THE ANKOLE CULTURE OF UGANDA

THE ANKORE CULTURE OF UGANDA
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Ankole kingdom was one of the four big traditional kingdoms in Uganda at the time of independence covering the present districts of Mbarara, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Kiruhura, Ibanda and Isingiro in western Uganda.
The kingdom covered areas of most of the areas currently occupied by Ankole people. King Nyabugaro (Ntare I)  faced invasion from Bunyoro as the King Olimi 1 from Bunyoro claimed that as heirs of the Bachwezi, they were overlords of the Ankole Kingdom. Omukama Olimi I drove the Omugabe into exile and plundered the Country. In the 18th and 19th centuries Ankole kingdom benefited from the decline of Bunyoro and the break-up of Mpororo Kingdom and extended its rule North and West

The Ankole kingdom is said to have been created way back in 1500 century by the Bachwezi. The kingdoms including Ankole Kingdom were abolished in 1967 by President Apollo Militon Obote government and were restored by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s government in 1993 but the people of Ankole refused to restore their Kingdom. This was mainly attributed to the rigid traditional structure of the former Ankole Kingdom that divided the people who had traditionally lived together and depended on each other.
The Kingdom had a centralized administration system headed by the King (Omugabe) assisted by local chiefs and a Prime Minister (Enganzi). The Abagabe came from the royal Bahinda clan

In 1919 there were 149,469 Banyankole; this rose to 224,000 Bairu and 25,000 Bahima by 1931. By 1959 the population rose to over half a million thus making the Banyankole the second largest Bantu-speaking ethnic group in Uganda. In the twentieth century the Banyankole registered over a million.

Both the Bahima and the Bairu speak a language called Runyankole, which is one of the Bantu languages spoken in Uganda. Bantu languages are part of the large Niger-Congo language family. It is widely believed that at one time the Bahima had their own language, which they abandoned in favor of the Runyankole, spoken by the majority of the Banyankole.

Some scholars believe that Ankole originally was occupied by Bantu-speaking agricultural Bairu. Later, Ankole provided a passage for Hamitic peoples, possibly the Bahima, migrating from Ethiopia southward. These pastoralists conquered the Bairu and proclaimed themselves the rulers of the land. According to some scholars, the more numerous Bairu were serfs and the Bahima were the dominant ruling class. For the most part the two ethnic groups coexisted peacefully.

Banyankore, Bahima, Bairu, Hima, Muhima, Iru, Munyankole, Nkore, Nkole, Mwiru, Bahera

The Banyankole are among the half dozen major ethnic groups in Uganda. They live in southwestern Uganda, where there is a common border with Rwanda and Tanzania. To the east of Ankole District is Lake Victoria, and to the west are Mount Rwenzori and a number of lakes, including Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika. The land, over 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above sea level, is hilly with rolling plains covered with fine grass. The Banyankole consist of two major ethnic groups: the Bahima, who are pastoralists, and the Bairu, who are agriculturists. The Bairu are numerically larger, and the Bahima are politically and socially dominant.
One of the most important of the lake kingdoms in prestige and population was Ankole. While the date when it was first established remains unknown, it is speculated that it may have started as early as during the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Ankole became a focus of study only in the 1920s and 1930s as reported by anthropologist K. Oberg and historian F. Morris.
The Ankole District is 6,131 square miles (15,879 square kilometers). There was a time when the population of Bahima was reported to have been close to 50 percent of the entire population. This, however, for various reasons declined to a mere 10 percent of the whole population.
In 1919 there were 149,469 Banyankole; this rose to 224,000 Bairu and 25,000 Bahima by 1931. By 1959 the population rose to over half a million thus making the Banyankole the second largest Bantu-speaking ethnic group in Uganda. In the twentieth century the Banyankole registered over a million.
Both the Bahima and the Bairu speak a language called Runyankole, which is one of the Bantu languages spoken in Uganda. Bantu languages are part of the large Niger-Congo language family. It is widely believed that at one time the Bahima had their own language, which they abandoned in favor of the Runyankole, spoken by the majority of the Banyankole.

The Banyankole had a centralized system of government. At the top of the political ladder, there was a king called omugabe. Below him there was a prime minister known as Enganzi. Then there were provincial chiefs known as Abakuru b’ebyanga. Below them, there were chiefs who took charge of local affairs at the parish and sub-parish levels.

The position of the king was hereditary. The King had to belong to the Bahinda royal clan who claimed descendant from Ruhanga, son of Njunaki.Whenever a King died, there were often succession disputes to determine who would succeed to the throne. Thereafter, there would be an elaborate ceremony to install the new King. Whenever a king died, some of his wives would commit suicide or they would be forced to do so. Some of the servants in the royal court would also commit suicide. It is said that in the earlier times, some people of the Baingo clan would also be killed in order to accompany the King in the afterworld. The corpse of the king was also known as omuguta to distinguish it from that of an ordinary person which was known as omurambo. It was specially buried by the Bayangwe clan styling themselves for the occasion as the Abahitsi. To communicate the message that the King had died, one would not say the t Omugabe afire which is the appropriate Runyankole term, rather one would say that Omugabe ataahize.
The Kingdom had a standing army. The army was divided into battalions known as emitwe (singular omutwe). Each battalion was under a province known as Mukuru w’ ekyanga some times referred to as Omukungu. Often, the kingdom of Nkore was a war with the neighboring states and sometimes she sent raiding expeditions to Karagwe and Buhweju. The Kingdom of Bunyoro sometimes raided Nkore and took away a lot of cattle. Notable among the Banyoro invasions of Nkore were those of Omukama Olimi I during the reign of Ntare I Nyabugaro and that of Omukama I Walimi in the 17th century during the reign of Ntare IV Kitabanyoro. During the reign of Ntare IV, there occurred another war between the Banyankole and the Nkondami (soldiers) of Kabaundami of Buhweju.
During the reign of King Machwa after the death of Ntare IV, an expedition was sent against Irebe, the King of Bwera. The expedition brought a lot of plunder among which were cattle and Irebe’s sacred circlet, Rutare, which was thereafter used by the Bagabe of Nkore in making rain. Another invasion of Nkore took place during the reign of Kahaya I Nyamwanga. The invasion was by the Banyarawanda under the King Kigyeri III Ndabarasa. 
The royal regalia of Ankole consisted of a spear and drums. The main instrument of power was the royal drum called Bagyendanwa. This drum was believed to have been made by Wamala, the last Muchwezi ruler. This drum was only beaten at the installation of a new King. It had its special hut and it was considered taboo to shut the hut. A fire was always kept burning for Bagyendanwa and this fire could only be extinguished in the event of the death of the King.

Below are images showing the long horned ankole cows

History and Cultural

Some scholars believe that Ankole originally was occupied by Bantu-speaking agricultural Bairu. Later, Ankole provided a passage for Hamitic peoples, possibly the Bahima, migrating from Ethiopia southward. These pastoralists conquered the Bairu and proclaimed themselves the rulers of the land. According to some scholars, the more numerous Bairu were serfs and the Bahima were the dominant ruling class. For the most part the two ethnic groups coexisted peacefully.

When the British created Uganda as a protectorate in 1888, Ankole was a relatively small kingdom ruled by a king (Mugabe) with supreme power. In 1901 the British enlarged the kingdom by merging it with the similarly small kingdoms of Mpororo, Igara, Buhweju, and Busongora. The power of the Omugabe was curtailed considerably once his kingdom was legally and constitutionally controlled.

However, as the Omugabe of Ankole, the king was entitled to all the titles, dignities, and preeminence that were attached to his office under the laws and customs of Ankole. A political relationship based on serfdom, slavery, and clientship ceased to exist under British rule, and the Bairu became less marginalized and despised.

Four years after the independence of Uganda in 1962 serious conflicts arose between the Ugandan central government and the Buganda kingdom that led to the suspension of the constitution of Uganda; this effectively abolished the kingdoms in that country, including the Ankole kingdom. In 1993, by popular and persistent demand, monarchism was restored in Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro.

However, the Banyankole were not united in their quest for the restoration of the Ankole kingdom, and the matter remains unresolved into the twenty-first century In the early history of Ankole most of the nomadic pastoralists had no settled dwellings. Even the king had only a small dwelling with a stockade forming an enclosure for his cows at night. There was no courthouse, and his council met outdoors.

In later years that changed considerably. Today settlements are scattered all over the hills, slopes, and valleys of Ankole, consisting of both traditional grass-thatched and Western-style (brick and corrugated iron-roofed) homesteads. Each family owns a fairly large plot of land around its homestead, but usually the homesteads are close to one another.

From the top of one of the more than a thousand hills of Ankole, the view of the banana groves appears to be leveled at the top and the surface is entirely green. The land available to each homestead is used for livestock or subsistence farming. The animals kept are predominantly cattle, along with a few goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens. The Banyankole possess large herds of a native long-horned breed of cattle that are valued for their milk and meat and are of great importance as indicators of power, wealth, and prestige. The crops grown are millet, the staple and favored food, sorghum, potatoes, bananas, coffee, tea, beans, and vegetables.

The Banyankole who engage in agriculture sell some produce and beer to get cash to buy clothes, utensils, and furniture and pay for the education of their children. Similarly, those who raise livestock sell some of their animals or animal products in the form of meat, milk, butter, skins, hides, and eggs to raise cash. Craftspeople also sell or exchange what they produce. After the British arrived, commercial activities expanded immensely as there was a flood of manufactured goods (sweets, utensils, clothes, fertilizers, electronic goods, lamps, bicycles) that were in high demand.

The king employed expert craftsmen such as blacksmiths who made spears, knives, axes, and ankle bands and armbands out of iron; carvers who made milk pots, drums, wooden spoons, and carved decorations out of wood, ivory, and bone; skinner-dressers; bark cloth makers; sandal makers; and beer brewers. Chiefs engaged the services of the Bairu to supply them with spears, watering pails, axes, and milk pots. The Bairu also engaged in weaving, making mats and baskets, and carving.

Trade took place between the Bahima and the Bairu in the goods that each group produced. There also was considerable trade between the Banyankole and people from kingdoms such as Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro as well as people in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Congo. Those who traded with the Banyankole traveled to Ankole to purchase whatever they considered of commercial value, and the Banyankole also traveled to sell and buy goods. This form of trade has continued to the present day.

From about age eight a boy is expected to be useful in and around the house as well as go to school. He goes out with the men who take the cattle to the pasture and learns to herd cows, milk them, treat their ailments, and protect them from wild animals, especially lions. Both girls and boys learn agricultural activities such as cultivating, sowing, harvesting, and guarding crops against birds and animals. Girls are taught the household chores they will perform when they are married.

The mother plays a significant role in rearing children; she disciplines and sends them on errands and supervises their grazing calves. Her duties include cleaning the house, cooking, and looking after children. Children are taught to show respect for their elders and relatives. Mothers teach girls to wash milk pots, churn milk, and prepare food. Girls also engage in making bead ornaments, weaving, making mats, fetching water and firewood, sweeping, babysitting, and going on errands.

Among the Bahima herding cattle was the principal occupation for men. In addition they were expected to build homes for their families and pens for cattle. Among the Bairu both men and women were principally engaged in agricultural activities. In the main men were responsible for clearing the land, while women engaged in household chores. Both men and women did harvesting, but women did winnowing, grinding, and thrashing of millet. Comparatively, Bairu women engage in much physical work; Bahima women spend more time caring for their beauty and personal appearance.

According to the customary law of Ankole, all land was vested in the Omugabe, who controlled it on behalf of every Munyankole who could use it and benefit from it. Similarly, all animals, particularly cattle, belonged to the Omugabe, although people could do what they wished with their livestock as long as they did not sell the animals to people from outside Ankole without express permission from the Omugabe. This has remained the practice, with the limitation that there is no longer free land available for anyone to claim. People now receive land from their parents or relatives or obtain it commercially.

Traditionally, the normal pattern was for both the parents of the boy and the girl to arrange the marriage, sometimes without the knowledge of the girls concerned. The initiative was normally taken by the boy’s parents and upon the payment of an appropriate bride wealth; arrangements would be made to fetch the bride. Customarily, a girl could not be offered for marriage when her elder sister or sisters were still unmarried. If a marriage offer was made for a young sister, it is said that the girl’s parents would manipulate issues in such a way that at the giving- away ceremony, they would conceal and send the elder sister. When the bridegroom would come to know it he was not supposed to raise questions.

He could go ahead and pay more bride wealth and then go ahead and marry the young sister if he could afford it. It was the responsibility of the father to pay in full the bride wealth and meet all the other costs of arranging his son’s marriage.

During the wedding ceremony, the girl would be accompanied by among others, her aunt. Some traditions assert that the husband would first have sex with the aunt before proceeding to have it with the bride. Another piece of tradition says that the duty of the aunt was to prove the potency of the bridegroom by just watching or listening to the sexual intercourse between the bridegroom and her niece. It is said that her duty was to advice the girl on how to begin a home more so, since Ankole, girls were supposed t be virgins until marriage.

The first tradition is false because in most cases the aunt would be an elderly lady almost the same age as the mother of the bridegroom but the other two traditions are true. If the parents of the girl were aware that their daughter was not virgin, this information was formally communicated to the husband by giving the girl, among the other gifts, a perforated coin or another hollow object.

Oruhoko Okuteera oruhoko was a phrase used to describe the practice whereby a boy whom the girls had deliberately refused to love or whom a particular girl had rejected could force the girl to marry him abruptly without her consent and much preparation.

The practice of okuteera oruhoko was characteristic of the traditional Ankole society but vestiges of it still appear. Society decried this practice but it was common and helpful, nonetheless. However, the offender had to be fined by paying a big bride wealth. There were various ways in which this practice was carried out.
One such ways was by using a cock. A boy who had desired and wished to marry a girl who had rejected him, would get hold of a cock,go to the girl’s homestead, throw the cock in the compound and ran away. The girl had to be whisked to the boy’s home immediately because it was believed and feared that should the cock crow when the girl was still at home, refusing to follow the boy or making unnecessary preparations, she or somebody else in the family would instantly die.

Another type of Oruhoko was done by smearing millet flour on the face of the girl. If the boy chanced to find the girl grinding millet he would pick some flour from the winnowing tray used to collect the flour as it comes off the grinding stone and smear it on the  girl’s face. The boy would run away and swift arrangements would be made to send him the girl as any delays and excuses would cause consequences similar to those methods described above.

Among the Bahima especially, there were three other ways in which the okuteera oruhuko would be done. One of them was for the boy to put a tethering rope around the neck of the girl and then pronounce in public that he had done so. The second one was to put a plant known as orwihura on the girl’s head; and the third one was for the boy to sprinkle milk on the girl’s face while milking. It should be pointed out that this practice was only possible if the girl and the boy were from different clans.

Oruhuko was a dangerous and degrading practice. It was usually tried by boys who failed to have alternatives. If the boy was not lucky enough to elude and run faster than the relatives of the girl, it was however usually done so abruptly that before the girl’s relatives could get organized, the boy would have disappeared. The punishment was usually inflicted on the boy through the payment of too much bride wealth. He would pay double or normal charge or even more.

The extra cows which were charged were not refunded if the marriage broke up. The Banyankore did not have peculiar birth customs. Usually when a woman was to give birth for the first time, she would be sent to her mother. Brave women, and majority of them were brave, could give birth by themselves without any need for a midwife. However, if things went wrong, an acting midwife, usually an old woman would be summoned.

If the afterbirth refused to come out freely and quickly after the child, some medicine would be administered to the woman. If the normal herbs failed to induce it out, the husband of the woman was required to climb with a mortar to the top of the house, raise an alarm and slide the mortar down from the top of the house.

The child could be named immediately after birth. The normal practice was after the mother had finished the days if confinement referred to as ekiriri. The woman would confine her self for four days of the child was a boy and three days if the child was a girl. After three or four days, as the case may be the couple would resume their sexual relationship in a practice known as okucwa eizaire. The name given to the child depended on the personal experience of the father and the mother, the time when the child was born, the days of the week, the place of birth, or the name of an ancestor. The name would be given by the father, the grand father, and the mother of the child. However, the father’s choice usually took precedence.

The names given were verbs or nouns that could appear in normal speech. Often the names also portrayed the state of mind of the persons who gave them. For example, the name Kaheeru among the Banyoro portrayed the fact that the husband suspected that the woman got the child outside the family. In traditional Ankole, it was normal for the woman to have sex with her in-laws and even have children by them. Such children were not regarded any differently from the other children in the family.

The Banyankole did not believe that death was a natural phenomenon. According to them, death was attributed to sorcery, misfortune and the spite of the neighbors. They even had a saying: Tihariho mufu atarogyirwe. Meaning; “there is no body that dies without being bewitched”. They found it hard to believe that a man could die if it was not due to witchcraft and malevolence of other persons. Accordingly, after every death, the persons affected would consult a witch doctor to detect whoever was responsible for causing the death.

A dead body would normally stay in the house for as long as it would take all the important relatives to gather. Among the Bairu, a person would be buried either in the compound or in the plantation. Among the Bahima he would be buried in the kraal. Burial was usually done in the afternoon and the bodies were buried facing the east. A woman was made to lie on her left while a man was made to lie on his right. After burial, a woman was accorded three days of mourning while a man was accorded four days. During the days of mourning, all the neighbors and the relatives of the deceased would remain camping and sleeping at the home of the deceased.

During this period, the whole neighborhood would not dig or do manual work because it was believed that if anyone dug, or did manual work during the mourning days, he would cause the whole village to be ravaged by hail storms. Such a person could also be regarded as a sorcerer and could easily be suspected of having caused the death of the person who had just been buried. However, the abstinence of the neighbors from digging and doing manual work was meant to console the relatives.

If the dead man was the head of the house hold, his leading bill would be killed and eaten to end the days of mourning. Further ritual ceremonies would be conducted if the dead man was very old and had grand children. If a person died with a grudge against someone in the family, he was buried with some objects to keep the spirit occupied so that it would fail to have time to haunt those with whom the deceased had a grudge.

There were special burials for spinsters and those who committed suicide. It was considered taboo for one t commit suicide. The burial of one who committed suicide was very complicated. The body would be cut from a tree by a woman who had attained menopause (encurazaara). Such a woman was heavily fortified with charms. Indeed it was believed that whoever performed the role of cutting the rope used by the suicide would soon die also.

Tradition has it that at times; the corpses of suicide victims could not be touched. A grave was dug directly under the corpse so that when cutting the rope, the corpse would fall into the grave. The grave was then covered and that was all. There would be neither mourning nor the normal funeral rites. The tree on which the victim has hugged himself would be uprooted and burnt. The relatives of the suicide victim would not use any piece of that tree for firewood.

There were also particular formalities for the burial of a spinster. If such a girl died, it was feared that her spirits would come back to haunt the living simply because he girl had died unsatisfied. In order to placate the spirit and avert its evil retributions, before the body was taken for burial, one of the brothers of the dead girl was required to pretend making love with the corpse. This act was known as okugyeza empango ahamutwe. Then the body was passed by the rear door and buried. It is said that if a man died unmarried, he would be buried with a banana stem to occupy the position of the supposed wife. This was believed to propitiate the dead man’s spirit and its evil retributions on the living. The body was also passed through the rear door.

The Banyankole had the practice of making blood brother hood. A person would make a blood brother in a ceremony known as okikora omukago. The actual ceremony involved the two people sitting on a mat so close together that their legs would overlap. In their right hands, they would hold sprouts of ejubwe type of grass and a sprout of omurinzi tree (erythina tomentosa). The Bairu would hold in addition a sprout of omutosa tree (ficus eryobotrioides).

The master of ceremonies would make a small cut to the right of the naval of each man.The end of omurinzi tree and ejubwe grass were dipped in the blood on the incision and put into the hands of each person. For the Bahima, only the mutoma sprout was used. Then a little milk or millet flour was poured in the blood in case of the Bairu and each man would hold the other’s hand with the left and they would both swallow the blood and the milk or the blood and the millet flour in each other’s hand at the same time. Blood brother hood could not be made between people of the same clan because naturally, they would be regarded as brothers. Blood brothers would treat each other as real brothers in every respect.
drum had its own cows and some other attendant drums namely; kabembura, Nyakashija, eigura, kooma and Njeru ya Buremba which was obtained from the kingdom of Buzimba.

The Banyankole’s idea of Supreme Being was Ruhanga (creator). The abode of Ruhanga was said to be in heaven, just above the clouds. Ruhanga was believed to be the maker and giver of all things. It was, however, believed that the evil persons could use black magic to interfere with the good wishes of Ruhanga and cause ill- health, drought, death or even bareness in the land and among the people.
At a lower level, the idea of Ruhanga was expressed in the cult of Emandwa. These were gods particularly to different families and clans and they were easily approachable in the event of need. Each family had a shrine where the family gods were supposed to dwell. Whenever beer was brewed or a goat slaughtered, a gourd full of beer and some small bits of meat were put in the shrine to the Mandwa. In the event of sickness or misfortune, the family members would perform rituals called okubandwa as a way of supplicating the gods to avert sickness or misfortune.

The Banyankole brewed beer by squeezing ripe bananas and mixing the resulting juice with water and sorghum and then letting the mixture ferment overnight in a wooden trough called obwato. Beer was required at every social communal work or any other function.
Whenever beer was made, the Banyankole had what they called entereko. If someone brewed beer, he had to reserve some for the neighbors as a sign of belonging and good neighborliness. This beer so reserved was known as entereko.
Normally, one or two days after someone had brewed beer, he would call his neighbors and serve then the reserved beer. This practice was so important that anyone who failed to comply with it was considered a bad neighbor. He would not be accorded the services of the neighbors in the event of need.
During the service of the entereko, the men would discuss important matters of substance that affected their area in particular, the kingdom and beyond. There would be a lot of merry making including dancing. The traditional dance among the Banyankore was called ekyitaguriro and men and women would participate in it. The Bahima also sang and made competitive recitals connected with valour in wars of offences and defence and about cattle.

The staple food of the Banyankole was millet. It was supplemented with Bananas, potatoes and cassava. A rich and prosperous family was judged by its ability t maintain food supplies throughout the year. The main sauces were beans,peas,and ground nuts plus a variety if greens such as eshuwiga,enyabutongo,dodo,ekyijamba,omugobe,omuriri an some others as well as meat of both domestic and wild animals.
A family that could not produce or store enough food to sustain itself for most of the year was not respected. In times of shortages, a woman and her daughters would go and work for food by digging in another family’s garden. This practice was called okushaka. It was very degrading and brought shame on the family concerned. Infact it would result in the daughters of the family failing to attract would-be suitors because it would be well known in the area that they belonged to  a lazy home.

Millet and meat were prepared for important occasions. Potatoes and cassava were not respectable foods and unless there was a real shortage of food, they could not be presented to a visitor or to be eaten. It was rear for a family to eat and finish the whole meal. However, the family head was not supposed to eat leftovers. Besides men and boys were advised not to eat a burnt potato. The reason was that it was so sweet that whenever a man remembered its sweetness while on a hunt or work, he might be tempted to leave his duties and come back home. Such food was eaten by women and children. The main food of the Bahima was milk ad blood called enjuba. They would, in addition barter potatoes, cassava, and matooke from the agriculturalists in exchange for milk and ghee. In times of real scarcity, the Bahima could just subsist on milk and blood.

The Banyankole had their own method of counting. They could count from one to ten using fingers. One was indicated by showing only the fore finger. Two was indicated by showing their first and second fingers, three was indicated by raising the last and the third fingers one one’s hand, and five was counted by clenching the fist with the thumb enclosed. Six was indicated by showing the first, second and third fingers. Seven was implied by holding down the third finger and showing the first, middle and last fingers. Eight was implied by snapping the first fingers of both hands, nine was indicated by clenching the middle finger with the thumb, and clenching the fist with the thumb outside meant ten.

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