The Songora or Shongora (pl. Basongora, sing. Musongora) also known as "Bacwezi", "Chwezi", Huma or "Bahuma") are a traditionally a pastoralist people of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa located in Western Uganda and Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have distinctive customs and speak 'Rusongora' an African language that is originates from Proto-Kordofanian and is similar to Runyankole and Runyoro. The Basongora population has reported as numbering 25,000 in 2015 in Uganda. Some Basongora also live in Eastern Congo.
The colonial and neo-colonial governments in Central Africa instituted programs to encourage the Basongora to abandon their traditional lifestyle, and most of the territory traditionally owned by the Songora community has been appropriated for use as national parks or has been settled and occupied by other communities, notably the Batoro and Bakonzo. Also Songora territory has been partitioned into several districts and is distributed across Uganda and Congo.
The traditional lifestyle of the Basongora is notable for its adaptation to dry savana and scrublands, as well as mountainous terrain.
They have distinctive customs and speak 'Rusongora' an African language that is originates from Proto-Kordofanian and is similar to Runyankole and Rutoro.
The Basongora are a mixed Nilotic/Bantu group in East and Central Africa, traditionally residing in the foothills and plains at the floor of the western arm of the Great Rift Valley and the hills around the base of the Rwenzori Mountain Range.
The Songora traditional economy was largely based on cattle-rearing, as well as salt-manufacture and trade in iron.
The political organization of the Songora was a form confederacy of several states united by a parliament called Muhabuzi, and a constitutional monarchy led by a trimviate that consisted of an empress dowager (Omu'Gabe'kati), a female ruler (Omu'Go), and a male ruler (Omu'Kama).
The confederacy emerged from a single Songora state that dates back to the 1100s consisted of several provinces including Kisaka-Makara, Kitagwenda, Bugaya, Bunyaruguru and Kiyanja.
According to their own oral history, the Basongora emerged from the ancient empires of the Batembuzi constituted by the dynasties of the Kushites, Axumites, the Shenzi [Zenj], and the Chwezi. The traditional homeland of the Basongora is the region centred in the foothills and plains that surround the Rutshuru and Rwenzori mountain ranges.
Some of the most notable Songora monarchs include Kyomya Bwachali who died around 1850, and was the maternal grandfather of King Ntare V of Nkore kingdom The last precolonial King of Busongora was King Kasigano. He was deposed in 1907 by the British, austensiby for his having sought to ally himself with the Belgians in the Congo. Busongora was then partitioned and divided between the Congo and Uganda Protectorate, and the portions that fell within Uganda were further sub-divided into several districts, all of which were then annexed to the kingdoms of Toro and Nkore. The Kingdom of Rwenzururu formed in the later part of the 20th century on the territory of Busongora.
Between 1924 and 1933 there was an outbreak of the rinderpest that decimated the cattle populations of the Basongora especially in Kishaka-Makara chiefdom, forcing them to disperse to other areas of Uganda and the eastern Congo. Basongora believe the outbreak began as a result of a virulent drugs vaccination program started by the colonial government. The biggest group that fled to the Congo did not return to the area until 1964 due to the strife caused by the Mulele rebellion there.
In 1925, Parc Nationale des Virunga was created by the Belgian colonial authorities encompassing areas of the chiefdom of Kiyanja (of the Bamooli clan), Kakunda (now called Kyavinyonge), Rwemango, Makara, Kashansha and Bugaya among others and pressure to protect the adjoining ecosystem in Uganda led to the establishment of game reserves around Lake George (Known as Rweishamba by Basongora) and Lake Edward (locally known as Rweru) between 1906 and 1950. Several name changes followed and Kazinga National Park was gazetted in 1952 and in 1954 it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park by the colonial administration. This left only limited land for the pastoral Basongora. In 1940s the colonial government introduced cotton growing in Busongora. By coincidence, the best soil and suitable climate for cotton growing was in the Bwengo area and other plains of the Busongora County in Kasese. Although some remained in the park – albeit illegally, thousands of others moved across the border with their herds into the Virunga National Park in the Congo.
Between the 1940 and 1950s,the cotton growing enterprise lured particularly the Bakonjo from the highlands to the lowlands. By 1962, the Rwenzururu Freedom Movement had also displaced some Bakonjo from the mountains, forcing them to settle in parts of Busongora that had not been gazetted as protected areas. In 1962 Basongora started returning to their original areas only to find that the Toro Development Company (TDC) that wound up in 1970, had leased some of their land, and was running projects such as the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme.
When the cotton industry plummeted in the 1970s, the general Ugandan public lost interest in cotton, thus giving the Basongora pastoralists a chance to resettle in vast plains of Nyakatonzi. When the NRM government introduced the decentralization policy,it was hijacked by the extremist fringe of the Bakonjo and was seen as an opportunity to displace and subjugate the Basongora. This coincided with peak cotton production between 1987 and 1989 and it is in the same period that Basongora were displaced from their ancestral lands of Bukangara and Rweihingo.
On 12 May 2012 Basongora revived their ancient kingdom that had been dismembered and abolished during the colonial occupation one hundred years prior. On 1 July 2012, the Songora installed Bwebale Ivan Rutakirwa Rwigi IV as the king of "BuSongora Kingdom", and claimed twenty sub-counties of Uganda as their territory. The sub-counties include: Muhokya, Bugoye, Nyakatonzi, Katwe, Karusandara, Mubuku, Ibuga, Hamukungu, Kasenyi, Busunga, and Katunguru, among others. The kingdom also claimed their ancestral areas of Shema, Bunyaruguru and Kitagwenda in Uganda, as well as Virunga National Park in the Congo, as part of the kingdom.
King Rwigi IV died on 28 April 2015.
Songora society is strongly pastoral. Cattle motifs form an important part of the language. Cattle have an important place in the imagination, poetry and art of the community. The disciplines required in the management of cattle have a great import impact on the diet, health and appearance of the Songora. Age determines seniority in social relations, and men and women are considered equal. The Songora are generally monogamous. Traditionally the Songora were monotheistic.
The Songora reacted to a tetanus epidermic in the 1880s by requiring everyone in the community to remove the four front lower teeth, as a means to force-feed medication to victims of the disease. When the epidermic ended, many Songora continued with the teeth removal even though it was no longer necessary in the era of syringes and other means of treatment.
In recent decades the traditional Songora territory has yielded interesting artefacts that are of great value to general human history. The Ishango Bone is one of the items that was found in Songora territory. While the Eastern Arm of the Great Rift Valley located in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania has yielded the greatest amount of ancient human fossils, the northern portion of the Western Arm of the Rift Valley - home of the Songora - remains largely unexplored, although it appears to contain important fossils. The lack of exploration has been caused by the high level of war and civil conflict in the region.