Bunyoro is a Bantu kingdom in Western Uganda (see red area in the map). It was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Central and East Africa from the 13th century to the 19th century. It is ruled by the King (Omukama) of Bunyoro-Kitara. The current ruler is Solomon Iguru I, the 27th Omukama.
The people of Bunyoro are also known as Nyoro or Banyoro (singular: Munyoro); Banyoro means "people of Bunyoro"). The language spoken is Nyoro, also known as Runyoro. In the past, the traditional economy revolved around big game hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and crocodiles. Today, the Banyoro are now agriculturalists who cultivate bananas, millet, cassava, yams, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and rice. The people are primarily Christian.
The kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara was established following the collapse of the Empire of Kitara in the 16th century. The founders of Kitara were known as the Abatembuzi, a people who were later succeeded by the Abachwezi. Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
Due to its height, Bunyoro-Kitara controlled almost the entire region between Lake Victoria,Lake Edward, and Lake Albert.
One of many small states in the Great Lakes region the earliest stories of the kingdom having great power comes from the Rwanda area where there are tales of the Banyoro raiding the region under a prince named Cwa around 1520.
The power of Bunyoro then faded until the mid seventeenth century when a long period of expansion began, with the empire dominating the region by the early eighteenth century.
Bunyoro rose to power and controlled a number of the holiest shrines in the region, together with the lucrative Kibiro salt works of Lake Albert; having the highest quality of metallurgy in the region made it the strongest military and economic power in the Great Lakes area.
During the first regime of Milton Obote, the Kingdom of Bunyoro was forcefully disbanded in 1967.
The kingdom, together with three others, Buganda, Busoga, Toro, remained banned during the regime of Dictator Idi Amin (1971–1979) and the second regime of Milton Obote (1980–1985) and remained banned until 1993.
In 1993 the Kingdom was re-established and in 1995 the new constitution of Uganda was made, allowing and recognizing, the Kingdoms. The current Kingdom covers the districts of Buliis District, Hoima district, Kibaale District, Kiryandongo District andMasindi District.
According to 1997 projections, the total population of the Kingdom is between 800,000 and 1,400,000 (depending on sources) living in 250,000-350,000 households.
96% of the population live in rural areas, and only 1% of the population uses electricity for lighting and cooking.
More than 92% of the population are poor, and has earnings more than half that of the Ugandan national average, and about 50% of the population is illiterate.
The economic potential in the region is very large, with the Kibiro salt works and the possibility of large oil, gas, iron ore and precious stone.
During the first decade of the 2000s, sizeable deposits of crude oil have been discovered in the area.
The area also has large rainforests with an abundance of hardwoods including mahogany and ironwood.
The Omukama and the other leaders of the area are planning to establish a university that will primarily focus on teaching relevant skills with regards to work in the extraction of natural resources.
Relations are maintained with the European community via the development organization Association of the Representatives of Bunyoro-Kitara.
The King is also working to maintain the traditional bunyoro culture, but in the same time altering the honors of the kingdom in a way that they can be compared to western standards.
Every year an "Empago" ceremony is held celebrating the King and the Kingdom. The celebration is held at the Royal Palace and all the Banyoro people are invited to join.
During this ceremony the King also beats the Royal Drums as a sign of his power and as a mean of signaling the people. The celebration contains singing, dancing, music and much other.
Like other neighbouring tribes like Batooro and Baganda, the Banyoro have clans (Ekika). The clans, which include among others the Baruli, Bagahya, Bayaga, Basita, Bapiina and the Babito, which is the royal clan that provides the kings for the kingdom among others. The clans are based on patrilineal descent. That is, every child becomes a member of the father's clan.
Though every clan has a totem, the totems are not in any way related to their clans or their names. Businge for instance explains that he is sure the clans of Basiita, Bapiina and Babiito share the same totem of the engabi (antelope or bushbuck).
The Banyoro were traditionally a polygamous people when they could afford it. Many marriages did not last and it was quite common to be divorced. Due to this, payment to the girl's family was not normally given until after several years of marriage. Premarital sex was also very common.
All families were ruled by the eldest man of the family (called Nyineka), and the village was run by a specially elected elder who was chosen by all the elders in the village. He was known as a mukuru w’omugongo.
Bride price in Bunyoro is called Omukaaga, and requires that six items are taken, whether goats, chicken etc but of course these days it can be anything from cows to money, not necessary numbering six.
But the name of Omukaaga (as official bride price) remains staunchly in Bunyoro kingdom.
Traditionally, looking for a suitable partner was a matter involving the family of the boy and that of the prospective bride. The girl’s contribution to the whole processes amounted to nothing more than giving her consent.
The first step was like it is today; a mutual attraction between the girl and the boy with a sexual relationship readily entered into. This was followed by establishment of a domestic arrangement.
Formalization of payment, if any, would normally follow but would not precede these arrangements. There was a tendency for boys to find girls from the same locality. In fact few would look for wives from beyond their villages.
A few months after birth, the baby would be given a name. This was normally done by a close relative, but the father always had the final say. Two names are given: a personal name, and a traditional Empaako name. The names were often related to specific features on the child, special circumstances in the birth of the child or as a way to honor a former family member. Most of the names are actual words of the Nyoro language and some are etymologically Luo language words. The Empaako or Mpako names include Okaali (for Kings only); Apuuli, Acaali, Araali and Bbala (for males only) and Adyeeri, Abooki, Abwooli, Amooti, Ateenyi, Atwooki and Akiiki, which can be used for both males and females. (Stephen Rwagweri Atwoki, E. D. -Engabu za Tooro). (Mi pako or M'pako in Luo language, would mean of honour/in honour of, therefore, Empaako or Mpaako/Mpako is a title of Honour, even in Luo.
Death was almost always believed to be the work of evil magic, ghosts, or similar. Gossiping was believed to magically affect or harm people. Death was viewed as being a real being. When a person died, the oldest woman of the household would clean the body, cut the hair and beard, and close the eyes of the departed. The body was left for viewing and the women and children were allowed to cry/weep, but the men were not. In case the dead was the head of the household, a mixture of grain (called ensigosigo) was put in his hand, and his children had to take a small part of the grain and eat it - thus passing on his (magical) powers.
After one or two days, the body would be wrapped in cloth and a series of rites would be carried out. The following rites are only for heads of family:
The burial would not be done in the middle of the day, as it was considered dangerous for the sun to shine directly into the grave. As the body was carried to the grave the women were required to moderate their weeping, and it was forbidden to weep at the grave. Also pregnant women were banned from participating in the funeral as it was believed the negative magical forces related to burial would be too strong for the unborn child to survive. After the burial the family would cut some of their hair off and put it onto the grave. After the burial, all participants washed themselves thoroughly, as it was believed that the negative magical forces could harm crops.
If the departed had a grudge or other unfinished business with another family, his mouth and anus would be stuffed with clay, to prevent the ghost from haunting.