The Banyoro Culture

The Banyoro are a Bantu group who live in the western part of Uganda to the east of Albert and inhabit the present districts of Hoima, Kibale and Masindi. They are ruled by the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro Kitara and the current ruler is Solomon Iguru I, who is the 27th omukama furthermore their origins can be traced to the Congo region. The Banyoro live in scattered settlements in the populated parts of the country and their homesteads were rarely more than shouting distance from one another. Their kingdom was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Central and East Africa from the 13th century to the 19th century. The people of Bunyoro are called the Nyoro or the Banyoro (Munyoro in singular) who speak Nyoro also known as Runyoro as their language. In the past, the traditional economy revolved around the big game of hunting of lions, leopards, elephants, crocodiles and may more but today, the Banyoro are now agriculturalists who cultivate rice, cassava, yams, bananas, tobacco, millet, coffee to mention a few.

Relations

The Nyoro were traditionally a polygamous people when they could afford it although many marriages didn’t last which resulted into divorce and because of this, payment to the girl’s family was not normally given until after several years of marriage. Polygamous premarital sex was also very common. All families were ruled by the eldest man of the family who is titled Nyineka, and the village was run by a specially elected elder known as a mukuru w’omugongo who was chosen by all the elders in the village.

Birth

A few months after birth, the baby would be given a name and 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. These names were often related to specific features on the child, specific 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 also known as the Mpako names include Okaali (only names to kings), Apuuli, Acaali, Araali, Bbala (for males only) and Adyeeri, Abooki, Abwooli, Amooti, Ateenyi, Atwooki and Akiiki which can be used for both males and female. Mi pako or M’pako in Luo language would mean “of honor” or “in honor of” therefore, Empaako or Mpaako/Mpako is a title of Honor even in Luo.

Naming

A few months after the birth of the child; three months for a boy and four months for a girl, a simple ceremony would be held at which the child was given a personal name along with one of the traditional Mpako names. This name could be given by either the parent, grand parent or any other relative but if the father of the child was present and known, he had the last word. The names given differed considerably; a few of them were family names handed down in particular clans to commemorate for example a relative, some feature on the child and some circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. There were special names for twins and those that followed them immediately. However, most of other names portrayed the state of mind of the persons who gave them. Majority of the names were real words which were used in everyday speech and the general theme of these names rotated around the constant imminence of sorrow or death, the anticipation of poverty, misfortune and the spite or hatred of one’s neighbors.

The names which related to sorrow and death include; Alijunaki, Buliarwaki, Kabwijmu, Tubuhwaire, Bulewenda Tibanagwa among others. The names that associated with poverty are; Bagamba, Bikanga, Babyenda, Baligenda and many more. The names that intended to portray the spirit of neighbors included; Nsekanabo, Tibaijuka, Itima, Ndyanabo, Nyendwoha, Tindyebwa not to mention but a few. Almost all the above names portray that there were three things which the Banyoro feared very much namely; poverty, death and sorrow.

Death

This was believed to be the work of evil magic or ghosts and gossiping was believed to magically affect 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 also close the eyes of the departed. The body was left for reviewing and the women and children were allowed to cry, but the men weren’t. In case the dead was the head of the house, a mixture of grain (ensigosigo) was put in his hand and his children had to take a small part of it and eat it thus passing on his magical powers. Immediately after one or two days, the body would be wrapped in cloth and series of rites would be performed and these rights were only for the head of the family. They were as follows;

  • The nephew would take the bow and eating-bowl of the departed and throw it with the pole.
  • The nephew must also take down the central pole of the hut and throw it in the middle of the compound.
  • The main bull of the family’s cattle had to be prevented from mating during the mourning by castration.
  • The fireplace in the hut would be extinguished.
  • The family rooster had to be caught and killed.
  • A banana plant from the family plantation and a pot of water was also added to the pile.
  • After four days of mourning, the bull would be killed and eaten, thus ending the period of mourning.
  • The house of the departed would not be used again.

The burial was not conducted during 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 because it was forbidden to weep while at the grave. Pregnant women were also banned from participating in the funeral as it was believed that the negative magical forces related to burial would be too strong for the unborn child to survive. As soon as the burial ended, the family members would cut some of their hair off and put it onto the grave. All participants in the burial ceremony washed themselves thoroughly as it was believed that the negative magical forces would harm crops. If the departed had a grudge or other unfinished business with any other or any other family, his mouth and anus would be stuffed with clay in order to prevent the ghost from haunting.

The New Moon Festival

During a new moon ceremony, everyone is supposed to assemble at the King’s courts to dance to the tunes of the music (Amakondere) played by the royal bands-men who were around twenty in total. This festival was to celebrate the Omukama’s having lived to see the new moon. The royal bands-men participated in relays, playing drums, flutes and other wind instruments. This festival goes on for a few days at the King’s palace and there was also an annual celebration for the period of nine days. There was also an arrangement for the seven days being celebrated at the king’s mother’s compound. This ceremony is normally held in the months of December and January.

Clans and Totems

Just like other tribes and cultures, every Munyoro belongs to a clan. The clan can be defined as the collective group of people who are descended from the same ancestor and therefore blood relatives. Long ago before the tradition of kingdoms, the Banyoro lived in clan groupings and their areas of settlement were named after the clan that settled there. Some of the examples include; Buruli was the area for the baruli clan, Buyaga for the bayaga clan and Bugahya for the bagahya clan. The clan is very important to a Munyoro such that one is well aware of the clan relationships on both the mother’s and father’s side of the family. This is crucial in order to avoid in-breeding; one cannot marry in his/her own clan or in that of the mother. Marriage to one’s cousin no matter how distant they are, it is not acceptable unless you’re a prince or princess of the kingdom. In their effort to maintain their blue blood lines, it is not unheard of for the royals of Bunyoro, Toro and Buganda to marry very close to their own or mother’s clans.

Marriage

Traditionally, looking for a suitable partner was a very important matter which involved the family of the boy and that of the bride