Bunyoro Culture

The Banyoro people are living in the west of Uganda in the present day districts of Masindi, Hoima and Kibale. They are Bantu speaking community and just like the other Bantu community; they are known to have migrated from Congo.

The Banyoro belong to the centralized Monarchical Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara and are organized under their King with the tittle Omukama. The Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara is a remainder of the Bunyoro Kitara Empire which consisted of a broad expanse of the great lakes region including the parts of western Kenya, Eastern Congo and northern Tanzania and the present day Hoima, Masindi, Kasese, Kabarole and Kibale districts. The greater Kingdom was brought to a reduced figure that it stands today by the colonial forces after the fierce battle that occurred between the King Kabalega and the British colonial forces. King Kabalega was captured on 9th April 1899 and put to exile in Seychelles Islands. Following the capture of Kabalega, Bunyoro was left weakened socially, military and economically which affected their strength.

The present day Kingdom came into existence following the collapse of the Kitara Empire in the 16th Century. The initial founders are known to have been the Batembuzi who were later succeeded by the Bachwezi. At the helm of its expansion, the Kingdom extended to the area between Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and Lake Edward.

Bunyoro controlled the major holy shrines in the region and the lucrative Kibiro Salt Gardens on the shores of Lake Albert which has got high quality metallurgy in the region making a strong military Kingdom which was also economically empowered. Towards the ends of eighteenth century, the Kingdom began to collapse as a result of internal divisions. The Counties of Kooki and Budu were seized by Buganda, Toro departed in the 1830s while in the south Ankole and Rwanda were growing at a faster rate. After the death of King (Omukama) Kyebambe II, the period of instability followed and with the coming of the British colonialists and the fall of King Kabalega in 1899, Bunyoro was put under the governance of Buganda administrators. This was rejected by the Banyoro and in 1907, they revolted and in 1934 an agreement was signed with the British giving the Bunyoro back its autonomy.

Regarding the traditions, the Banyoro were polygamous people so long as one afforded it. It was a bit common to divorce and as thus marriages could not last. Bride Wealth payment was not so important and would be paid after several years in marriage. Premarital sex among the Banyoro was so common. The family had a head named Nyineka and the village would be led by an elected elder chosen by the elders of the village and he would be referred to as Omukuru w’ omugongo.

Regarding Birth, the bay would be named after a few months following his / her birth. The naming was always done by a close relative but the father would have the final say on the name to given to his child. Two names would be given and these included; a personal name and a tradition Mpako name. The name would at time be relating to the features of the child, circumstances surrounding the birth of the child or an ancestral name.

These pet names (Empaako) were used for greeting each other among the Banyoro and a re known to have been of Luo orign. They are eleven pet names with the twelth resrved for the King (Okali) tough it was not all that considered as empaako. The exact Empaako include; Adyeli, Abwoli, Araali, Atwooki, Akiiki, Abwoki, Bala, Apuuli and Acaali not firgetting the Amooti and Atenyi. During the greeting, when the greeting people were relatives, the young would sit on the laps of the old and among the Babito, the young would touch the elders chin with the fingers of the right hand following the greeting. The guests would be treated to coffee berries for chewing which were always kept in a small basket. After this, a tobacco pipe would be offered for those smoking.

The greeting of the King was different. The King if in his palace would sit in a certain advertised place a given time to enable his subjects that wanted to see him to come. The procedures for addressing the King could vary and there were more over 20 ways through which the King would be addressed at different times of the day. The women could kneel down and greet the King in a normal way and he would respond to them verbally.

bunyoro king

Regarding death, the Banyoro believed that death was a cause of the ghosts, evil magic among other things. The gossip was believed among the Banyoro to have a magical effect or harm the people. When the person passed away, the oldest woman in the family would do the body cleaning, hair and beard cutting and then close the eyes of the deceased. The body would then be left for the public to see the person for last time and the women and children were allowed to weep/cry but the men were not supposed to. If the dead was the family head, a mixture of grain ensigosigo would be out in his hand and his children would take a small part of the grain and eat it to pass on his magical powers. Following two days of mourning the body would be wrapped in a cloth a range of rites would be conducted and these rites were for the head of the family; For a man, the wrapping would be done in front of the house but for a woman, it would be done inside the house.

The nephew would 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 the eating bowl of the deceased and throw it along with the pole. The fire place in the hut would be extinguished, the banana plant from the plantation of the family and a pot of water would be added on the pile, the family rooster had to be caught and put to death, the main bull of the family herd of cattle had to be prevented from mating and would be slaughtered and eaten through put the four days of mourning, the house of the departed would not be put to use again.   This bull would be slaughtered after four days and eaten.

The burial would be conducted in the morning or afternoon but not midday as it was believed to dangerous for the sun to shine direct in the grave, the women were required to minimize on their weeping as he body was being carried to the grave as it was forbidden to weep on the grave. The pregnant women would be barred from participating in the funeral as it was thought that negative forces of magic related to the burial would be too strong for the unborn child to survive. Following the burial, the family would shave off the hair and put it onto the grave and also all burial participants would wash themselves entirely as it was thought that negative forces of magic could harm the crops. If the deceased has a grudge with the living, the mouth and the anus would be sealed with clay to prevent the ghost from haunting the living.

Regarding the economy, the Banyoro carried out hunting especially big game hunting but apparently, they are more into crop cultivation including millet, cassava, bananas, cotton, yam, tobacco, coffee among others. With the coming of the foreign religion, the Banyoro are largely Christians.

bunyoro hunter

Regarding the political set up, the Banyoro had a King on top and ruled a hereditary monarchy. He was helped by chiefs that governed provinces and the council of the notables. The King was the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces and the provincial chief was the commander of the military unit attached in his province. The chief would send his favorite son the King’s court as a sign of allegiance. The leadership in Bunyoro was not restricted to men only. For example, the Nyakauma and Kogire the rulers of Busongora were women. King was assisted by a council of advisors locally referred to as Abajwara Nkondo (crown wearers made out of monkey skins). The Kingdom had a leadership school in Mwenge and the chiefs had to go through it. The Prime Minister was also of great importance in the Bunyoro Kingdom, the physician of the Baruli Clan, Kasoira Nyamumara of the Batwaire clan and a leading Mubitto were also notable people in the Kingdom.

Regarding the festivities, Bunyoro had the Empaango Ceremony which commemorated the new moon. The people would father at the Kings palace dancing the music played by local bands all jubilating for the Kin to have lived to see a new moon. The annual jubilation could extend to nine (9) days and would be celebrated at the Kings Mother enclosure. It used to take place in the dry season of December and January.