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Culture Corner

Traditional Ankole Wedding ceremonies are rich with love and affection, one of its most prominent aspects is the traditional wedding ceremony is the Kuhingira.

Kuhingira means “to give away” in Runyankole, the language of the Ankole people and is the final stage of the marriage process. It involves several steps and rituals. The first step is the introduction of the bride and groom to each other’s families, which is done by a go-between, known as Katerarume. The Katerarume is a respected person who acts as a mediator and negotiator between the two parties. He is responsible for presenting the groom’s proposal, arranging the bride price, and setting the date for the Kuhingira.

The bride price is one of the most important aspects of the Ankole wedding. It is a symbolic gesture of appreciation and respect from the groom to the bride’s family. The bride price consists of various items, such as money, clothes, and household goods, but the most essential and valuable item is the Ankole cattle. The Ankole cattle are a breed of long-horned cows that are revered and cherished by the Ankole people. They are a source of pride, wealth, and status, and are considered sacred and symbolic animals. The number and quality of the cattle that the groom offers to the bride’s family determines his worthiness and suitability as a husband.

The Kuhingira is a festive and colorful event that takes place at the bride’s home. It is attended by relatives and friends from both sides, who come to witness and celebrate the union of the couple. The ceremony is full of music, dance, and speeches, which express the culture and values of the Ankole people. The bride and groom wear traditional attire, which is usually accessorized with beaded jewelry, and other local items. The bride also wears a veil, which covers her face until the groom lifts it up and embraces her. In some ceremonies, the groom also carries a spear and a shield, which symbolize his strength and a show of protection to his new companion.

The highlight of the Kuhingira is the exchange of gifts and blessings between the families of the newly-weds. The groom’s family presents the bride price to the bride’s family, who inspect and accept it. The bride’s family then gives the groom some gifts, such as ornamental items, crafted tools which symbolize his duties and responsibilities as a husband. The bride’s father also blesses the couple by sprinkling some milk on their heads, which symbolize fertility and prosperity. The bride then leaves her home and joins the groom, who takes her to his home, where another feast and celebration await them.

Every Kuhingira ceremony is unique and beautiful, making it the perfect ceremony to witness an ancient African tradition that showcases the Ankole culture and heritage. Ankole elders insist that this ceremony is a way of honoring and respecting the ancestors, the families, and the community as well as a way of celebrating and affirming the love and commitment of the couple, who can now start their journey as a married couple upon receiving the blessings from the ancestors and support from their loved ones.

Ankole culture is the way of life for the Banyankole people who live in the western region of Uganda. Traditionally, the Banyankole were divided into two social groups: the cultivators who practiced agriculture, and the pastoralists who kept the Ankole long-horned cattle. The Banyankole speak the Runyankole language and have a rich history and heritage that dates back to the 15th century.

The Banyankole trace their origins to the Empire of Kitara, a powerful kingdom that ruled over the Great Lakes region and a section of the Nile Valley until the 16th century. According to legend, the first king of Ankole, Ruhinda, was the son of Wamara, the last emperor of Kitara. Ruhinda fled from the invaders who destroyed Kitara and established his own kingdom in the area that is now Ankole. He named it Karo-Karungi, meaning “the good village”. Ruhinda and his descendants expanded the kingdom through conquest and alliances with other kingdoms, such as Karagwe and Buganda.

The Banyankole have a monarchic system of governance, where the king is known as the Omugabe or Mugabe. The Omugabe is the supreme leader of the kingdom and the custodian of the culture and traditions. He is assisted by a council of elders, chiefs, and clan heads. The Omugabe also has a special relationship with the Ankole cattle, which are considered sacred and a symbol of wealth and status. The Omugabe owns the largest herd of cattle in the kingdom and performs rituals and ceremonies to bless and protect them.

The Banyankole have a rich and diverse culture that is expressed through their music, dance, art, crafts, cuisine, and folklore. They are known for their harmonious and melodious songs, which are accompanied by drums, flutes, horns, and rattles. The songs are used for various occasions, such as weddings, funerals, festivals, and storytelling and are usually accompanied by various dances such as the Ekitaguriro and the Ekizino. The Banyankole are skilled in making various crafts, such as baskets, mats, pots, and stools, using materials such as grass, clay, wood, and cow horns. They have a distinctive cuisine, which is based on milk, meat, millet, bananas, and vegetables and are famous for their fermented milk, known as Omugamba, which is a staple drink and a delicacy. The Banyankole also have a rich oral tradition, which consists of proverbs, riddles, stories, and legends, that convey their values, beliefs, and wisdom.

The Banyankole culture is a fascinating and vibrant aspect of Ugandan heritage that often remains unexplored by many. However, there are some cultural sites and attractions that offer visitors a chance to learn more about their history and their way of life. Some of these include:

  • Nshenyi Cultural Village: This is a family-owned agritourism farm in Ntungamo district, where visitors can experience the traditional lifestyles of the people of Ankole. Visitors can also enjoy village walks, cultural performances, and interactions with the local communities.
  • Igongo Cultural Centre: This is a museum and cultural centre in Mbarara district, where visitors can learn about the history and culture of the Banyankole and other western Uganda ethnic groups. The centre also has a restaurant, a craft shop, and a beautifully trimmed botanical garden.
  • Ankole Royal Palace: This is the former residence of the Omugabe of Ankole, located in Mbarara town. The palace was built in 1934 and has a collection of royal regalia, artifacts, and photographs. The palace also has a kraal of Ankole cattle, which are a major attraction.

The Ankole culture is a unique and valuable part of Uganda’s cultural diversity and identity. It is important to preserve and promote the culture and traditions of the people of Ankole, as well as respect and appreciate their contributions to the social and economic development of modern Uganda.

ART & CRAFT

Ugandans are skilled handicraft and traditional artists, this is why a wide array of art and handicraft products are common across all Ugandan tribes and communities, ranging from Basketry, Mats, Ceramics, Pottery, Beads, Hand-made textiles, Woven products, Kid’s toys, Jewelry, Bags, Leather Products, Batiks, curved wooden art and may others.

These Items are produced using local raw material and tribal ornaments in relation to culture, history and traditions. Handicraft is a cultural tradition and a predominantly cottage industry practiced by rural youth of both genders although women make up the largest makers of artisanal hand-crafted items.

By tradition, craftsmanship skills are handed down from elders to youngsters from generation to generation. The production of handicrafts has recently seen an up-swing as a fully fledged industrial branch and is now perceived as a potential business and a source of sustainable family income to supplement other income sources like subsistence agriculture.

Some of Uganda’s traditional art and craft pieces double as musical instrument with famous examples being drums, thumb pianos, stopped clay & reed pipes, lyre fiddles and rattles. Some Cast-iron bells are also incorporated into traditional music and dance and a mainly tied onto the traditional dancers’ legs.

BARK-CLOTH & TEXTILES;

Photo by Eric Burger

Invented by the ancient people of the Buganda Kingdom, Bark-cloth is a fine textile material that is processed and produced from Tree-barks. It is a vegetable fibre with a wide selection of the most diverse natural colours although the dark-brown shade is the most common.

BLACKSMITH;

Traditional blacksmiths often assumed the role of a traditional priest or medicine man and a creator of ritual figures with the highly skilled blacksmiths being singled out by Kings and Chiefs to produce articles made of Iron that are embellished with special ornaments and decorations for the King’s palace.

POTTERY-GOURDS;

There are various types of pottery in Uganda with most of the ports and earthenware saucers made of kaolin, clay and dark soil. Skilled potters slurp the clay and roll it in their hands as they carve out the desired product without using a kick-wheel or any other equipment. Many Ugandan tribes use clay to make smoking pipes, pots for carrying water and cooking purposes.

The Gourds serve different purposes, some are used as containers for traditionally brewed Beer while Long-Neck gourds are specially used to store drinking water and in some cases used to store locally made milk products like butter, ghee, yoghurt as well as locally mined Salt.

Many Ugandan artists write on the gourds or embroider them with tiny beads before they are put on sale, Larger Gourds are used to carry Banana wine on the occasion of Weddings or Funerals; as per traditional customs, such gourds have to be draped with yellow banana leaves and gently placed onto a seat made of dry Banana leaves and fibre.

BASKETRY

Elephant grass and dry leaves provide raw material used for mats, baskets, and also woven bee baskets. They are also used to build traps for wild animals, hand bags as well as interior house decorations.

The Toro and Hima people of western Uganda produce fine, little cylindrical baskets locally referred to as “Endiiro” in which millet bread is served and stored.

The Baganda people of central Uganda produce much larger baskets that are used to store Coffee beans, Fruits and even locally brewed beer.

These Baskets are also used in traditional Ganda weddings where men dressed in the traditional tunic known as “Kanzu” line up with these Baskets as they approach the Bride’s parents’ home in the initial traditional wedding segment known as “Kwanjula”.

These items are woven from wild reeds, and certain strands are dyed with coloured ink that is extracted from selected plants and fruit before being woven into the basket to form brilliantly beautiful patterns.

SCULPTURES & MASKS;

Traditionally, Art was a service used for religious purposes and influenced by concepts like divine power, divine greatness, the grandeur nature of a divine entity and death. Traditional Art also constituted a natural form of expression in which the Artist depicted the invisible and super-natural entities. These articles were used in various Ugandan traditional religious practices and ritualistic performances. Sulptures had a Religious symbolic value; Alters and Temples were built in their honour. Animal sculptures were erected as guardians that provided power and protection.

Traditional masks also served as an expression towards the supernatural. In Mask dances, divine power was mediated and the dancers were only medium tools in which the threats stipulated by bad spirits were erased and the good spirits were asked for help. This corresponded to a social necessity for regulation of the relations of ancient Ugandans with the Supernatural.

BATIK;

This art technique is believed to be more than 1000 years old. Melted wax is applied to cloth before it is dipped into dye. Wherever the wax has seeped through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Batik that is made in Uganda is used for decorative purposes in the form of Wall imaging with subjects that depict the cultural diversity and way of life of the several Ugandan tribes and communities.

JEWELLERY

In Uganda, people have always worn jewelry made from animal parts such as bone, horns,feathers, teeth as well as stone, seeds, wood, clay and precious metals and other items. The most common forms of jewelry are Amulets, necklaces, bracelets, rings and needles for head-dresses.

TRADITIONAL SITES

Kasubi Royal Tombs:

Kasubi hill was originally called Nabulagala, When Mutesa I established his palace on the hill in 1882, he changed its name to Kasubi which is a village in Kyagwe where he grew up. This traditional site is in an urban setting that is situated just 5 kilometers from Kampala city center in Uganda. Four of the previous kings (Basekabaka) of the kingdom of Buganda are burried on these grounds where magnificently built huts and a gigantic dome shaped grass-thatched structure dominate the landscape. The giant hut is known as Muzibu Azaala Mpanga in the local Luganda language.

The interior of these huts has magnificent reed and ring work that symbolises the 52 clans of the Baganda people. The main hut has long and straight poles that are wrapped with bark-cloth and are very quiet inside which contributes to the mystical nature of this site which also doubles as an active religious shrine. The traditional architectural style and its religious significance formed the criteria for its nomination as unique cultural site of outstanding universal value and thereafter inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in December 2001. This site records more than 50,000 visitors every year.

Bulange-Mengo:

Located on Mengo Hill in the Ugandan capital Kampala, Bulange-Mengo is the parliamentary building of the Buganda Kingdom and is reffered to as Lukiiko in the Luganda language. The Building also houses the Office of the Kabaka (King), the Katikiro (Prime Minister), the Ministers and other royal functionaries. At the entrance to Bulange is a mural of all the 52 clans of Buganda and a sculpture of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the King of Buganda.

The Parliamentary building lies a mile away from Twekobe Lubiri (the Palace) in an adjacent direction. This stretch is known as “The Royal Mile” or Kabaka Anjagala in the Luganda language.

TRADITIONAL MUSIC & DANCE

Ugandan music is largely blended with some form of art such as poetry, ritual or dance. Several Ugandan tribes use music and dance to explain their history, cultural values, religious beliefs and other social attributes; Music was traditionally used as a mode of communication, for example; the King sounded a special drum with a specific rhythm to communicate a state of war, other examples include musical melodies and dances meant to appease the Gods, special songs to welcome visitors, as well as on occasions such burials, weddings among others.

Tribes and communities from western Uganda practice a form of poetry known as “kwevuga” as a means of preservation of heritage and lineage, in these poem recitations, the performer chants while rhythmically mentioning names of his fore-fathers as far back as 10 generations or older while mentioning other social attributes such as the clan and way of life of his ancestors. “Kwevuga” is also performed at wedding ceremonies of the Ankole and Kiga people as well as Kinyarwanda speaking communities of western Uganda who refer to it as “Kwivuga” this style of “Kwevuga” is usually accompanied by a melodies played by way of a traditional gituar known as “Enanga” in the Ankole and Kiga dialect.

Every tribe or community has its unique songs and an associated dancing style that is differentiated by the rhythmic dance moves. These dances carry deep cultural attachement and have been preserved in their original form for many generations.

THE BAKISIMBA DANCE OF THE BAGANDA

This is a traditional Ganda dance in which performers imitate the act of planting bananas while singing the Luganda language chorus “abakisimba be baakiwoomya” which translates as “those who planted the bananas made them tasty”. Bananas and Plantain are the staple food of the Baganda people and are of significant importance to the Baganda people’s cultural identity. Baganda men usualy take on the role of drummers while the ladies do the dancing in this particular dance. The Bakisimba dance is tradtionally a Royal dance that is performed for the King although its popularity has made it a universal dance that is performed at many Ganda traditional ceremonies. Below is a picture of girls performing a traditional Ganda dance at Ndere Cultural Center in Kampala.

AMAGUNJU DANCE OF THE BAGANDA

This is another Royal Dance that is performed by the Baganda people of the “Butiko” clan. This clan is known for their relation one of Buganda’s previous Kings known as Kabaka Mulondo. Kabaka Mulondo was a young infant king and the Amagunju dance was formulated to entertain him. This dance demonstrates the energy and hardworking nature of the Baganda as well as their undoubted loyality to their Kabaka. Below is a picture of energetic Buganda youth performin the Amagunju dance.

EMBAGA DANCE OF THE BAGANDA

This traditional dance is performed at Ganda weddings in front of the newly-wed couple. The dance involves an educational demonstration that teaches the newly wed virgin couple all they need to know about marital romance. It is usually performed by one expert dancer in the company of a drummer.

TAMENHAIBUGA DANCE OF THE BASOGA

Kampala, 3rd August 2018, A dancer from Busoga performs the traditional / cultural dance “Tamenhaibuga”. Busoga is a traditional Bantu kingdom and one of the monarchies in present-day Uganda (Photo by Jjumba Martin)

This is one of the traditional dances of the Basoga people of eastern Uganda. The dance’s name “Tamenhaibuga” is a Soga phrase that literary translates as “good friends drink together but do not fight each other lest they break the gourd that contains the drink”. The gourd is symbolically used to express the value and fragility of love and friendship. Other Busoga dances include the Nalufuka dance which is a much faster and more rythimic dance, The Eirongo dance which is a slow dance that is performed to celebrate the birth of twins, The Amayebe dance which is believed to increase the strength and stamina of the male dancers, The Eswenzi dance which is a religious dance used to communicate with supernatural entities and the Ekigwo dance which is actually a traditional wrestling match between two individuals.

KARUZIKA PALACE IN BUNYORO-KITARA KINGDOM
This is the Palace of the King of Bunyoro-Kitara His Highness Rukirabasaija Solomon Gafabusa Iguru. The palace site is located in Hoima city, western Uganda and includes a museum that is open to tourists, an auditorium and several structures where the Empango celebrations are perfomed. It is believed that there is a special treasure room within the palace that houses royal bounty as well Kingdom regalia that includes cowrie shells, animal skins, spears, shields, pearls, beads, pots, bronze artifacts as well as bows & arrows.


MPARO TOMBS
Located 2km from Hoima Town on the Hoima-Masindi Road, The Mparo tombs house the burial grounds of Omukama Cwa II Kabalega, Sir Tito Winyi as well as other prominent princes and princesses of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom. Representative pieces of the regalia of shields, spears, pots, gourds, drums, smoking pipes, baskets with coffee berries, leopard skins and other animal hides are spread all around the tombs.


Within the grounds of the site is the Emin Pasha-Kabalega memorial which is marked by a cone-shaped monument in remembrance of the meeting location of Dr. Emin Pasha and the King of Bunyoro in the year 1877.
To the west of the Tombs are two features associated with the palace and kingship;
(a) The Omweko tree;- According to Bunyoro tradition, this tree possesses supernatural powers and is known to have been brought to Bunyoro from Tanzania.
(b) The Empango;- A coronation mound that is where ancient Bunyoro kings observed the rite of passage to the throne with the guidance of the gods.

photo by Eric Burger

KAMURASI-BAKER MONUMENT


This site is found near Masindi town and is where the Omukama Kamurasi of Bunyoro-Kitara met Sir Samuel Baker and his wife who had come to the land of Bunyoro from Egypt by way of the River Nile. Their friendship was however short-lived when Omukama Kamurasi discovered that Sir Samuel Baker was on a mission to annex his Kingdom to the Anglo-Egyptian administration in Sudan with an army of Nubians and a fierce battle ensued which saw Sir Samuel Baker flee from the Kingdom lands along with several wounded mercenaries,The events that took place in this incident are referred to by Bunyoro elders and historians as “Baligota Isansa”. A subsequent war however ensued much later (1892-1899) between Omukama Kamurasi’s son known as Omukama Kabalega and the British colonial army which ended in the exiling of Omukama Kabalega to the Seychelles islands as a political prisoner.

KABAROLE PALACE OF TORO KINGDOM

Located in Fort Portal city, this is one of the Palaces of the Toro King Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV. The Palace and its grounds make for one of the best Tourist sites within Toro kingdom and commands a great scenic view of beautiful hills and countryside stretching 100km in all direction not to mention a bird’s eye view of some of the major urban centers of Toro. The Palace can be seen from almost any where within Fort Portal city and thus the reason to why it was named “Kabarole” which translates as “Let them see”. It is sorrounded by well kempt royal compounds that house important cultural amenities as well as the King’s herds of royal cattle.

KARAMBI TOMBS OF TORO KINGDOM

The Tombs (in the picture above) are located in Fort Portal City on the Fort Portal-Kasese Road and house the burial sites of three of the former Kings of Toro known these Kings are known as “Abakama” in the languange of the Toro people. The names of the Kings who lay here are; Omukama Kyebambe Kamurasi, Omukama Rukidi III and Omukama Olimi Kaboyo II. The Kings are buried in three seperate Tomb houses with an asortment of Royal Regalia by their side. The site also houses the graves of the princes and princesses of the Toro Kingdom and is a perfect place for tourists to learn about the burial styles of Ancient African Kings.

MUGABA PALACE OF ANKOLE KINGDOM

This site is located in the Kamukuzi area of Mbarara City in western Uganda and houses the rennovated remains of the 12-acre Palace of the King of Ankole Omugabe Charles Godfrey Gasyonga II. The Palace grounds also house a Royal Drum house where the Ankole Royal Drum known as “Bagyendanwa” and other royal regalia such as spears, shields, gourds and leopard skins were traditionally kept. Much of the Ankole Royal Regalia has been kept in the Uganda Museum since the Kingdom’s abolition by the central government in 1967 although some items have been returned and the Palace grounds have undergone renovation. Although current King known as “Omugabe” in the Nkore language does not stay here, the Palace grounds are accessible to tourists who wish to learn more about the Ankole Royal Family and other aspects of the culture of the people of Nkore.

STAPLE CUISINE IN BUGANDA KINGDOM

MATOOKE

Matooke is a plantain species of Banana and is the most popular among all the Baganda staple foods. It is prepared by peeling banana fingers with hand knives which are then wrapped tightly in banana leaves and placed in a cooking pot with enough water to produce the required amount of steam to cook the bananas which are then removed from the pot (and not un-wrapped from the leaves) and squeezed into a smooth, soft and golden yellow mash. The purpose of the banana leaves is to keep the Matooke hot and steamy. The Matooke is usually served with beef stew, chicken stew and bean stew.

LUWOMBO

Besides Matooke being a delicacy in the Buganda region, it is also customary tradition to wrap the staple food and stew inside banana leaves for preparation by way of steaming, this cooking technique is referred to as “luwombo” in the Luganda language. This cooking style was traditionally reserved for Royal Buganda dinners but has now become very popular across the whole of Uganda and is served in many restaurants and hotels. Tourists who have had a taste of “luwombo” rank it high among the tastiest African delicacies.

STAPLE CUISINE IN ANKOLE KINGDOM

AKARO

Akaro is a traditional delicacy among the ethnic agrarian tribes in western Uganda as well as the Northern and Eastern parts of Uganda. The Akaro is extracted from from dried millet grain using traditional grinding stones known as “rubengo” or by mordern grain milling machines. The cooking process starts by boiling a quantity of water that is propotional to the millet flour. After the water has reached the boiling point, the millet flour is then added to the water which leads to the formation of a thick dough that is mingled with a cooking rod known as “omwiko”. The dough then turns to a dark brown buldging ball that is served in a speacial basket known as “endiiro”. Visit Uganda today and sample the tastey “Akaro”.

ESHABWE

This traditional Ankole dish id derived from cow-butter that is skimmed from milk and is usually served along side “Akaro” and is a meal that any tourist could certainly get acquainted with on a visit to the Kingdom of Ankole in western Uganda.

TRADITIONALLY MADE BUTTER AND MILK PRODUCTS

The lives of many of the people of Ankole Kingdom are by tradition attached to the livelihood of their cattle. They keep a breed of cow known as the Ankole long-horned cattle, a breed that has thrived since ancient times although believed to have been kept by ancient Egyptian farmers who ruled the Nile Valley. The milk from these cows is used in the processing by traditional means into many kinds of food products like Butter, Ghee, Cheese, Yourghut, Eshabwe as well as non-food items like body-oil and others.

Ankole woman making Butter.

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