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Kasubi Tombs ranks N0. 1

Kasubi Tombs ranks N0.1 : nestled on Kasubi hill in Buganda kingdom which is located in the central region of the country Uganda. They occupy a 27 hectare site that has been used by the Buganda for its Royal Tombs since the 13 century and represents the spiritual heart of the Buganda people. It is the site of the burial grounds for four kings (kabakas) of Buganda and some members of the Buganda royal family. Therefore, the site remains an important spiritual and political site for the Ganda people and also an important example of traditional architecture. The tombs became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 2001 when it was described as “one of the most remarkable buildings using purely vegetal materials in the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa. BBC has ranked Uganda’s Kasubi Tombs as Africa’s NO.1 iconic architectural building.

 

Why Kasubi Tombs ranks

It was predominantly built from wood & other organic materials and the interior is designed to replicate a sacred forest and is topped with 52 circular wings to represent each of the 52 Buganda clans. Most of the site is agricultural farmed by traditional methods. At its core on the hilltop is the former place of the kabakas of the Buganda, built in 1882 and converted into the royal burial ground in 1884. Four royal tombs now lie within the “Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga” meaning “A tough one brings forth powerful ones” the main building which is circular and surmounted by a dime. The palace was originally built by Ssekabaka king Suuna II in 1820 and was rebuilt in 1882 by his son Ssekabaka Muteesa I. It is a major example of an architectural achievement in organic materials, thatch, reed, principally wood, wattle and daub. The site’s main significance lies however in its intangible values of belief, continuity, spirituality and more so identity.

The thatching of the roofs at Kasubi tombs

The thatching technique at the Kasubi tombs is quite unique and can hardly be compared to another African or even a European thatching technique. The grass is prepared in conical bundles which are simply laid onto the roof structure without being tired, expect for the first layers at the bottom and when one of these bundles is rotten, it can simply be pulled out and replaced. This is such an interesting technique and it makes the huge maintenance task of the thatched roofs much easier. This activity at the tombs is carried out by the members of the Ngeye clan (black and white colobus), who are the only people allowed to do the work. The thatching skills are passed down from the elders of the clan to younger members during an apprenticeships. The practice is still alive with younger members of the clan coming up voluntarily to take on this important responsibility at the site. Special customs are observed when fixing the roof for example widows are not allowed to enter the building when it is being thatched because it is believed that their presence would cause leakage and pregnant women are also not allowed inside the building during the renovation. In addition, thatcher’s are not supposed to have sexual intercourse during the thatching period and the same custom is observed by the decorators of the poles, who belong to the leopard (Ngo) clan. Kabaka tombs are very important to the Buganda kingdom and the country at large because it’s a rare shrine where the four Buganda kings were buried; Kabaka Muteesa I, Kabaka Mwanga II, Kabaka Daudi Chwa II and Kabaka Muteesa II. Other members of the royal family including the mothers, grandmothers, princes, princesses were also buried here thus acting as the living testimony of the Ganda traditions which attracts both religious and cultural tourists.

Reconstruction of the Kasubi Tombs

A few major buildings were almost completely destroyed by fire in March 2010 and the cause of this is still under investigation. Consequently, in July 2010, it was included in the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The Buganda kingdom has vowed to rebuild the tombs of their Kings and the president of Uganda (HE. Yoweri Kagutta Museveni) said that the national government of Uganda would assist in the restoration of the site. The reconstruction of the site started in 2014, funded by the government of Japan. Baganda kabakas have always built their palaces on hills where every new king has a right to choose a hill on which to build his palace as well as renaming it. This action was to control the major routes to the palace in order to find easy ways to escape just in case of a rebellion and when the Kabakas died, the traditional practice was to bury each Kabaka at a separate site to put up a royal shrine to house his jaw bone which was believed to contain his spirit in the afterlife. At Kasubi tombs there is an area behind a bark cloth curtain known as “Kibira” (a forest) where secret ceremonies are conducted and the area where the real Kabaka tombs are built. In front of the curtain there are raised platforms corresponding to the position of each Kabaka’s tomb. Historically, Kabaka Muteesa I was the first king to be buried at Kasubi and he was the 35th king in the Buganda kingdom. Only widows of the Kabakas have access to the sacred forest.

Anthropological dimensions

The physical features of the Kasubi tombs represent only a portion of the traditional life there. The tombs and the whole site environment carry strong spiritual and social significance while the architecture itself carries meaning related to the Ganda traditions. The rich decorative features, invested with spiritual values reflect the interaction between nature and culture between the spirits and the living people for example is it the fifty two rings of spear supporting the great roof and their number related to the fifty two Ganda clans. Apart from the royal burials, a number of traditional rituals are carried out throughout the year. These include the new moon ceremony and the consultation of the mediums. But the main spiritual life is not visible to the ordinary visitor as many ceremonies are performed secretly inside the buildings. This aspect of the Ganda tradition is well known by the population and it is still respected. The Baganda observe the myths concerning the origins of the death and people believe that every person’s death has a spiritual origin. At Kasubi tombs, when a king or a member of the royal family dies, they immediately enthrone a successor after the burial and perform rituals to appease the spirits. Animals are sacrificed and gifts of various kinds such as money are deposited in the numerous shrines.  The tombs are also visited by a wide range of Baganda medicine men and women who consult the king’s spirits to obtain blessings in their trade.

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