Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Baganda Culture


The Baganda rare the largest single ethnic group in Uganda. They occupy the central part of Uganda which was formerly called the Buganda province. The Baganda can therefore be found in the present districts of Kampala, Mpigi, Mukono, Masaka, Kalangala, Kiboga, Rakai and Mubende. They are a Bantu –speaking people and their language is called Luganda.

There are abundant traditions about the origins of Baganda. However, most of these traditions contrast very sharply. One tradition asserts that the Baganda are descendants of Kintu. A piece of the same tradition claims that Kintu came fro, heaven while another piece asserts that he came from the east, from the direction of Mt. Elgon and passed through Busoga on his way to Buganda. Another tradition asserts that the Baganda are the descendants of a people who came from the east or the northeast round about A.D. 1300. These people were either Hamites from Ethiopia or Luo from Sudan. Sir Apollo Kaggwa’s version says that the first Muganda was Kintu and that Kintu came from heaven and landed at Podi, Kintu is said to have moved on to Kibiro and with his companions finally reached Kyadondo and founded the Kingdom of Buganda.One could possibly gather that the Baganda came to occupy Buganda from two main directions; one from the east by way of Busoga and another from the west by way of Bunyoro. The best that can be said is that being Bantu speaking, the Baganda originated from central Africa where all the Bantu are said to have originated.

The Baganda believed in superhuman spirits in the form of mizimu, misambwa and balubaale. The Balubale were believed to have been men whose exceptional attributes in life were carried over into death.The mizimu were believed to be ghosts of dead people for it was believed that only the body could die and rot but the soul would still exist as omuzimu (singular of mizimu). Such ghosts were believed to operate at the family level to haunt whoever the dead person had grudges with. If the mizimu entered natural objects, they were believed to become misambwa. At another level, the mizimu could become tribal figures and also be known as Balulaale.

The supreme being among the Baganda was the creator Katonda. Katonda was, believed to have had neither children nor parents. He was said to have created heavens and the earth with all that they contain. Katonda was however, not believed to be very different from the other Balubaale. In fact he was believed to be one of the seventy –three Balubaale in Buganda. There were three temples for Katonda in Buganda and all of them were situated in Kyaggwe under the care of priests from the Njovu clan.

The other Balubaale had specific functions. The most important among them were; katonda, Ggulu, god of the sky and the father of Kiwanuka, god of lightning. Then there was Kawumpuli, god of plague, Ndaula, god of small pox, Musisi, god of earthquakes, Wamala, god of Lake Wamala and Mukasa, god of Lake Victoria. Musoke was the god of the rainbow and Kitaka was the god of the earth.

There were temples dedicated to the different Balubaale through out Buganda. Each temple was served by a medium and a priest who had powers over the temple and acted as a liaison between the Balubaale and the people. In particular clans, priesthood was hereditary, but a priest of the same god could be found in different clans. The priests occupied a place of religious importance within society and they usually availed themselves for consultation.

The Kings had special shrines of worship. The Royal sister known as Nnaalinya took charge of the king’s temple. There is a tradition among the Baganda that the Balubaale cult was introduced by kabaka Nakibinge to strengthen his authority and that he combined both political and religious functions for that matter.

The Baganda regarded marriage as a very important aspect of life. A woman would normally not be respected unless she was married. Nor would a man be regarded as being complete until he was married. And the more women a man had the more of a man he would be regarded. This presupposes indeed that the Baganda were polygamous. A man could marry five wives or more provided he could manage to look after them. It was easier to become polygamous in Buganda than in other parts of Uganda because the bride wealth obligations were not prohibitive. However, unlike in other societies of Uganda, divorce was very common in Buganda.

Formerly parents would initiate and conduct marriage arrangements for their children. A father could, for instance, choose a husband for his daughter and the daughter would not question whether the husband chosen was too old, too young or unappealing. It was common for old men to marry young girls to rejuvenate themselves. However, as time passed, boys could make their choices and with the help of their families, processed to make formal arrangements for marriage. The girl would contribute nothing more than her consent. After the due introductions and payment of the appropriate bride wealth, a formal ceremony would be arranged and the girl would be officially handed over for marriage. Such ceremonies were great occasions of eating, drinking, dancing and social gathering. A man could not marry from his own clan except for the members of Mamba and Ngabi clans. They gave the simple justification that they were very many. Even then marriage occurred between distant clan members.

The formal arrangements were such that the girl’s aunt would dress her smartly and the boy would be invited t look at her. If the boy appreciated her, further arrangements would be made for introductions. Following the introductions, more arrangements were made for the payment of the bride wealth and then the hand over ceremony. If the girl was a virgin, she would be escorted by her aunt. If she was not, the aunt, the aunt as an escort would not go. The purpose of the aunt would be to take the bedding and a goat that had never had sexual relations with a he-goat. On her way out, she would pass by the rear door of the house. On reaching home, the goat was slaughtered and eaten without salt.

The Baganda feared death very much. They did not believe in such paradigms as life after death. Whenever someone died, they would weep and wail round the corpse. Weeping was important because one who would not weep and wail could easily be suspected of causing the deceased’s death. The Baganda did not believe that death was a natural consequence. All deaths were attributed to wizards, sorcerers and supernatural spirits. Therefore, after almost every death, a witch doctor would be consulted.

Burial was usually after five days. The body had to wait for that long in belief that it might still contain the element of life and might perhaps come back to life. Some people especially the women would go as far as pinching the corpse to ascertain if it cooked feel the pain. Women were believed to rot faster than men and they were thus normally buried earlier than men. After burial, there would follow a month of mourning, ten days after mourning would be funeral rites known as okwabya olumbe.

Okwabya olumbe was a great ceremonial feast whereby all the clan elders would be invited and many people would attend. It involves a lot of eating, drinking, dancing and unrestrained sexual intercourse among the members present. On that same occasion, an heir would be installed if the deceased was the head of the family. The heir apparent would stand near the door dressed in ceremonial bark cloth and armed with a spear and a stick. The elders would then instruct him as appropriate and require him, among other things, to assist the beneficiaries. The children of the deceased would be covered with bark cloth and told to go crying to the plantation in order that the ghost of the deceased should come out of the home. They were also required to shave off their hair.

Whenever a woman was pregnant, she would use herb called nalongo in order that her public regions should widen. If the woman had ever given birth, she would begin to use the herb at the seventh month of pregnancy. If she was conceiving for the first time, she would begin using it at the sixth month of pregnancy.

After giving birth, the kigoma (afterbirth) was buried near the doorway. The essence of burying it was to remove it from the reach of those who might employ evil purposes such as killing the child or rendering the mother barren. The mother would spend three days in confinement after birth but the period tended to depend on when the umbilical cord got dry. After about two weeks, the husband would play sex with the wife for the first time after she had given birth. This was a ritual function connected with the health of the child, and on that day, the child would be named. Thereafter the woman would stay celibate for some time before resuming sexual intercourse with the husband.
Social stratification

Unlike the neighboring societies of Ankole, Bunyoro and Toro, the Baganda seem to have been a coherent group. The society provides a striking example of being one with no fixed social divisions. The society was so fluid that any person of talent and ability could rise to a position of social importance. But this did not mean that the Baganda society had no classes as such because at any time, the distinction between one class and another could be made.

At the bottom of the social stratum, there was a class of people known as the Bakopi (serfs). Fallers described mukopi as “simply as a person who did not matter”. The Bakopi obtained their livelihood from the goodwill of the Baami (chiefs) and the Balangira (princes), the other two social groups in Buganda. They depended on land but they had no rights to it. Therefore, a mukopi was almost a serf to the mwami or the Kabaka.

In ascending order, the next class in the baganda society were the chiefs or the Baami as they were called. The Baami wee not born Baami as a class but they could become such through distinguished services and ability or just by royal appointment. The Baami were a middle class in Buganda society. Infact the fluidity of the Kiganda system is evidenced by the class of the Baami. Initially, the status of the Baami was enjoyed by the Bataka (Clan heads).However, after 1750, the men of the Bakopi class began to be promoted t become Baami. The Baami could be distinguished into three patterns namely the Bakunga, the Bataka, and the Batongole.

The highest class in Buganda society was the Balangira. This was the aristocracy who based their right to rule on royal blood. At any one time, society would recognize; the Kabaka, the queen mother variously referred to as Namasole, Nabijano, or kanyabibambwa, then Nalinya popularly known as Lubuga (royal sister), then the Katikiiro and the Kimbugwe. The group formed a class of its own in Buganda.
Social characteristics

The original Baganda are said to have been short and stocky with a distinct big and flat nose. These characteristics can still be traced among the Baganda today, but generally, they have lost their original structure. This is mainly because of their ability to assimilate other peoples. Many people from Rwanda Burundi, Ankole, Toro, and Basoga have been assimilated over time to become Baganda and they are proud of it.

The baganda are generally proud of their society and they are always ready to welcome those that are interested in joining them. They tend to believe that their culture is superior to those of the other peoples of Uganda and they often look down upon their neighbors. Their sense of superiority was whetted by colonialism when the British made them their allies in subjecting other people and thereafter gave them a special status within the protectorate of Uganda.

They tend to be polite but particular in their behavior and actions. In greeting, their women kneel down as a sign of respect. Rarely could a Muganda pass another without greeting him or her and they tend to be particular in their dress and walking. The Baganda were generally particular in their homes and in cooking. Strict rules would surround eating and they would all sit down on a mat, male and female alike. The male sat on one side while the female sat with legs bent backwards. None, it is said, could leave the dinning ground before all had finished and without saying “Ofumbye nyo” to the person who prepared the meal and “ogabude” to the head of the family.

The Baganda were essentially agriculturalists. The main crops grown included bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, beans, cow-peas and a wide assortment of green vegetables. They also kept chickens, goats, sheep and cattle.

Land was an asset of economic importance and all land was supposed to belong to the kabaka (King). The kabaka could grant and remove land to and from anyone and at any time without notice. The grant of land went hand in hand with the grant of a political office such as a Saza chief. Gombolola chief or Muluka chief. The Chief would then grant the land to the people under his jurisdiction for cultivation. But the land in effect, still belonged to the Kabaka. If any chief lost political power, he would also lose the control of the land.

This presupposes that land was not only an asset of economic importance but also of political importance. The Kabaka used land as an instrument for winning the loyalty of his chiefs. The Chiefs tended to remain loyal to the Kabaka for fear that the loss of chieftainship would also mean the loss of the rent extracted from the Bakopi (Peasants).

Each clan was allocated some land known as obutaka on which to bury their dead. Such land was vested in the Bataka (clan heads0. The general system of land tenure was feudal and very exploitative to the Bakopi. As a price for cultivating the land, they had to give part of the produce to the chiefs as obusuului and envujjo.

In 1900, this system of land tenure was slightly altered by the colonial government. All the land in Buganda was divided into crown land and mailo land. Crown land was said to be property of Her Majesty the Queen of England and Ireland while Mailo land was granted freehold to the chiefs and members of the Kabaka’s family. This time the Bataka (clan heads) were not considered. The Bakopi retained their former position but exploitation intensified until 1927 when the Busuulu and Nvujjo were outlawed.

The Baganda were skilled in creating works of art. Among them were excellent craftsmen, bark cloth makers, weavers and potters. They made excellent mats and a variety of baskets, pots and chairs. The best bark cloth makers in present Uganda could be found in Buganda. They also made spears, shields, bows and arrows. Among other things, they also made drums of various shapes and sizes as well as many other musical instruments such as endingidi.

The Baganda were also good at fishing and hunting. Most of the house hold work and cultivation was left to women while neb concentrated on fighting, hunting and fishing. All these activities have nevertheless come under severe competition with modern industrial production processes. Industrial products have seriously undermined the skills and markets for crafts although some are still visible in many areas of the country.

In the later times, towards the middle of the 18th century, Buganda usurped the position of Bunyoro as the centre of interlacustrine trade. They would trade in ivory, dried bananas, whiteants, pottery and other crafts with the people of the interlacuatrine rein and with the coastal Arabs from the Mif-19th century. When the colonialists arrived in the 1890’s the Baganda readily supported them and adopted a new mode of economy based on trade and cash crop production. Presently, the Baganda are among the richest people of Uganda.
Political set-up

The Baganda has a centralized system of government which by 1750 was most well organized in the interlacustrine region. The head of state was the King known as Kabaka. Previously the Bataka had a lot of political influence. They enjoyed a position almost similar to that of Kabaka although they were subject to him in his capacity as Ssabataka. However, after 1750, the Kabaka assumed position of political importance far superior to the ranks of the Bataka.The Kabaka’s position was hereditary but it not confined to any one clan because the king used to marry from as many clans as possible and this encouraged loyalty t the throne in the sense that each of the fifty-two clans hoped that it would one day produce the King.

The other persons who occupied positions of political and social importance were: the prime Minister known as the katikiro, the Mugema, the royal sister known as Namasole and the Naval and the Army commanders’ reffered to as Gabunga and Mujasi respectively.

The Kingdom was divided into administrative units known as Amasaza (counties) which were further subdivided into Amagombolola (sub-counties), and these wee sub-divided into parishes called Emiluka which were sub-divided into sub-parishes. The smallest unit was known as Bukungu which was more or less a village unit. All the chiefs at all levels were appointed by the Kabaka and they were directly responsible to him. He could appoint or dismiss any chief at will. After 1750, chieftainship was no longer hereditary. Chieftainship was accorded on clan basis but only to men of merit and distinguished service.

There was a system known as okusenga were children of the Bakopi were sent to grow up at the chiefs’ and the Kabaka’s courts as a means of apprenticeship. Those who demonstrated their ability were rewarded with political appointments. The system involved a lot of servitude and hard work coupled with harsh treatment by the chiefs. In this way, a person could rise through the chiefly hierarchy from a commoner to the appointed Katikiro if his services proved exemplary.

Formerly, there would be succession disputes after the death of the Kabaka. With time, however, structural modifications were made t avoid such disputes. The most ancient of such modifications was the King to kill all his sons and leave only one of them who would inherit the throne after his death. This system was too crude t last. As time went on, the reigning king would nominate the one who would succeed him before he died. It is said that such a nomination would be adhered to as far as it was humanly possible. But the final decision in such a case lay in the hands of the Katikiro, the Kimbugwe (traditional saza chief of Buruli) and Kasujja – Lubinga ( a chief traditionally appointed from the Lugave clan to look after the Balangira Bengoma-the heirs apparent).The other princes who were not heirs to the throne were know as Mituba and they were under the direct control of an old prince known as Sabalangira. By the 1900 agreement, this procedure was severely altered. The Kabaka was to be elected by the Lukiiko and approved by her majesty the Queen of England and Ireland, Empress of India etc. these conditions however remained on paper. The choice of the last two King, Mutesa II and his son Mutebi II were through nomination by their own fathers.
Death of the Kabaka

Whenever the Kabaka died, his drums known as Majaguzo were taken away to a place of safety until a new Kabaka was appointed. These drums were under the guardianship of the members of the Lugave clan. The sacred fire referred to as Gombololawhich had been kept incessantly burning at the entrance of the palace during the lifetime of the Kabaka would be extinguished. It would be re-lit on the installation of the new kabaka. Indeed the customary phrase to announce the death of a kabaka was; “Omuliro gwe Buganda Guzikide “Meaning that Buganda’s fire has been extinguished.

The tradition of equating the King’s lifetime with the burning of the fire was believed to have started during the reign of Kintu and to have continued until the flight of Mutesa II from Lubiri palace in 1966. The traditional keepers of this fire were styled as Senklole and Musoloza. It was also customary to announce the death of the Kabaka with the phrase “Agye omukono mu ngabo” meaning: “He has let loose the shield”.
Burial of the Kabaka

When the Kabaka died, his body would be carefully wrapped in appropriate attire and placed in a room called “Twekobe”, inside the Kabaka’s house. The two chiefs Kangawo (title for the country chief of Bulemezi) and Mugerere (country chief of Bugerere) would be put in immediate charge of the body. Before burial, the body would be embalmed for almost six months. The Baganda believed that the spirit of a man would always remain where his jaw bone was. For this reason, the jawbone of the Kabaka was removed from his body before burial and a special shrine was built t o house it.


  1. dear william, thanks for this wonderful expose of our beautiful ganda culture. kindly could you also include A DESCRIPTION OF TRADITIONAL FEASTING. OR YOU COULD send me some information on my email at thanks, i will be glad if i received one from you.
    God bless you always.

  2. this is a good piece .much more bro than i knew.thank u

  3. Thanks for the information, it has helpt me to do my research here in Lier