Related Searches



The Bakiga ("people of the mountains") are an ethnic group located in what is now northwestern Rwanda and southern Uganda. They speak a Bantu language called Rukiga. They are sometimes referred to as the Chiga or Kiga, while the singular form is mukiga. It has been suggested that the Bakiga arrived in Uganda from Rwanda between 1600 and 1700.

The people of southwestern Uganda, mostly located in Kabale district, 7% of the population or 1.7 million according to the last 2002 census.

Pre-colonial period

The Kiga culture is quite confusing. In order to know the Bakiga, one has first to know something about Rwanda. The Kiga people are believed to have originated from Rwanda even it is in one of their folk songs (Abakiga twena tukaruga Rwanda, omu Byumba na Ruhenjere) - that all of us the Bakiga, we came from Rwanda in Byumba and Ruhenjere. The Bakiga, as believed to be the descendants of Kashyiga (which later came to be called Kakiga) son of Mbogo from the small Kingdom of Bumbogo in Rwanda, came to from the present community of the Bakiga of Kigezi as a result of Immigration. Before the year 1700 A.D. Rwanda was believed to have been occupied by the Twa people as the first group to occupy it, then was later on occupied by the second immigration of the Hutu people, and the third was the Tutsi.

Rwanda was organised in small states and chiefdoms but under one ruler called the Mwami. Originally, who was also known as Mukama. Mukama was not a name but rather a title of a Ruler, but later on it came to be recognised as a name implying to one ruling man. The name later is also attributed to God as Lord. It is not a female name. There are not many Bakiga called by the name Mukama. It is a name that was reserved to the family of the ruling clan, the Abungura, who possessed the inheritance powers. If there's any person bearing the name Mukama, must be a Mungura/Mwitira, or belongs to the ruling clan. Not even in Rwanda among the Tutsi who took over the Kingdom after Kirima had been defeated, did they dare to use the name Mukama because it signified a more fundamental power than they had assumed. Similar names could be like Byamukama, Kyomukama, Womukama, Kamukama, Bainomukama and so on. Therefore the title for the King in Rwanda remained Mwami (Omwami) whereas in the Rukiga (the Kiga) Kingdom, they continued to use the title Mukama (Omukama)

In first stages of the formation of the Kingdom of Rwanda, the major states were Bumbogo, Buriza, and Rukoma. Each of these states was represented by a clan chief. The first Mwami was Mbogo of the small state of Bumbogo. There had already been intermarriages between the Tutsi and twa and the Hutu. Though these three major groups still stood out, their indigenous clans remained as the point of reference due to their totems. Mbogo for example was a mixture of Hutu and Tutsi while Kirima was a mixture of Hutu and Twa. Mbogo who belonged to the Abungura clan, today known as Abaitira clan, is believed to have been conquered by his friend Kirima of the Abanyiginya clan. Kirima accused Mbogo of mistreating the people and he promised he would be a better chief, though he could not claim to be a King or Umwami. He asserted that Mbogo was using testicles of men to decorate his Royal drum, the Kalinga, the symbol of a Kingdom. Kirima is believed to have made progress but his time was short lived by the invasion of Bunyoro.

Until now, Mbogo, the King, is not identified with any Tribe, but rather a clan of the Abaitira (Abungura). He was very old and did not want to fight but his son Kashyiga (Kakiga), fled in view to go and regroup so he could come back to fight. The departure of Kikiga left a big wound to the states and then the Bunyoro invasion, but in the mid-eighteenth century the Rwandan state became far more centralized. Expansion continued, reaching the shores of Lake Kivu. This expansion was less about military conquest and more about a migrating population spreading Rwandan agricultural techniques, social organization, and the extension of a Mwami's political control. Once this was established camps of warriors were established along the vulnerable borders to prevent incursions. Only against other well developed states such as Gisaka, Bugesera, and Burundi was expansion carried out primarily by force of arms. Kakiga is gone, but goes with the Royal drum and so, Kirima could never claim to be King. The newly established Kingdom is taken over by sympathizers, the Tutsi.

Under the Tutsi monarchy the economic imbalance between the Hutus and the Tutsis crystallized, a complex political imbalance emerged as the Tutsis formed into a hierarchy dominated by a Mwami or 'king'. The King was treated as a semi-divine being, responsible for making the country prosper. He adapted the Kalinga as symbol of the King, the sacred drum on which he also hung the genitals of conquered enemies or rebels against the him. This treatment of the King, will later on define the relationship between the Tutsi and the Hutu and the Twa peoples. Originally, the Hutus were among the nobility and significant as intermingling took place, the Hutu majority made up 82–85% of the population and were mostly rich and simple, but later on were made to live a poor peasant life. The Tutsis took the show and took on the name all the privileges of the kings, and came to be the ones called the Mwamis. Before the nineteenth century, the Tutsis held military power while the Hutus possessed supernatural power.

The newly self proclaimed Kings changed the nobility of the Hutus to Abiiru (slavery). In this capacity, the Mwami's council of advisors (abiiru) was exclusively Hutu and held significant sway. By the mid-18th century, however, the Abiiru w increasingly marginalized. But, however, as the Tutsi rules, they have been constantly been made aware that Kakiga was to return, which always made them nervous, but also helped them increase their defence system. As the kings centralized their power and authority, they distributed land among individuals rather than allowing it to be passed down through lineage groups, of which many hereditary chiefs had been Hutu. Most of the chiefs appointed by the Mwamis were Tutsi. The redistribution of land, enacted between 1860 and 1895 by Mwami Rwabugiri, resulted in an imposed patronage system, under which appointed Tutsi chiefs demanded manual labor in return for the right of Hutus to occupy their land. This system left Hutus in a serf-like status with Tutsi chiefs as their feudal masters.[citations needed] Under Mwami Rwabugiri, Rwanda became an expansionist state. Rwabugiri did not bother to assess the ethnic identities of conquered peoples and simply labeled all of them “Hutu”. The title “Hutu”, therefore, came to be a trans-ethnic identity associated with subjugation. While further disenfranchising Hutus socially and politically, this helped to solidify the idea that “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were socioeconomic, not ethnic, distinctions. In fact, one could kwihutura, or “shed Hutuness”, by accumulating wealth and rising through the social hierarchy.

Getting back to the Bakiga, it therefore became clear that Kakiga was responsible for the formation of the Kinga Kingdom, its clans and sub-clans and all the direct descents of his children. Each clan was identified by a totem and also by what they were forbidden from eating. For example, the, Ba-Mungwe’s totem was the bushbuck and they were prohibited from hunting it for food. All these were intended for the protection, sustenance and well-being of the clan, as they were not competing for the same food. There are many clan and sub-clans in the Kiga tribe but the major ones are: Ba-Mungura (the Royal Clan in which the Mukama was supposed to be born), Ba-Musigi (the clan that was supposed to keep the defence of the King or the Mukama), Ba-Mungwe, Ba-kinyagiro, Ba-mugiri, Ba-muhutu, Ba-mugera, and Ba-mugyesera, Ba-Mugyeyo. Each of these clans has sub-clans. The Abukuru b-ekika was a committee of elders chosen by the clan to issue rules and administer justice. If a case was particularly serious and involved more than one clan, the cases would be heard publicly. An Omukuru, ideally a wise elder who knew the customs and traditions of his people and could give fair advice and justice, would be elected to preside over this expanded court

Kakiga, the son of Mbogo from the state of Bumbogo and of the Abaitira (bungura clan), made his move towards the west and settled in the forests of Kagarama, the mountains of the present border of Rwanda and Uganda in Kigezi district. In around 1700, Kakiga established his own community and wished to establish his own new Kingdom, but wanted to go back to fight the Nyoro invaders. Kakiga found out that, the new land was more fertile and had good grass for the cattle. Together with his friends, they made a deal to stay. These became a new group of people called the Abakiga or Bakiga.

As time went on, the population grew and Kakiga wanted to expand his localities. He started sending groups to search and conquer. He sent the first group towards the east in the parts of Karweru where the group of the Abasigi was supposed to conquer. This group was under the leadership of Rwandeme. This was believed to be the strongest group that was to fight the forces of Ankore. Unfortunately, this was the cause of the loss of the Royal drum. And since the Kingdom could not stand without a drum, the Rwandeme never dared to return to Kagarama. He remained in the mountains of Karweru and his group intermarried with the Ankore people. This explains why most of the Abasigi are found in these part of the area. Also gives the reason to why there are many different accents, intonations and spellings in the Rukiga language.

Kakiga, out of anger, as his father Mbogo, he also ordered obligatory circumcision of all male children. This was not supported by many but he maintained that, every Mungura shall have to be circumcised and that Kings must be circumcised. This also explains why the Abungura is the only one clan in the entire Kiga tribe, that undergoes circumcision. The circumcision was to be taken at the eleventh (11) age. The rest of the Bakiga, they don’t circumcise, under cultural obligation. But these days some take it for other reasons but not because they have to. Kakiga also left the Kiga legacy of the system of naming. The Kiga people take the family name after their grand father or after their father has died. That is why, it is very hard to tress the lineage of the Bakiga through family names, but among different clans, they still hold the norm of the founding father, for instance, Mbogo could be the son of Rwambogo but in like a seventh generation, Mubangizi could be the son of Mubanga. But all the same, the names would be revolving around the same family. Also to this, many educated Bakiga find it useful to use their family name even if the parents are still are still alive, even the Royal clan itself.

This separation and rebellion, will mark the complexity of the Kiga community to look as though, she never had a political system. The major factors that led to the fail of the formation of the Kiga Kingdom to the fullest were mostly, lack of trust and fear of the Kakiga, the lack of enough military for invasion, the sudden prosper and discovery of fertile lands.

Kakiga, though he lost the drum, he continued to be strong. He sent the another group to attack further north. This was the group of the Abaromba and the Abahimba. These diffused to most parts of Muko, Rubanda and Kihihi. Other groups went to Kakore, Mparo which proceeded to Nyakishenyi and Nyarushanje, where we still find the mixture of Ankore and Kinyarwanda accents and intonations. Kakiga attempted to make another drum but he could not get the testicles of the men. He only made declarations that his sons and daughters should not marry any foreigner, because he believed that the pure King should be from Rwanda. He made his shield out of cattle skin. He promoted agriculture and his tools were mainly the panga, the spear and hoe. He enjoyed wrestling, dancing, hunting and keeping cattle. The most common figures of the few known Bungura Royals include: Muhanga (Mubanga), Rwabutare, Kamboji, Kabogo, Katumba, Katamujuna, Kahigyi, Bakunzi, Mbogo, Rwakasole, Mungura, Rwambogo, and the Abungura, though few as they are, are still the known Royal clan of the Kiga tribe and most of them live in outskirts of Kabale town, and still enjoy the hereditary wealth. They are not wealthy in strict sense of the word. They are renown of their love for research and education. The Bungura were also known for their tough leaderships and at times referred to as arrogant, and aggressive.

There has been a variety of experiences in the life of the Bakiga; interaction with other Kingdoms, Religions and other many other cultures. The bakiga are very hospitable and enjoy the privilege of being a mixed language. Rukiga as a language is a combination of the influence of the accents and alphabets from Rwanda, Ankore, Toro, Bufumbira and Swahili.

Before the Bakiga were educated about Islam and Christianity, they believed in one God. The Bakiga understood God as creator who is neither male or female, known as Ruhanga. God is also known by many attributes. God as the supreme elder and ruler of the universe was Mukama, God when associated with the power of the sun was Kazooba-Nyamuhanga, and God in his aspect of the one who makes things grow was Biheeko. Many Bakiga with the influence of Christianity adopted 'theo-phoric' names. These names are eschatological (Turya-guma-nawe) meaning we will be with God for ever.

While the Bakiga would later be classified as Hutu, at this time they considered themselves an entirely separate people. Their name for the Hutus of southern Rwanda who joined the Tutsi monarchy in attempting to overcome the Bakiga was Banyanduga. Works that make a distinction of northern Hutu refer to the Bakiga.

Colonial period

The Bakiga communities defended their independence until the collaboration of German colonial forces and the royal troops of the Mwami or Mukama at the turn of the twentieth century succeeded in incorporating the region into the Rwandan colonial state. The region remained a hotbed of discontent against central authority for many years. One of the strongest influences upon the character of the Bakiga was the anti-centrist cult of Nyabingi. After the death of Mwami Rwabugiri in 1895, Muhumuza, one of his wives, fled to the mountains of Kiga and proclaimed an anti-colonial rebellion in 1911. She was captured the same year and her resistance taken up by Ndungutse, generally recognized as the son of Muhumuza and Rwabugiri, who was in turn killed, though sporadic rebellions sprang up until the advent of Belgian rule after World War I. The conditions for these rebellions were created by the system of forced labor tribute (ubareetwa) imposed on the Bakiga by their new colonial masters. P.T.W. Baxter noted that, "The proud boast of the Kiga is that they never were, as a people, subjugated by either Tutsi or Hima." However, this resistance was, paradoxically, in large part led or inspired by disaffected members of the Tutsi elite.

The Bakiga became one of two major forces, along with the hill-level tensions of Hutu peasants and Tutsi chiefs, in the formation of "Social Revolution" of 1959. In the pre-colonial system, land usage was controlled by chiefs who owned land (bakonde) or controlled access to it (bagererwa). With the onset of colonial rule, these chiefs were technically replaced by southern Tutsi and Bakiga who agreed to work for them. However, the old order was never entirely erased, resulting in tensions between the two. While the older bakonde yearned for a return to their old status, younger generations of bakonde were able to merge their claims into that of the anti-colonial/Tutsi revolutionary movement.

Traditional Life

The traditional Bakiga were a highly segmented society who came to Kabale from today's Rwanda. They believed in Ruhanga, the Creator of all things. They also had several cults, among which the most important was Nyabingi - the spirit a much respected rain-maker.

Bakiga were both pastoralists and agriculturalists, growing sorghum, peas, millet, sweet potatoes, vegetables and beans. These were supplemented with pumpkins, yams, meat and a variety of green vegetables. Food was always prepared in abundance. It was good manners for a visitor to join a family eating a meal without invitation. The Bakiga were producing beer omuramba from sorghum. It could be both food and an alcoholic drink. To enjoy it, people would sit on wooden stools surrounding a pot and drink it through long tubes. Some among the Bakiga were great ironsmiths who were making hoes, knives, spears. Pottery was also highly developed, a wide range of carpentry existed, they reared bees and produced honey. Women were in charge of digging, while men cleared the bush and erected round grass-thatched huts. Nearly all activities were done communally. Men were dressed in one cow hide; in two if they were rich. The skin hung from the shoulder covering private parts. A man would belt himself for a fight or a dance, while for clearing land one would normally be naked. Women used skirts made from several skins. A skin garment covered the torso.

Virginity was very important. If an unmarried girl got pregnant, she would be taken to a forest, tied to a tree and left to the mercy of animals. Alternatively, she would be thrown over a cliff; Kisizi Falls were most used for this purpose. At Lake Bunyonyi, a special island was used for dumping these unfortunate girls. A marriage needed to be preceded by a payment of bridewealth which meant cows, goats and hoes. If a man had enough of these and plenty of land, he could get as many wives as desired: polygamy was a norm (for instance one of the remnants of the royal clan of the Abungura, Umwami Katamujuna, had ten wives, though, at the coming of Christianity, he had to compromise seven of them). They would not be from the same clan - marriages were one of the rare things to bond together a very politically segmented society. A girl spent about a month in seclusion before marriage, to become well fed and instructed in home management. It was common to divorce if your husband or wife was barren, lazy or had other bad traits. Divorced people could remarry, however, the woman's family could expect less bridewealth next time. Disagreements that could be leading to divorce were first tackled by consultation of elders. Settling disputes was a major role of elderly members of a clan. A lineage head was elected by clansmen on the criteria of character (truthful, brave, a war-leader) and power (a rich man, a medicine man or a priest). Different lineage heads would gather and publicly discuss potential issues of wider concern. What lineage heads did not solve together, could result in fighting between groups. The Bakiga were natural born-warriors.

The form of dance for the Bakiga is called the Ekizino. Ekizino is a royal dance from the Bakiga people of Kigezi which is known as "Switzerland of Africa" because of its weather and landscape similar to most European countries, During colder seasons, Ekizino is the warm-up dance. Since Kigezi is a hilly region, the men who go out farming early in the cold mornings must jump around for a while to get warm and also to stretch their muscles after work. Traditionally, the people also used to stamp the ground until they found signs of water. Therefore, this dance represents their jumping and stamping.

In times of social gathering, different musical instruments for entertainments:

Omukuli (Flute): The flute is widely popular in all regions of Uganda. It is played both as a solo and accompaniment instrument. It is made out of a variety of materials that have a square hole chipped out of one of the ends. It has finger holes that help in playing different pitches and melody. The player directs a stream of air over the sharp rim or on top of the pipe. It has a pentatonic scale, sol, la, do, re, mi or do, re, mi, sol, la. Endere is tuned on the xylophone key since the xylophone is omnipresent throughout Uganda.

Engoma (Drums): In a Bakiga society, as one of the African traditions, Drums bring the power that drives the performance and can be used for talking too. i.e sending information and signals by Imitating Speech since many African languages are both tonal and rhythmic.

There are various versions of Drums in Uganda 1- Embuutu, this is a big drum (percussion instrument). 2- Enpunyi [bass drum] these drums are traditionally hand curved from old hard wood trees.These drums have heads made from hides. 3- Engalabi-long drum [percussion instrument] this drum has a head made of reptile skin nailed to a wooden sound body. The engalabi from the Buganda region has important roles in ceremonies and in theater. It is played with hands 4- Namunjoloba - lead Drum [percussion instrument ]

These instruments are found throughout Uganda, and they are believed to have come from the Bushmen and Hamites. These instruments are made from various materials. High-pitched trumpets are made of antelope horn. Medium-register trumpets are hollowed out from tree roots. These instruments have a mouth-hole cut at a slant, so that the instrument is played in a transverse position.

Amakondere (trumpets): Low-pitched instruments are cut from the trunks of the papaw tree and are blown in a straight position through a mouth-hole at the end. In an ensemble of these instruments, each player sounds his single pitch. These come from the Lugbara and Kebu tribes of the western Nile region. In some traditional societies, horns were used as means of communications, for example, in an emergency. They are played in groups of seven or more. These side-blown horns sometimes have a fingerhole, which is used for grace-note ornaments.

Endingidi (Ugandan Violin) It is a one string instrument which is attached to a flexible stick with a wooden sound box and is played with a bow. It is tuned in a pentatonic scale. It accompanies dances and it is included in an ensemble of most Ugandan instruments.

Enanga (trough zithers) It has eight strings which run above a wooden trough. A zither is an instrument. It is mainly a story-telling or poem reciting instrument and it accompanies some dances in Kigezi Western part of Uganda. It is tuned in a pentatonic scale.

Modern Life

When the British came to nowadays Kabale in 1908, they found farmers and hunters living without any central authority and in a miserable situation due to heavy fights and disagreements followed by several trisons among the people. The conditions of constant fighting, plunder and raids from all sides, of recent epidemics, famines, and a locust invasion had ruined the society. There were very many clans and so, the Europeans applied the concept of a tribe to the clans, with little ground for it. Though the ruling class of the Abaitira (Abungura had collapsed, at that time, the groups were not united in any way and the language they were speaking was a dialectical variation of Runyankore, Kinyarwanda, Kihororo and some kind of Kihaya. The term "Bakiga" could be translated as "Highlanders", and it was in the beginning most frequently used by the Royal clan of the Abungura, though at later time, they were mostly referred to by the outsiders, and rarely did the people themselves recognise it, as a whole tribe. Over time it has become a part of local consciousness and today, it is widely known as the people of the hills. Bakiga are very hardworking and worrior type. The worrior nature of the Bakiga made it difficult for colonisers to penetrate their culture. The time the colonialists came to Kigezi, they could not influence any single person since they had not yet formed a single bdoy of kingdom, because, it was still underway. Also because, of the internal conflicts, the other clans feared the rule of the Abungura and they had resorted to despising them as too tough and ruthless rulers, however that is how many ruling classes tend to behave. As sporadic attempts of Bakiga's violent resistance to foreign rule often formed around religious cults, entire traditional religion had to go underground to please the administration. Indigenous people initially thought that a convert to Christianity would lose the reasoning capacity and become an idiot. They equated Christianity with colonialism, and when they refused one, they felt obliged to reject the other - or to accept both, if they accepted one. The year 1929 could indicate the final acceptance of the package, when those Bakiga who had decided to try to influence the system from within were eventually given the leading posts, and the time of home rule under European supervision began.

A glance of the Bakiga 40 years after Uganda's independence would give an impression of thoroughly prevailing European influences. The Bakiga are very Christian (Muslims are few) and starkly divided into Catholics and Protestants. One's religion can determine professional prospects and religious preferences heavily influence local elections.

The Bakiga are very developmental. They love new things and enjoy life. They had one thing to admire from colonisers, their way of life. Most of the Bakiga dream of having a good life, and decent living. The European way was a perfect image for them. Remember that the state of denial of kingship would still come up in trying to imitate the high lfe. So. for the Bakiga, a European-style home, imported objects are admired, and locals dress in a Western way. As in most of Uganda, people are extremely concerned about clothing. To "look smart" is a priority for anyone who can afford it. The ugliest instance of this longing to be non-African is women bleaching their skin to be less black. Praising sayings "She looks/eats/dresses like a white" exist.

The elaborate, today, traditional weddings of the Bakiga are being neglected by anyone who can afford a Western-looking ceremony. Clothes are borrowed, music equipment and generators brought to the area, every possible thing done to imitate foreign customs.

At the meetings of district councils, English is used although everybody is a Mukiga, though it is the problem of the entire country. Parents who know English well, sometimes resort to speaking it with their children. Those who use English are supposed to be educated and successful.

Festo Karwemera, a respected elder from Kabale, offers this general comment: "Accepting the culture of the West is a result of inferiority complex due to ignorance emanating from the fact that they are the ones introducing civilisation in this land and we tend to assume that everything they do is the best. Their way of living is clean and attractive hence positive because nobody takes trouble to find out how best we can modernise our culture in our own way."

African Culture under Surface

However, African culture has not been wiped out. Behind the white facade, there is much to be found. No matter how staunch a Christian would claim to be, a part of traditional African beliefs will stay with her or him. If the energetic dance of The Bakiga was once discouraged as Satanic, it is now coming back. The favourite food of the Bakiga is, more or less, what it has been for centuries: beans, peas, potatoes, posho, bananas. Influences from Europe and India have had little effect. Eating with hands remains the rule.


  • Mamdani, Mahmood, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0691102805
  • Ngologoza, Paul Kigezi and Its People ISBN 978-9970-02-134-5


Search another word or see gameto'phoricon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature