Month: February 2015

Of the Bafumbira and Bufumbira

town signpost

I arrived at Qualicell Bus terminal for my trip to Kisoro, at 6:10am. I was told that the first bus to Kisoro for the day, had left at 6:00 am.  The next bus was leaving at 6:30pm. I wished I had come a little earlier. But it was too late. I decided to board the bus to Kabale and from there board to Kisoro town. The bus was leaving at 8:00am. I walked to where the bus was to begin my wait for the time for departure.

There were two passengers in the bus. They seemed to have waited for ages. I got a place to seat. I noticed that the bus was dirty. There were empty bottles of drinking water everywhere and polythene bags. I sat nonetheless and waited.

A group of boys came in after close to thirty minutes to clean the bus. This took a while. I stood outside throughout the cleaning. More passengers came. By 8:00am, most of the seats were filled.

We left Qualicell Bus terminal for Kabale, a few minutes past eight. The bus was slow at first as more passengers boarded along the way. But it gathered pace afterwards and within four hours, we were in Mbarara.

We had to stop shortly after we left Mbarara when one of the tyres was pierced by a nail. The change of the tyre took a while. The passengers were frustrated but suppressed the agitation. The music videos and movie clips that were playing on TV in the bus, kept them occupied.

We reached Kabale at 5:00pm.  I boarded a Toyota Ipsum that provides taxi service from Kabale to Kisoro. It is supposed to carry seven passengers. The one I boarded carried twelve. There were five passengers in the back and middle rows, instead of three.

I sat in the co driver’s seat.  I was happy that I was going to reach Kisoro in comfort. But along the way, a woman with a child was picked up. I shared the front seat with her. There was a pillow on the handbrake on which I sat. I was so uncomfortable. My legs and back hurt badly. I could not wait for her to get off. But when she did, another passenger took her place.

The journey to Kisoro was long. There are so many corners. With each corner, I held onto the seats as I tried not to crash into the driver.

I arrived in Kisoro at 7:15pm. The journey that had started at 8:00 am had finally come to an end.

Kisoro is inhabited by people of different ethnicities.  There are the Congolese, the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Bafumbira, among others. The Bafumbira were the focus of my trip.

Canon Samuel Mfitumukiza and I

As I learned from David MS Munyangabo, the Bafumbira originated from Rwanda. Mr. Munyangabo is a Mufumbira and a retired head teacher. He told me that “The Bafumbira” were governed by chiefs who answered to the King of Rwanda. They were mainly Hutus and Tutsis. It is the country demarcations that split them from Rwanda as a kingdom.

Rufumbira, the language spoken by the Bafumbira, is similar to Runyarwanda. It is the accents that are different. I wanted to know what makes the accents different. I learnt this from Canon Samuel Mfitumukiza, to whom I was introduced by Mr. Munyangabo. The canon told me that the closeness to Bakiga is what is responsible for the difference in accents.  Rufumbira has an intonation of the Bakiga.

The Bafumbira have eight main clans: the Bazibaga, Abagahe, Abagesera, Abasigi, Abagiri, Abagara, Abarihira and Abungura. The clans have sub groups. For instance, there are the Basinga under the Bagahe.

There are a number of foods considered as staple foods among the Bafumbira. Beans, peas, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and millet, are the main foods.

The Bafumbira have transformed over the years. Long ago they lived in thatched houses. The roofs were thatched with either sorghum or grass from wetlands. The walls were round and built with mud and sticks. Today, they stay in houses built with bricks and mortar for the walls, and roofed with iron sheets or Mangalore tiles.

Like in other cultures in Uganda, marriage among the Bafumbira was organised by the parents. The boy and girl were not aware of the arrangement until the day of the marriage. It was a marriage between strangers. They would meet in a room after the wedding. The bride price was a cow.

The Bafumbira named their children depending on a family situation. If a child was born in a period of brewing beer, that child was named Senzoga. If the birth happened when the father of the child was on a journey, that child was named Senzira. If there was a lot of food in the household, the child was named Nyirabakire.

I learnt a lot about the Bafumbira. This rekindled the need to know more about other cultures and ethnic groups, outside my own.

David WS Munyangabo and I

Mulumba Ivan Matthias



Buruuli Kingdom office

Nakasongola District, the seat of the Ssabaruuli, the cultural head of the Baruuli, lies 123.8km from Kampala. It is accessed through Bombo road on the Kampala Gulu Highway. It is largely flat apart from the few scattered hills that rise over it. You’ll notice the numerous stones lying around in the district.  The lessons of Geography will come rolling back to your memory at the sight.

En route, I passed through Kawempe, Maganjo, Wobulenzi and Kasana Luwero. These town centres are busier and more populated than Nakasongola town. Most of the vegetation in Nakasongola was dry. The dry season hasn’t been kind to it. Even the gusts of wind were hot!

I got onto a boda boda that took me to the office of the Ssabaruuuli. It is on the building of the Nakasongola District Local Government. It is a much smaller office than I had expected. Three rooms and a corridor! But this can be justified. Buruuli is gathering resources to become independent from Buganda. Most of the facilities like offices, have not been put up.

There was a soldier with and Ak47 seated outside the office. He was wearing sun glasses which he took off as soon as he saw me. He motioned me to go to him when I approached the building. He asked me what I had come to do, and my tribe. I told him about the research and that I was a Muganda.  He told me to wait outside as he went inside to inquire whether I was welcome. He returned after a while and directed me to an office where I met a gentleman who was ready to receive me.

I introduced myself and told him what I had gone to do. He welcomed the idea of documenting material about the Baruuli and Buruuli. He informed me that most people with the information I wanted stay in villages. They would be hard to trace. He made phone calls to some older Baruuli who worked in Nakasongola town. Most of them were away. But one of them was around. The gentleman’s secretary took me to him.

SSebwato Lutaaya Gawera Mattew

Mr Ssebwaato Lutaaya Gawera Matthew sells suits and runs a dry cleaning business. He warmly welcomed me. We sat down. That’s when history started sipping from him.

He took me through the journey of the Baruuli and how they came to where they are today. The Baruuli were originally called the Baduuli. The name comes from ‘Kuduula’ which means ‘to brag’. They were braggart so people named them ‘Baduuli’. This name was hard to pronounce. Most people pronounced it as ‘Baruuli’, and that is the name that stuck.

‘The Baruuli,’ he said, ‘came from Cameroon. They settled in Kyo Pe, in the now Kiryandongo and Apac Districts. There, they encountered the cold hand of slave trade which forced them to migrate. Some settled in Nakasongola, others in Bugerere. Those who settled in Bugerere became the Banyala. Some Baruuli went to the shores of Lake Albert and are now called the Bagungu. Those who went to Busoga are the Balamogi and the Basiki. There is another group that went as far as Tanzania.’

Buruuli was initially a county of Bunyoro. But following a war between the British and Kabalega in the 1890s where Buganda helped the British win the war, Buruuli was one of the seven counties that were given to Buganda as a token of appreciation.

The Baruuli were assimilated into Buganda. Like the Banyala, the Baruuli named their children based on circumstances, weather conditions or events. Following the assimilation, most Baruuli were given Kiganda names. The children were given birth certificates bearing Kiganda names.

Some cultures of the Baruuli vanished. But Ssebwaato was able to note them. The naming for example, burial and marriage traditions stand out. Once a Muruuli died, he was buried in a deep pit, lying on the side, facing the power seat of Bunyoro, to show allegiance. No one was allowed to pour soil on a dead person’s heart and forehead.

If the head of a household died, the widows did not bathe or shave their heads until an heir was instated. This period was long since people had to travel to attend the ceremony. The widow spent all of it without bathing.

The staple food of the BaruuIi is Kalo, millet paste. They also have sweet potatoes and cassava as major foods. The main sauce is fish.

Mr. Ssebwato had notes about Baruuli and Buruuli, including their history from the times of the Batembuzi, the Bachwezi and now the Babito dynasty. He also had Sir Apollo Kaggwa’s book “Basekabaka Be Buganda” that talked about how Buruuli came to be under Buganda. This is a book that was published in 1912. He leafed through some of these papers as we chatted. It was thrilling to realise that someone had documented his people’s history.

Like the Banyala, most artefacts and cultural sites of the Baruuli were destroyed or have vanished over the years. What is left are mountains used for worship by those who still cling to native Buruuli beliefs. But these are also scattered.

The question remains. Will the Baruuli’s demand for autonomy succeed? Will Buruuli rise again? Only time will tell.

SSebwato Lutaaya Gawera Mattew and I

Mulumba Ivan Matthias

The Banyala

Kikomeko Kalafa David

The first time I heard of “The Banyala” was in 2009 when the “Buganda riots” took place. I wondered how a group would want to break away from Buganda. I did not know that after 108 years under Buganda, the Banyala had decided to reclaim the autonomy they once had.

I visited Kayunga recently to discovering more about “The Banyala”. My assignment this time was to cover kingdoms in Uganda. The “Banyala” was a good choice for this project since there is little written about them.

The taxi left the new taxi park for Mukono. I made sure the conductor knows that was going to Kayunga. It is a place I had not visited before. It took me two taxis to get there. I had to alight from the one I had boarded in the new taxi park, and board another that was heading to Kayunga. Most taxis that ply the route do not reach Kayunga.

I did not know what would find in Kayunga. There were a number of questions that had to be answered. Were there communities for Banyala? Would I be allowed in the office of the Ssabanyala, the cultural head of the Banyala? What language would the people be speaking? What colour would be their skins?

I discovered that it was harder to find a Munyala in Kayunga than I had thought. They are not all over the place as many of us have been made to think. I had to ask a number of people, especially the Boda boda riders. I thought the Ssabanyala’s office was in Kayunga and that someone would lead me there. But I was wrong. Most people did not know where it was.

I was able to trace a Munyala. He is the Minister of culture in the Ssabanyala’s office. His name is Kikomeko Kalafa David. We sat down and talked. He was a “library”.

He informed me that few Banyala can speak Lunyala. Intermarriages and the dominance of Luganda have contributed to this. It is at that point that I inquired about how Lunyala is spoken.

Most words in Lunyala begin with Letter “O”.  “Omwojjo” is one of these words. It means “Boy” and “Okwabayi” is another. It means “where are you going?” “Omwojjo okwabayi” means “Boy, where are you going?”

He further explained how Bugerere, the home of the Banyala, came to be under Buganda.

‘The Banyala as a people existed even before colonialism,’ he explained. ‘When Bunyoro took control of the place, the Banyala were already there. In the war against colonialism, Bunyoro was defeated. Bugerere was one of the counties that were given to Buganda for helping the British defeat Bunyoro.’

‘“The Banyala” were initially called “Bagere”,’ he told me. ‘They were potters and builders. One day one of them was roofing one of Kabalega’s houses. He wanted to check for leakages in the roof. He peed on the roof to see whether the urine would not go through. Little did he know that the king’s guards were watching him and had seen what had done. They arrested him, punished him and branded “the Bagere”, “The banyala”. It meant “Those who pee.”’

Banyala have a number of customs that make them different from Baganda. They name their children based on proverbs, seasons and the meanings of their clans. They have 129 clans. A child born in the rainy season could be named Kajura. Rain in Lunyala is “njura”.

Modernity and intermarriages have not spared the Banyala. It is hard to trace their cultures and their historical sites. The cultural sites of the Banyala are in “Bale”, thirty kilometres from Kayunga, but even these are scattered.

I returned to Kampala through the Kayunga Gayaza route, the second route to Kayunga. I returned with answers to the questions I had gone with.

It is important that we know about other ethnic groups in Uganda. But it is more important if the people in those groups document their history.

Kikomeko Kalafa David and I

Mulumba Ivan Matthias