Uganda’s is well blessed with people originating from the five main distinctive groups, four of which were immigrants while one was an original inhabitant of the land. The country’s most ancient inhabitants confined to the hilly southwest are the Batwa and Bambuti Pygmies, remnants of the hunter-gatherer cultures that once occupied much of East Africa.
Considered as “Summarized Africa”, Uganda is a hub for the African cultures because almost every African society is well represented. Describing this country’s culture is not an easy task as the diversity of its people is over whelming. Let us know where to begin from and I may try to lead you to its end. Positioned at the geographical heart of the African continent, Uganda has long been a cultural melting pot, as evidenced by the existence of over 66 different indigenous cultures and dialects belonging to five distinct linguistic groups with an equally diverse cultural medley of music, art and handicrafts.
Bantu speaking people are among the four major immigrant groups and they include Bakonjo, Basamia, Banyoro, Baganda, Bamasaba, Basoga, Bagwere, Batooro, Banyankole, Bakiga, to mention but a few. They are said to have originated from Cameroon highlands and Congo forests. They include these tribes settled in the southern part of the country separated from the Nilotic tribes of the North by the swampy L. Kyoga. These were mainly cultivators and reared few animals.
Originated around the Ethiopian highlands, some Hamites and Nilo-Hamites settled in the south western Uganda, Rwanda, others in the northeast and eastern parts of Uganda. The Hamites tribe was made of the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Hima who are currently living in Ankole and have been absorbed into Banyankole. The Nilo-Hamites include the Iteso, Karimajong and Kumam in the eastern and north eastern part of the country. They were largely pastoralists, herding several numbers of animals with which they would move from one place to another looking for pasture and water.
Composed of the Lugbara, Madi, Acholi, Langi, Kakwa and Alur among others, the Nilotic group are said to have come from Sudan and later settled in the west Nile and other northern parts of Uganda.
Happenings and incidents are celebrated by almost all Uganda’s cultures and sub tribes in the same though in different ways. For example most societies considered the birth of twins as a blessing and leading to community jubilation. The birth of a prince, victory in war, inauguration of a king and in some societies, the initiation of a member from one stage to another as well as performing of rituals are some other occasions that would attract great celebrations in Ugandan societies.
Baganda dominates the central part of the country and they are famous for their different ceremonial occasions prepared for fulfillment of cultural rituals and norms, commemoration, remembrance, observance and inauguration. Some of the common ceremonies in Buganda include; the initiation of twins (okwalula abalongo), the introduction (okwanjula) and last funeral rite (okwabya olumbe). Other ceremonies like cerebration of the king’s birth day are also significant in the life of a Muganda.
Traditional Cultural dances are paramount in bringing a spirit of togetherness, entertaining the king and a symbol of identity to the Baganda culture that include Bakisimba, Amagunju, Muwogola and Nankasa. Sight several key cultural sites in Buganda including a UNESCO world heritage site-Kasubi tombs where bodies of the former kings were laid to rest, Wamala tombs another burial site for some kings and Nakayima tree eminent residence for the goddess Nakayima believed to be a source of blessings. The Baganda dance involve a flawless `circular’ movement of the waist and a tip toeing movement of the feet plus hands spread out from the shoulder joint but bent forward or up wards at the elbow joint depending on the type of dance. The dance moves or patterns are dictated by the lyrics or song meaning but mostly by the cadence of the song.
Western side of Uganda is dominated by the Banyankole who are well recognized for their wealthy culture connected with their strong link and love for their long horned cows which are thought to have originated from the former rulers of Bunyoro Kitara Empire called the Bachwezi-a demi god people who introduced the centralized system of governance and led to the birth of the interlacustrine kingdoms that occupy the area between L. Kyoga and L. Tanganyika.
Ekitaguriro is traditional fascinating dance of Banyankole characterized by energetic stamping and tangling rhythms using the feet and aerial arm movements that depicts their relationship with their beautiful long horned cattle.
Banyankole would get married to ladies selected by their parents when it came to marriage. This involved different discussions by the parents of the couple to be about the future relationship of their children and the bride price. Later the agreed pride price would be paid to the girl’s parents in form of cows. Parents and relatives of the couple would bless their children by giving gifts on the wedding day. The girl’s auntie would accompany her to the groom’s house and stay for some days to eyewitness and authenticate whether the groom was potent.
A family could resist a young sister from getting married before her elder sister to the extent that they would even interchange a young sisters’ husband at the wedding day and would give away the elder sister in her place. In case the man realized, he would be asked to pay extra bride wealth if he wanted to add on that lady as a second wife. In traditional culture of Banyankole, weak ladies were not allowed in marriage though efforts could be made to make sure that she gains weight through resting her from any kind of work at home, subjected to heavy drinking of Amakamo (local yoghurt) and hiding her from the public, an act known as ‘Okuhumuza’ meaning resting to help the lady to grow fat and look very healthy ready for marriage.
Eshabwe a traditional Banyankole dish consisting of ghee skimmed from milk makes the biggest percentage of the diet of a Munyankole though other food crops like bananas are usually prepared on open wood fire. The main staples of the diet are various types of cereals (Maize and millet are the main cereals consumed) and starchy roots consisting of cassava and sweet potatoes.
Basoga and Bamasaba the natives of Mt. Elgon area dominates the eastern region. Commonly known for culture of Imbalu, the Bamasaba are admired for their initiation custom where boys are circumcised as a way of initiating them into manhood. These cerebrations are made colorful by the Imbalu dance as the main celebrants and other youth engage in a dance where the ladies shake their waists and bums in a rather spirited way as they run around in jubilation to solicit courage and morale for the boys that are about to face the pain of the knife.
Kyabazinga is the head of Basoga organized in a centralized society. The Basoga practice Tamenhaibunga dance which expresses and remind people of the importance of love and friendship for one another. Nalufuka-a much faster and youthful version of Tamenhaibuga, Eirongo-a slower dance performance to celebrate the birth of twins, Amayebe-dance which builds physical stamina especially for men, Enswezi-used to communicate to super naturals and Ekigwo for wrestlers are some of the other traditional dances practiced in Busoga.
Emboli and Amayido is the traditional dish of the Basoga while Malewa is a delicacy to Bamasaba made from tender bamboo shoots that are first boiled and later on sundried before cooking. Other common traditional dishes in the eastern region include Atapa, cassava and cow peas consumed especially among the Iteso. Other tribes in the eastern region include the Basamia, Bagwere, Iteso, Japadhola, and the Sebei among others.
Langi, Acholi in the north and Lugbara, Madi, and Alur in west Nile are some of traditional tribes that dominate the northern region. Two ancient brothers known as Labongo and Jipiiri are thought to be the origin of different tribes of the Sudanic origin. Agriculture is the most important economic activity and many people from Lango and Acholi sub regions depend on it for survival with millet and sorghum serving as staple foods. Karo a mixture of millet, sorghum and cassava floor to form bread is primarily their traditional dish and Malakwang-a sour vegetable often prepared with ground nuts paste and sometimes served with sweet potatoes.
Recognized for not only their strong value for their pastoral culture but also their Naleyo dance, the Karamajong in the north eastern side of the country have stood for their culture against the odds of modernity. Women line up and men strike their breasts using fingers as they dance which is not only fascinating but also a great symbol of a unique culture. Permission to marry and material goods required for bride wealth depends upon young man’s lineage head and elders. Negotiations and talks surrounding the marriage were much involved in by the Elders of the bride’s lineage. Their sister tribe Ik is amazing in their way of life. Their bride wealth valued by the number of bee hives one is able to pay to the bride’s family, is yet another wonder in this spectacular culture.
A visit to Uganda is purely cultural packed; enjoy the great diversity of the Uganda’s culture and ethnicity that is largely credited to the diverse origin of its people. Find out why Uganda is said to be cultural melting pot and a summary of the African continent starting from the original hunter gatherer societies of the Bambuti and Batwa pygmies to the Nilotics from Sudan and North Africa, the Bantu speaking people from the Cameroon highlands in West Africa and then the Nilo- Hamites and Hamites from the north eastern part of Africa. Discover their cultural dances, artifacts, attractions, breathtaking cultural stories and most importantly their way of life.