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


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