CULTURE IN UGANDA | CULTURE OF UGANDA
While planning their Uganda tour , people asked several questions about culture in Uganda when planning their Uanda safaris , for example, what is the culture of Uganda? How many cultures are there in Uganda? What are the traditions in Uganda? Below are the facts about Uganda culture;
Uganda Tribes: How Many Tribes in Uganda?
With over 56 tribes, Uganda is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. These various tribes of Uganda mainly belong to three ethnic groups including;
The Bantu people in the South
The Nilotic people in the North, East, and West
The Sudanic people (Central Sudanic in Northwest and East Sudanic in the far North East).
The table below shows the major ethnic groups and tribes in Uganda
|Bantu people||Nilotic people||Central Sudanic people||Eastern Sudanic people|
|· Baganda||Acholi (Acoli)||Lendu||Pokot|
|· Basoga||Lango (Langi)||Lugbara||Ik|
|· Bagwere||Karo people|
While planning your trip to Uganda, you will need to communicate with people in Uganda; to book a hotel room, to purchase goods at the market, hiring transportation or contacting tour operators. So you may ask yourself, “What is the language in Uganda?” or “What are the languages spoken in Uganda?”
Well, the answer to that question is that Uganda is one of the most multilingual countries in Africa, with at least 41 languages spoken.
However, you do not need to panic, because you won’t need to learn them all since the country has two official languages that most Ugandans use: English and Swahili.
Local languages in Uganda are divided in five major categories including;
Western Nilotic Luo languages
Eastern Nilotic languages
Eastern Sudanic languages and
Central Sudanic languages
Below is a description of the most commonly spoken local languages of Uganda;
Most of the Bantu languages use a variety of prefixes to form words so that several similar words are made from common root.
The most common prefixes are mu-, ba- and bu- , the first referring to an individual, the second collectively, the third to the land they occupy.
For example, Muganda is a member of the Baganda, the people who live in Buganda. The language of Baganda is Luganda and their beliefs and customs are Kiganda.
To use another example, Munyoro is a member of the Banyoro, the people who live in Bunyoro. Their language is Runyoro and their beliefs and customs are Kinyoro.
Standards are more flexible when dealing with ethnic groups other than the Baganda; The Ankole people are usually referred to as Banyankole but the land they occupy is not referred to as Bunyankole; it is called Ankole. Munyankole however is a member of the Banyankole of Ankole. The people of Toro are called Batooro but there is no term Butoro.
The below shows the major Bantu tribes in Uganda, their languages, and the region they occupy.
Luganda: This is the most widely spoken local language in Uganda. Over 4 million people in Uganda speak Luganda, more especially in the Central region, in the Buganda Kingdom of the Baganda, the largest ethnic group in Uganda.
Western Nilotic Luo languages in Uganda include;
- Acholi−spoken by Acholi or Acoli people in north−central Uganda
- Alur−spoken by Alur people in northwestern Uganda
- LebLango−spoken by Lango people in north−central Uganda
- Jopadhola−spoken by Adhola people in the Eastern Uganda
- Kuman−spoken by Kumam people in the Eastern region of Uganda
Eastern Nilotic languages are spoken by people in the northeast and east of Uganda, they include;
Karamojong−spoken by Karimojong people
Bari−spoken by Karo people
Teso−spoken by Iteso people
Eastern Sudanic languages in Uganda are spoken in the far north-east edges along the border with Kenya; they include;
- Pokot−spoken by Pokot people in eastern Uganda
- Kuliak−spoken by Ik people
- Soo−spoken by Tepes people
Central Sudanic languages in Uganda are spoken by people in the northwest of the country, and they include;
- Aringa−spoken by Aringa people
- Lugbara−spoken by Lugbara people
- Ma’di−spoken by Ma’di people
The major Uganda tribes
- The Ganda people, or Baganda, (Singular: Muganda), are a Bantu people of Buganda Kingdom. Buganda means ‘bundles’.
- Buganda is the is the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day East Africa
- It comprises of the Uganda’s Central Region, including the Ugandan capital Kampala.
- The Kingdom has long history that dates back 600 years ago on which time of succession of kings has never been broken.
- Comprising 16.9% of the total population, the Baganda is the largest ethnic group of Uganda. They speak Luganda.
- The Kingdom was the centre of the Uganda British Protectorate in 1894 and the name Uganda was derived from Buganda by the British officials.
Kabaka of Buganda
- This ancient kingdom is head by a King whose title is Kabaka and his prime minister is called Katikkiro.
- His royal palace is called Lubiri, located on Mengo hill in Kampala.
- Even in contemporary times, the Baganda continue to practice the traditions that they have followed for centuries, most paramount of which is their loyalty to the Kabaka.
- When you are greeting the Kabaka’s, the ladies are supposed to kneel and the gents are supposed to lay down as a sign of respect to the Kabaka.
- All the princes are equally treated prior to the coronation of a new king following the death of a reigning monarch.
- However, during the period of a reigning king, a special council has the mandate to study the behavior and characteristics of the young princes.
- The reigning king, informed by the recommendation of the special council, selects one prince to be his successor.
- In a secret ceremony, the selected prince is given a special piece of bark cloth by the head of the special verification council.
- The name of the “king-to-be” is kept secret by the special council until the death of the reigning king.
- When all the princes and princesses are called to view the body of the late king lying in state, the selected prince lays the special piece of bark cloth over the body of the late king, revealing himself as the successor to the throne.
- However, according to Buganda culture a king does not die but gets lost in the forest.
- Inside Buganda’s royal tombs such as the Kasubi Tombs and the Wamala Tombs, one is shown the entrance of the forest. It is a taboo to look beyond the entrance.
- Following Uganda’s independence in 1962, the kingdom was abolished by Uganda’s first Prime Minister Milton Obote in 1966.
- It was restored in 1993 by Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement under Yoweri Museveni.
- Since it restoration, Kabaka of Buganda has been His Majesty Muwenda Mutebi II, the 36th Kabaka of Buganda.
- The current queen, known as the Nnabagereka, is Queen Sylvia Nagginda.
Clans in Buganda
- Ganda people are divided into 52 clans and these clans have totems that they follow.
- By tradition, Baganda children take on the clan of their biological fathers.
- The lineage in Buganda is passed on from father to son and they all have to be of the same totem.
- All clans have a structure that is hierarchical with the clan leader locally known as Owakasolya at the top.
- The subdivisions follow and these are locally known as Ssiga, Mutuba, and Lunyiriri and lastly the family comes in and this is known as Enju.
- And it is a must for every true Muganda to know all these and all that entails in their clan so that they can easily trace their lineage.
- The clans have a long history and when one is introducing themselves to others especially during traditional ceremonies, the person says his names, the father’s names, the paternal grand father’s name, and great grand father’s name.
- It is a common misconception that the Kabaka of Buganda takes his clan from his mother.
- The truth is that, the Kabaka has his own clan which is called the royal clan “Olulyo Olulangira”.
- Members of this clan are referred to as abalangira for males and abambejja for females.
- The royal clan has its own genealogy traced along the patrilineal line, extending all the way back to Kintu, the first Muganda man.
Some of the cultural and historical sites of Buganda which can be explored by those interested in Buganda’s history and cultural heritage include;
- Kasubi Royal Tombs
- Wamala tombs
- Kabaka’s palace/Mengo Palace
- Bulange Mengo/Buganda Parliament
- Naggalabi Coronation site
- Kabaka’s Lake in Ndeeba
- The Banyoro/Nyoro (Singular: Munyoro) are Bantu people belonging to Bunyoro Kingdom. Banyoro speak Runyoro.
- The Kingdom of Bunyoro is the remainder of a once powerful Empire of Kitara (Empire of Light).
- Situated in the western region, Bunyoro is the oldest Kingdom of Uganda that has enjoyed a rich history spanning over 1000 years.
- It was established in the early 14th century by Rukidi-Mpuga out of the after the disintegration of the Chwezi Empire or Empire of Kitara.
- The founders of Bunyoro were known as the Babiito, a people who succeeded the legendary Bachwezi.
Omukama of Bunyoro
- Bunyoro kingdom is ruled by a King who title is Omukama.
- The current Omukama of Bunyoro is his highness Solomon Iguru I and his Royal Palace called Karuziika Palace, is located in Hoima.
- The kingship is patrilineal meaning that it is passed down through the male line.
- This tradition comes from a legend the Nyoro people tell.
- Once there were three sons of the Mukama, all having the same name.
- In order to name them, the Mukama asked the God to help him.
- The boys must go through a series of tasks before being named.
- The three of them had to sit all night holding a pot of milk.
- Milk is a sacred drink used for important events in Bunyoro.
- Whoever had all their milk still in the pot by morning would be king.
- The youngest son dropped the milk and begged his older brothers to give him some of theirs, they did.
- When morning came the eldest son dropped a little more.
- When God and the Mukama came to observe the pots, the eldest son was named after the peasants who are not fit for cattle herding since he had no milk left.
- The middle son was named after cattle herders and
- The youngest son was named Oukama and later Mukama or king for having the most.
- A few months after birth, the baby would be given a name.
- This was normally done by a close relative, but the father always had the final say.
- Two names are given: a personal name, and a traditional Empaako name.
- The names were often related to specific features on the child, special circumstances in the birth of the child or as a way to honor a former family member.
- Some of the Empaako or Mpako names include; Akiiki, Apuuli, Acaali, Adyeeri, Abooki, Abwooli, Amooti, Ateenyi, and Atwooki
Bunyoro offers well-preserved attractions to visitors that give insight to the history and traditions of Banyoro people including;
- A diversity of royal regalia
- 24 royal tombs,
- 2 main royal palaces
There is no shortage either of fascinating cultural experience from ceremonies to song and dance, and folklore that have been celebrated in this land since long before Uganda came to be.
- The Batooro are a Bantu ethnic group, native to the Tooro Kingdom.
- The Kingdom of Toro is located in western Uganda, situated between Lake Albert and George, bounded on the west by the Rwenzori Mountains and north by Bunyoro Kitara.
- Toro shares the same roots of Bunyoro up until the 1820s when a renegade prince of Bunyoro established the new kingdom of Toro.
- For this reason, two kingdoms share almost identical cultures and traditions.
- The language of Batooro is called Rutooro. It closely resembles Runyoro, spoken in the neighboring kingdom of Bunyoro.
- Fort Portal town is the cultural center and official seat of the Kingdom
- Toro palace the official residence of Omukama (King) of Toro is perched atop a hill, commanding majestic views of the town.
- The current Omukama of Toro is King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV.
- He took to the throne of Tooro kingdom in 1995 at the age of just three years, after the death of his father.
Some of the attractions in the Kingdom of Toro include;
- Kibale National Park
- Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
- Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’
- Amabere Caves
- Karambi Royal Tombs
The Batwa pygmy people
Some anthropologists say that most pygmy tribes such as the Batwa have existed for more than 60,000 years in the equatorial forests. The Batwa live in south-western Uganda in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kabale, Kisoro and Rukungiri.
Who are the Batwa People?
- The Batwa pygmies are hunter-gatherer people who for thousands of years occupied the forested mountainous region of western Uganda.
- They lived a typical hunter-gatherer culture;
- The men used simple spears or bows and arrows to catch birds, monkeys, small antelopes, and bush pigs
- While the women foraged for wild honey, fruits, and berries.
- They relied entirely on the rainforest for their existence, living in grass huts and caves and making fire using dry sticks and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed.
- As the forests were cut down to create farmland the Batwa were pushed back into smaller and smaller areas.
- Eventually, in the 1930s, the remaining forests were declared protected reserves, to protect the critically endangered Mountain gorillas, which removed Batwa’s legal claims to the land they had lived on for many centuries.
- The final blow came in 1991 when the reserves were turned into Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
- The Batwa were evicted.
- Given no support or compensation, and with nowhere to go, overnight they’d effectively become criminals on their own land.
- They were relocated to camps, settlements, and neighboring communities.
Social and economic life of the Batwa today
- After the eviction, the Batwa people faced and still face challenges of living among the other people in the neighboring communities.
- They are discriminated and stigmatized due to their different ways of life and their physical appearance.
- Today the Batwa are some of the poorest people in the whole world with a low life expectancy and a high infant mortality rate.
- Their population and culture had also started to diminish and in fact today, there are less than 3,000 Batwa People.
- However, things have begun to change; the Uganda Wildlife in conjunction with USAID started the Batwa Cultural Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
- This trail is led by local Twa who explain how they used to live in the forest before being forcibly removed.
- Part of the Batwa cultural trail fee goes directly to the Batwa guide and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books and improve their livelihoods.
- There after your Uganda gorilla treks, Bwindi and Mgahinga Parks you can participate in the Batwa Cultural Experience to get a deep insight of their hunter gatherer culture.
The Karamojong people
- The Karamojong are a Nilotic ethnic group and traditional nomadic pastoralists living in the north-east of Uganda.
- This cattle-herding group of people live on the edge of Kidepo valley National park in their manyattas (villages) surrounded by sharp thorns, with small entry points for people and a larger entry point for cattle.
- The Karamojongs are proud of their traditional lifestyle, which is even in Uganda is often misunderstood.
- Other Ugandans see Karamajongs as behind times.
- That is based on the Karamajong resisting of formal education and modernization.
- They highly value their traditional beliefs and have rejected outside religion such as Christianity and Islam.
- To them, Akuj is still the god of their faith, who they believe gave them the birthright of all the cattle in the Karamoja region and the world beyond.
- This belief is probably the root of years and years of tribal wars and cattle rustling because the neighboring tribes have the same belief.
- They consider cattle royalty and it is the measure of a man.
- The number of cows the family head possesses is a sign of wealth, prestige and social status symbol.
The IK people
- The Ik, sometimes called Teuso is a small ethnic group of about 10,000.
- They live on the slopes of Morungole in the northern Uganda near the border with Kenya, next to the more populous Karamojong.
- In the local language, “IK” loosely translates to “the first to migrate here”.
- True to the meaning of their name, they were the first settlers in Karamoja region.
- They were cattle keepers but due to their weakness, they were regularly raided by the Karamajong who believed their god Akuj gave them birthright of all cattle anywhere.
- Today keep a few heads of cattle, goats, sheep, and chicken.
- They also have special skills at hunting wild game, gathering edible fruits, flowers, leaves, tubers, honey and cultivate land to grow some food crops in the Karamoja plains.
- The IK people became famous in 1972 when a British-American anthropologist Colin Turnbull published his book “The mountain people” in which he described the IK people he comes across as people who did not love.
- However, a visit to one of the IK villages on mount Morungole will disapprove that, they love, welcoming and Turnbull simply got it wrong.
- Like the Batwa people of southwestern Uganda, IK people still practice their ancient ways.
The Bagishu people
- The Bagisu, also known as the Bamasaba is one of Uganda’s Bantu tribes.
- These people believe that their founding father Masaba emerged from one the caves of the mountain Elgon about 500 years ago.
- This origin is interwoven with the origin of Imbalu (male circumcision) for which the Bagisu people are popularly known for.
- This colorful biannual Imbalu circumcision ceremony in which the Bagisu boys are publicly circumcised with a special knife without pain killers in order to be initiated into manhood is a cultural encounter like no the other in Uganda.
- Circumcision of the Bagisu takes place in August and December, and no Bagisu Tribe male can be married without being circumcised.
- This practice dates back to the tale that a certain Mugisu man was summoned by the council of elders because of stealing other men’s wives and then he was subjected to circumcision in Mutoto village as a punishment and preventive action for being adulterous.
- However, this yielded nothing as he became more powerful and admirable to women.
- The counterparts retaliated by circumcising themselves to compete favorably.
- During the ceremony, elders lead candidates to be circumcised in traditional wear, while dancing and singing cultural songs.
- Besides the Mbalu, the Bagisu people also have other unique cultural practices visitors can discover including the regions cultural dances, food preparation, folklore and its famous delicacy malewa bamboo shoot.