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Kingdom of Buganda: Uganda’s 1000 year old Kingdom

A fallacy about African history is often repeated that political institutions were introduced by either Europeans or Arabs. With one 1,000 year old kingdom still in existence, we demonstrate that African stories are available to turn into documentaries, education and entertainment material from the Kingdom of Buganda.

The modern structure of kingdom of Buganda was founded in East Africa during the 12th to 14th century. The population consists of the Bantu speaking people of Ganda. Migrations into the region came in waves from Northeast Africa and the Niger-Congo. The kingdom stretches in the form of a broad arc around the northern coastline of Lake Victoria in the south-central region of present-day Uganda. It comprises somewhat more than one-fourth of the total land of Uganda. The mighty kingdom of Buganda was unified under the leadership of Kato Kintu, and till date, it has been ruled by 36 Kabakas-the Kings. The kingdom spread over many clans, and people spoke many languages. The state language though was Luganda. In modern times, this has become as important as English.

buganda - Kabaka_Palace_in_Kampala
The Kabaka Palace in Kampala, Uganda

At present, the kingdom covers an area of approximately 61,403 square kilometers. Starting from the 14th century, the glory of kingdom reached at the peak, during the period of 18th and 19th century. After this period, following the European invasion of African territories, the kingdom had to face many rough patches. It was even abolished in 1966, after Uganda’s independence from Britain, it was re-established in 1993 and to date, it is an important principality of present-day Uganda, representing 16.9% of its population.

Origin and History

The ancient name of Buganda was Muwaawa, meaning a sparsely populated place. The people of this area are believed to have their roots in Abyssinia. The ancient region of Muwaawa constituted a clan-based system with no organized governance. There was no overall generally recognized leader of the region, but the leadership used to pass on anyone who could prove his might in the battlefield. Sometimes, there could be more than one leader in the same area.

Prior to the arrival of the first Kabaka, various leaders had their own periods of dominance, including the following: Sseguku, Buwumpya, Bukokoma, Bukulu, Bandi, Beene, Ggulu, Kyebagaba, Muyizzi, Bukuku, Bukadde-Magezi, Nakirembeka, Tonda, Maganda, Mukama, and Bemba. This stretches the age of the political structure of Buganda back to 400 AD.

During the reign of Kato Kintu-the first, Muwaawa became the unified kingdom of Buganda in the 14th century. He established a new system of centralized governance in association with the other clans. The region was disorganized having only 5 clans. He reordered them and framed a combined kingdom of 13 clans merging the people he found in the region and the people he came with.

maparchive - Africa, Culture and Trade 1500–1800

Buganda became one of the most influential states in East Africa during the period of 18th and 19th centuries. Between 1881 and 1914, European powers invaded, divided and occupied the African territory. The kingdom made many attempts to hold its independent status against the British Empire, but all in vain. As a result, a Uganda protectorate was formulated under the British Empire, and Buganda became its centre in 1894.

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Buganda boundaries, 1911

Uganda managed to get independence in 1962, and after four years, in 1966, the kingdom was abolished by the first prime minister of Uganda. Following many years of problems and disturbances, the kingdom was finally restored officially, in 1993. Buganda, at present, is an empire within Uganda having a great degree of autonomy from the state government.

Buganda_(map).png
Buganda boundaries, 2018

From the time of restoration to date, Muwenda Mutebi II has been the Kabaka of Buganda. He is known as the 36th Kabaka of the kingdom.

The 36 Kings of Buganda

Religion in The Kingdom of Buganda

The ancient people of Buganda used to believe in a religion which was based on the spirit world. The spirit world dwellers of the religion were considered to exist on three major levels. At the top was a supreme creator, Katonda. At the second level was Lubaale, humans having exceptional powers and they were more like the Saints of in Christianity and at the third level were Mizimu, the departed spirits. The river of Nile was considered most sacred for the people.

In the second half of the 19th century, most of the Buganda inhabitants were practicing a native religion, known as “The Balubaalecult.” It was based on the concept of different gods with temples associated with them. Each of them was known to be related to some definite problems. For example, there was a, a god of warfare, god of fertility and a god of the water.

Most people in present-day Buganda are followers of Christianity, having an equal proportion between Protestant and Catholics. Approximately, 15 percent of them is Muslims. Most of them still believe in spiritual powers, especially the witches, which are supposed to be the reason behind misfortune and illness. Regardless of the religion, they are following, most of the inhabitants of Buganda are incredibly religious. The constitution of the country provides complete freedom to practice any religion. Although Christianity is predominant, there is complete freedom of worship.

Administration in The Buganda Kingdom

From the beginning till date, the Buganda kingdom is based on a centralized system of governance with the Kabaka – the King – as its nominal head having all the absolute powers. The spiritual symbol of the king are the Royal Drums, called the Mujaguzo.

The title of the Kabaka is entirely hereditary as the king takes over the clan of his biological father. It is a misconception that the title of Kabaka was matrilineal. Many sources claim that the king of Buganda takes his clan from his mother or in other words, the nephew of a king will become king, but these claims are not true. All the Kabaka of the clan belongs to a single royal clan called, “Olulyo Olulangira,” having their pedigree along the patrilineal line, all the way back to the first king, Kintu.

A King is assisted by many people having both political and social power. Most important of them include Katikkiro – the executive prime minister – and three different types of chiefs, administrative chiefs (Bakungu), traditional chiefs (Bataka) and Batangole chiefs, who are responsible for maintaining security, military duties and supervising royal states.

Before the 18th century, all the chiefs mentioned above were directly appointed by the Kabaka. They were accountable to him only. The Kabaka could terminate any chief at any time. However, in 1750, the position of chief was declared to be open for anyone. It is still awarded on the clan basis but only to those having notable services for their community.

The power-sharing practice was initially introduced by the founder of the kingdom, Kinto, who deputized his powers partially to two other people. This practice made governance system an easy thing to formulate, and till date, it is still prevalent in the region.

Culture, Art and Literature

Buganda is rich in different cultural traditions which are mainly expressed through dance, music, visual arts, drama, and poetry. The special dance of the kingdom is known as Kiganda dance. These practices were present in ancient times as well as in the present. Like any other culture, arts and crafts are an important part of the culture of Buganda. Craftsmanship has been passed down from one generation to other. Most prominent traditional crafts include pottery, wood carving, basketry, bark-cloth making, metallic tools, jewellery making and many more.

The European form of formal education was introduced during the period between 1877 and 1925 when Buganda had to open up its kingdom to Christian missionaries, the protestant Church Mission Society and the Catholic France-based Whtie Fathers. Prior to that, the kingdom had exposure to Christianity and Islam by proximity to North Africa, Ethiopia to the Northeast, the Congo basin to the west and the Swahili states to the east.

During that era, the local inhabitants learned English education and culture. This made them capable of assisting the British in spreading their culture and religion. Since the region of Buganda is in the central region of Uganda and mostly constitutes urban areas, it was very easy to disseminate European education at the expense of traditional education. During the missionary outreach, many new churches were planted in both urban and rural parts of Buganda, most important of them include the Pentecostal Church, the Church of God, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and many others.

Socially, people of Buganda were loyal, and held in esteem their king and his devoted leaders. The kingdom had about 52 clans, and every Muganda – individual member of the kingdom of Buganda – was not permitted to marry from his or her clan. It was a taboo to marry into the same clan. This was intended to preserve cultural value. However, the Kabaka could marry from any clan.

Although traditional knowledge explores many fields, there is very little written material available. Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the present Kabaka of Buganda Kingdom, has emphasized the inhabitants to write more books on the culture, history, and norms of Buganda.

buganda - pic3 Traditional crafts of people of Buganda
Traditional crafts of people of Buganda

Trade and economic activities

The major source of income for the locals was farming. Bananas were a majar product. Women did most of the farming work while men did politics and commerce.

The modern-day Buganda kingdom is a key coffee producer. Bananas, traditionally known as Matooke, remain a staple food for the inhabitants. Approximately, 85% of people are farmers and earn their livings through farming.

Buganda remained quite isolated from the external world. They had their own miniature world, with an interior trade organization and its own internal seas. When the invasion from the external world finally came in the 19th century, it gave rise to longer distance trade networks. Coastal Arab dealers based on Zanzibar had reached Lake Victoria by the end of 1844. One of them, Ahmad bin Ibrahim, introduced Kabaka to the benefits of external trade; the procurement of imported cloth and, most importantly, guns and gunpowder for warfare.

Warfare

The army of the kingdom of Buganda was famous for making military arms such as spikes, darts, and crossbows which they used to protect the empire against any danger from their bordering states and to defend the treasure and pride of the kingdom. They would also arrest tax defaulters using these weapons.

The strength of Buganda army was further increased by the Christian missionaries who supported the king in return of their alliance. The Kingdom of Buganda was treated as the most cultured territory by the British government.

The kingdom of Buganda also had war canoes and used the internal water ways of the Continent to wage war on surrounding kingdoms at will. Henry Morton Stanley in 1875 reported seeing 127,000 troops and a naval force of 230 large outrigger canoes.

Buganda_war_canoe_1875 (en.wikipedia.org)
War Canoes, 1875

Concluding remarks

The societal structure of Buganda enabled the British to rule Uganda. Britain often favoured a kingdom capable of being a “martial race” in its geography and picked politically organised traditional kingdoms for indirectly ruling territories within in colony. A colony was often the political manifestation of treaties and trade agreements between British companies, other European countries and local African kings in a territory, whereby other European countries left Britain as the sole counterparty in treaties with local kings in exchange for allowing other Europeans monopolies in other African territories.

It is sometimes a misconception that Britain have full control of African territories. Such a kingdom would supply the British with levies of money and soldiers in exchange for autonomy, weapons, education and tax collection authority. During the conquest of Uganda, the kingdom of Buganda provided the backbone of soldiers for Britain, provided porters and soldiers for the King’s African Rifles in East African wars and provided the first president of Uganda at the time it gained independence.

kar African_Troops_in_Burma_during_the_Second_World_War_SE1884
King’s African Rifles in Burma, WW2. Source: public domain

Citations

“Budding foreign influences”, Buganda. http://www.buganda.com/bazungu.htm

“Buganda,” Encyclopedia Britannica. <https: //www.britannica.com>

“History of Uganda”, history world. <http //www.historyworld.net>

“Origin of Buganda”, Buganda or. http://www.buganda.or.ug

“Uganda: History”, Common wealth. < http://thecommonwealth.org>

“Uganda: History”, Africa upenn.  <http://www.africa.upenn.edu>

Book about the kingdom of Buganda:

M.S.M.Semakula Kiwanuka, “A history of Buganda: from the foundation of the kingdom to 1900” Longman, 1971. ISBN: 0582640930, 978058264083