Tuesday, January 25, 2022
HomeHistoryTribe: the Baganda, Uganda’s Royal Kingdom, Past & Present

Tribe: the Baganda, Uganda’s Royal Kingdom, Past & Present

The 5.5 million Baganda are a Bantu-speaking people (singular Muganda; often referred to simply by the root word and adjective, Ganda) who make up the largest Ugandan ethnic group, representing approximately 20% of Uganda’s total 28 million population. They occupy the central part of Uganda which was formerly called the Buganda province.

Buganda, which means ‘bundles,’ is their subnational kingdom,  the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, spread out in the modern districts of Kampala, Mpigi, Mukono, Masaka, Kalangala, Kiboga, Rakai, Sembabule and Mubende.

             Traditional Baganda dancers          

Their language is referred to as Luganda and they refer to their customs as Kiganda customs. Sometimes the generic term Ganda is used for all the above.  Buganda is home to the nation’s political and commercial capital, Kampala; as well as the country’s main international airport, Entebbe.

‘Uganda’ (a Kiswahili word for ‘Land of the Ganda’) was the name used by the Arab and Swahili traders on the East African coast to refer to the Kingdom of Buganda.

                          A Baganda man in traditional costume  

These traders first arrived in Buganda in the mid-nineteenth century in search of slaves, ivory, as well as other merchandise. When the European colonialists eventually extended their hegemony over Buganda and the surrounding territories at the end of the nineteenth century, they used the Kiswahili term Uganda to refer to the new colony.

Uganda itself is a stunning country, lush and evergreen, and its temperate climate makes it a haven on earth. On a visit to the country in the 1940s, the late Winston Churchill was so captivated by its beauty that he called it the “Pearl of Africa”, a moniker that has stuck over the years.

Rubaga-hill in Kampala back in 1840′s was the capital of the Kingdom of Buganda. The name Kampala derives from an expression used by the Baganda known as “Kasozi Kampala” meaning “The Hill of the Impala” refering to the the Impala (slender antelope, similar to the gazelle) which was always seen on the Mengo hill (one of Kampala city’s seven hills) which has acted as the palace headquarters for the Buganda Kingdom since the early 1840s.

The Kingdom’s history of over 700 years, has had the Kabaka, as the supreme ruler and the Lukiiko as its Parliament. Buganda Kingdom is the oldest Kingdom in the country. Other kingdoms include Bunyoro, Busoga, and Tooro

The Baganda had a centralised system of government which by 1750 was the most well organised in the interlacustrine region. The head of the state was the king known as Kabaka. Previously the Bataka had a lot of political influence. They enjoyed a position almost similar to that of Kabaka.

However after 175O, the Kabaka assumed a position of political importance far superior to the ranks of the Bataka. The Kabaka’s position was hereditary but it was not confined to any one clan because the king would take the clan of his mother. The Kabaka used to marry from as many clans as possible and this encouraged loyalty to the throne in the sense that each of the fifty-two clans hoped that it would one day produce the king.

The current Kabaka/king (Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II) & Queen (Sylvia Nagginda) Of Buganda – Uganda

The other persons who occupied positions of political and social importance were: the Prime Minister known as the Katikkiro, the Mugema, the royal sister known as Nalinya, the Queen mother known as Namasole and the Naval and Army commanders referred to as Gabunga and Mujasi respectively.

The kingdom was divided into administrative units known as Amasaza (counties) which were further sub-divided into Amagombolola (sub-counties), and these were sub-divided into parishes called Emiruka which were subdivided into sub-parishes. The smallest unit was known as Bukungu which was more or less a village unit. All the chiefs at all levels were appointed by the Kabaka and they were directly responsible to him. He could appoint or dismiss any chief at will. After 1750, chieftainship was no longer hereditary. Chieftainship was accorded on clan basis but only to men of merit and distinguished service.

The Kabaka was a unifying factor of all the people of Buganda until 1966 when monarchy was abolished in Uganda. The Kabaka (Mutesa II) went into exile where he later died in 1969.

The photo above was taken at Lubaga Cathedral the day Kabaka Muteesa II returned from exile (17 Oct 1955).

The subsequent years of political turmoil and civil strife in Uganda, and particularly in the Buganda (1966 – 1986), led to the collapse of the infrastructure, social services and the decay of morals and values. Buganda, like many other areas that had traditional and cultural institutions, lost her Kingdom status as well as her cherished cultural development, guidance and leadership. Traditional values including hard work were seriously affected. This coupled with the brain drain that ensued, crippled the economy causing hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, crime, and despair among the majority of the society.

Origins of the Baganda people

A community in pre-colonial Buganda at war. Buganda was an arena of civil wars fuelled by political ambitions by religious sects and foreigners.

Buganda, like her neighbours, had a proud history extending back centuries before the arrival of the Arabs and Europeans. The ruling dynasty of kings was established in the mid-14th century AD. Unfortunately, the lack of a written history prior to the arrival of the Arabs and Europeans makes it difficult to establish important dates with precision. The first acknowledged king in this dynasty was called Kato Kintu. Since Kintu’s reign, there have been 36 kings including to the current King, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.

The region known today as Buganda was known as Muwaawa before the 12th century, a name literary seem to mean a place that is sparsely populated. It is believed that these people come from Abyssinia through the rift valley and the mountains of Elgon.

These people were organized into groups that had a common ancestry and constituted the most important unit in Buganda’s culture – the clan. The leader of each of these clans would be a chief and ruled a section of the territory. There were five original clans referred to as Banansangwa simply meaning the indigenous clans and they are: Ffumbe, Lugave, N’onge, Njaza and Nyonyi. These continued to expand, reaching upto 52 clans by 1966.

King Mutesa, the Kabaka of Buganda, who ruled from 1856 to 1884. Mutesa maintained Buganda’s power during three turbulent decades

Although these people spoke the same language and had the same culture, the clans were not entirely autonomous. There was no organized system of governance in the region but the clans were ruled over by The Bataka. There was no accepted general leader in the region but leadership passed on to whoever proved his might in the battle field.

Muwaawa become Buganda during the reign of Ssekabaka Kintu the first when he took over from Bemba. By this time, the head of the Ffumbe clan was called Buganda Ntege Walusimbi who had leadership over other clans. Walusimbi had several children including Makubuya, Kisitu, Wasswa Winyi, and Kato Kintu. When Walusimbi died, his son Makubuya replaced him as ruler. On his death, Makubuya in turn was replaced by his brother Kisitu as ruler. During Kisitu’s reign, a renegade prince called Bbemba came from the area of Kiziba in northern Tanzania today and established his camp at Naggalabi, Buddo from there he planned to fight Kisitu and replace him as ruler of Muwaawa. Bemba became so cruel and ruthless. When Bbemba attacked Kisitu, Kisitu became so intimidated and in his fear, he vowed to give his chair Ssemagulu to whoever would succeed in killing off Bemba whereby Ssemagulu was the symbol of authority. On hearing his brother’s vow, Kintu gathered some followers from among his brothers and some of the various clans and attacked Bemba.

     King Mutesa Mukabya of Uganda -The great ‘Kabaka’ who had 85 wives and fathered 96 children. (circa 1862)

Bemba was defeated in the ensuing battle and he was beheaded by one Nfudu of the Lugave clan. Nfudu quickly took Bbemba’s head to Kintu, who in turn took it to Kisitu. On seeing Bbemba’s head, Kisitu abdicated his throne in favor of Kintu with the words that “Kingship is earned in battle”. Despite his abdication, Kisitu wanted to retain leadership of the Ffumbe clan, so he told Kintu to start his own clan. He also told Kintu that the kingdom should be renamed Buganda in memory of their common ancestor Buganda Ntege Walusimbi. Thus the royal clan came into existence by separated from the Ffumbe clan. Kintu established a new system of governance in alliance with the other clan leaders. Although there is no written literature, the information has passed on from generation to generation in oral form and the above version has been widely accepted as the most viable version.

Kabaka Muteesa talks to his chiefs in the 1950s. Courtesy photos, Uganda a Picture History, Fountain Publishers

Kintu is also credited with bringing formal government to the region. When he came to the throne, he found the region disorganized with only five clans. He reorganised them and merged those people he came with and the people he found in the region. Together they formed thirteen clans.

Kintu then called for a general meeting for all the clan leaders who met at Magonga in Busujju on Nnono hill and formed a united government with Kintu as their leader. This meeting was of great historic significance for it was at this meeting that Buganda’s form of governance, and the relationship between the clans and the King was formally agreed upon. The agreement was not written down but it constituted an understanding between the clans that has been followed since then. In essence it set down Buganda’s Constitution.

One of Buganda’s greatest army commanders and chief, Semei Kakunguru and his wife Nakalema who was sister to Kabaka Mwanga.

On completing his victory, Kintu established his palace at Nnono. It is here that he appointed his first government and awarded chieftaincies to his prominent followers. For this reason, Nnono is one of the most important cultural and historical sites in Buganda.

King Mutesa II of Buganda

Buganda today

The Baganda had no King for over 27 years until 1993 when the current King of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II (son of Mutesa II) was restored as a cultural leader without political powers. The lineage of succession has not been broken for over 700 years.

Stuck with tradition: King  (Kabaka of Buganda) Ronnie and his wife, Queen Sylvia

The Kabaka, is held in high esteem and commands great respect and authority among the Baganda (and among all Ugandans). The King uses his authority to mobilize people for development to ensure that the people of Buganda are united and are engaged in hard and productive work to uplift their social and economic well being. The years after the restoration of Kabakaship have had significant impact on the unity and social economic development of Buganda. The long forgotten “Bulungi Bwansi” (self-help spirit) is slowly returning to the people because of the Kabaka’s encouragement.

Princess Sheillah Nvannungi of the Buganda kingdom,has even been featured on BBC’s ‘Undercover Princesses’ series where three princesses come to the UK and go undercover as ordinary people with the hope that they meet a man who will love them for who they are and not because they are royalty.

Baganda  Culture

When it comes to religion, the Baganda believed in superhuman spirits in the form of mizimu, misambwa and Balubaale. The Balubaale were believed to have been men whose exceptional attributes in life were carried over into death. The mizimu were believed to be ghosts of dead people for it was believed that only the body would die and rot but the soul would still exist as omuzimu (singular of mizimu). Such ghosts were believed to operate at the family level to haunt whoever the dead person had grudge with. If the mizimu entered natural objects, they were believed to become misambwa. At another level, the mizimu could become tribal figures and also be known as Balubaale.

The supreme being among the Baganda was the creator, Katonda, believed to have had neither children nor parents.The name, meaning creator of all things and Lord of Creation indicates that he was recognized to be superior to all, and was referred to as “the father of the gods.’ He was said to have created the heavens and the earth with all that they contain. Katonda was however, not believed to be very different from the other Balubaale. In fact he was believed to be one of the seventy-three Balubaale in Buganda. There were three temples for Katonda in Buganda and all of them were situated in Kyaggwe under the care of priests from the Njovu clan. However, little was known of this supreme god and he was not expected to intervene routinely in human affairs.

The clan system plays an important role in the social life of the Baganda.

i) The protection of the Ganda culture is in many ways incumbent on the clans. The general passing on of culture and tradition to the succeeding generations is a fundamental responsibility of the clans. The fear of shaming or letting down, not only the immediate family but, the whole clan is a very important motivation encouraging the individual Baganda to respect their culture.

ii) The sustenance of the kingship is made possible by the clan system. Traditionally, each clan had several roles to play in that respect. This was the case with every function surrounding the kingship right from his enthronement, housing, transportation, feeding, clothing, the palace maintenance, etc. Naturally, some of those responsibilities continue to be played by the clans but in more or less a symbolic manner.

ii) The social security provided by the clan particularly in times of bereavement and, that heart warming sense of belonging to a large family are inestimable services. iii) The general discipline underlying many of the dos and don’ts, the things we must do and those we must not do are embedded in the clan system. The key examples are the taboos surrounding the totem; but also the homage to be paid to the clan elders. For instance, final funeral rites must be performed within the clan circle, in accordance with the clan code and not simply within the immediate family. The awareness created by belonging to the clan system, lays useful basic foundations for the individual members for the acceptance of social discipline in the larger community.

Baganda Marriage, Costumes, Food and Dance

Although the Ganda (Baganda) have long regarded marriage as a central aspect of life, their marriage ceremonies have traditionally been relatively simple (save for those of the Kabaka ).The traditional term for marriage was jangu enfumbire (come cook for me). This symbolized the prevailing authority patterns in the typical household. In centuries past, the parents initiated marriage for their children by choosing spouses for them without so much as obtaining consent from the children. Over time, however, boys started choosing their own mates with the approval of parents, with due diligence to avoid courting relatives and people with undesirable family and social traits. 

A Baganda bride at her wedding

Baganda gentlemen in formal dress at a wedding – the indigenous dress of the Baganda man is a kanzu, a long, white cotton robe. On special occasions, it is worn over trousers with a Western-style suit jacket over it.

The rural Muganda (Baganda individual) woman typically wears a busuuti. This is a floor-length, brightly colored cloth dress with a square neckline and short, puffed sleeves. The garment is fastened with a sash placed just below the waist over the hips, and by two buttons on the left side of the neckline. Traditionally, the busuuti was strapless and made from bark-cloth. The busuuti is worn on all festive and ceremonial occasions. 

The staple food of the Baganda is matooke, a plantain (a tropical fruit in the banana family). It is steamed or boiled and commonly served with groundnut (peanut) sauce or meat soups. Sources of protein include eggs, fish, beans, groundnuts, beef, chicken, and goats, as well as termites and grasshoppers in season.

Baganda have three predominant dances; Bakisimba, Muwogola and Nankasa all inspired by their daily life. All Kiganda dances involve a flawless `circular’ movement of the waist and a tip toeing movement of the feet plus hands spread out from the shoulder joint but bent forward or up words at the elbow joint depending on the type of dance. The dance moves or patterns are dictated by the lyrics or song meaning but mostly by the tempo of the song.

In all, the Baganda are a very complex society and this post covers a tiny fraction of their rich history, belief systems and customs. The reality is that they are, even today, a people who are proud of their background, and they take every chance to practice their customs – from birth, initiation, marriage and even death, all under the leadership of their royal King, the Kabaka.

For more on the Baganda peolpe, visit the kingdom’s official website – http://www.buganda.or.ug/



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular