Bunyoro Kingdom – Empango Celebrations inauguration run, Hoima, Uganda
De Muzungu’s developed a taste for hanging out with Ugandan Royals recently, so when I heard Kampala Hash House Harriers – the Hash – were (dis)organising the Bunyoro Kingdom’s Empango Celebrations inauguration run, my name was first on the list!
11th June 2013 marked the 19th anniversary of the coronation of Omukama (King) Iguru Gafabusa Solomon the 1st of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, so the inauguration run (two days before the actual Empango) was one event I couldn’t let pass me by…
It was only to be expected: for one reason or another, the bus left Kampala for Hoima two hours late.
Just as we were ready to leave, someone asked “where’s the driver?”
“He’s gone to Friday prayers” came the answer.
Eh banange! Only in Uganda.
As we left Buganda Kingdom and crossed the Mayanja River into Bunyoro, Harriet explained that “Kabalega was a real King who fought for his kingdom. He didn’t just sit on a red carpet.” We were to hear his name mentioned many times on our trip to Bunyoro.
The fact our bus was only half full meant there was more than enough beer to drink. “If you can’t dance sleeping, you can dance standing ” and so the party bus danced its way from Kampala to Hoima.
We’d been at the petrol station 20 minutes before we realised there was no petrol. Tewali! (Nothing!)
The second petrol station was also empty.
Third time lucky, we landed at a “wind-up petrol station.”
Surprise, surprise, most of us missed Friday’s ‘Red Dress’ Hash run around Hoima. Stopping seven times along the way for ‘short calls’, snacks, chatting up the ladies, more beer, muchomo roasted meat, etc tends to do that to your programme. The three plus hour journey took twice that long.
Saturday morning started with a visit to the Karuziika, the Omukama’s Palace, a modern looking house (Brits, think Surrey suburbs!) with some traditional Bunyoro huts being (re)built in the compound, in preparation for the Empango Celebrations on June 11th. [Great time for the camera to fail, part 1].
We were welcomed by the hugely knowledgeable Permanent Secretary (PPS) who commended us for our “exercise to combat modern lifestyle diseases.” That made me feel a bit sheepish. (Had no-one mentioned that the Hash is ‘a drinking club with a running problem?’)
Earlier we’d been invited into the Throne Room. Excited Hashers – ordered to leave smelly trainers and drinks outside – were asked to sit on the assorted lion and leopardskins lying on the floor as the PPS introduced us to the Bunyoro Kingdom’s history as traders, hunters and metalworkers. He briefly flicked up a corner of the ceremonial bark cloth so we could have a peek at the nine-legged throne / stool.
I’m hooked on the Bunyoro cultural history. “The empire was built and lost on ivory” he told us, as we heaved a heavy elephant tusk around our group. He pointed out the spearholes in the lionskins beneath us. The huge lion paws were still intact and there was a discernible smell of (big) cat. As for leopard “there are only two ways to kill one,” he said, “with a club or by strangling it.” (This advice obviously predates the invention of AK47s!)
We heard that the King has just returned from China – nothing to do with ivory I hope? I first arrived in Uganda to work for the Uganda Conservation Foundation, essentially combating poaching and protecting elephants, and there I was sitting on dead animal skins, passing around an elephant’s tusk … !
As we Hashed (ran/walked) into Hoima town, I chatted to someone from the local radio station about Hoima’s new status as Uganda’s Oil City. Definitely a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. He told me stories of people relocating. Some have come to Hoima to seek their fortune, others have had to move out of town as their 60,000 Uganda shillings monthly rent has increased to a whopping 200,000 UGX. Ow.
The town’s growth is fueled by Uganda’s developing oil industry. The Hoima market scene, for example, similar to many across Uganda, is set to change with the construction of a new purpose-built market centre.
Saturday afternoon’s trip to see the oil wells wasn’t what I expected. Silly me, fancy expecting to see oil wells on your trip to see the oil wells! In the end, the impromptu boda boda trip down the steep escarpment, passing the modest Kabalega Falls on our way down to Lake Albert, was one of the highlights of the weekend. Impassable by vehicle, the loose gravel and hairpin bends made it a hair-raising descent. To be honest, coming up was even scarier, especially when we met this guy and his jerry can collection as (three of us on a boda) were struggling to negotiate a tight corner.
The smell of drying fish hit us as we approached the village of Kibero.
It felt like we’d landed in an alien country. There were no vehicles, just a few bodas (making the most of the unexpected day tripper BONANZA) and no advertising (thus little colour). Neither were there any food stalls, market vendors or rubbish in the dirt roads. It all seemed very strange. There are hundreds of Ugandan villages cut off from the rest of the world but this one was different somehow, just a collection of drab sun-dried mud houses, piles of fish drying in the sun, ducks, people sitting on doorsteps. [Great time for the camera to fail, part 2].
On the beach – not a slot machine or ice cream van in sight – dozens of excited kids posed for photographs with the Lake Albert backdrop.
Back in Hoima, Saturday evening’s programme was a special audience with the Omukama at the Palace.
All the ladies had on their best dresses. (Rumour had it that the Omukama would pick One Lucky Lady as his next wife! So we all kneeled dutifully when a Hashette tipped us the nod.) The Omukama looked very dignified, although the corporate branding across the front of his tent slightly overshadowed the traditional nature of the occasion. What next? “Bunyori Kingdom sponsored by Tullow”. Sigh. Pragmatically, oil has to be the best thing to happen to the Kingdom this century, as the minister of information, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, confirms in Uganda: Bunyoro is regaining her glory.
On the search for Mparo Tombs – the tombs of Kabelaga and his descendants
Recap: so, on Friday we’d missed seeing Katasiha Fort and on Saturday we’d missed seeing the oil wells… next stop (would we find it?) Mparo Tombs, “historical site rehabilitated by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces [the army] in honour of Kabalega in recognition of his struggle against colonialism.”
In 2009, Kabalega of Bunyoro was declared a national hero by President Yoweri Museveni and honoured with a three-gun salute for his nine-year resistance against the British colonialists.
Kabalega is said to be ‘the last great king of one of the greatest kingdoms in the Great Lakes region,’ and is buried at Mparo. Unfortunately, we didn’t get inside the grass thatched traditional hut that is Kabalega’s Tomb.
The traditional huts of the Bunyoro Tombs are very similar to the Buganda Kingdom’s famous Kasubi Tombs – showing Bunyoro descendence from Buganda.
The Kasubi Tombs burned down in 2010. (2014: rebuilding of Kasubi Tombs is underway).
Luckily we had Harriet to translate for us!
The monument marks the spot where in 1877 Kabalega granted an audience to Emin Pasha.
“When Emin Pasha came face-to-face with the Omukama (King) for the first time, Kabalega was dressed in a piece of fine orange-pink coloured bark cloth. It covered his body to his breast except the left-hand shoulder, over which was thrown a piece of darker coloured bark cloth. He wore a necklace of hairs from the giraffe’s tail, the middle of which was strung a single blue glass bead, which encircled his neck. He was strikingly fair and about 5 feet, 10 inches tall. He made the most favourable impression on Emin Pasha.”
A.R. Dunbar, “Uganda’s famous men series: Omukama Chwa 11, Kabalega” (East African literature Euro 1965).
Writing this blog has given me a real interest in Kabalega and Emin Pasha. I’m pretty dumbfounded by what I’ve read. Between them they changed the course of history for millions of people, numerous kingdoms and several countries. How have I been in Uganda almost five years and hardly learned about them? (Visiting Kampala’s rather posh Emin Pasha Hotel hardly counts!)
Kneeling for the camera was my idea of fooling around. If I’d known what I’ve read today, I would have done it with more respect.
A few kilometres outside Hoima, we came across some disused ornamental fountains. Another fountain featured a metal bird. Some interesting colonial type buildings lay derelict next to them. I can imagine this all being snapped up and turned into a bijou coffeeshop when the real oil money starts pouring into town. Andrew Roberts, co-editor of the epic Bradt Uganda guide, what is this all about?
All in all, another brilliant Uganda week-end for Diary of a Muzungu. It’s a shame we didn’t hang around for the real royal Empango celebrations. Apparently 200,000 people partied for three days! Photos of the official Empango celebrations
2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Omukama’s coronation, guess who’s planning to attend?
For more Ugandan royal stories, read A wedding fit for a king.
If you like African bus journey tales, you might enjoy No hurry in Africa: on board the bus Kampala to Kigali and Kampala to Nairobi – 14 hours of speed bumps