Batembuzi & Bacwezi

Chapter One: The Batembuzi

All versions of Kitara court traditions begin with a common legend, one which illustrate the distinct social and cultural milieu from which rulership emerged. The Bikunya and Fisher version began by relating the earliest period of Kitara Court History to Ruhanga God- the Creator. That in the beginning, there was God who created the earth. He came when the earth and heaven were close to each other, with his brother Nkya. Nkya had four children. The eldest was called Kantu (little thing) while the rest never possessed separate names. They all shared the name ‘Kana’ (meaning little child) Whenever the father called one, they could all come and whenever he gave one child a present, they all quarreled declaring it was intended for them. So Nkya explained the matter to Ruhanga, who said that he could find names for them, if they came to him the following afternoon at his dwelling on the opposite hill; for at this time Ruhanga was living in heaven and upon earth and had made valleys as boundaries between men’s territories.

So the boys set out to their journey and arrived at their uncle’s place. They were told to get seated until he came to them. Meanwhile, he entered into his back house, in which he had a cow slaughtered, skinned and its head cut off. He then cooked millet and sweet potatoes. He got the food, an axe, a panga (knife) and carried them with a pad on his head and put them in the middle of the road.

When he got back he told the children: “Here are your milking vessels, take them and go.” As they walked, they found the things in the road. These were the ones which Ruhanga had secretly placed there. The eldest son immediately seized the basket of food. He began eating the food, but his brothers remonstrated with him for taking the food that was not rightly his. He took home, the potatoes, millet, a panga and pad. The second boy chose out a belt strap, thinking it might be useful for tying up the cows at milking time and the youngest carried home the cows head.

When they got back to their uncle’s house, they laid down the things before him and explained everything to him. After he had finished observing their choices, he decided to set for them another test. This time they were to sit down on the ground in the evening, with their legs stretched out, each holding on his lap a full wooden milk pot. He commanded them to guard the milk and not to drink as they had eaten his millet. At midnight, the youngest boy started to dose and spilt half of his milk: He greatly feared and turned to his brothers to beg them to give him their milk that his pot might be full. This they did. But at cock crow the eldest upset all his, and when he asked the others to pour from their pots into his, they refused, saying that he would need so much to fill up the empty pot. At dawn Ruhanga came and told each to uncover his milk pot. When he looked into the first he found it empty; passing on to the second he saw that a little had gone out of it, and asked the boy if he had drunk it. The boy answered: “No oh God, I did not drink it, but I filled up my little brothers pot for he had spilt some of his”. Ruhanga called his brother and told him that names had been found for his three children. The eldest he cursed and named Kairu (little servant), for he had eaten food on the public road with unwashed hands and had proved himself faithless in his match; hence forth he would be the servant of man, to gather firewood, to build houses and to be sub-servient in all things to his master. The second he named Kahuma (little herdsman), for he should minister as herdsman to him to whom he had given milk. To the youngest he said: “Your Name is Kakama Twale, (Ruler, Little King), You shall reign over all men, for you took from the road the cows head; all shall fear and worship you and your word”.

Kakama became the first King of Bunyoro-Kitara. Historians like Nyakatura state that the three children of the Genesis story were sons of Kintu. That Kintu was the first political head of Bunyoro-Kitara and had come from a distant land. He contends that Kakama Twale was son of Kintu and Kakama only ruled after Kintu had ruled.

Kakama had children, Ira and Kazooba, who later became Kings. Ira died without a heir to the throne that he was succeeded by his brother Kazooba. When Kazooba was ruler of Bunyoro Kitara, there was much population increase. Kazooba was loved by his subjects, that is why he was deified after his death.

Kazooba was the father of Nyamuhanga known by the Banyankole as Rugaba and by the Baganda as Mwanga. Nyamuhaga ruled for a long time but took long to have a child. It was after consulting a medicine-man that he got a son. The doctor advised him to marry a girl named Nyabagabe, a daughter of one of his servant called Igoro. The Nyamuhanga – Nyabagabe royal marriage bore them a son who was named Nkya (meaning Lucky).

Nkya I, succeeded his father. He ruled for a long time and was said to be barren like his father. He too had to consult a witch doctor, before he could have a child. When he consulted him, he begot a son whom he also named Nkya, because his father and the son had been born under the same circumstances. Nkya the junior was named Nkya II. Nkya II was, succeeded by Baba and Nseka by Kudidi. Kudidi reigned for a long time and died a very old man. He was succeeded by Ntonzi, who was remembered to have ruled by the sword because of his harshness on rebellions, Ntonzi was succeeded by Nyakahongerwa and Nyakahongerwa by Mukonko, his son. Mukonko ruled for along time.

Rutahinduka son of Mukonko came to the throne of his father when he was already a very old man. Ngonzaki who is traditionally believed to have been the father of Isaza Rugamba Nabato, was nicknamed “Ngonzaki” because he possessed enormous wealth. Whenever a subject brought him a gift, he could not bother to turn around and look at it. He could only say “NGOZAKI?” what do I want or “what should I want?” The name Ngozaki also implied “My House is Full; I Need Nothing”.

Rutahinduka was replaced by Isaza Waraga Rugambanabato, who became King when he was still a very young man. He was a Mugabu by clan like his forefathers. Some accounts suggest that Isaza’s capital was situated at a place near the present day Bukumi station in Bugangaizi. Isaza was a very great hunter and he is said to have ended tension in the land because he ignored the advice of the elders and banished them from his court. He had much love for the youth, that he was nicknamed “Rugambanabato” (He Who Talks With The Young).

One day Isaza is said to have killed a zebra and was persuaded by his young companions to sew himself into the untanned hide. Upon the advise, he decided to wear it at once. The skin was sewn on him with leather thongs. The skin caused him pleasure and his friends congratulated him for that. As they continued hunting, the day grew hotter, the skin dried up on him and he began to feel a lot of discomfort. His fellow young men with whom he had hunted, never had any solution in mind which could save Isaza from death.

When the situation was getting out of control, they decided to send for two old men who had not yet left the kingdom, begging for help. The two elders however, declined to offer any help because they had been banished from the court. They said, “What help can we offer when we know nothing”. But later, changed their minds, after the two boys whom Isaza was hunting with had narrated the story to the King’s Aunt called Kogere and his sister called Nyangoma. They advised that the starving King should be immersed in a pond of water, so that the tight skin which had bounded him could loosen.

After the crisis, Isaza Rugambanato became very happy and restored all elders to position of prominence in the Kingdom. They became counselors and palace favorites where they apparently remained. Though he did not kill them, Isaza cut off his association with young men. He transferred his love to the old men. From then onwards he ordered that the young must always give reverence to old men. He constantly consulted old men and ruled his kingdoms with ease.

Isaza is remembered to have been the first king to divide Bunyoro into Sazas. Some accounts reveal that the word Amasaza (counties) was coined from the name Isaza, ruler of the time. He appointed chiefs, whose names appear in the surviving accounts.

In his appointment, he showed gratitude and respect to the old men whom he gave many counties (saza’s) to rule. For he remained their overhead and unifier who could command and summon them at any time. He assumed the name of Nyakikooto – meaning the greatest of all saza chiefs and the lord of all.

The first Saza Chiefs whom he appointed (the old men) were given Saza’s as follows:

Nyamengewas givenKitara (Kyaka Saza)
Ntege ya Koyawas givenMuhwahwa (Buganda)
Machumulindawas givenNkore (District)
Ntembewas givenBusoga (District)
Kabarawas givenBugangaizi (Saza)
Nyakirembekawas givenMwenge (Saza)
Kogere (his aunt)was givenBusongora
Nyangoma (his sister)was givenBuruli (Saza)
Nyamurwanawas givenBugahya (Saza)
Nsingawas givenBugoma (Southern Bugahya Saza)
Ichwamangowas givenBugungu (Northern Bujenje Saza)
Kaparowas givenChope (Kibanda Saza)
Kalegawas givenBulega (The West Bank of L. Albert)
Mukwiriwas givenBwera (Buddu)
Nyakadogiwas givenBusindi (Buruli Saza)
Nyakarandawas givenBunyara

While these names continued to appear in the surviving account, there is a lot of uncertainty about the pattern of control which was followed during the Batembuzi period. What is certain is that during the appointment process, Buganda was given to a very old man called Koya, but because of old age he was forced to delegate to his son Ntege, hence the name Ntege ya Koya. There were women sazas, Kogere and Nyangoma who helped to save Isaza’s life. The appointment of these two women, plainly shows that the Bunyoro Political System had acknowledged the role of women in politics as early as the 13th century. Isaza himself lived in Kitara County, but regularly inspected other counties especially for their cattle.

Meanwhile, traditions assert that while Isaza continued to rule over his people peacefully, the King of Okuzimu-Underworld, made advances to make friendship with him. Nyamiyonga-Muyonga means black smut, sent a messenger who approached Isaza with a series of riddles. In his message Nyamiyonga did not state what he wanted, except provided Isaza with six clues from which Isaza was to deduce the requests of Nyamiyonga. The riddles included:

  • The measure of time (Enterabwire)
  • The rope that arrests water (Omuguha Oguboha Amaizi)
  • What makes Isaza to turn to look behind (Ekihindura Isaza Okurora Enyuma)
  • One who knows no duty or responsibility (Entamanya Mulimo)
  • One who knows no suffering or cares and comes drunk with alcohol
  • The door that shuts poverty

The King could not solve these riddles; neither could the assembly of elders whom he called to assist him. Kogere the Saza Chief of Busongora and aunt to the King brought a maid called Kazana who soon promised that she would unravel the clues. The maid servant provided the answers to one of Isaza’s wives and the answers were that; the measure of time was the cock; the rope that arrests water was the dough made of millet flour mixed in boiling water; what makes Isaza turn around and look behind was the calf because as the calf was being brought in, the king turned to look behind when it uttered a cry; the one with no sense of duty was the dog because it was given a smoking pipe but just stared at it disintrestedly; a baby was brought and placed on the Kings lap, where upon it scratched his face and wetted his clothes, thereby becoming answer to fifth riddle; the door that shuts out poverty was a request by Nyamiyonga for a blood pact through exchange of blood painted coffee berries, one painted with Nyamiyonga’s blood for Isaza to swallow and another smeared with Isaza’s blood for Nyamiyonga to swallow.

Further accounts from traditions remind us that while that was over, another more serious crisis arose between Isaza and the messenger. Due to the fact that Isaza had remained undecided over the proposed blood pact (Omukago). Isaza asked his county chiefs whether he should proceed to make the blood pact with Nyamiyonga.

One legal adviser called Kyarunda advised Isaza against making any friendship with a foreign ruler whom he had not seen before. But since the custom demanded that one should not deny another, an offer of friendship, Isaza delegated the ceremony to his servant Bukuku to perform it in his name. Bukuku swallowed Nyamiyonga’s seed. Nyamiyonga’s messenger took leave of Isaza and reported back to his master. Nyamiyonga was filled with fury and sought to avenge the trickery and insult which Isaza had done to him.

Now it follows that Nyamiyonga was told, Isaza loved two things cattle and women more than anything else. So Nyamiyonga summoned his daughters, chose one of them called Nyamata (meaning milk) and sent her to Isaza’s Palace for a trick on him. While they were at a distance, Nyamata’s escorts left her to proceed along to Isaza’s place. She arrived at Isaza’s palace, and was met by Bukuku, at the visitor’s house called Mucwa. Bukuku, the stand in of the King introduced her to the King, with the following words: “I Have No Intention Of Insulting My Ladies; There Is No One As Beautiful As She In Your Entire Household”.

Isaza’s younger sister Runyunyuzi (Star), also described her to her father that, “There Is No One As Beautiful As She, In Your Kingdom”. This made Isaza to fall in love with Nyamata, and made her his wife. While Nyamata continued to stay with Isaza, she discovered that Isaza had much love for cattle especially his cow Bihogo Bya Gaju, a reddish brown cow and Ruhogo a bull. While she was six months pregnant she decided to leave for home on the promise that she had gone to establish maternal relations for her child and to see her parents. As she was escorted, traditions suggest, she simply disappeared from her escorts near the border to Nyamiyonga’s Kingdom.

Nyamata bore a child who was named Isimbwa she told her father that there is nothing which Isaza loves like cattle. So Nyamiyonga decided to collect his two best cows, Ruhogo the Bull and Kahogo the cow, so that he could send them to Isaza’s palace. He recommended to his herdsmen to travel at night so that, they can cause the two cows to join Isaza’s herd. On seeing the two cows, Isaza got delighted and immediately took possession of them. The two cows, unfortunately eloped with the Isaza’s Bihogo Bya Gaju and ran to Nyamiyonga’s Kingdom. Determined as he was, Isaza ordered Bukuku to keep safe of the palace, while he followed the cows.

On reaching Nyamiyonga’s palace, he was met by Nyamata and his child Isimbwa. Isimbwa had been named by his uncle Rwogamata (One who bathes in milk). Isaza was given his cows Bihogo and Kahogo together with his wife Nyamata and two hundred heads of cattle, so that he could return home to Kitara. But Isaza never found the way back. He remained in Nyamiyonga’s Kingdom for the rest of his life, neither did the Bagabu ever regain political dominance in Kitara. The kingdom leadership had been in the hands of Bukuku formally a servant in the palace.

The whereabouts of this underworld unnamed Kingdom is unspecified in tradition, but historians say that this encounter related to contacts between the Bagabu – Batembuzi and a new power to the south, that proved to be Isaza’s undoing. Oliver Ronald using the Nkore traditions has identified the underworld to have been Bwera just south of River Katonga, from where the Bahuma pastoralists made attempts to extend their power northwards into Isaza’s Kingdom, which lay between Katonga and Nkuse Kafu Rivers.

Meanwhile, back home, Bukuku, the former stand in of the King proclaimed himself a new King of Bunyoro Kitara. He belonged to the Baranzi clan and was a “Mwiru”. This proclamation to Kingship involved him in a power struggle with the members of the Bagabu clan. Isaza the former King, belonged to the Bagabu Clan.

This is why the Bagabu made attempts to regain dominance after the disappearance of Isaza. Rubunda Omugabu, son of Isaza had a child whom he named Nkoni ya Rubunda literally meaning that “He Beat a Mwiru” (Bukuku) with a stick for becoming a King (Omukama) in his father’s palace. This he did as a sign of expressing discontent and anger at being ruled by a Mwiru. When the Bagabu realised that regaining power was a farfetched idea, they decided to withdraw from Kitara. They went to Busongora where they stayed until today.

Besides, other rebellions followed suit. All the saza chiefs who had been left by Isaza Rugambanabato rebelled against Bukuku on account that they could not be ruled by a Mwiru. These rebellions left Bukuku in control of a very small piece of land that was united to Kikwenuzi, Kisengwe and Kajarazi, places which have not been pin pointed by modem informants. No account suggest that Bukuku ever regained the control over these areas he had lost. However, it should be noted that although Bukuku’s reign was faced with political failures and rebellions, it remains significant because of the status group he represented, the Bairu agriculturalists. He is the only Mwiru remembered to have achieved this feat in Bunyoro-Kitara.

That aside, Bukuku had a daughter, named Nyinamwiru whom he had built a separate house to seal off everybody else and she was given a maid called Mugizi to look after her. Bukuku did this because he had no male child. One day, Isimbwa son of Isaza and Nyamata paid a visit from the underworld, where he had been since his infancy and he had already fathered a son called Kyomya.

While he stayed at Bukuku’s place, he made some clandestine advances to Nyinamwiru through her maid Mugizi. He stayed in Nyinamwiru’s enclosure for three months unknown to Bukuku. Six months after the departure of Isimbwa, Nyinamwiru bore a child Ndahura to Bukuku’s consternation who ordered the child to be killed by drowning. Accounts reveal that the child was thrown into a river – Nguse Muzizi.

Ndahura wore necklaces that stuck to a tree, so he could not drown. Others say, it was his umblical cord which got stuck in a bush. While he continued to hung around on the bank of the river, a nearby porter called Rubumbi came and saved the child. He knew that the child belonged to Nyinamwiru. He secretly informed her and Nyinamwiru decided to send two milk cows to feed the child. The child became known as Ndahura Karubumbi after the porter who had saved his life. Bukuku remained convinced that the child was dead.

Ndahura grew into a strong spirited boy, son of Rubumbi. But older people always commented on his striking resemblance to King Isaza. Ndahura constantly troubled the King’s herdsmen and could always drive their cattle away, so that Rubumbi’s cattle could drink first. The herdsmen reported the matter, to Bukuku who decided to come and punish the insolent youth. When Ndahura drove the King’s cattle aside, Bukuku ordered his men to seize and beat him. But before they could do so, Ndahura ran around Bukuku and stabbed him in the back with a spear. Bukuku fell down in the drinking trough and died. Ndahura sat on the King’s stool. The frightened men and herdsmen ran to Nyinamwiru, so that she could come and capture her father’s murderer. But Nyinamwiru just exclaimed: “My Ears Have Heard Both Good And Evil”. (Amatu Gampulize Ebibi Nebirungi).

Because her father was slain but it was her son to take the throne; Nyinamwiru ordered the installation of Ndahura on the throne of his grandfather Isaza.

The Banyoro became very happy because the royal lineage had been restored. The Mwiru King had been slain. Ndahura became King and opened a new dynasty of the Bacwezi. He established his capital on Mubende hill, while Bukuku got buried at Kisengwa in Bugangaizi.

Chapter Two: 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.


Isimbwa (not counted as a mucwezi because he was born in “the underworld”

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 centralization of political institutions and their adaptation to the new social and economic realities of a more widespread 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 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.


The progeny 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 separate 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 escarpment 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.


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 (Baganda call her Nakayima). 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 pot 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 Nyangoro. 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.


Like the origin of the Bacwezi, there is still a lot of uncertainty 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 setback when Ndahura himself was captured by Bwirebutakya. His capture was followed by many misfortunes which could not have occurred 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 superseded 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 ostracized 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 Bihogo 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 is 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.