ALTERNATE NAMES: The King's Men
POPULATION: About 3 million
RELIGION: Christianity (Protestantism and Roman Catholicism); Islam
The Baganda people of Uganda are sometimes referred to as The King's Men because of the significance of the role of their king—the Kabaka in their political, social, and cultural institutions. Until 1967, the Baganda were organized into a tightly centralized, bureaucratized kingdom. Between 1967 and 1993, the Ugandan national government abolished all kingdoms. In 1993, the national government reinstated the Kabakaship (kingship) by permitting the coronation of Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II as the thirty-sixth king of the Baganda.
Traditionally, the Kabaka ruled over a hierarchy of chiefs who collected taxes in the form of food and livestock. Portions were distributed through the hierarchy, eventually reaching the Kabaka's palace in the form of tribute (taxes). The Kabaka made direct political appointment of all chiefs so as to maintain control over their loyalty to him. Many rituals surrounded the person of the king. Commoners had to lie face down on the ground in his presence.
Today, the Kabaka has only ritual functions and no political power. He was removed of his power so that tribal differences would not interfere with the formation of a nation state. All Baganda participate in the Ugandan government system. Nevertheless, the kingdom and associated institutions remain strong forces in the cultural practices and values of the Baganda.
The Baganda are located along the northern and western shores of Lake Victoria in the east African nation of Uganda. They number about 3 million people. The former Kingdom of Buganda, which today is the area occupied by the Baganda, is bounded on the north by the former Kingdom of Bunyoro and on the east by the Nile River. To the south of Buganda is the present country of Tanzania. The Baganda are the largest tribe in Uganda, and the Kingdom of Buganda was the largest of the former kingdoms. It comprises slightly more than one-fourth of Uganda's total land mass. Kampala, Uganda's largest city and capital, is in Buganda.
The Baganda speak a Bantu language called Luganda. It is a member of the Niger-Congo family of languages. In the Luganda language, the singular form of Baganda is Muganda . Like many other African languages, Luganda is tonal, meaning that some words are differentiated by pitch. Words that are spelled the same may carry different meanings according to their pitch. Luganda is rich in metaphor and in proverbs and folktales.
Children learn speech skills that prepare them for adult life in a verbally rich culture. A clever child can masterfully engage his or her peers in a game of ludikya or "talking backward." For example, omusajja ("man") becomes jja-sa-mu-o. Another version of this game involves inserting the letter z after each syllable containing a vowel, followed by the vowel in that syllable. In this version, omusajja would become o-zo-mu-zu-sa-zajja-za . Both boys and girls play ludikya, which they claim is frequently done to conceal secrets from adults. In the evening many families play collective riddling games (okukokkya), which involve men and women of all ages. Some examples of common riddles are:
I have a wife who looks where she is coming from and where she is going at the same time (a bundle of firewood, since the two ends are similar).
I have a razor blade which I use to shave hills (fire that is used to burn the grass for planting).
When my friend went to get food for his children, he never came back (water in a river).
My man is always surrounded by spears (the tongue, surrounded by teeth).
Riddles, myths, legends, and proverbs tell the origin and history of the Baganda, as well as the workings of the everyday world. The most significant legend involves Kintu, the first Kabaka (king). He is believed to have married a woman called Nambi. First Nambi had to return to heaven. Gulu, her father, objected to her marriage because Kintu did not know how to farm but only how to obtain food from cattle. Nambi's relatives tested Kintu in order to determine his suitability as a spouse. In one test Kintu was asked to identify his own cow in a herd, a difficult task since there were many cows like his own. By chance, a bee told Kintu to choose the cow on whose horns he would alight. After several large herds were brought to him, Kintu reported that his cow was not among them. (He was continuing to watch the bee who remained on the tree.) Eventually, Kintu, with the help of the bee, identified his cow, along with several calves that had been born to his cow. The amazed father eagerly gave his daughter's hand in marriage. He prodded them to hurry to leave for Kintu's home before Walumbe (Death) came and wanted to go with them. Gulu warned that they should not come back even if they forgot something, for fear that Death would follow them. They left carrying with them cows, a goat, fowl, sheep, and a plan-tain tree. Unfortunately, over the protests of Kintu, Nambi went back to obtain grain that had been forgotten. Although she tried to run away from Death, she was unsuccessful. After many years of happiness on earth, Walumbe (Death) began to bring illness and death to children and then adults. Up to the present day, Death has lived upon the earth with no one knowing when or whom he will strike.
The majority of present-day Baganda are Christian, about evenly divided between Catholic and Protestant. Approximately 15 percent are Muslim (followers of Islam). In the latter half of the nineteenth century, most Baganda were practicing an indigenous (native) religion known as the Balubaale cult. This cult consisted of gods who had temples identified with them. These gods were each concerned with specific problems. For example, there was a god of fertility, a god of warfare, and a god of the lake.
The Baganda also believed in spiritual forces, particularly the action of witches, which were thought to cause illness and other misfortune. People often wore amulets (charms) to ward off their evil powers. The most significant spirits were the Muzimu or ancestors who visited the living in dreams and sometimes warned of impending dangers. The Balubaale cult no longer exists. However, belief in ancestors and the power of witches is still quite common.
Contemporary Baganda are extremely religious, whatever their faith.
Important religious holidays include Christmas (December 25) for Christians and Ramadan (varying according to the lunar calendar) for Muslims. Funerals are major ceremonial and social events. People travel from all parts of the nation to attend funerals, which last many days.
A Muganda (Baganda individual) passes through the stages of omwana (child), omuvubuka (youth), and omusajja or omukazi (man, woman). At death one becomes an omuzima (spirit) and a candidate for reincarnation.
At birth the umbilical cord is retained for later use in a ceremony called Kwalula Abaana. During this ceremony the child gathers with other members of the father's clan to receive their clan names.
Boys and girls are expected to conform in their behavior to what the Baganda refer to as mpisa (manners). This includes being obedient to adults, greeting visitors properly, and sitting correctly (for girls). Sex education for females is more systematic than it is for males. The father's sister (Ssenga) is the most significant moral authority for girls. Grandmothers instruct girls soon after their menstruation, during a period of seclusion, about sexual matters and future domestic responsibilities. Marriage and the birth of children are prerequisites for adult status.
The Baganda place paramount emphasis on being sociable. Cleverness and assertiveness are valued as ways to achieve upward mobility. Elaborate greeting rituals best symbolize the importance attached to being sociable. Propriety requires that neighbors exchange lengthy greetings when meeting along the road. Greetings vary according to the time of day, age of participants, and length of time since previous encounter. In Kampala, greetings are far less frequent and shorter in duration than in rural areas. Also, women in Kampala are much less likely to kneel while greeting men or other social superiors, a custom still prevalent in rural areas.
Dating and courtship are significant in the lives of most younger Baganda. Men are expected to develop the art of flattery. Women do not flatter, but they are expected to deceive a man into thinking that he is her only suitor. Affection between the sexes is not shown in public.
Rural homes are usually made of wattle and daub (woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud). Homes generally have thatched or corrugated iron roofs. More affluent farmers live in homes constructed of cement, with tile roofs. Some homes have electricity and running water. However, for many Baganda, water must be fetched from a well or collected when it rains. Cooking is commonly done in a separate cooking house over an open wood fire. Urban homes, by contrast, are typically of concrete with corrugated iron or tile roofs and glass windows. Indoor plumbing, indoor kitchens, electricity, and toilet facilities are common in the city.
All Baganda have daily access to a plentiful food supply, given their year-round growing season. However, Baganda suffer from malaria, and children are frequently afflicted with kwashiorkor , a form of protein-calorie malnutrition.
The traditional term for marriage was jangu enfumbire (come cook for me). This symbolized the prevailing authority patterns in the typical household. The husband and father was supreme. Children and women knelt to the husband in deference to his authority, and he was served his food first. Today, Baganda children frequently describe feelings of fear and respect for their fathers and warm attachment to their mothers.
After marriage a new household is established, usually in the village of the husband. Most marriages are monogamous (having one spouse), although polygamy (more than one spouse) was not uncommon in the past.
The rural Muganda (Baganda individual) woman typically wears a busuuti. This is a floor-length, brightly colored cloth dress with a square neckline and short, puffed sleeves. The garment is fastened with a sash placed just below the waist over the hips, and by two buttons on the left side of the neckline. Traditionally, the busuuti was strapless and made from bark-cloth. The busuuti is worn on all festive and ceremonial occasions. The indigenous dress of the Baganda man is a kanzu, a long, white cotton robe. On special occasions, it is worn over trousers with a Western-style suit jacket over it. Younger people wear Western-style clothing. Slacks, jeans, skirts, suits, and ties are also worn.
The staple food of the Baganda is matooke, a plantain (a tropical fruit in the banana family). It is steamed or boiled and commonly served with groundnut (peanut) sauce or meat soups. Sources of protein include eggs, fish, beans, groundnuts, beef, chicken, and goats, as well as termites and grasshoppers in season. Common vegetables are cabbage, beans, mushrooms, carrots, cassava, sweet potatoes, onions, and various types of greens. Fruits include sweet bananas, pineapples, passion fruit, and papaya. Drinks include indigenous fermented beverages made from bananas (mwenge), pineapples (munanansi), and maize (musoli). Although Baganda have cutlery, most prefer to eat with their hands, especially when at home.
Missionaries introduced literacy (reading and writing) and formal education to Uganda in the nineteenth century. The Baganda value modern education and will often sacrifice a great deal to obtain schooling for their children. Members of a family will combine resources to support a particularly promising student. Upon the completion of education the family member is expected to help his or her relatives.
Baganda number among the best songwriters, playwrights, poets, novelists, artists, and musicians in Uganda. Performing arts, especially music and dance, have enjoyed a longstanding tradition. The Kabaka's Palace was a special place where royal dancers and drummers regularly performed. Most Baganda households contained at least a small drum for regular use in family singing and dancing. Other musical instruments included stringed instruments such as fiddles and harps, and woodwind instruments such as flutes and fifes.
Dancing is frequently practiced by all Baganda, beginning in early childhood. Today, Uganda dancers and musicians are frequently seen performing abroad.
Basketry is still a widespread art, especially mat-making by women. These mats are colorful and intricately designed. In addition to creating useful household containers, woven and coiled basketry serve as the foundation for stockades, enclosure fences, and houses.
Most Baganda are peasant farmers who live in rural villages. Rich red clay on hillsides, a moderate temperature, and plentiful rainfall combine to provide a good environment for the year-round availability of plantain, the staple crop, as well as the seasonal production of coffee, cotton, and tea as cash crops.
Some Baganda reside in towns and in Kampala, working in a variety of professional and nonprofessional occupations. They may also practice "urban agriculture" by growing crops in small available spaces and by keeping goats, chickens, and, occasionally, cows. Some Baganda in rural areas fish, or work as carpenters, mechanics, or convey produce to market via bicycles, which is more common than the automobile.
Football (soccer), rugby, and track and field are popular sports in Uganda. Baganda boys participate in all these sports, while girls participate in track and field. Traditionally, the Baganda were renowned for their skills in wrestling. Males of all ages participated in this sport. Wrestling events were accompanied by beer-drinking, singing, and drumming. It was, however, considered inappropriate to defeat the Kabaka. Other traditional outdoor games for boys include the competitive throwing of sticks and a kicking game in which boys stand side by side and attempt to knock over the other boy.
Children play games involving a chief for boys or a mother role for girls. Okwesa is a game of strategy involving a wooden board and stones or beans that are placed in pockets in the board. Verbal games such as riddling are played frequently, especially at night and in the company of grandparents.
In addition to basketry and musical instruments, the manufacture of products from bark-cloth was and continues to be significant. The bark from a species of fig tree called mutuba is soaked in water, then beaten with a wooden mallet. This yields a soft material that is decorated with paint and then cut into strips of various sizes. Larger strips traditionally were used for partitions in homes. Smaller pieces were decorated with black dye and worn as clothing by women of royalty. Later, bark-cloth dress became the national dress. Today, one rarely sees bark-cloth dresses. They have been replaced by the cotton cloth Busuuti. Bark-cloth is found today as decorative placemats, coasters, and designs on cards of various sorts.
The Baganda have had problems integrating their political culture into the nation state of Uganda. The first president of independent Uganda (1962) was Sir Edward Mutesa, who was also King of Buganda. The first prime minister was Milton Obote. Within four years, Obote had abolished the kingdoms, and Mutesa fled Uganda. In 1971, Obote was overthrown by dictator Idi Amin. Under Amin all Ugandans suffered greatly from political and social oppression, death, and the loss of personal property. Currently, the Baganda are recovering from the havoc and dissension of the Obote and Amin years.
Since the mid-1980s, AIDS has resulted in many Baganda deaths. Caring for the children of parents who have died of AIDS is an especially serious problem. The disease has been the subject of a broad public educational effort aimed at prevention.
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