Basoga Culture

The Basoga people live in the South east of Uganda and dwell in the area in between the Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga in the present day districts of Kamuli, Iganga and Jinja. Regarding the origins, the Basoga’s history is rather complicated than being clear. The Basoga are noted to have migrated from the north Katanga in the present day Democratic Republic of Congo between the 400 and 1000 AD. From 1250 and 1750, the migration and settlement of the Basoga was shaped by two (2) great cultural heroes namely Kintu and Mukama. The migrations and settlement around Lake Victoria are attached to Kintu who moved from the Mount Elgon area establishing the state in the areas near Lake Victoria before moving to the neighboring state Buganda in the west. The Basoga people also have an effect of the Luo migrations in the 1550 and 1700 period and these are associated with Mukama figure. Emanating from the east, Mukama moved west wards making a stop in Busoga where he produced several children before continuing to the state of Bunyoro. These migrations made Busoga to have various cultural zones with the area close to Lake Victoria dominated the Bantu and the north of Kyoga and the Mpologoma River dominated by the Luo.

Prior to the migrations of Kintu and mukama, the Basoga had considerable cultural cooperation and would cement this through inter-clan marriages and for over time it became a closer group living in harmony with the neighbors. The cultural relationships were also formulated though the traditional religious institutions that made Busoga to worship together. For example all people in Busoga would meet at the religious shrines built for the founding figures of Mukama and Kintu.

Also about the origins, there are three legends that attempt to explain the origin of the Basoga. The first one notes that there was a famous hunter called Mukuma who together with wife, two dogs and the followers came in from the east of Mount Elgon and passé through the present day Bugisu and Budama. The Mukuma had in possession eight (8) sons and during his stay in Busoga, he appointed them the rulers over varies provinces. Mukuma later proceeded to Bunyoro where he established a kingdom. He died of small pox a reason why the relatives of Mukuma do not look at a patient with small pox. Another legend noted that Mukuma only sent his sons to rule Busoga as there were no able leaders in Busoga.

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The last legend talks of Kintu who is also thought to have come in from the east of Mount Elgon. He left his sons in Busoga before continuing to the neighboring Buganda. However, he later returned to Busoga settled at a place called Buswikira at Igombe in Bunya. It is the same place where he was buried and his tomb later became a rock which is worshiped by the some Basoga even up to today.

Regarding he language the Basoga speak Lusoga and it closely related with Luganda especially that one spoken by the Islanders of Ssese. Also there are various dialects of the Lusoga language which is difficult to reach agreement on the best way pronounce certain words. For example in the north thy use H while in the south, they do not consider it as part of Lusoga.

Also the Basoga were influenced by the Luo who were rulers of Bunyoro Kingdom. The Basoga followed some of the Luo customs including the extraction of sixth teeth in the lower jaw as adulthood initiation which was common among the Alur of the West Nile and Kenya’s Jaluo. The extremes regarding death also resemble those of Luo.

Regarding the land ownership, the land belonged to a clan and Mutaka the clan head was responsible for it. The land could not be owned by another clan and the member who has been granted land by the clan head be stripped of it. The non-clan member would be given opportunity to cultivate crops as a tenant (Mugiha) and that land would be removed from him if any member of the clan really wanted it. The Basoga were settled agriculturalists and had plenty of food and cattle.

Regarding the death and burial rites, when the chief was sick, few counts of people would be allowed to come close to him. The death could be held in secrecy until his cattle, wives, hoes, ivory and male slaves had been secured. Early in the morning an announcement would be made by the funeral officer (Mujwa) and it was then that the chief’s wives, herd’s men and other people would weep and kissed the corpse. There was no work that would be carried out including cooking or visiting. If there were other ordinary people who had died, they would wait until the chief’s rites are done. It was considered a taboo for any cock to crow in that period and no individual shaved until the rites are over. The older Chief’s wives would be gathered and put in the death hut for 7 days supporting the chief’s boy cross their feet. They were not supposed to touch food of any sort. Regarding the actual burial, the chief would be buried in the hut of his first wife along with some objects and his body would be facing their place of origin. The grave of the chief was deep around 10 meters. Prior to the burial, the body of the corpse would be washed by all the wives and anew bark cloth would be hanged in the door way of the hut. The butter would be smeared on the corpse and a large colored bead would be tied around his neck. In the county of Bugabula, a flayed cow hide piece would be taken form a cow sacrificed to the dead and would be laid at the fore head of the corpse. Things like bracelets, beads, beads would be tied in the legs and the arms of the corpse. The body would then be taken to the burial hut by the Bwagwa and would be paced in the grave but no earth would be put yet. The bullock would be tied on the hut’s door way and offered to the dead chief. The function would be extended to inaugurate the heir to the throne.

 

Regarding the burial of a family head, the all children would kiss the corpse as hey wailed loudly. The cooking would be prohibited that day. The grave could be dug in his own hut, courtyard or the garden. At the time of burial, the heir would be appointed. In case of a childless man, if he was a young man would be treated like an old man and if he was unmarried or a widower or married without children, a broom would be placed on the grave and words would be aired out that go straight away and never return to the world, you the childless one.

Regarding religion, the Basoga believes in the existence of a spirit world and called the Supreme Being Lubaale. There were human agents who operated as agents of Lubaale, minor gods or ancestors. They believed in existence of gods and semi gods. Below the Lubaale, there existed Mukama who was the creator of all things, Jingo a public god that attended to needs of the people, Bilungo and Nawandyo the god of plagues. Other gods included; Kitaka, Semanda and Gasani.

Regarding the political setting, the Basoga were organized into chiefdoms and paid allegiance to the Bunyoro Kingdom and later Buganda. Upon the death no a chief, the King of Bunyoro could be the first to break the news and would send funeral bark cloth and the requirements for the burial rites. On a range of occasions, the King of Bunyoro would appoint the heir or at times send the chief’s son who used to be at the King’s court in Bunyoro. However, after the coming of the British colonialists, the chiefdoms of Busoga were amalgamated to form the Busoga Lukiiko which was first headed by Semei Kakunguku a Muganda British Collaborator. After the end of his tenure, the Basoga maintained the arrangement and the title of Isebantu Kyabazinga was born and eventual Busoga settled for a centralized monarchy that it enjoys up to today.