Bark cloth that is made from the soft bark of the mutuba tree has been part of Buganda’s culture for over 600 years.
Buganda is the largest of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms, and the Baganda form Uganda’s biggest ethnic group, making up 21% of the population, about 28 million people. Lake Victoria in the south, the White Nile in the east, and Lake Kyoga in the north mark Buganda’s modern day boundaries, comprising Uganda’s entire central region.
The name ‘Uganda’ was a Swahili word used by 18th Century Arab traders in reference to the Buganda Kingdom, that British officials officially adopted in 1894 following the establishment of the protectorate. Today, Kampala, the country’s capital, and Entebbe, the main international airport are both located in Buganda.
Despite colonial meddling and the assimilation with other tribes and cultures in the heart of the kingdom in Kampala, many of Buganda’s traditions and cultural sites have been preserved, some for over 700years.
The popular Kabaka’s Trail offers tourists a memorable encounter exploring top cultural sites that unpack the glorious and colourful history of Buganda including royal tombs, sacred trees and waterfalls, palaces and the kingdom parliament, and a hallowed coronation site. Complimenting these is the experience of authentic Buganda culture through music, dance, drama, craft making, spiritual healing, storytelling, traditional herbal medicines and traditional food preparations.
The Kingdom of Buganda
Birth of the Kingdom – There is no shortage of traditions and stories about the origins of the Baganda, and most bear sharp contrasts. What can be agreed is that bantu-speakers came to occupy Buganda from two directions – the east via Busoga, and the west via Bunyoro. At this time, Buganda was called Muwaawa, which literally translates as ‘the place that is sparsely populated’, and was organised into groups that were ruled by clan heads called Abataka.
In the 14th century, Kato Kintu became the first Ssabataka or Kabaka when he brought together the Abataka to form a united government, appoint chieftaincies and define the relationship between the clans and the king. Kintu delegated some of his powers to two executive Prime Ministers, the Bakatikkiro, a cabinet of ministers, the Akakiiko Akafuzi and a parliament, the Lukiiko – positions that still exist today. It was at this time that Buganda; the name of Kabaka Kintu’s father came into common use to refer to the kingdom that would grow into Uganda’s largest and most powerful kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A Modern Kingdom – During the 16th and 17th centuries Bunyoro was the leading kingdom in Uganda, controlling an area that stretched into present-day Rwanda and Tanzania. However from about 1700, Buganda began to expand, largely at Bunyoro’s expense, and by 1800 it controlled a large territory bordering Lake Victoria from the Victoria Nile to the Kagera River.
By 1750 Buganda was centrally organised under the Kabaka who wielded a powerful army and maintained a large bureaucracy of chiefs that governed several administrative units known as Amasaza (counties), Amagombolola (sub counties), Emiruka (parishes) and Bukungu (villages) governed by chiefs who were appointed by the Kabaka and directly answerable to him. Hereditary chieftainship was abolished and replaced with appointment on clan basis to men of merit and distinguished service.
Although the Kabaka’s position was hereditary, it was not confined to a single clan because the king assumed his mother’s clan. The Kabaka married from several clans and so cemented his loyalty with all the clans that each hoped to one day produce a future king.
Foreign Invaders – Around 1840, the Buganda kingdom had its first contact with foreigners when Kabaka Ssuna welcomed Arab trade caravans from the East African coast that brought with them cloth, beads, guns and other curios that they hoped to exchange for slaves and ivory. In 1858 an English explorer John Hanning Speke made his way to the shores of Lake Victoria and declared that he had discovered the source of the mighty River Nile in present-day Jinja.
On his maiden visit to the Buganda court, Speke convinced Kabaka Mutesa I, Ssuna’s son and successor, to open his borders to missionaries and in 1877 the first Anglican missionaries arrived in Uganda followed by the Roman Catholic missionaries in 1879. Mutesa I saw in the Europeans a likely ally against Bunyoro, which under Omukama Kabalega was challenging Buganda’s ascendancy using guns purchased from Egyptian and Sudanese traders.
Despite warnings from the Arab traders who were themselves looking out for their own interests, about the legacy that the white men brought with them, Mutesa I opened Buganda to the Europeans who would within 20 years strip his kingdom of its independence.
The Colonial Era – Kabaka Mwanga II ascended the throne after Mutesa I’s death in 1884. He regarded the Christian missionaries as his greatest threat and expelled them from his kingdom, forcing his subjects that had converted to abandon Christianity or die.
this reign was marred by religious wars in Buganda that pitted Muslim, Protestant and Catholic converts against each other, and led to the killing of the archbishop James Hannington on Buganda’s border with Busoga. In 1886 Muwanga II infamously burnt alive at least 30 Christians at the Uganda Martyr’s Shrine in Namugongo.
In 1889 a German colonialist visited Kabaka Mwanga II and signed a treaty of friendship with him, much to the alarm of the British who deployed Frederick Lugard, an agent of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) with a detachment of troops to bring Buganda to heel and end the religious conflicts. In 1894 Buganda was formally declared a British Protectorate and in 1896 British control was extended to the western kingdoms of Ankole, Toro and Bunyoro, which together with Buganda formed the Uganda Protectorate.
Kabaka Mwanga II and Omukama Chwa II Kabalega were captured and exiled to the Seychelles and Sir Henry Johnston the Consul general of the British Protectorate introduced the 1900 Buganda Agreement that would dramatically shape Uganda’s politics and economy. The agreement cemented the British governments authority over Buganda, stripped the Kingdom of its rights to collect tax from vassals like Busoga, gave the Lukiiko power sharing rights with the Kabaka, carved up the lands that had historically belonged to the Kabaka and transformed Buganda into a constitutional monarchy. Although the 1900 agreement gave Buganda a privileged position over the other Kingdoms of Uganda, the independent Kingdom of Buganda would be no more.
Post-Independence – At independence in 1962, Buganda was one of 4 constituent kingdoms together with Bunyoro, Tooro and Busoga that were recognised by the constitution. The republic’s first president was Kabaka Mutesa II, but in 1966 his Prime Minister Milton Obote invaded his palace in Lubiri, suspended the constitution and issued a new constitution that abolished all traditional kingdoms.
Kabaka Mutesa II managed to escape capture and sought refuge in London where he died in exile IN 1969. In 1971, Mutesa II’s body was returned to Uganda and he was given a state funeral at the Kasubi Tombs. For 27 years Buganda had no king until 1993 when a new constitution formally re-instated the traditional Kingdoms and their Kings, protecting them as regional entities without political power.
The Buganda’s lineage of succession has remained unbroken for 700 years, with 36 kings including the current king, Kabaka Ronald Edward Frederick Kimera Muwenda Mutebi II who was crowned on 31st July 1993.