Bubembe is one of the Ssese Islands of Lake Victoria (Ennyanja Nnalubaale) in the country of Uganda. The Ssese Islands were also known as “the islands of the gods.” They are located in the region of the Buganda people (also called “Baganda”). Ruled by kings (kabakas) who were seen as divine, the precolonial kingdom of the Buganda, now an administrative district of Uganda, was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in the Lake Victoria region. According to Buganda legend, Kintu, the first Bugandan king, founded both the sacred and physical worlds of the Buganda, returning after this life to the sacred realm from which all the kabakas originated, “disappearing” from the physical realm rather than dying. Likewise, from this sacred realm, they continued to interact with human beings. In like manner, certain cultural heroes were translated into the sacred realm after this life, becoming lubaale or guardian gods, whom the Buganda traditionally venerated in several temples on various Ssese Islands and throughout Buganda country.
The chief or dominant libaale in traditional Buganda cosmology was Mukasa, who was the guardian of Lake Victoria and protector of the King. Although temples to Mukasa are located throughout the Buganda region, the primary temple is on Bubembe Island, making it the most significant of the Ssese Islands. The legend suggests that Mukasa and his brother Kabaka (also “Kibuka”) were once human beings. They were the sons of Wanema, who was the son of Musisi, the son of Bukulu and his consort Wada. Bukulu reportedly came from the Supreme God, Katonda, the creator God, who lives in the sky, and Bukulu subsequently made his home on the Ssese Islands.
Because each temple had a priest and Bubembe Island was the main location of Mukasa, the chief guardian, the priest of Bubembe was considered the chief priest, to whom other priests deferred with respect to authority and prestige. Given the status of Bubembe, only the King, a few of the higher priests, and the immediate worshipers of Mukasa, who resided on Bubembe, could interact with and implore him to act on their behalf. The temple at Bubembe was distinct in other ways. For example, Mukasa's sacred emblem was the paddle, and each of his temples contained a paddle that the priest had blessed. For reasons that may have been hidden to anthropologists who studied the Buganda in the early 20th century, like the Reverend John Roscoe, however, the temple on Bubembe contained no paddle.
Although the religion of the Buganda people today is diverse, having a large community of Christians and a significant number of Muslims, Bubembe Island symbolizes the precolonial reality of the culture when life was a dynamic and fluid interaction between the sacred and physical realms, when kings appeased the gods with offerings for protection, and when cultural heroes ascended to divinity after this life. Bubembe Island remains a central feature in Buganda folklore.
- Ray, B. C. (1991). Myth, Ritual, and Kingship in Buganda. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Roscoe J. Kibuka, the War God of the Baganda Man 7 (1907). 161–166.
- Roscoe, J. (1911). The Baganda: An Account of Their Native Customs and Beliefs. London: Macmillan.