ETHNONYMS: Buganda, Luganda

The Ganda are a group of people who live in the province of Buganda in Uganda. The Ganda refer to themselves as "Baganda" (sing. Muganda), and they refer to their language as "Luganda." Luganda is a Bantu language. Linguistically, Luganda can be placed within the Interlacustrine Group of the Northern Zone of Bantu languages or within the Central Branch of the Niger-Congo Language Family.

Buganda is one of four provinces within the country of Uganda. It is located on the northern and western shores of Lake Victoria, from 2° N to 1o S. It stretches for about 320 kilometers along the shore and extends inland about 130 kilometers. The land area of Buganda is about 45,000 square kilometers, and the elevation averages about 1,200 meters above sea level. The Ganda occupy the northwestern shore of Lake Victoria, a region characterized by flat-topped hills separated from each other by swampland.

Although the number of Africans living in Buganda, according to the 1950 census, was 1,834,128, only 1,006,101 of these people were ethnically Ganda. The overall density was 42 persons per square kilometer. At about the time of European contact (c. 1862), there were 3,000,000 Ganda. Civil wars, famine, and disease had reduced their number to about 2,000,000 by 1911. In 1986 their population was estimated at 2,352,000 (Grimes 1988).

Along with Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, and Kiziba, Buganda is one of the Lacustrian kingdoms. The Ganda are people of mixed origins, whose ancestors migrated to their present location over the past 600 years. Historically, they were known as a warlike people who conquered many of their neighbors. At the time of White contact, the Ganda kingdom was at the height of its power.

The first contact with Westerners occurred in 1862, and missionaries arrived in Buganda soon thereafter. In the Buganda Agreement of 1900, Buganda was designated a province of Uganda. In 1962 the status of Uganda changed from that of a British protectorate to an independent nation and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the Uganda Agreement, the position of the king ( kabaka ) was confirmed, and the native system of administration was preserved. The central government of Buganda Province consists of the kabaka, three ministers, and a legislative assembly ( luki iko ). For administrative purposes, the province is divided into counties, subcounties, and parishes.

The Ganda are primarily an agricultural society; their staple crops are bananas and yams. Cotton was introduced as a market crop early in the twentieth century. In addition, sweet potatoes, taro, manioc, maize, millet, peanuts, beans, squashes, gourds, sesame, tomatoes, and sugarcane are grown. Ownership of cattle is a sign of wealth, and goats, chickens, and a few sheep are also kept. The banana has been of great importance in Ganda life. Typically, each household had a banana grove, which supplied the major food needs of the family. A grove could produce for as long as seventy years and required only a little weeding and mulching, work that was commonly done by women. According to the Ganda, one woman working in a banana grove provided food for ten men. Because of the banana, the Ganda have not needed to follow a pattern of shifting agriculture, and the land has been able to support a fairly dense population.

Traditionally, villages consisted of a number of households, each one surrounded by its banana gardens, spread out over the top of a hill. Villages were made up of between 60 and 100 adult males, together with their families, in a hierarchical system. All land was considered to be owned by the kabaka, who appointed local chiefs to administer specific territories. The chiefs, in turn, had subchiefs under them. At the bottom of this hierarchy was the village headman.

Land was controlled by patrilineal clans, each of which was protected by a major and a minor totem. Clan estates were administered by the heads of the clans, who were confirmed by the kabaka. Tribute—in the form of goods and services—flowed from the clans, to the chiefs, to the kabaka. For the kabaka, clan affiliation was different. There was a royal family, rather than a royal clan, and the children of the kabaka were affiliated with their mothers' clans. The succession to the kingship was in the male line: sons, grandsons, and brothers were eligible to inherit the title. In addition to his role as monarch, the kabaka was the head of all the clans in the kingdom. Through this latter role, the position of the king was reinforced, insofar as he was directly related to every family in the kingdom. Because of the kabaka's dual function, the Ganda consider it inconceivable for their society to exist without a king. Nevertheless, the chieftainship has declined in importance, and villages have become more dispersed and now lack the central focus of a chief's house. The residents of a village no longer get together except for marriage feasts and funerals.

The traditional religion of the Ganda was based on beliefs in the spirits of the dead. Prophets and mediums were able to consult with these spirits, which had influence over the affairs of the living. Although all of the Ganda are now considered to be Christian or Muslim (a small minority), vestiges of the traditional religion can still be observed. For example, sorcery, traditional medicine, spirit possession, and ancestor worship are some of the elements of the traditional religion that are sometimes practiced today.


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