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.
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.
Mulumba Ivan Matthias