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Discus the Origin of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom

asked : 1 year, 8 days ago History (Ancient and Modern)

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1 year, 8 days ago

Bunyoro Kitara was one of the kingdoms in the interlacustrine region however the origins of this great empire are not clear but constructed from myths and legends passed down from generation.

It was formed in 1350 AD by the Chwezi after the disappearance of the Batembuzi this therefore suggests that the Tembuzi were the first occupants of this kingdom

The founders of this kingdom (the Bachwezi) are believed to have come from North or North East. The Bachwezi were demi gods and miraculous people

The Bachwezi are believed to have been either Cushites, Egyptians, Greeks or Portuguese who southwards and settled in the interlacustrine region of East Africa.

Their empire is believed to have been founded by Ndahura a grand son of Isaza and at its peak this this consisted of parts of Bunyoro, Toro Ankole, Karagwe, Buganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Its was at Bigo Byamugenyi

The Chwezi rule lasted for four to five reigns after which it collapsed. Several independent states later emerged from the ruins of Bunyoro - Kitara

Such kingdoms included Bunyoro, Toro Ankole, Karagwe, Buganda, Wanga etc

Some of their independent states remained under Hima dynasties while others came under the Luo dynasty or sub dynasties

The Bunyoro kingdom that emerged under the Luo dynasty was a reduced state. Local traditions in Bunyoro claim that, lsingoma Mpuga Rukidi was the first of the Biito rulers of this new and smaller Bunyoro.

These Babiito were a group of the Luo who had moved southwards from southern Sudan and settled at Pawir (Chope) in the 15th Century

Slowly they came in contact with the Chwezi and the Bantu subjects through intermarriages. The Babiito up their cultures for that of the Bachwezi.

One tradition has it that the Chwezi invited the Luo to take over power after they had become unpopular. Another tradition has it that Luo militarily conquered the empire.

By AD 1500 Bunyoro Kitara kingdom was much smaller covering nearly only the present day Bunyoro (Hoima,Masindi and Kibale districts)

Organisation of Bunyoro-Kitara under the Chwezi.

The organization of this vast empire remains a mystery to many historians. However, many guesses put forward to explain its political, social and economic set up.

Political Organisation

Politically, some historians say that the Chwezi state was organized under one central authority (centralised monarchy) which replaced the clan based system of the original inhabitants of the region who were the Bantu.

The king who carried the title Omukama was its political head with absolute powers. He was also the fountain of the judicial system with a chain of government representatives.

The kingdom was subdivided into small sister states or provinces, then districts and counties each under a chief. The representative of the Omukama in each province formed a council of representatives selected mainly from the close relatives of the Omukama.

However, many historians doubt how this large empire could have been under one central authority. They maintain that the empire was ruled by brothers bound together by family and ritual ties.

Whatever the argument, what is certain is that Bigobyamugenyi was the capital of the Chwez state. This is based on the bigger number of cattle and human bones, iron implements and remains of pottery found there.

It is assumed that the Chwezi rulers lived in reed palaces, with palace officials, artisans. These palaces were protected by enclosures - Ebirembo.

It is also assumed that the political head of the Chwezi Empire (Omukama) had a large standing army that fought using spears. They also dug ditches, around their capital and kraals for purpose s of protection.

The Chwezi had royal regalia that consisted of spears, stools, drums and crowns. These were of symbols of power and were respected by everyone.

It is also assumed that the Chwezi Empire lasted one or two generations between 1350 -1500 from Ndahura to Wamara who is recorded as the second and last Chwezi ruler.

Economic Organization

Economically, the Chwezi were a pastoral group of people who prized long - horned cattle from which they got milk, hides and meat as their means of survival.

They also grew coffee, beans and millet. They also involved themselves in pottery and made round bowls, jars, and shallow basins and decorated dishes.

They also carried out iron working and made iron items like hoes, pangas and spears. The idea of basket weaving also came with them.

The bark-cloth industry also formed part of their economy. They also made cow hide sandals and

engaged in salt mining.

They also involved themselves in barter trade, exchanging iron implements and salt for food with their


Social Organization

Socially, they built grass- thatched huts smeared with cow dung and decorated inside with a variety of


They were also great sportsmen who spent their free time playing games like the board game(omweso), enziga and wrestling. They were also interested in gymnastics and long races.

They were great hunters who used long spears and built reed palaces for their kings to stay in. Occupation decided ones social class whereby the Iru were cultivators and subjects to the Hima who were pastoralists and rulers.

The Chwezi also had the institution of palace officials, royal women and slave artisans who assisted the Omukama in the daily running of the empire.

Religiously, they believed in many gods, had strange and miraculous powers, could perform fantastic miracles using witchcraft and could disappear when annoyed.

The Collapse of the Chwezi Empire

Written literature shows that the Chwezi Empire collapsed at the beginning of the 16th century with the coming of the Luo.

However the reasons for its collapse have continued to elude historians. But internal and external factors have been suggested as the possible causes.

The vast size of the empire has been given as one of the factors for its collapse. The empire was too big to be effectively administered. At the height of its power, it included western Uganda, northern

Tanzania and parts of western Kenya.

The empire lacked strong and capable rulers and that is why it immediately collapsed after the death of king Wamara.

Increasing misfortunes, most important of these being the death of the 'darling cow' _ Bihogo that belonged to Prince Mugenyi. This was interpreted by the soothsayers as a bad omen and the end of the empire. It greatly threatened the Chwezi power and forced them to migrate.

Traditions in western Uganda put the collapse of the Chwezi state to wide spread internal rebellions from the local Bantu cultivators who wanted to regain their independence. This constant strife between the Bantu and the Chwezi greatly weakened their empire and led to its final collapse.

Epidemics like small pox, rinder pest, and nagana claimed many people and their animals. Since they were a pastoral society, this might have led to the collapse of their rule.

It is also suggested that may be famine broke out in the region forcing many people including the

Chwezi to leave the area in search of new areas that could give them food.

Other historians maintain that the Chwezi rulers were greedy, oppressive and wanted every good thing themselves, which annoyed their subjects (the Bantu). This generated hatred and rebellion towards them resulting into the murder of their king - Wamara.

The Chwezi also lost popularity because people realized that they were ordinary human beings not semi gods as they had claimed. This further undermined their power.

Conflicts among the various princes over who should take over power might have also weakened their hold on power and influence .

Many historians however agree that the Luo invasion is what finally broke the backbone of the Chwezi ruling house. They catalysed the fall of the already crumbling empire and set up a Luo - Bito dynasty forcing the Chwezi to flee in different directions.

However a section of historians contest this, to them the Chwezi voluntarily withdrew southwards

before the Luo came. That they were tired of the constant strife and insubordination from the local Bantu cultivators.

Whatever the argument, what is known for certain is that by the 16th century the Chwezi Empire was no more. Many independent states like Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole and Karagwe emerged in its place.

Some of these remained under the Chwezi rulers who had moved to the South, establishing ruling dynasties in South - western Uganda and North - western Tanzania, for example, Ankole and while others came under the rule of the Babito e.g. Bunyoro and Buganda

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