdom was re-established and in 1995 the new constitution of Uganda was made, allowing and recognizing the Kingdoms. The current Kingdom covers the districts of Buliisa District, Hoima district, Kibaale District, Kakumiro District, Kagadi District, Kiryandongo District, Kikuube District, and Masindi District.
Kingship in Bunyoro
In my interview with the prime minister of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Dr. Andrew Byakutaga in his communication, he says Kintu, his wife Kati, settled with their cattle and a white cow named (kitara). Kintu and Kati had three sons. The first son was called Kairu, the second son was called Kahuma and the third and youngest was called Kakama.
Dr. Andrew Byakutaga added that When Kintu had reached old age, he began to worry about the successor to the throne. He decided to set his sons a test to discover the ablest of them. He tried them in many ways. But one day he called them together and spoke thus:
Children, my death is near; but I would like you to do something for me and the one who does it best will be my successor. He will sit on my royal throne and will rule over his brothers.” In the first test, the boys had to select some items that were placed along a path where they would find them.
The prime minister said, for the first test, Potatoes, millet, a leather thong/strap, and an ox’s head were placed along the path, As the children walked, they found the things in the path, and the eldest son picked up the potatoes and millet, the second pick up the leather thong and the youngest, picked the ox’s head.
In the second test, the boys had to keep bowls of milk on their lap during the night until morning.
In the evening Kintu milked the cows and filled three bowls with milk. He summoned his sons and handed them the bowls with milk, saying: “If by morning all your bowls of milk are still full, I will divide my kingdom between the three of you. But If only one of you passes this test, he will be my successor and he will rule over you.” Having said this, he retired to sleep.
The sons remained in the sitting room, each with his bowl of milk on his lap. After a short time, Kakama, the youngest son, was overcome by sleep and spilled some of his milk. He wept. He begged his brothers to give him some of their milk with which to refill his bowl. His brothers took pity on him and granted his request. They did so because he was their youngest brother and they loved him dearly. Now all three brothers had the same amount of milk in their bowls.
At cockcrow, Kairu, the eldest son, was also overcome by sleep and spilled nearly all his milk. Kairu nevertheless retained his courage and, instead of grieving over his misfortune, shared the little milk he was left with his brothers. After some time, Kahuma, the second son, fell asleep and spilled a lot of his milk. In the morning their father came into the seating room and greeted them. Kairu was the first to report his failure. His father was not angry with him but teased him about his physical strength. Kahuma tried to explain to him his unsuccessful effort to save his own milk.
Again, his father was not angry with him but teased him about his bodily weakness. Then Kakama said to his father triumphantly: “Here is my milk, father.” His father was surprised and said: “The ruler is always born last.” But his elder brothers protested, saying that Kakama had been the first to spill his own milk and that they had been kind enough to give him some of theirs to fill his bowl. But their father only replied: “Since you have consented to give him some of your milk, you should also consent to be ruled by him.” On hearing this, the two brothers decided to recognize their young brother as their future king, partly because they were jealous of each other.
The oldest son was named Kairu, which means “little peasant” for he had shown that he knew nothing about the value of cattle or milk. He had spilled all his milk, and he had chosen potatoes and millet from the items along the path. He and all his descendants forever would be farmers and servants.
The second he named Kahuma which means (little herdsman), This is because he had chosen the leather thong/stap, used for tying up cattle, and only half of his milk was missing
The youngest son had all his milk. And he had chosen the head of an ox in the first test. Ruhanga named him Kakama, which means “little mukama.” A mukama is a ruler.
Then Kintu admonished his sons thus: “You, my child Kairu, never desert your young brother. Serve him well.” To Kahuma: “And you, my child, never desert your young brother also. Help him to look after the cattle and obey him.” And to Kakama [the successor]: “You have now become the eldest of your brothers. Love them and treat them well. Give them whatever they ask of you. Now that you are king, rule the kingdom well.” Sometime after this incident, Kintu vanished. People searched for him everywhere but in vain. It was therefore presumed that he must have disappeared into the underworld.
In my interview with one of the sub-county chiefs identified as Mr. Asiimwe Mukitale, he said that Omukama Nyamuhanga also ruled over many people, because during his reign there was further increase in population. He was greatly loved by his people. A long time elapsed before he could have a child. This happened after he had consulted a witch doctor, who advised him to marry a certain girl called Nyabagabe, the daughter of one of his servants called Igoro. Nyabagabe bore him a son, whom he named Nkya [meaning “Lucky”]. People were delighted at Nyabagabe’s good luck. They were glad that the daughter of a mere servant had married a king. Even today when something lucky happened to someone, people would comment: “That one must have been born at about the time Nyabagabe was in labor.” King Nyamuhanga is still remembered today by many people the chief responded.
Nkya also ruled over many people and was also loved by them. Like his father, he was barren for a long time. Like his father, too, he had to consult a witch doctor, as a result of which he begot a son, whom he declined to name. When questioned about his decision he replied that he saw no reason to give his son a different name from his, because both of them were born under similar circumstances. When Nkya, Junior, therefore succeeded his father he assumed the title of Nkya II. Nkya II was succeeded by Baba, and Nseka by Kudidi. Kudidi reigned for a very long time and died a very old man. He was succeeded by Ntonzi, who came to be known as “Ntonzi who ruled by the sword” because he put down rebellions in the country. Ntonzi was succeeded by Nyakahongerwa and Nyakahongerwa by Mukonko, his son. Mukonko’s reign lasted for a very long time and those who Iived under him were also to experience Bachwezi rule. Rutahinduka [“the one who never turns to look behind”], son of Mukonko, came to the throne already an old man [on account of his father’s long span of life]. He was nicknamed “Ngonzaki Rutahinduka” because he used to say to people who teased him about his father’s long life: “Ngonzaki [What do I need!].” He was a very rich man and did not feel that becoming king was particularly important to him. This was how he came to be called “Ngonzaki Rutahinduka.”
He had a son called Isaza Waraga Rugambanabato, who ascended the throne while still very young. Consequently, the young monarch continued to play around with his fellow young friends and hated old men. He did his best to harass them and even went as far as putting some of them to death. The frightened old men feared him and avoided him. The young monarch was therefore nicknamed “Rugambanabato [he who talks only with young people].” This nickname was to become his official title.
Relations Among Banyoro
Mrs. Babyesiza Rossette woman councilor from Buliisa district in my interview with her said Banyoro were traditionally a polygamous people when they could afford it. Many marriages did not last and it was quite common to be divorced. Due to this, Rossette said payment to the girl’s family was not normally given until after several years of marriage. She also adds that premarital sex was also very common.
All families were ruled by the eldest man of the family (called Nyineka), and the village was run by a specially elected elder who was chosen by all the elders in the village. He was known as a mukuru w’omugongo.
Birth in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom
A few months after birth, the baby would be given a name. This was normally done by a close relative, but the father always had the final say. Two names are given: a personal name, and a traditional Empaako name. The names were often related to specific features of the child, special circumstances in the birth of the child, or as a way to honor a former family member. Most of the names are actual words of the Nyoro language and some are etymologically Luo language words. The Empaako or Mpaako names include Okaali (for Kings only); Apuuli, Acaali, Araali, and Bbala (for males only) and Adyeeri, Abooki, Abwooli, Amooti, Ateenyi, Atwooki and Akiiki, which can be used for both males and females. (Stephen Rwagweri Atwooki, E. D. -Engabu za Tooro). (Mi pako or M’pako in Luo language, would mean of honour/in honour of, therefore, Empaako or Mpaako/Mpako is a title of Honour, even in Luo.
Death among Banyoro
Death was almost always believed to be the work of evil magic, ghosts, or similar. Gossiping was believed to magically affect or harm people. Death was viewed as being a real being. When a person died, the oldest woman of the household would clean the body, cut the hair and beard, and close the eyes of the departed. The body was left for viewing and the women and children were allowed to cry/weep, but the men were not. In case the dead was the head of the household, a mixture of grain (called ensigosigo) was put in his hand, and his children had to take a small part of the grain and eat it – thus passing on his (magical) powers.
After one or two days, the body would be wrapped in cloth and a series of rites would be carried out. The following rites are only for heads of the family:
The nephew must take down the central pole of the hut and throw it in the middle of the compound
The nephew would also take the bow and eating bowl of the departed and throw it with the pole
The fireplace in the hut would be extinguished
A banana plant from the family plantation and a pot of water was also added to the pile
The family rooster had to be caught and killed
The main bull of the family’s cattle had to be prevented from mating during the morning by castration
After four days of mourning, the bull would be killed and eaten, thus ending the period of mourning
The house of the departed would not be used again
The burial would not be done in the middle of the day, as it was considered dangerous for the sun to shine directly into the grave. As the body was carried to the grave the women were required to moderate their weeping, and it was forbidden to weep at the grave. Also, pregnant women were banned from participating in the funeral as it was believed the negative magical forces related to burial would be too strong for the unborn child to survive. After the burial, the family would cut some of their hair off and put it onto the grave. After the burial, all participants washed themselves thoroughly, as it was believed that the negative magical forces could harm crops.
If the departed had a grudge or other unfinished business with another family, his mouth and anus would be stuffed with clay, to prevent the ghost from haunting.
About the foundation of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom (administrative system in the past)
In an interview with the finance minister of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Owek. Robert Owagonza Abwooli, he noted that the Foundation is registered under the laws of Uganda. REG No: 80020002140688 by the Royal House of Babiito to preserve and promote the legacy of Omukama Chwa II Kabalega (June 18, 1853 – April 6, 1923), the ruler / Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom from 1870 to 1899, and a celebrated hero; national and Africa-wide who fought gallantly to preserve the Independence of his people against colonialism.
Owek. Robert Owagonza in his words he said that the Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara is one of the oldest Kingdoms in Africa. In addition, he said Kingdom wielded the strongest military and economic power in the Great Lakes Region between the 14th and 18th centuries.
And at that time the Kingdom covered much of the current Uganda, parts of Eastern Congo, Western Tanzania, Northern Kenya, and small parcels of Burundi and Rwanda.
The most powerful king and how he ruled the Kingdom.
Owek. Robert Owagonza says that in the 1880s, the British Colonial Officers, desperate for economic resources, waged war on the Kingdom.
The purpose was to weaken the authority, influence, and prestige of Omukama Yohana Cwa II Kabalega and destroy the only remaining independent and wealthy Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. Indeed, he added that King Kabalega, using his strong army named “Abarusura” and employing warfare tactics resisted, imperial colonization for over 15 years even when his aggressors had a superior military arsenal.
This imperial war occasioned heavy loss and suffering for the people of Bunyoro Kingdom. It is believed that by the end of this war, the population of Bunyoro was decimated from 2 million people to only 100,000.
The brave and Strong King Kabalega, upon betrayal by some of his compatriots, was shot, injured, and arrested on April 9th, 1899 by the invading colonial forces. The colonial government was wary of the fact that the king still enjoyed much support even in his current state and this was dangerous for their interests, hence chose to deport him, along with his Buganda Collaborator Kabaka Mwanga to Kismayu in Somalia from June 1899.
Kabalega while in Somalia continued to influence events in his kingdom, and it soon became too near and the British Colonialists wanted to further impose their rule without interference.
Owek. Robert Owangonza Abwooli in his speech said that after two years of exile (1901) in Somalia, the two kings were then deported to Seychelles, where Mwanga died two years later (1903). Omukama Kabalega lived on in exile up to 1923 when he was permitted by the British administration to return to his kingdom. On a chattered ship, he landed at Mombasa and would later move by train from Mombasa to Jinja district in Uganda where he made a stop to send communication to his kingdom of his return.
On April 5, 1923, Kabalega was visited by emissaries from the Bunyoro kingdom. However, it is at this point that he would shortly after die, aged 70 years before he could reach his kingdom. The hill at which he died would later become known as “Mpumwire / Mpumude” as this was his last word, meaning “I have rested”.
The Kingdom suffered another setback when cultural institutions were abolished by the Obote Government in 1966. However, cultural institutions in Uganda have since been restored; as of 1994, Bunyoro Kingdom has set course to full recovery Robert added.
However, with his people greatly decimated by the war fighting to defend their kingdom, and the subsequent marginalization with repressive policies for resistance against the colonial government by both the colonial government and post-colonial governments (partly due to unfavorable policies inherited), the finance minister said Bunyoro region remains with a lot of developmental challenges and needs for intervention and support in rebuilding its social economic and cultural systems towards recovery and regaining of its past glory.
Robert in his word he says “Through our programs focused on civic advocacy and engagement, cultural research and development, environment protection, education and life skills development, health, and sanitation, as well as community social-economic empowerment, we as Kabalega Foundation are championing this cause, in memory of the great king and hero Omukama Chwa II Kabalega”
Although Uganda is inhabited by a large variety of ethnic groups, a division is usually made between the “Nilotic North” and the “Bantu South.” Bantu speakers form the largest portion of Uganda’s population. Of these, the Nyoro and Ganda remain the largest single ethnic groups, constituting roughly one-sixth of the total national population. Other Bantu speakers are Soga, Gwere, Gisu, Nyole, Samia, Toro, Kiga, Nyankole, Amba, and Konjo. A sizable population of Rwanda (Banyarwanda) speakers, who had fled Rwanda in the late 1960s and early ’70s, also lived in Uganda until the mid-1990s.
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