The Kingdom of Bunyoro was once a part of one of Africa’s greatest empires, the Empire of Kitara, that one controlled lands that include modern-day Rwanda, Burundi AND Tanzania.
The Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara
The Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara has a rich history spanning over hundreds of years. It is told that once, there existed in the great Lakes region, one of Africa’s mightiest empires; the Empire of Kitara, translated as the ‘Empire of Light’. Without any written history to go on, not much is known about Kitara’s first rulers the Batembuzi dynasty, save what has been stringed together from oral myth and legend.
Their successors, the Bachwezi dynasty are more commonly credited with the founding of the empire and it is known that at the peak of their rule, the empire covered most of modern day Uganda in addition to parts of Western Kenya, Northern Tanzania and Eastern Congo. The Bachwezi’s very existence is shrouded in mysticism and legend. For one, they are believed to have been gods descended from heaven, who possessed spiritual powers. Their reign is believed to have been rather short and only 3 Kings, Ndahura, Mulindwa and Wamara are documented.
Their contributions however laid the foundations for Uganda’s contemporary kingdoms; the introduction of the unique long-horned cattle, coffee growing, iron smelting, and of course the centralisation of rule under one king. Stories abound about what really happened with the Bachwezi and many stories are told about how they suddenly disappeared one day and were never seen again. Scholars generally believe that the Bachwezi were forced by invaders to abdicate to the far reaches of their empire where they assimilated with indigenous tribes. It is believed that the Bahima of Uganda and the Tutsi of Rwanda are the descendants of the Bachwezi.
An invasion by the Luo / Nilotic Bito from the north in 1500AD led to the splintering of the Empire of Kitara into different chiefdoms and later kingdoms. Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom led by the Babito dynasty emerged as the largest and strongest of these, controlling the entire region between Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, and Lake Albert. At the kingdom’s helm was a hereditary monarch, the Omukama (King) who held executive, judicial and legislative powers, and was even venerated as a demi-god. He ruled through the Omuhikirwa (Prime Minister), provincial chiefs and a council of notables.
At the height of its power, Bunyoro Kitara was the most extensive, prestigious and famous of Uganda’s kingdoms. It encompassed rich lands in the Albertine rift and the great lakes region that gave it a strong hand in barter trade with neighbours and traders from afar. Located in a wildlife rich region that today encompasses Murchison Falls Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, Kibale Forest Park and Rwenzori Mountains Park, the traditional economy of Bunyoro revolved around big game hunting of elephants, crocodiles, lions and leopards for ivory, hides and skins; salt, which was as valuable as gold is today, was mined from Lake Albert and the various crater lakes using ancient techniques that can still be observed on tours today and the fertile agricultural lands produced excess food for trade.
Bunyoro remained the most powerful kingdom in East Africa until colonial advances in the 19th century that saw Buganda being declared a British Protectorate and rewarded with Bunyoro territory and wealth. The large province of Toro soon seceded with much of the lucrative salt works, to form its own kingdom. Bunyoro-Kitara’s most memorable king, Omukama Chwa 2 Kabalega after whom the Kabalega Falls (Murchison Falls) were named, resisted colonial advances for over five years until his eventual capture and exile to the Seychelles in 1889.
After Kabalega’s fall, Bunyoro was brought to heel under colonial rule and following independence in 1962, was one of 4 constituent kingdoms together with Buganda, Toro and Busoga that were recognised by the constitution. The 1967 constitution abolished all Ugandan kingdoms and many monarchs were exiled but the new 1995 constitution formally re-instated the traditional Kingdoms and their Kings, protecting them as a regional entity.
The current king and cultural leader of the Banyoro, Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I is the 27th king of the Babito dynasty, ascended the throne on June 11th, 1994.
What You Need To Know
Location And Getting There
The Busoga Kingdom consists 10 districts; Kamuli, Iganga, Bugiri, Mayuge, Jinja, Luuka, Kaliro, Buyende, Namutumba, and Busiki districts in Eastern Uganda. The kingdom has its headquaters in Bugembe, in its main city Jinja. Jinja is 80kms from Kampala with a drive time of 2hours.
Climate And When To Visit
The Eastern region experiences temperate, tropical climate with temperatures averaging 23°C. The warmest month on average is January and the coolest, June.