Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom (BKK) is a Kingdom in Western Uganda. The Kingdom is ruled by a Monarch – Omukama of Bunyoro, and the current ruler is H.M. Dr. Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, the 27th Omukama (king) of Bunyoro-Kitara. The Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara has a rich history spanning over hundreds of years. It is a remnant of one of the most powerful empires in East and Central Africa from 13th century to the 19th century – Bunyoro-Kitara Empire, the oldest and formerly the largest of the Great Lakes kingdoms stretching as far as present-day Karagwe in Tanzania, present-day Rwanda, present-day Eastern congo, and the Wanga Kingdom in present-day Kenya, but was greatly decimated by the advent of British colonialism in East Africa. Bunyoro-Kitara Empire itself was a remnant of once one of Africa’s mightiest empires; the Empire of Kitara, translated as the ‘Empire of Light’ that spanned the greater part of the Great Lakes region
The people of Bunyoro are known as Nyoro or Banyoro (singular: Munyoro); the language spoken is Nyoro (also known as Runyoro).
The Kingdom has had three (3) successive Dynasties as its rulers, with these listed as the Batembuzi dynasty, Bachwezi dynasty, and Babiito Dynasty, which is currently the ruling dynasty.
1. The Batembuzi Dynasty
The first kings were of the Batembuzi dynasty. Batembuzi means harbingers or pioneers. The Batembuzi and their reign are not well documented but passed down by oral legend through generations. It is believed that their reign dates back to the height of Africa’s bronze age. The number of individual Batembuzi reigns, as given by different scholars, ranges from nine to twenty-one, but very little can be traced about the names and successive order of individual kings.
2. The Bachwezi Dynasty
The Bachwezi are credited with the founding of the ancient empire of Kitara; which included areas of present-day central, western, and southern Uganda; northern Tanzania, western Kenya, and eastern Congo. Just like the Batembuzi, very little is documented about them, save for oral legend passed down through generations. The entire Bachwezi reign was shrouded in mystery, so much so that they were accorded the status of demi-gods and worshipped by various clans. Many traditional gods in Bunyoro, Tooro, and Buganda have typical kichwezi (adjective) names like Ndahura, Mulindwa, Wamara, Kagoro, among others.
The Bachwezi dynasty was very short-lived, as there are only 3 chwezi known kings, who were Ndahura, Mulindwa, and Wamara; in this respective order. However, even with their short-lived reign, they are credited for founding the empire of Kitara, and also for the introduction of the unique, long-horned Ankole cattle, coffee growing, iron smelting, and the first semblance of organized and centralized government, under the king.
Perturbed by the many social and economic unfortunate occurrences, including loss of his favorite cow Bihogo, the last Chwezi king, Wamara decided to seek divination, and through his diviners, it was revealed to him that Chwezi reign was coming to an end, and that there would be a dark people to come from the north to take over their throne. The diviners would subsequently go-ahead to reveal that the Luo upper north would invade the kingdom.
After the collapse of their dynasty due to social and economic reasons, local oral legend has it that the Bachwezi abjudicated the throne, and with the highly organized social formation, and disappeared together in the thick of the night and migrated southwestward to adopt a low-key life, got assimilated into the indigenous populace, and are, today, the tribal groups of the Bahima of Ankole and the Batutsi of Rwanda, with some distinctive features still evident among these tribes of Bahima & Batutsi such as can be seen in the elegant, tall build and light complexion associated wth the Bachwezi, and the traditional herders of the long-horned Ankole cattle introduced by the Chwezi.
Prior, a Chwezi Prince Kyomya in one of his hunting escapades, around the upper Nile area, had an encounter with a Luo girl; Nyatworo; a daughter to a Luo chief in the area, and from this, she conceived; According to Luo customs at the time, it was an abomination for an unmarried girl to engage in sexual activity before marriage, and it was punishable by the ultimate penalty; death.
However, in this particular case, due to fear of reproach by the Chwezi to the Luo people for the murder of a prince’s lover, it was not the ultimate penalty inflicted, but rather a cast-out of the lady Nyatworo into the wilderness in the upper Nile area where prince Kyomya had met her where she settled under a tree known as Bito tree; due to this phenomena, the children of Nyatwo would come to be referred to as Luo-Bito Children. In his subsequent hunting visit, prince Kyomya continued the affair with Nyatworo, in total, fathering 4 boys; namely, Nyarwa, Isingoma Rukidi Mpuga & Kato Kimera (twins), and Kiiza in that respective order of age. These grew up and stayed with their mother in the upper Nile area.
3. Babiito Dynasty
At the time of the invasion of the Luo on Kitara after the Chwezi had abdicated, the sons of Nyatworo were fronted to take over the throne of the chwezi, given their royal lineage connection, and among them, Isingoma Rukidi Mpuga was chosen, becoming the first Biito king as Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi I. Little documentation on the exact time of his reign can be traced, but his reign is placed around the 14th century. To date, there have been a total of 27 Babiito kings who still reign over Bunyoro-Kitara.
His twin brother Kato Kimera, would later move southward to establish present day Buganda, his brother Kiiza east ward to establish present day Busoga Kingdom, while their eldest brother Nyarwa remind neutral as a mediator between the 3 brothers who were developing rifts, forming a special of Bito royal class of Abapa’Nyarwa who do not rule, but are entrusted with enthronement of any new king within these 3 kingdoms, to date.
The invasion by the Luo / Nilotic Bito from the north in led to the splintering of the Empire of Kitara into different chiefdoms and kingdoms, However, 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. With kingship handed down through a hereditary system. The Omukama (King) 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., these structure remained until the invasion of colonialists.
To date, these structures still remain, but with the king mostly as a cultural leader. The King however still commands great respect, and cultural powers in the kingdom.
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 salt mining & trade, iron smelting, agriculture, & big game hunting of elephants, crocodiles, lions and leopards for ivory, hides and skins. Commanding the largest markets in the region that many from as far as the East Cost, and the north (Sudan & Egypt would come to trade. Salt, which was the most valuable; comparable to gold as of today, was mined from Lake Albert and the various crater lakes using ancient techniques that can still be observed in the areas of Kibiro around Lake Mwitanzige (also called Lake Albert, and in the kingdom’s former territories of Lake Katwe.
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 Tooro was soon seceded with much of the lucrative salt works, to form Tooro kingdom.
However,Omukama Chwa II Kabalega, the 23rd king of the Biito Dynasty is Bunyoro-Kitara’s most memorable and popular king to-date due to his efforts to wade off colonial advances on his Kingdom, a war he sustained for 9 years until his eventual capture and exile to Seychelles islands in 1889, succeeded by his young son Omukama Yosia Kitehimbwa as a choice by the colonialists, whom they would shortly after dethrone in favour of his elder brother Omukama Duhaga Bisereko for his interest and corporation with the Missionaries. Omukama Duhaga was succeeded by his brother Omukama Sir Tito Winyi, who is the father of the current king and cultural leader of the Banyoro-Kitara, Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, the 27th king of the Babiito dynasty, having ascended the throne on June 11th, 1994.
After Kabalega’s fall, Bunyoro-Kitara was brought to heel under colonial rule and subjected to very repressive colonial policies due to their former resistance. Following independence from Britain in 1962, Bunyoro-Kitara was one of 4 constituent kingdoms together with Buganda, Toro and Busoga that were recognised by the constitution in Uganda. Shortly after, the 1967 constitutional amendment would then abolish all kingdoms, leading many monarchs to exile. However, the new Uganda constitution of 1995 formally re-instated the traditional Kingdoms and their Kings, and are now protected as regional cultural entities.
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.