Baganda

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The Baganda people are an important ethnic group in the country of Uganda. The country takes its name from the people. The people are concentrated on the northwestern shores of Lake Nyanza (also called Ukerewe, Victoria). This lake is the source of the longest branch of the Nile River. From here, the Nile flowed down toward the Mediterranean Sea. The Baganda's ancient kingdom was called Buganda and was bounded on the north by Bunyoro and on the east by the Nile River. With more than 3 million people, the Baganda are the most populous group in Uganda. Of all the former kingdoms that comprise Uganda, the Baganda were the largest and comprised slightly more than a fourth of Uganda's land mass.
The Baganda possess a powerful culture that is based around the kingship. The king is called the Kabaka, and when the earlier governments of Uganda wanted to express their complete control over the country, they had destroyed the Baganda and other kingdoms. Nevertheless, the people maintained their calm and, because of the strength of their culture, it was easily resurrected when the political climate changed.
In addition to the centrality of the kabaka, the people take great pride in their verbally rich culture. They use many folktales and proverbs to teach their children moral behavior and ritual correctness. The children are taught to express themselves through word games such as ludikya, which is often called “talking backward.” For example, a child may say omuzima (spirit) and then say am-zi-umo as a way of talking backward. There are many variations of these word games. At home the children observe the adults at play with riddles and learn by studying their elders. They refer to the collective riddling game as okukokkya.
According to the traditions of the Baganda, Kintu, the first Kabaka, is said to have married Nambi. But it was said that Nambi had to return to heaven, where her father, Gulu, objected to her marriage because Kintu did not know how to farm. He only knew how to get food from animals. Kintu was tested by the relatives of the girl to see whether he could identify his own cow in the midst of a herd. Hundreds of cows looked like his, but nevertheless he befriended a bee who told him that when he landed on the horns of a cow that would be his cow. By virtue of his help from the bee, Kintu was able to find his cow and was given the girl. The father was stunned by the wisdom of the young man. He said to the young man, “Please take my daughter and go before Walume (death) show up and want to travel with you.”
They took cows, sheep, birds, goats, and a plantain tree. However, Nambi wanted to go back and retrieve some grain that she had forgotten. Her husband protested, but off she went. Unfortunately for her, death was waiting for her, and she ran fast but death ran faster. She could not get away. After living on the Earth for many years in peace, death, that is, Walumbe, started to bring sickness and illness to the people he met.
Most Baganda practiced an indigenous religion until the assertive positioning of Islam and Christianity in the 20th century caused the people to abandon balubaale. They worshipped gods who represented various physical properties and mental attitudes. Temples were often identified with fertility, warfare, water, or health. Even as Islam and Christianity were growing, the people still believed in the spirits of the ancestors. They visited the temples to learn of impending dangers and how to avoid them. Because the muzimu are the most important spirits as ancestors, the people they are able to protect and shelter are always those who express faith in them.
The rites of passage of the Muganda are a four-step process:
  1. Omwana (child)
  2. Omuvubuka (youth)
  3. Omusajja (adult)
  4. Omuzima (spirit)
Finally, the person becomes a candidate for reincarnation. Everything in life prepares the person to become a part of the unbroken line between the living ones and the eternal living ones. Among the Baganda, it is important to go through all the phases where one learns manners (mpisa), how to greet visitors properly, and how to sit and stand correctly in order to engage in the necessary preparations for afterlife. All relationships are valued, and the idea of being sociable is the key component to a good community.

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Further Reading

  • Fallers, L. A. (Ed.). (1964). The King's Men: Leadership and Status in Buganda on the Eve of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Lugira, A. M. (1970). Ganda Art. Kampala, Uganda: OSASA Publications.
  • Roscoe, J. (1911). The Baganda: An Account of Their Native Customs and Beliefs. London: Macmillan.