The Indigenous Bacwezi Rulers, Fighters and Wealth Creators

The Indigenous People of the Kitara Region -The Bacwezi Rulers, great fighters and Wealth Creators

‘‘Traditionally the Bacwezi are thought to have drowned into lake Mwitanzige, but another school of thought believes that the Bacwezi did not just disappear. What is traditionally called disappearance should be viewed in the context of the difficulties of communication and mobility at the time between different points at various distances of considerable magnitude. At most these people must have moved further south into Ankole, Rwanda, Mboga, Burundi and other places. They still exist and they rule over several parts of the world’’.

The Bacwezi Rule 1350 -1500 Ad

During the reign of Isaza Nyakikooto, there appeared a race of people known as the Bacwezi. They had a light skin, but their original homeland has remained a mystery. Some sources say that, they may have been Portuguese, that even the word ‘Bacwezi’ must have come from the portuguese word, while others reveal that they were an off shoot of a caucasoid people (perhaps the Egyptians) who sailed down the Nile to Bunyoro and Buganda, during and after the Batembuzi era.

For Oliver Roland, he tells us that the Bacwezi seem to have been one of the last bands of the pastoral Bahima who entered Uganda from the North East. According to him, the Bacwezi were not Galla as it used to be thought but were akin to the Sudanic peoples of South Western Ethiopia, though the distinctive elements in their culture was not Sudanic.

Bunyoro traditions assert that, the Bacwezi were related to the Batembuzi who proceeded them. In actual fact some accounts reveal that the Batembuzi were an advance party of Bacwezi, since both of them appear not to have been vastly different. The Bacwezi and Batembuzi both possessed super human qualities.


The Bacwezi Genealogy

The onset of the Bacwezi did not simply involve the conquest and domination of Kitara by foreign Bahima, but also saw the emergence of these intrusive pastoral groups in chiefly position. Ndahura, the first Cwezi King emerged from a lowly social position within Kitara society. Although a grandson of Bukuku in tradition he is said to have been raised by a porter’s family of Babopi clan away from court. His career did not involve the introduction of a totally new political system, rather his innovations were built upon the existing institutions which had been established by Isaza. For example, the saza unit was retained.

Ndahura’s reign marked the beginning of centralisation of political institutions and their adaptation to the new social and economic realities of a more widerspread pastoral and a more aristocratically based society. The regalia of Kingship : Royal drums, beaded crowns surmounted by tall copper cones, copper spears for ritual use, read fenced royal enclosures are all associated with Ndahura and the Bacwezi rule. New moon ceremonies lasting nine days were held at court each month inside the royal enclosure of the Cwezi King. G. Casati (1886) reported that this rite, which was retained by the Babiito, successors to the Bacwezi involved human and cattle sacrifices. Ceremonial herding and milk drinking were part of the ruler’s daily rituals.

The introduction of barkcloth manufacture, coffee cultivation, iron working, earth works and fortifications have all been attributed to the Bacwezi. Careful examination of relics at important cultural sites of Bigo Bya Mugenyi, Mubende, Kibengo, Kagogo and Kasonko has revealed that the Bacwezi used bowels, spherical jars, shallow basins and fosted dishes. When Ndahura had temporarily disappeared from the Kingdom was ruled by his half brother Mulindwa (Caretaker) and was later succeded by Ndahura’s son Wamara, the last Cwezi ruler.

Omukama Ndahura Omucwezi

The progency of the royal liaison between Isimbwa and Nyinamwiru was Ndahura (the uprooter), Kyarubumbi (son of a porter), Rwesakaara Myambi (who thatches himself with arrows), Rumoma Mahanga (the attacker of all nations). Tradition asserts that Ndahura was raised by a Mwiru, a porter’s family of the Babopi clan.

Ndahura became the first Cwezi King in succession to his maternal grandfather, Bukuku Omuranzi. His capital was originally built at Kisengwe but later moved to Mubende hill where he could have a clear view of his Kingdom. When Isimbwa heard that his son Ndahura had become King of Kitara, he decided to return to Kitara. He walked through Bukidi, Isaka, Kafo, Buruli, Muduuma and Bujogoro. He crossed to Kirahoiga, Kikondo, Kyehabugingo, Mpogo, Bukonda Kitahinduka, Kicunda, Bujugule, Kikwenuzi and arrived at Nyinamwiru’s palace at Kisengwe. He was warmly received and a lot of merry-making followed to mark his re-union with Nyinamwiru. Nyanamwiru and Isimbwa, together set out for Mubende. They travelled via Kyankuba, crossed Nguse River to Busesa, Rwanjali and Bugogo from where they announced their presence to Ndahura. The royal Bacwezi drum ‘Rusama’ sounded all night to announce them. After merry making, Ndahura made Isimbwa the chief of Kisozi and Isimbwa decided to settle in Bunyoro-Kitara. He took wives from the Basaigi, Bacwa, Basito, Basingo, Basambu and Bacwezi clans. Nyinamwiru became Queen Mother; a title which accorded her great respect, a seperate enclosure, land and cattle. She was ruler of Nkoni. Rubumbi, the porter who raised Ndahura, was made Saza Chief. Ndahura also rewarded other members of the Babopi clan, and this gave him have more support in the Kingdom.

Although Ndahura had got the support of his mother, of the Baranzi clan, it appears that other members of the Baranzi clan fled the political scene south to Busongora. Others left Kitara and travelled south eastwards to Ukerewe. G. Hartwig estimates their arrival to be around 16th Century, but Kitara traditions suggest that they began their immigration much earlier.

Meanwhile, Isimbwa who had become a chief decided to go back to Bukidi to fetch his family. Kyomya his son, now had four children begotten to him by Nyatwor daughter of a mukidi who belonged to the Bakwonga clan. Kyomya’s children were Nyarwa first born, Isingoma Rukidi Mpuga and Kato Kimera the twin brothers and Kiiza. When they came to Bunyoro-Kitara, Kyomya begot more children.

These were Kagoro, born of a maid Kacubya; Mugarura from Kogere of the Bacwezi clan, Ibona from a Cwezi called Waraga Mugenyi by Nyangoma of Basingo clan and Byangarubwa begot by Rugomya of the Basambu clan.

When Ndahura took the throne, the surrounding area was said to be in a state of rebellion against Bukuku. Ndahura launched a series of campaigns and set out to acquire allies. He turned north wards from where he brought his relatives and their cattle into the Kingdom. These people became Ndahura’s military supporters in the expansion of the Kingdom. Ndahura embarked on military campaigns which extended the boundaries of the Kingdom. His first campaign was waged against Nsinga, a chief of Bugoma to the west, who had previously rebelled against Bukuku and was reputed to have used witchcraft against Ndahura. It is said that Ndahura removed Nsinga’s crown of red feathers and substituted it with one of grass before executing him by casting him off the escapment into lake Mwitanzige (Albert). In as much as Bugoma was a forest area bordering the Kibiro salt mines, it may be that economic motivations provided an incentive for the campaign. Bugoma’s rebellion could have meant the disruption of salt supply from Kibiro, however erratic or tenuous the trade links may have been.

An impressive series of campaigns followed the subjugation of Bugoma. Ndahura is said to have led successful campaigns north to Buruli and south to Karagwe, Nkore, Bukuma and Rwanda. In the campaign against the Madi country, Ndahura’s son called Kiro Muhimba captured black cattle and an eight legged stool. After the campaign he returned via the western bank of Lake Mwitanzige (Albert), through Toro and Busongora. When Kiro reached Busenya he heard the sound of his father’s drum. He played his and Ndahura heard its sound. Kiro ordered his people to clear the forest called Kakiromba so that he could reach his father.

He met his father and gave him the eight legged stool and together they went back to Mubende via Nkoni. Other campaigns remembered were those to the east to Buganda where Ntege was ousted and Kyomya made paramount chief. Beyond Buganda to Busoga and around the shores of Lake Victoria to Sukuma country.

Further account shows that, the Kitara claim that Ndahura’s campaigns extended into western Kenya are not idle boasts. In central Nyanza (Kenya) there is one group, the Wanga, whose institutions of Kingship are linked in tradition with a pastoral ‘Muhima’ who arrived from western Uganda and dominated the agricultural peoples of the region.

He came with copper bracelets and sacred spears, which were the main features of the Bacwezi, of Kitara. The bracelets came to be used in conferring legitimacy upon the Wanga Rulers. Through these campaigns Ndahura established the Bacwezi as the virtual rulers of the interlacustrine region.

King Wamara

At this time Ndahura is said to have become restless and began an expedition against Kyaihangiro (Tanganyika) where Bwirebutakya was the ruler. In a tough battle which followed, Bwirebutakya, threw darkness over Ndahura’s Army. Ndahura was captured. A few of his soldiers who managed to escape, made reports back to the Banyoro. On hearing the bad news the people decided that Kyomya takes over the throne. Kyomya refused and decided to go and look for his brother. Mulindwa a half brother of Ndahura was left on the throne.

After spying in Kyaihangiro, Kyomya managed to reach Ndahura’s captives and stole him from Bwirebutakya’s palace. The people welcomed the King, but Ndahura declined the throne on account that he had already served as a servant in exile. Wamara his eldest son became the new King.

Ndahura moved away from Kitara. He went to Kibaale in Buyaga, moved to Kitagweta, passed Kijuma and reached Butara. He built a hut and there are marks to that effect today. They are called Obwaro Bwenaku (a sleeping place for the poor). He then travelled to Muhumba, reached Toro and stayed at Bulembo where he dug wells called Bijongo. He later moved to Butanka, Rwagimbo to Rwisamba. He settled near lake Busongora and dug a big well for his cows called Kikorongo. Ndahura’s mother Nyinamwiru followed her son and together they settled at Irangara. Here they spent the rest of their lives before vanishing from the face of the earth.

After his coronation, Wamara moved his capital from Mubende to Bwera. Mubende was left in the hands of Ndahura’s elder wife called Nyakahuma. Nyakahuma’s position, apparently became hereditary until 1907, when it was destroyed by the British colonialists. The ascension of Wamara to the throne, brought about some problems in the palace. Nyangoma the mother of Mugenyi (Isimbwa’s son) got displeased that her son had not become the new King. She blamed Mulindwa the ‘caretaker’. However, Mulindwa was said to be in love with Nyangoma, Nyangoma organized a plot to kill Mulindwa because he had failed his son or to be King. She prepared a pit of boiling water on the spot where Mulindwa would sit. When Mulindwa came, he fell in it and almost died, had his servants not reported the matter to other Bacwezi.

Kagoro son of Kyomya rescued Mulindwa and killed people on sight. When he tried to kill Nyangoma’s maid, Gwinekyakyo, she pleaded with him to stop and revealed the plot that Nyangoma had woven. Kagoro killed Nyangoma and her two sisters, Nyanteza and Nyagoro. He swore to exterminate the Basingo clan to which they belonged but his father Kyomya prevented him because the Basingo had given birth to Mugenyi. This advice prevailed.

Wamara created a new government for the Empire. He appointed chiefs of the various counties and provinces. Kagoro was given Kahange county; Mugarura – Kisoli (Mubende); Katukwe took Karokarungi (Ankole) Mulindwa was given Buyaga County; Mugenyi took Bwogero and Mahogora and built Bigo bya Mugenyi. Ibona ruled Bugusura, Bwera and Rwanda. Bugungu was given to Kahuka, Sese Islands to Mugasa; Buruli to Rubago; Muhwahwa to Kaganda Nsiri and Kyomya from Buganda was transferred to Bugahya.

According to tradition, the last Cwezi capital was in the celebrated entrenched earth work site at Bigo bya Mugenyi. Recent archeological investigations have tended to confirm the traditional evidence that Bigo was the last capital of the Bacwezi dynasty.

It has been established that the centre of the site as it now appears, is the result of a very considerable reconstruction which probably took place in the early Bito times.

Before the Bacwezi, left Kitara, Wamara the last Cwezi King left the royal drums Nyalebe and Kajumba with a man called Mubimba of the Abasita clan. He left the royal crowns and other regalia with a man called Mugungu. He requested them to hand drums to the next rulers when they came. Aware that the new incoming rulers (Babito) were ignorant of the custom of Kitara, Wamara left behind two Queens – Iremera of the Banyagi clan and Bunono of the Baitira clan, to instruct the new rulers in the Bunyoro state matters.

The End of the Bacwezi Rule

Like the origin of the Bacwezi, there is still a lot of uncertainity on what the possible cause of collapse of the Bacwezi rule in Kitara was. Some historians say that the demise of the Cwezi Empire was brought about by the migration of the Luo speaking groups in Kitara about the 15th – 16th centuries; that these mixed farming agricultural people arrived by conquest and forced the Bacwezi to flee the Empire. While others attribute the decline largely on the internal factors which might have proved to be the Bacwezi’s undoing and forced them to flee the Kingdom. One such internal factor could have been the excessive campaigns of Ndahura which made the Kingdom too big to manage. These campaigns were numerous and not all captured areas were permanently consolidated into the Kingdom. The Kingdom suffered a major set back when Ndahura himself was captured by Bwirebutakya. His capture was followed by many misfortunes which could not have occured had he not been captured.

During the campaigns to Nkore, Ndahura escaped an assassination attempt, where a man lay in wait with a poisoned spear to kill him. Although the man lacked the might and courage to carry out the order, it acted as an indication that one day misfortune would befall the Cwezi rulers and their empire. The man was however seized by Ndahura and knocked him to death.

More weaknesses set in when Mulindwa was left as the protector of the throne. Mulindwa the Chief of Buganda and son of the Basita clan woman, lacked the ability to halt ambitious chiefs from becoming independent. The rebellious spirit of most of the chiefs was fuelled by the long absence of Ndahura, more so he faced challenges from Mugenyi who rivaled for the throne. These rebellions never stopped with Mulindwa’s reign also continued during the reign of Wamara. For instance many Sazas of Kitara broke away during Wamara’s rule. Buyaga on the western side of the Kingdom broke away and claimed independence. Buyaga was independent by the time the Bito arrived. Tradition states that the Bayaga clan of Kitara brought a great wind, which destroyed Wamara’s palace. The Bayaga related to ‘Omuyaya’ great wind, successfully rebelled against the Cwezi rule. Kitagwenda formerly a Saza also broke away and remained independent until the 19th century when the British Protectorate was created. It was ruled by the Basambo clan of Bahima group, but later they were superceded by the Balisa, who had provided Ndahura with the only wife Iremera.

Fragmentation increased during the Mulindwa – Mugenyi (Baasita-Basingo) quarrel. The conflict orchestrated by Nyangoma, mother of Mugenyi created differences among palace officials and made the centre of authority very weak. More confusion came when Wamara was denied tribute from the Basingo.

The Basingo refused to give Wamara a white spotted cow which belonged to their clan. Mulindwa who had been sent to collect it was speared to death where upon Kagoro went to extract revenge. He killed many Basingo and took their cattle. The defeated and ostrasised Basingo adopted the spotted cow (the quarrel causer) as their totem.

Although the Basingo had been blamed for the ills of the state, this conflict made the Bacwezi vulnerable and militarily challengeable. They lost power and prestige. At the same time a man called Misango raided Cwezi herds of cattle and the Bacwezi recovered them only after they had incurred many losses of people. It seems Misango’s raids were organised by Bahuma from Rwanda i.e. the Balisa and Basambu clans who were closely linked to the Bacwezi.

According to tradition, the Bacwezi left Kitara largely because of the bad omen which appeared against them. Blood was found in the milk of Wamara’s cows. Mugenyi who swore to kill himself if his beloved cow Bihago died, nearly carried out this threat when the cow actually died. The red milk was however said to have been caused by the death of Kantu, blood brother to Wamara, who died due to neglect by the King’s servants. After some traditional functions, we are told the cows began to produce white milk but the Bacwezi began to avoid the obusito (milk from a pregnant cow.

Meanwhile, Wamara arranged to summon diviners to interpret for him what these happenings meant. There are versions of what they said. One version has it that a young fattened bull (enimi yente encwerano) was slaughtered. When the diviners cut open the calf they could not trace its intestines. The diviners tried several times to divine in this manner but the same thing happened. However, a diviner called Nyakoka from Bukidi (present northern Uganda) offered to solve the mystery. He began by insisting that, he should have a blood pact with one Cwezi to guard against death should the interpretation displease them. The pact was made with Mulindwa; Nyakoka cut open the legs and head of the animal and there the missing intestines were found. Then a large black smut from the fire settled on them, it could not be removed.

Nyakoka divined that the absence of the intestines from their natural place signified that the country would be left without rulers, because the rule of the Bacwezi had ended. The intestines’ presence in the animals legs and head meant that the Bacwezi would load up their belongings and would travel far away; while the presence of the intestines in the head meant that the Bacwezi would continue to rule over men through spirit mediums (Mbandwa cults).

Another version states that the two diviners from Bukidi were given a calf to kill and its blood spouted in many direction like a fountain. These many spouts were interpreted to mean that the Bacwezi would leave Kitara in many directions. So the spouts showed them the way.

Traditions further claim that when Nyakoka and his colleague Karongo left Kitara, they went back to Bukidi. And the Bacwezi were left in a state of dilemma. They wondered themselves, who would rule the land if they left. Kyomya suggested that they send for his four sons to come and manage the Kingdom. So the Bacwezi sent Kanyabuguma (saza chief of Buganda) to Bukidi to summon Kyomya’s sons to get prepared for the throne. However Kanyabuguma found them already prepared to come to Kitara, for they had already been told by Nyakoka, who had left earlier.

It is said that when Nyakoka reached Bukidi he met the sons of Kyomya the Mucwezi on a hunting expedition. Kyomya had married a Mukidi woman called Nyatwor. She was called Nyatwor because she came from the country ‘Tolo’ at the foot of Mt. Guruguru, (Nya-Tolo, Tolo girl, wrongly Nya-Twor). She belonged to the Bakwonga clan. Her sons came to be referred to as the Ababiito because, Nyatolo met her lover under a bito tree. Even when Nyakoka met them they were resting under that Bito tree and it shaded their mothers house. They adopted the bush-buck as their totem because it was their mother’s totem. They did not adopt their father’s totem because he had left them while they were still young. It became the official totem of the Babiito, descendants of Rukidi Mpuga who was the first Bito King.

On realizing that, the new ruler had got the messages, official Bunyoro tradition claims that the Bacwezi departed from Kitara. They passed via Kisozi to Kahanga where they stayed, for sometime. From here they reached Buyaga, where they decided that Mulindwa should remain behind. Mulindwa refused and later when others had gone he decided to move. He had a blood pact with a man called Mihingo of the Bayaga clan. Mihingo together with his son Kyanku accompanied Mulindwa, but on reaching Bugoma forests, he got sick. They decided to return Mulindwa to Buyaga where he apparently stayed and met his death there.

When Mulindwa died, Buyaga became the property of Mihingo and it became hereditary thus when Mihingo died Kyanku succeeded him. Their drum was called Kyabakubwire and the Mihingos or Kyankuswere forbidden to see a Mubito King because they buried a Mucwezi. Like the Babiito, they inherited some belongings of the Bacwezi including the golden bangle ebikomo that are said to have played the role of selecting a successor to Mihingo or Kyanku by transferring themselves from the arm of the dead to that of the heir.

It is said that when the Bacwezi reached Bugoma, they met their brother called Mubyasi. They left him behind and the couple are the founders of the Ababyasi clan.

Traditionally the Bacwezi are thought to have drowned into lake Mwitanzige, but another school of thought believes that the Bacwezi did not just disappear. What is traditionally called disappearance should be viewed in the context of the difficulties of communication and mobility at the time between different points at various distances of considerable magnitude. At most these people must have moved further south into Ankole, Rwanda, Mboga, Burundi and other places.

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