Banyankore is a word spoken in the Bantu family of languages and corresponds to “the people of Nkore,” comprising the Babima (singular Mubima) and the Bairu (singular Mwiru), two relatively autonomous peoples cohabiting Nkore near the end of the 15th century. Runyankore, a form of Bantu, is the traditional language of both Bahima and the Bairu. When the British arrived at the turn of the 20th century, Nkore was one of four kingdoms in East-Central Africa located among the high plateaus and fertile plains that make up the southwest region of present-day Uganda. Upon incorporation into the Ugandan Protectorate in 1901, Nkore became known as the province of Ankole.
Distinct and markedly different ways of life characterized Bahima and Bairu economic, political, and social structures. The Bahima were pas-toralists whose primary means of subsistence centered on cattle herding. Meat and dairy products such as butter and milk formed the basis of the Bahima diet. Gifting cattle served as a means of obtaining patronage from local authorities and the principal dowry exchanged during weddings. Military regimen and warfare, especially against encroaching cattle thieves, was a regular aspect of Bahiman life. The political structure revealed a centralized government administered through a monarchial system of leadership. Control of the government rested with the Mugabe, or king, who was chosen from among a Bahima clan called the Bahinda. An Enganzi, or court favorite, served as personal counsel to the Mugabe.
In contrast to this seminomadic existence, Bairu life was sedentary and largely communal or clan-based in nature. The cultivation of vegetables was the primary means of subsistence and formed the greater part of the Bairu diet. An artisan class existed and produced pottery for Bahima cattle herders and weaponry for Bahima warriors. Although intermarriage between the two groups was exceptional, some Bairu did become local authorities within the Bahima political framework through marriage to Bahima women.
Cultural life in Nkore revolved around the Bagyendanwa, or royal drums. The Banyankore connected the Bagyendanwa to the historical founding of the kingdom of Nkore. The drums were the fundamental part of the regalia that served to legitimize the Bahinda clan as the royal bloodline of Nkore's monarchy. The Banyankore revered the Bagyendanwa as a symbol of authority and national unification. No monarch could rule without possession of the drums, which were male and female. Similarly, the Banyankore believed that the national sovereignty of Nkore rested with the Bagyendanwa and therefore hid the drums during times of war. As a means of ancestral veneration and reflexive memory, the Banyankore offered supplication and gave charity in the customs of fellowship and good will that the drums represented.
Although traditional scholarship holds that the Banyankore worshipped the drums, the Banyankore did not believe that the drums possessed a spirit, and this interpretation is inconsistent with African religious practice (see e.g., the function of the Golden Stool in the Asante kingdom).



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Further Reading

  • Doornbos M. R. Images and Reality of Stratification in Pre-Colonial Nkore Canadian Journal of African Studies 7 (3) (1973). 477–495.
  • Oberg, K. (1940). The Kingdom of Ankole in Uganda. In M. Fortes, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard (Eds.), African Political Systems (pp. 121–162). London: Oxford University Press.
  • Steinhart, E. I. (1977). Conflict and Collaboration: The Kingdoms of Western Uganda, 1890–1907. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.