FACTS ABOUT OMUKAMA KABALEGA
Omukama Chwa II Yohana Kabaleega: A fresh perspective Timeline
Date of Birth-June 18, 1853
1870:Ascends to the throne
May 14, 1872-Baker declares Bunyoro part of Equatoria Province
1894-99-The Great War
January 1, 1894-British invade Bunyoro
June 30, 1896-Kabaleega formally deposed; Bunyoro declared a military district
April 9, 1899-Captured
October 7, 1901-Arrives in Seychelles
February 14, 1923-Released from exile
April 6, 1923- Dies
April 26, 1923- Buried
April 9, 1999-Last funeral right (end of a century of mourning)
Father: Omukama Kamurasi Kyebambe IV (1822-1869)
Mother: Kanyange Nyamutahingurwa Abwoli
Eldest brother: Kabigumiire Ruhwino
Eldest son: Jaasi Nyakimoso (died in 1899)
Official wives: Princess Maliza Mukakyabara Bagaaya Akiiki (Partner No. 1), Nzaahe Bagaya (Partner No. 2), Partner No. 3 (untraced)
Popular praise names – Ruhiigwa (persecuted), Ekitule kinobere abeemi (intolerant of rebels), Rukolimbo nyantalibwa mugobe (peas whose green leaves cannot be eaten as vegetable, and Rwota Mahanga (consumer of rebellious nations) and“The Defiant”
Bagwigairebata – name of his favourite Remington rifle
3: Official wives
16: Age of Ascention to the throne
23: 23rd Mubiito king of Bunyoro-Kitara
24: Numbers of years spent in exile
33: Number of days Emin Pasha spent with Kabaleega at Mparo
38: Number of siblings
56: Age at which he was captured
70: Age at which he died
140: Number of children (78 sons and 62 daughters)
Omukama John Chwa II Kabaleega was the 23rd king of Bunyoro-Kitara, who ruled Bunyoro from 1870 to 1899. He is the most famous and revered king of the Bunyoro. His prominence arises from the fact that it was he who halted the decline of the empire and to a considerable extent restored the fortunes of the once powerful empire. His fame perhaps started in 1894 when the British declared war on Bunyoro, and he was able to engage them for five years until he was captured and exiled for 24 years.
To most Banyoro, Kabaleega’s reign was Bunyoro’s last moment of glory. Africans, especially the Banyoro, regard Omukama Kabaleega as an all-time hero who bravely resisted British colonialism. He is regarded by many as the greatest of all Banyoro rulers who, were it not for British intervention, would surely have achieved his goal of restoring the kingdom to its full former glory.
However, to the British and Egyptian colonisers, Kabaleega was the toughest obstacle who stood in their grand schemes to colonise this part of Africa-Bunyoro.In fact, they vilified him as an oppressive ruler, a brutal savage, and a proponent of the slave trade. They arrived in Bunyoro at a time when Omukama Kabaleega was engaged in reconquering the empire of his forebears and had no intention of handing it over to the Egyptians or the British.
Bunyoro today sees Kabaleega as one of its greatest kings, a moderniser who united and expanded the kingdom, although his reign is also remembered as a time of violence and exploitation. After independence, Ugandan politicians and academics depicted Kabaleega as a great proto-nationalist leader whose revolutionary reforms had transformed his kingdom. He goes down in the history of Uganda as one who bravely defended his kingdom against invaders, although he was ruthlessly defeated in the end.
Kabaleega was born to Omukama Kyebambe 1V Kamurasi Mirundi on June 18, 1853in Mwenge in the present Toro Kingdom.His early years were spent in Buleega where his father had been exiled by a rebellion. It was from here that he was fondly called ‘Akaana ka Abaleega’ (literally ‘a kid from Buleega’), which was shortened to Kabaleega.He was one of 38 children of Omukama Kamurasi. His siblings included Kabigumiire (who dared fighting for the throne), Kabagungu (who was temporarily king), Kerline Kanyamukono Byanjeru and Ndagaano Rutakya.
Kabaleega’s mother was Kanyange Nyamutahingurwa Abwooli. She became Kamurasi’s wife after the Abarusuura had acquired her as a booty during one of their forays in Buleega. A member of the Bayonza clan (of Abahuma/pastoral class), Kanyange was a daughter of one of the kings of Buleega (in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). Indeed, her name was symbolic of her stunning beauty: Kanyange (from enyange – the egret) and Nyamutahingurwa (a bele who can easily be noticed and admired by any man).
As a child Kabaleega, grew up in Mwenge (present-day Tooro), where his maternal uncle had been appointed chief by Kamurasi. As a youth, Kabaleega was proud and assertive. He liked hunting as far as Amabere ga Nyinamwiru (The Breasts of Nyinamwiru) area near Nyakasura on the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Character and personality
As a trained soldier, Kabaleega was courageous, single-minded, and sympathetic to the common people. However, the likes of Kamuhanda Omudaaya viewed him as short-tempered, headstrong, proud and opinionated – ironically, the the very reasons why Kamurasi preferred him! Kabaleega was headstrong, with an indomitable, never-say-die character.
According to one of his nickname,“Ekitule Kinobere Abeemi”, Kabaleegawas indeed intolerant of rebels. One by one, he punished rebellious royals and their supporters. For example, he sentenced Prince Komwiswa to life imprisonment and sent Prince Rujumba to Mwenge to look after his (Kabaleega’s) cattle. He also put to death one of his sisters. This was after he had defeated the Chope-based rebels.
Kabaleega spoke Runyoro, and was fluent in Sudanese Arabic, Luganda, Lugbar and Acholi and Alur, among other languages. However, in public he preferred Runyoro and the aid of an interpreter.
Kabaleega was physically striking. At about 5ft 10” tall, the king was a tall and muscular man with a smallhead and, like his mother, with a light complexion. He had very large eyes, a broad but low forehead, high cheekbones, and a large mouth. His teeth were well-kept, with four lower incisors and two eye-teeth missing; the upper teeth slightly protruding, but not to any marked degree.
Emin Pasha, who spent a month at Kabaleega’s court in 1878, described Kabaleega aswarm, jovial andsimple. “He is very lively, he laughs a lot, often shaking with mirth. He is very talkative and appears to submit to ceremonial with a certain measure of constraint.” Kabaleega’s constant spitting was the “only bad habit” Emin noticed in him.
He described Kabaleega was immaculately clean, suave and closely shaven, with small and neat hands, and well-trimmed nails. Save for two marks on his temples, which are a charm against headache,there were no scars on his face.
This contrasts with Sir Samuel Baker’s description of Kabaleega as a “gauche, awkward, undignified lout…cowardly, cruel, cunning, andtreacherous to the last degree.” In Baker’s view, the king’s every virtue was a vice: Kabaleega’s teeth were “exceedingly white” while his large eyes “projected disagreeably”; he was “excessively sneat.”
Diet and hobbies
Kabaleega is said to have lived on a repetitious diet of veal boiled with bananas, millet bread and porridge, banana beer and amacunde (whey/skimmed milk). It should be noted that in Bunyoro-Kitara a varied crop-based diet was eaten only by the common people, for the nobles their food came from cattle products. In his free time, Kabaleega used to play omweso (the board game) and to go on nature walks. He had enjoyed hunting as a child.
Though he had three officially known partners, Kabaleega married 138 wives and produced at least 140 children (some sources put the number of his children at 300). Princess Maliza Mukakyabara Bagaaya Akiiki,the elder sister of then King Kasagama of Toro, was Kabaleega’s first wife (she returned to Tooro after his capture and exile in 1899).
Whereas, the Abakama of Bunyoro Kitara were restricted to daughters of specific and particular kings within the greater the greater Bunyoro-Kitara empire, Kabaleega went against this and married commoners.One of his wives was a daughter of the king of Wakamba (in present-day Kenya). He is also believed to have sired Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of independent Kenya. While in exile in the Seychelles Island, Kabaleega had three wives and at least two children.
Prominent among Kabaleega’s children were Prince Jaasi Nyakimoso (the eldest, – 1899), Omukama Yosiya Kitahimbwa, Omukama Andereya Bisereko Rugaga II (1882-March 30, 1924), Omukama Sir Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV (January 1883-1971), Prince John Nyakaana, Prince Yakobo Karakaba and Princess Victoria Mukabagabo.
Others were princes Hezekiah Rwakiswaza, Zakayo Jaawe, Ramanzani Mwirumubi, John Kabaleega (was childless), Kasohera, Katyetye, Binuge, Swizini Kaijamurubi (Kabaleega’s known last born among his children in Bunyoro).
Ascending the throne
Kabaleega ascended the throne in 1870 at the age of 16 after the death of Omakuma Kamurasi in Kiryandongo, Masindi in 1869. His accession to the throne was preceded by a civil war (1869-71). Though he was his father’s chosen heir and a popular choice of the military and the Bairu (peasantry), Kabaleega had four contenders to the throne to deal with. These were Kabigumiire Ruhwino of Kahere (his eldest brother), Mupiina, Mpuhuuka and Ruyonga.
Mupiina (variously called Anfina) and his elder brother Mpuhuuka were the sons of Kacope,chief of Kihukya country in Masindi, who was himself the son of Kyebambe Nyamutukura III, the Omukama of Bunyoro before his son Kamurasi succeeded him in 1822. Mpuhuuka had been an unsuccessful claimant to the throne at the time of Kamurasi’s accession. He was again unsuccessful in the assertion of his claim when Kabaleega succeeded Kamurasi.
Of these four claimants to the throne, it was Kabigumire who was Kabaleega’s formidable rival.Hehad been expected accede to the throne, what with the support of the royal family, Bahuma (cattle-keeping aristocrats) and provincial rulers! Indeed, in his secret will, Omukama Kamurasi had named Kabaleega as his preferred successor – a secret only known by prince Nyaika, who was Kamurasi’s brother and confidante. Yet his other brother, Kamuhanda Omudaya, who had been entrusted with the duty of selecting a successor, knew Kabigumiire was the heir. The royal family decided to carry Kamurasi’s body (from Kiryandongo) to Kitonya in Buhanika, where it was to be buried.
During funeral, the royal family met to nominate his successor. Among those present were Princes Omudaya, Dwetakya, Kasami and Princesses Nyakuhya and Rwigirwa (his sister) as well as other Babiitos. Significantly absent on this occasion was Prince Nyaika of Kigoye, brother of Kamurasi. Among those present were Princes Kamihanda Omudaya, Dwetakya, Kasami and Princesses Nyakuhya and Rwigirwa (his sister) among other Babiito.
Significantly absent on this occasion was Prince Nyaika of Kigoye, brother of Kamurasi. Nyaika who had remained behind ostensibly to guard the palace and the capital was planning to install Kabaleega as king in obedience to Kamurasi’s expressed wish. In this scheme, he received Kabaleega’s full co-operation.
War of succession, 1869-71
As the burial was underway, Nyaika sent the following secret message to Kabaleega, “Have you forgotten your father’s wish? I was present when he expressed the wish that you should succeed him. You will lose the throne if you wait for them to finish burial rites. Are there no other important men who are your friends and who can support you? Then come quickly and do not waste time”.
Kabaleega rallied the support of some of his friends and that of the intimate friends of Nyaika. For two years, Bunyoro was given over to internecine fighting. The conflict featured the involvement of Ankole and Buganda, and various factions of Langi mercenaries and Sudanese slave traders. As previously in Kamurasi’s time, Mpuhuuka and Ruyonga fled across the Nile and took refuge in Lango.
With the support of the army in the spirit of military comradeship, Kabaleega won the war of succession. He buried his father at at Ngangi in Busibika Rukindo (Buyanja County), Bugangaizi, and thus was crowned king as Chwa II Kabaleega. He built his capital at Kikangara Kisagara. Then he ordered the seizure of a youngPrince called Kabagungu,whose mother belonged to the Bafumambogo clan, to be crowned him as King Olimi VI. And after nine days of fighting, Kabaleega dragged him to Buziba in Buyaga, where he was killed and buried.
After burying his father, Kabaleega was crowned king at a ceremony performed under the Nyakahuma Tree at Mubende Hill in Buhekura (present-day Mubende district). Further ceremonies were performed at Habuuruat the northern side of Butoroogo hills, in Sabaddu sub-county of Buhekuura, as well as at the residence of Omukonda at Kikondain present-day Kyankwanzi district.
Omen at Mparo
After Kabaleega’s coronation, a star reportedly appeared as a long torch, and shone every evening at sunset; and when it disappeared, many of the princes and chiefs died. Now, Nyamutahingurwa, Kabaleega’s mother, had not seen her son since he became king. She feared to show herself to him, for, according to culture, she ought to have been buried alive with her husband, Kamurasi. However, she had fled to hiding to escape death.
Eventually, she resurfaced at Mparo, disguising her identity. After spotting Kabaleega, she turned to go back. As she left, a tree sprouted up on the spot where she had stood (it’s still there). Diviners interpreted the omen as a warning that Kabaleega would be supplanted – a reference to his eventual deposition, arrest, amputation and exile.
Death of Kabigumiire
Even afte Kabaleega had been crowned king, Kabigumiire continued fighting. In the face of a prolonged war, Prince Nyaika had suggested the kingdom be divided between the two princes. However, Kabaleega rejected the proposal outright. Even Nyaika’s offer to kill him proved futile. Eventually, he was cornered and killed at Parangoli near Kwese in Chope. His faithful servant Jabara (Japari), who stood by him to the end, was captured and brought before Kabaleega. In appreciation for Japari’s services, Kabaleega made him a sectional commander in Rwabudongo’s army. He lived long and died at Mparo during the war with Europeans.
Though his decisive victories over his rivals resulted in his accession to the throne by popular acclamation, Kabaleega was throughout his reign troubled by sporadic attempts on the part of certain of his fugitive rivals to seize his throne. These rivals were from time to time assisted not only by neighbouring rulers of Ankole and Buganda, but also by Acholi and Langi in northern Uganda as well as the Dongolese slave traders operating in those areas.
Kabaleega’s regal pose
During their maiden meeting at Mparo on September 22, Emin was impressed by Kabaleega regal appearance. He described the king as well clad, usually in bark cloth striped with black and every inch regal. “He was in national dress, namely, he was wrapped up to the chest in a piece of fine salmon-coloured barkcloth, from which, at times, his feet protruded. From the chest upwards he was naked.
“Above the waist, on his right arm, he wore a thin bracelet of iron and above the right elbow an amulet of roots, which so tightly encilrcled his arm as to be embedded in the flesh. Over his left shoulder he wore, in the manner of a plaid, another piece of pretty barkcloth of a somewhat darker colour. He had a necklace made from the hairs of a giraffe’s tail with a single large glass bead in the centre.”
His palace was a large circular building, with high doorways front and back and (on official occasion) strewed inside with green fronds of papyrus. In the middle of the room His Majesty King Kabaleega sat on a raised throne between two posts which supported the roof of the hall, on which was placed a rough and wide armchair.
The throne was covered with the skins of animals – leopards, lions, antelopes and reed ants.During Emin’s visit, about 50 people sat around Kabaleega, including his brother and several gun bearers with heavy percussion guns and one Remington rifle. They were dressed either in barkcloth or animal skins.
Women in Kabaleega’s palace
In thepalace the king’s wives had their servants and attendants. Of these there were three grades. The first two classes were permanent servants who lived in the enclosure, one set being the Bahima maids whom the king and princes might take to wife, and the other daughters of peasants. The third class was servants, mostly from the Bairu agriculturalists who came in by day and when they left the enclosure, were free to do what they liked.
The kingdom had greatly declined during the reign of his father as well as his grandfather’s. A number of princes had rebelled and seceded; Princes Kaboyo (Toro) and Ruyonga (Chope) had declared unilateral independence. So when Kabaleega came to power, his immediate objectives were three fold:
· To consolidate his position;
· To regain Bunyoro-Kitara’s lost territories, and;
· To restore the kingdom’s greatness and glory.
Kabaleega’s plan of rebuilding his kingdom started with the defeat of opposition from the royal family. He killed and exiled members of the royal family and chiefs who had supported his rival brother Kabigumire.Therefore, Kabaleega’s reign was dominated by the struggle to limit the power of Bunyoro’s great families and to preserve his kingdom’s independence. Kabaleega’s internal reforms were concerned with the centralisation of power and the extension of the political structures of the core of the kingdom to the semi-autonomous periphery.
In a bid to consolidate his power, Kabaleega carried out far-reaching military reforms ever. Firstly, he created a 150,000-strong professional army, equipped with guns. The Abarusuura (literally ‘those who can tear an enemy to threads’) – as Kabaleega’s army was called – was under his direct command. By raising a standing army Kabaleega departed from the traditional pattern of relying on the general public, not only for the safety and protection of the king, but also for the defence of the kingdom. His was a novel and revolutionising idea in the Great Lakes region.
The army was divided into 12 regiments known as Ebitongole. Each kitongole (singular) comprised 15,000 men, and was headed by a general known as “Engabwa ya Omukama”. The commander was decorated was decorated with a string of beads which he wore around his neck signifying that he represented the Crown.
Kabaleega abolished the old system of Obwesengeze(the levee en masse of the county chiefs), which had relied on hasty recruitment of the army at short notice in terms of emergency. Commoners and foreigners, who were appointed and promoted on merit by the king, replaced the local aristocracy as military leaders. The army was recruited from adventurers from all parts of Uganda, but most of the professional soldiers were Bairu, notably the army commander, Rwabudongo. Others were Byabachwezi, Ireeta Byangombe and Kikukuule Runego.
Kabaleega’s aim of creating a standing army was three-fold: to build an army that was independent of the influence of the saza (county) chiefs and members of the royal family, whose loyalty was suspect on account of their earlier show of preference for his rival, Kabigumiire, in the war of succession; and to curb the power of the aristocracy was urgently important because of the presence with a rebel band, of Ruyonga (a long-standing claimant to the throne) in Chope.
It also aimed to create a loyal army needed to defend the country against invasion from Buganda and for use in the expansion of Bunyoro.The army certainly succeeded in reducing the power of the aristocracy. The soldiers were unpaid and lawless; the aristocracy suffered from having their land and homes plundered at will.
The 12 regements’ leaders were appointed by Kabaleega, and were required to maintain residences at the capital, where they could be supervised and consulted. These leaders appointed their own officers, subject to royal approval, who commanded their regiments in the provinces.
Although each regiment was entrusted with a particular area, they were occasionally transferred, presumably to prevent the development of regional concentrations of power. The most powerful regiments were stationed near the capital to proterct the king and to act as a reserve army that could reinforce other regiments being attacked in the borderlands.
The regiments had land allotted to them, where the soldiers lived with their slaves. It seems that, in the case of local men at least, wives remained in their village homes. Within Bunyoro, the new regiments were intended to enable the royal government to achieve closer control over all sections of the population.In effect, the Abarusuura were employed as both an internal security service and a remarkably successful agent of conquest.
Within the barusuura were the babogora, the state police and executioners, who are remembered for mutilating people who ignored court etiquette and for singing songs such as ‘A rebel is worth killing’. The barusuura were deployed in the villages to apprehend wrong-doers.
Kabaleega also had a royal navy headquartered in Buruuli. Admiral Rubanga rwa Kyagwirewas in charge of the Omukama’s boats on Lake Kyoga and River Nile. In addition, the Nyamuyonjo (tradionmal hereditary chief of Bunyara (Bugerere) was responsible for the Omukama’s canoes on Rivers Nile and Sezibwa. This was witnessed by John Hannington Speke, when the Nyamuyonjo refused to allow him use Bunyoro’s boats to travel northwards into Kitara until he received clearance from the Omukama.
Expansion of Bunyoro
Aided by many hired Langi war bands, the army expanded Bunyoro for Kabaleega, whose motives were to revive the former glory of the empire, to obtain more grazing land for cattle, which was very important in the economy, andf to gain control of the Katwe salt deposits in Toro. In 1876, Toro was reconquered. Rwanda, Ankole and Karagwe were succefully raided and forced to pay tribute.
In the north, Chope was conquered. The Nilotic-speaking communities beyond the Nile and the Acholi were forced to pay tribute. Buganda was not itself spared. At the Battle of Rwengabi, Kabaleega defeated the Ganda army, and some districts of Buganda were occupied and 20,000 Baganda were enslaved.
It’s probable Bunyoro would have expanded further, and at the expense of Buganda which was ruled by a weak Kabaka Mwanga, if the British had not invaded the region, and taken sides with Bunyoro’s enemies in the late 1890s.He was proposing to attack Buganda, and this is why he had erected his residence at Mukaiha Kinogozi, but the arrival of the British thwarted these plans.
On the other hand, these foreign campaigns were embarked upon to heighten the prestige and the coercive power of the state, to bring in booty to reward followers, and to provide new tax resources and offices to be redistributed.
Royal absolutism increased as competition for royal favour became institutionalised, and centres of opposition were removed, primarily through the execution or destitution of most hereditary chiefs. Kabaleega made innovations in the structure as well as the personnel of the state.
Political reforms/Consolidation of power
Kabaleega established a highly centralised administration with him as the political head and a chain of chiefs in the provinces. All chiefs were appointed by him and answerable to himself. Delegated authority was given precedence over inherited status, as commoner chiefs were entrusted with disciplining the destructive ambitions of royal kin. Previously, aristocratic pastoralists and princes who were only distantly related to the current ruler viewed themselves as feudal lords and increasingly challenged royal authority.
However, Kabaleega’s new men displaced these provincial lords, drawing on both traditional and modern sources of authority. Barusura leaders were given chiefships over areas with a history of rebelliousness. Barusura were used to punish criminals and to discipline rebellious peoples, but their reputation for lawlessness, brutality, and plundering made them universally feared.
He equally encouraged a spirit of nationalism among the Banyoro; he always reminded them of the Baganda threat that if they did not unite the Baganda would finish them.Kabaleega also strengthened the new office of Omuhikirwa (prime minister), which symbolised the growing centralisation of power.
In 1887, he appointed Nyakamatura as prime minister, owing to his political competence and military prowess. A former slave, Nyakamatura had been the only Mwiru (commoner) among Omukama Kamurasi’s county chiefs. Kabaleega had retained his father’s premier, Kategora, for the first 16 years of his reign, before he was poisoned.
This was supplemented by the Orukiko – the supreme legislative body of the land. Each sub-county was represented in the Rukurato by Omujwara Kondo (Coronet wearer). As eminent people, the Bajwara kondo wore a string of beads around their necks as a sign of distinction. Their homes were a court of sorts.
Overall, Kabaleega’s political reforms were closely tied with the army reforms. Army generals were made territorial chiefs, so there was overlap between political and military authority. There was much greater centralisation and efficiency, because many counties were created for able commoners who were dependent on the king. Although the traditional chiefs kept their titles, they were ignored and powerless.
Kabaleega divided Bunyoro into 28 districts. Each district was under a Mukungu (chief) appointed by Kabaleega. Each Mukungu was from time to time sent to Kabaleega’s court and stayed sometimes a long time and sometimes not so long. Each Mukungu had a number of Batongole (subordinate chiefs), each of whom ruled a portion of the whole district, and a number of villages were included under his division.
The 28 districts in Bunyoro-Kitara were: Bugahya (under Nyakamatura rwa Nyakatuura of the Bamoli clan); Busindi (under Bikamba rwa Kabaale of Baranzi clan); Bugungu (under Mwanga rwa Kanagwa of Bacwa clan); Kihukya-Chope (under Katongole rwa Rukidi of Bacwa clan); Kibanda (under Masura rwa Materu of Bayonza clan); Bunyara (under Mutenga rwa Ikamba of Babiito clan); Buruuli (Kadyebo rwa Bantaba of Bagonya clan); Rugonjo Kalimbi (Mutengesa rwa Olalo of Babiito clan); and Bugangaizi (under Kikukuule rwa Runego of Bairuntu clan).
Others were Buyaga (under Rusebe rwa Rukumba of the Babiito clan); Nyakabimba (under Kato rwa Zigija of Babopi clan); Kyaka (under Ntamara rwa Nyakabwa of Bayonza clan); Mwenge (under Mugarra rwa Kabwijamu of Bayonza clan); Tooro (under Ruburwa rwa Mirindi of Bayonza clan); Kitagwenda (under Bulemu rwa Rwigi of Babiito clan); and Busongora (under Rukara rwa Rwamagigi of Baranzi clan).
At the time of Kabaleega’s visit to Bunyoro in 1872, Rukara was Kabaleega’s generalissimo. He was driven out of Busongora in 1891 when Lugard reinstated Kasagama as king of Tooro.
They also included Buzimba (under Nduru rwa Nyakairu of Baliisa clan); Buhweju (under Ndagara rwa Rumanyweka of Bahinda clan); Bwamba (under Rukara rwa Itegiraaha of Bacwa clan); Makara [Busongora] (under Kangabire rwa Kajura of Baliisa clan); Mbooga (under Ireeta rwa Byangombe of Basaigi clan); Buleega (under Muliwandwa rwa Ogati of Babyaasi clan); and Ganyi (under Awich rwa Ochamo of Babiito clan).
Others were Bukidi Lango (Kabaleega’s property under his direct rule); Kamuli Budiope (under Nyaika rwa Igabura of Babiito clan); Arulu[Madi] (under Anziri rwa Midiri of Babiito clan); Teso Kawero (Kamukokoma rwa Katenyi of Bahinda clan), and Bunya [present-day DRC] (under Rujumba rwa Salal of Baleega clan).
NB: Kabaleega revered Bukiidi Lango as the cradle land of the Babiito dynasty. It is for this reason that he never appointed any chief to administer this county, hence it was under his direct rule. Secondly, the county reportedly had the biggest market in the kingdom, hence Kabaleega might have wished to exercise his direct control over trade matters.
Thirdly, it would be unfair to accuse Kabaleega of nepotism, for only eight of these chiefs were his clansamate save for the fact that he entrusted to his mother’s pastoral clan the control of Kibiro salt mines.
It’s equally important to note that the Runyoro expression rwa in the names above refers to ‘son of’. Also, the plural form, rather than the singular one, of the clans has been preferred e.g. Babito (rather than Mubiito), Mubyaasi (rather than Babyaasi), etc.
Previously, Bunyoro society was was organised on class basis. It was characterised by three classes: Babiito(the ruling class), the Abahuma (aristocratic cattle keepers) and the Bairu (basically agriculturalists who formed the majority of the population). The Babito were the rulers and basically pastoralists.The Abairu were the subject class, peasant farmers and greatly despised. However, when Kabaleega ascended to power, he destroyed these classesand appointed even commoners (Abairu) to positions of responsibility. He used the policy of intermarriage and omukago (blood brotherhood) to unite the country. He himself, for example, married Achanda, a Luo woman, to act as an example.
Historically, Bunyoro had been divided into three social groups: the Babiito of Luo origin, the Bahima pastoralists, and the Bairu peasant agriculturalists and commoners.He encouraged the Banyoro to grow enough food (millet). He also built enough food stores (granaries) and in this way Kabaleega reduced famine in his kingdom. Kabaleega also encouraged Banyoro to intermarry with their eastern and northern neighbours, like the Acholi, Basoga, Langi and Alur. Bunyoro also recruited mercenaries from Lango, Teso and Acholi for her expansion programme.
Kabaleega was an impartial ruler with a high sense of justice. Throught the kingdom, robbery was punished by confiscation of the pick of cattle and women. If one Munyoro killed another, the relatives of the murdered man had the right to seize him and kill him, with a spear and, in addition to receive a cow from the family of the murderer. If they didn’t get hold the murderer, they would go to the chief of the area and gave him nine head of cattle and three sheep as his fee. Execution was performed with a spear.
There were often appeals against the Bakungu (chiefs). The person aggrieved stood before Kabaleega’s throne but at a distance of 10 paces and made his complaint. Kabaleega then decided the case, but did not do so always in favour of the Mukungu. For the maintenance of himself, his slaves and womenfolk, the chief had a tract of land in the district to which he was appointed and some slaves and cattle.
If he did his duty, he remained at his post. If not, one night a party would be sent to levy execution, surround the house, and confiscate everything for the benefit of the king. Another chief would then be appointed and installed in his place.
Religiously, the Banyoro believed in a Supreme Being called Ruhanga (god) who was believed to be the creator of all things. Ruhanga had no temple, priest, nor could he be asked for assistance. It was considered that he had done his work (creation) and, therefore, deserved uninterrupted rest.Apart from Ruhanga, the greatest of all the gods, the Banyoro had many other small gods. Each clan and family had its own favourite god. Sacrifices were always made to appease them.
The Banyoro belived in the Cwezi cult of kubandwa.They also had national gods like Wamara (the god of plenty), Mugizi (the god of Lake Albert), and Muhingo (the god of war), among others. These could be appealed to incase of any problem and offerings made to appease them.
Among others, the people celebrated the nine-day new moon ceremony. With time, however, Islam and Christianity made headway in Bunyoro. During Emin Pasha’s visit in 1878, he noticed Banyoro celebrating the feast of Ramadhan-Bainam (Idd Ezzuraijah). During this holiday, Kabaleega and his officials wore Arabic dress and spoke Arabic. On this particular holiday, he sent Emin a present of a cow. Circumcision was also widely practiced in Bunyoro.
Control of trade
Kabaleega’s reign is remembered as a time of economic prosperity. He emphasised wealth above everything else. Accordingly, Bunyoro flourished as a centre of long-distance trade. The reputation of Bunyoro ivory as the whitest, heaviest and largest in East Africa, attracted traders from the north (Khartoumers) and the Swahili Arabs from the coast. Bunyoro’s access to immense resources of ivory became its strongest advantage over Buganda, whose supplies were fast declining.
He encouraged trade with the coastal Arabs and the Khartoumers from the North .In this trade Bunyoro supplied ivory and in return got guns. Trade with her neighbours like Buganda was also encouraged. Ivory was also brought in from Alur, Buleega and Acholi, which were exchanged for guns from long-distance traders. Salt from Kibiro and Katwe were other precious commodities, which were under direct state control. Spears, hoes and other iron goods completed the list of exports.
Kabaleega wanted guns above all from long-distance traders; a musket worth one dollar in Zanzibar was exchanged in Bunyoro for ivory worth fifty pounds. Firearms enriched Bunyoro greatly increased its military power, and served to cement political alliances. Bunyoro’s wealth, unity, and military strength enabled her to overcome the unprecedented challenges that faced Kabaleega when he came to power.
Sudanese slave traders fostered local conflicts for material gain and sought to make Kabaleega militarily dependent on their mercenaries. The Egyptian empire attempted to annex Bunyoro and replace Kabaleega with one of his rebellious cousins, while immense Ganda armies began attacking Kabaleega’s capital instead of merely raiding Bunyoro’s borderlands. Though Kabaleega did not impose a royal monopoly of long-distance trade, he ensured that what trade was not conducted byhimself or his treasurer, Rwabudongo, was carried on by loyal favourites, such as Kikukuule.
In addition, there were at least 50 flourishing markets in Kabaleega’s kingdom and its spheres of influence. They included such regional markets as Katwe, Kasenyi, Kibiro and Bukidi. For each location, Kabaleega appointed a resident, professional labour force to man the scarce resource in such sensitive locus for specialised production and sale. Katwe market, for instance, was a thriving hub of international network of regional and long-distance trade routes over land and water, serving an area approaching 35 square miles.
Medical Research and Scientific advancements
During the reign of Kabaleega, clearly Bunyoro was ahead of time in a number of scientific discoveries and practices. The abafumu (doctors) carried out inoculations and/or vaccinations were to protect babies and even adults from syphilis. The abafumu argued that when the ‘virus’ was introduced to the infants’ bodies, it reduced their chances of catching the disease in adulthood. Later research showed that exposure to the disease in infancy indeed significantly reduced ones chances of contracting the disease in later life.
Soon, Omukama Kabalega commissioned omufumu Yangoma to ‘make experiments in the interests of science’. This came to light during the sleeping sickness epidemic in Uganda (1886-7), when the colonial administrator asked Grant (the tax collector for Busoga) to contact Yangoma. In the words of Grant to the commissioner on May 30, 1902 [PRO/FO/2/590], Yangoma was ‘successful in procuring a cure’.
In addition, Banyoro indigenous healers performed successful Caesarean section operations at a time when Europe still lagged behind. In 1879, for example, one British traveller, R.W. Felkin, witnessed a successful Caesarean section performed by abafumu at Kahura near Mruli in present-day Nakasongola. As noted by R. W. Felkin (“Notes on Labour in Central Africa” published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, Volume 20, April 1884, pp. 922-930), this technique was well-developed and had clearly been employed for a long time.
On top of raiding outlying provinces and breakaway areas, Kabaleega maintained both trade and diplomatic relations with her neighbours, like Buganda, Busoga, Ankole, Karagwe, Lango and West Nile. For example, she exported her salt to Buganda. Karubanga was Kabaleega’s ambassador to Buganda. In 1878, Kabaleega posted Kasabe, an important Mutongole (chief), to Gondokoro.
In 1885 Kabaleega signed a diplomatic agreement with the Abbey Principality of San Luigi (Fezzan), in which he formally recognised the Prince-Abbot and granted the monks territory in Bunyoro. On March 15, 1885, Kabaleega conferred upon the Prince-Abbot the title of “Mukungu (Prince Governor) of the Chieftainship of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi (Fizzan)” (incorrectly transcribed “Makougos” in a number of later documents). This marked the beginning of the diplomatic relationship between Bunyoro and the Principality, which has continued to-date.
The monks, who had travelled from Fezzan (Libya) through Sudan, remained in Bunyoro until 1888 when an epidemic of tropical fever left Prince-Abbot José II the only survivor; he therefore closed the Abbey in Bunyoro and returned to Europe.
The Principality of San Luigi is a traditional Catholic sovereign principality. It was founded on St Louis’ Day, August 25, 1883, at Ghadames in the Touareg-Azgar country (Tripolitania-Fezzan, now part of modern Libya) by members of the Benedictine Order, with the Rev. Fr Dom Henrice Pacomez elected the first Prince-Abbot and recognised as such by the French government and the Roman Catholic Church. The dignity of Prince-Abbot is of the same character as the Papal titles of prince-abbot and prince-bishop which historically carried with them territorial sovereignty.
Extent of Bunyoro Kingdom
Kabaleega expanded the boundaries of Bunyoro far and wide. In 1875, the Banyoro army overthrew Nyaika, the King of Toro, and the breakaway kingdom was reunited with Bunyoro. Nyaika’s children were carried away prisoners into Bunyoro, except the eldest son, Kasagama and his mother who fled to Ankole. Kabaleega also reclaimed several former parts of Bunyoro which had been annexed to Buganda, so that Bunyoro doubled in area under the first 20 years of his rule.
Even more remarkably, Kabaleega’s was the first lengthy reign in centuries during which Bunyoro was free of internal rebellions.In fact, his aim was to recover the former Bunyoro Kitara Empire. The boundaries of his kingdom were as follows: West: Lake Edward, Busongora, Ituri Forest (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo), and stretching from Buleega and Butuku; North: Equatoria Province (Sudan); East: Lake Kyoga, Busoga, Bunyara on River Sezibwa, the Buganda boundary with Bulemeezi and Singo; South: Ankole bounded with Buzimba and Buhweju counties.
The itinerary king
Kabaleega was an energetic man, always walking on his own foot, instead of being carried on the shoulders of a man, as was the custom with kings and chiefs of Uganda. He found the sedentary life of the palace most irksome. It’s partly for this reason that he had at least 15 palaces.
After succession, Kabaleega erected his palace at Kyamungu Rukindo in Buyaga County. He later left Bugangaizi to Busindi, where he made his residence at Kikuube on top of a hill. Then, after defeating Kabigumiire, he relocated to Bulyasojo, Masindi where he was found by Sir Samuel Baker in 1872.
After the Battle of Baligota Isansa, Kabaleega transferred his palace to Kibwona. After the departure of Baker, he shifted to Bulyango, and finally Mparo. All the counties of Bunyoro which had rebelled during Kyebambe Nyamutukura III’s reign – Tooro, Buleega, Butuku and Busongora – were conquered during his stay at Mparo.
Afterwards, Kabaleega moved from Mparo to Bulera, then to Rwengabi near Bugoma Forest after being attacked by Mwanga’s army led by county chief Kangawo. After defeating the Ganda army, he went to Bwikya and lived there for a short time, before moving to Bujwahya (where he met Gaetano Casati) and then to Kasingo.
From Bujwahya he went to Buhimba, and then to Kiraguura in Buruli to fight the Babiito rebels who were in Chope. He defeated them and put Prince Komwiswa in prison for life. Prince Rujumba was sent to Mwenge to look after Kabaleega’s cattle. So the kingdom was subdued. From Kiraguura, Kabaleega relocated to Kicwamba where he lived for a short time and then went to Kabale at Kinogozi.
As the supreme head of state, Kabaleega used to chair meetings of the House of Kings in the greater Bunyoro-Kitara Empire under the Nyakahuma (referred to as Nakayima) tree in Mubende. The kings would meet at least three times a year at regular intervals. Referred to as Kac in Luo, this tree was a symbol and instrument of national unity. Each king came with troops of the imperial army of Bunyoro-Kitara.
In the 1890s, Tito Winyi, then a teenager, accompanied his father, Kabaleega, who presided over the extraordinary meeting. After the meeting, Kabaleega returned to Lukungu, his new capital, and Mwanga went to Lututuru/Agoro.
Kabaleega and Buganda
When at Mukaiha he sent the Abarusuura commanded by Ireeta Rwabudongo Omuhambya to dethrone Kabaka Mwanga and replace him with Kalema – a feat he achieved. Shortly afterwards Kalema died of small pox. Assisted by the British, Mwanga invaded Bunyoro. At the battle fought at Bukuumi in Bugangaizi, the Abarusuura, led by Prince Jaasi Nyakimoso, defeated the enemy.
The Battle of Rwengabi, 1886
The Battle of Rwengabi of 1886 transformed the balance of power in the interlacustrine region. It was fought at Rwengabi on the precincts of Bugoma Forest, after Kabaleega had his capital at Bulera, to the west in order to draw the enemy into a trap. The ivading Buganda army, comprising thousands of men, was led by Kangaho Kibirango (Saza Chief of Bulemezi).
After a day’s fighting, Kabaleega’s army, the Abarusura, flanked by the Obwesengeze (volunteers), defeated the Ganda army.So ferocious was the fighting that Ireeta Rwabudongo, the army commander, assisted by Nyakamatura, had suggested a ceasefire, which Kabaleega rejected outright. “I don’t was to sleep when the enemy is still in my country, I want the county to be mine alone, to possess this country the enemy must kill me first,” he said.
This inspired the army to fight on. Eventually, Kangaho Kibirango, the enemy commander, was killed, together with his junior commanders Mururuma and Mwandwambi. Pokino Tebukozza, a Muganda chief, was among the many prisoners of war captured.Kabalega, who was in the thick of action, personally killed Kangaho using his favourite Bagwigairebata – a rifle which could fire 17 shots. The battle of Kangaho was the heaviest defeat Buganda had ever suffered. As a result, it marked an end to serious Buganda invasions into Bunyoro. It also marked a shift in balance of power in favour of Bunyoro.
Kabaleega and Captain Fredrick Lugard
After a short while, Mwanga and Capt. Lugard, escorted Prince Kasagama back to Toro, with the intention of cutting off some counties of Bunyoro. They passed through Ankole because they were unable to pass near Bunyorowhere Kabaleega was. This came to his notice when they had already reached Busongora and Katwe.Kabaleega sent Ireeta to assist Rukara Rwaramagigi, the county chief of Busongora at that time. However, the expeditionary force could not do much as Rukara had already been defeated. After establishing a fort at Misozi Mwenge, Lugard proceeded to Buleega.
Kabaleega ordered Bugangaizi chief Kikukuule to attack the Mwenge garrison – a successful mission in which the head Nubian incharge of it was killed. When Lugard returned from Buleega, he attacked Kabaleega in Bugangaizi. At the battle of River Kanyangaro among the dead was Kasaija, son ofKikukuule.There after Lugard returned to Buganda.
Kabaleega sent an envoy to Capt. Lugard to express his displeasure at the way parts of his kingdom had been cut off without any consultation with him. He sent two tusks of ivory with the messenger and asked Capt. Lugard to come and discuss together about the matter. But Lugard, after being misled by the advice of the Baganda, refused to come; he returned to Buganda
Courtesy: Omutalindwa Owek. Isaac Kalembe Akiki