"Mpora mpora ekahisya omunyongorerwa ah’eiziba."
9Slow steps led the earthworm to the well.)
Banyankole- Western Uganda."

The Banyankole are a Runyankole-speaking  normadic-pastoralist Bantu group inhabiting the present districts of Mbarara, Bushenyi, and Ntungamo in western Uganda. The Banyankole are the same people that form Ankole kingdom and region  and is also referred to as Nkole (Nyankore), is one of the four kingdoms in Uganda. It is located in the southwest of Uganda to the west of Lake Edward. They inhabit the districts of Mbarara, Bushenyi, and Ntungamo.  Ankole kigdom was ruled by a monarch known as The Mugabe or Omugabe of Ankole. The kingdom was formally abolished in 1967 by the government of President Milton Obote, and is still not officially restored. The people of Ankole are called Banyankole (singular: Munyankole) in Runyankole language, which is a Bantu language.

Omugabe Gasyonga II with Queen Elizabeth and Philip the Duke of Edinburgh.

People from the present countries of Rujumbura and Rubabo in Rukungiri District share the same culture with them. Originally, Ankole was known as Kaaro- Karungi and the word Nkore is said to have been adopted during the 17th century following the devastating invasion of Kaaro-Karungi by Chawaali, the then Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara. The word Ankole was introduced by British colonial administrators to describe the bigger kingdom which was formed by adding to the original Nkore, the former independent kingdoms of Igara, Sheema, Buhweju and parts of Mpororo.
Banyankole girl

This Bantu group are great cattle keepers. They breed long white-horned cows that give beef, milk and other products and are most prestigious for the farmers. The breeders are so proud of their cattle, and they have acquired large herds of cattle to exert great influence on their daily life, especially in rituals, music and dances. Many songs are about cows.

                                            Ankole cattle

Mythology/Creation story
In the beginning, Ruhanga, the creator lived in space with his brother Nkya. Nkya who was younger and restless complained he was bored with everything being so normal and mundane. Ruhanga created heaven and earth for his brother. He threw a stone in the air and it became the sun. Nkya was happy with this but soon started to complain again about the constant sun and no shade. Ruhanga moved the sun to the West and covered it with a cloud. He then threw another stone in the air and created the moon. He ordered Nkya to sleep and created the cock to crow to wake Nkya up when night had passed. He also created grasses and trees for more shade. He then ordered Nkya to stay on Earth while he returned to attend to matters in Heaven.

In heaven Ruhanga realized his hands were dirty and washed his hands which proceeded to pour down to Earth as rain. Nkya got drenched and complained to Ruhanga. He told Nkya to break off branches cut the grass and make shelter but Nkya had no tools. Ruhanga got a rock and threw it to the ground and it broke to make a knife, an axe and a hammer. Nkya went ahead to make a hut.
He soon got bored again and demanded for something to look at. Ruhanga then created flowers, shrubs, goats and sheep. He also created cattle which pleased Nkya immensely. He made a bowl and showed Nkya how to milk the cows. He also created a creeper that provided more food for Nkya. This time Nkya has so many things to occupy him in the new world and he was impressed. He enjoyed his time on earth but tending to everything was a lot of work. Ruhanga gave him a son who Nkya called Kantu.

In time the work was still a bit hectic for Nkya and Kantu, so Ruhanga gave him 3 other sons.  There was confusion because all of them were called Kantu. So Ruhanga devised means to test Nkya’s sons and name them according to how they performed. For the first test, Nkya hid three items at a junction on a path far from home. He put a basket of sweet potatoes, strips of ox hide and the head of the ox. He then sent his sons on the same path.

On reaching the junction, the eldest son saw the basket of potatoes and immediately bullied his brothers and ate the food alone. The second born saw the stripes of hide and thought they would be important for tying the cows when milking. The youngest one didn’t want to be left out so he carried the ox-head back home. When Nkya saw them return he gathered them and asked them what had happened. He was so angry at the first borne for eating all the food and not sharing with his brothers. He made arrangements for the second test.
At night, he gave them pots of milk and ordered them to carry them through the night and not to spill any of it. They then retired for the night. The youngest boy fell asleep first and spilled all his milk. He woke up to the horror of the situation and pleaded with his brothers to help him. They each contributed a bit of their milk and the young boy filled his pot again. This time he stayed awake since he had rested enough and was alert.

Towards the morning, the older brother couldn’t hold back the sleep and dozed of and spilled most of his milk. He pleaded with his brothers to help him too but since they had already shared with the younger brother, it was not enough to fill a pot and his brothers refused to give him more milk. Their father awoke and went to check on the boys.

He was so pleased with the youngest brother that he had managed to stay awake all night and present to him his pot of milk. The other brothers were filled with jealousy and told their father that he had spilled his milk first and they had shared some of theirs to help him refill his pot. Nkya was impressed how the youngest son had managed to convince his brothers to share the milk despite the repercussions. He recalled the way the young boy had carried back the heavy ox-head from their earlier journey, despite not knowing what he would use it for. He immediately named him Kakama and gave him authority to rule over his brothers and everything on earth.

For the second born, he recalled the love for cattle the boy had. He’s the one who had carried back the ox-hide stripes so he could tie the cow’s legs while he was milking. Nkya named him Kahima, the cattle herder and gave him authority over all the cattle. He was least pleased by the eldest son. First he had shown his greed by eating all the sweet potatoes, then had also spilled all his milk and had nothing to present to his father in the morning. He called him Kairu and gave him the hardest responsibility of titling the land to provide food for his brothers and their descendants.
A descendant of Kahima proudly plies his trade.

Till recent history this is how people of this region lived. The descendants of Kakama (Omukama) were royals who ruled over the people and inherited kingship from their great grandfather the smart and clever younger brother. The Bahima were cattle herders by lifestyle and descendants up-to date still have hundreds of herds of cattle which they pride in and treasure. The Bairu were agriculturalists and peasants who did all the hard labour of providing for the kingdoms. They traded a
lot of food for little pieces of meat and pots of milk provided by the Bahima.
Today this caste system is irrelevant but in some places deep in these regions people still refer to the system to assert their authority over others.
Today this caste system is irrelevant but in some places deep in these regions people still refer to the system to assert their authority over others.

The Banyankole occupy southwestern Uganda, where there is a common border with Rwanda and Tanzania. To the east of Ankole District is Lake Victoria, and to the west are Mount Rwenzori and a number of lakes, including Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika. The land, over 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above sea level, is hilly with rolling plains covered with fine grass. The Banyankole consist of two major ethnic groups: the Bahima, who are pastoralists, and the Bairu, who are agriculturists. The Bairu are numerically larger, and the Bahima are politically and socially dominant.

 One of the most important of the lake kingdoms in prestige and population was Ankole. While the date when it was first established remains unknown, it is speculated that it may have started as early as during the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Ankole became a focus of study only in the 1920s and 1930s as reported by anthropologist K. Oberg and historian F. Morris.

The Ankole District is 6,131 square miles (15,879 square kilometers). There was a time when the population of Bahima was reported to have been close to 50 percent of the entire population. This, however, for various reasons declined to a mere 10 percent of the whole population.
In 1919 there were 149,469 Banyankole; this rose to 224,000 Bairu and 25,000 Bahima by 1931. By 1959 the population rose to over half a million thus making the Banyankole the second largest Bantu-speaking ethnic group in Uganda. In the twentieth century the Banyankole registered over a million.

Both the Bahima and the Bairu  people that form Banyankole or Ankole speak a language called Runyankole, which is one of the Bantu languages spoken in Uganda. Bantu languages are part of the large Niger-Congo language family. It is widely believed that at one time the Bahima had their own language, which they abandoned in favor of the Runyankole, spoken by the majority of the Banyankole.
There are approximately 2,330,000 native speakers, mainly found in the Mbarara, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Kiruhura, Ibanda, Isingiro, and Rukungiri districts. Runyankole is part of an East and central African language variously spoken by the Nkore, Kiga, Nyoro, and Tooro people in Uganda; the Nyambo, Ha and Haya in Tanzania; as well as some ethnic groups in the Congo region, Burundi and Rwanda. They were part of the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom of the 14-16th centuries.

There is a brief description and teaching guide for this language, written by Charles Taylor in the 1950s, and an adequate dictionary in print. Whilst this language is spoken by almost all the Ugandans in the region, most also speak English, especially in the towns. English is the official language, and the language taught in schools.
Nkore is so similar to Kiga (84%–94% lexical similarity) that some argue they are dialects of the same language, a language called Nkore-Kiga by Charles Taylor.
 Basic greetings
The greeting Agandi, implying, "How are you?" but literally meaning "other news!", can be replied with Ni marungi, which literally means "good news!".
The proper greetings are Oraire ota? or Osiibire ota?, literally translated "How was your night?" and "How was your day?". "Good night" is Oraare gye and "Good day" is Osiibe gye.
Here are a few names one might use in a greeting:
Madam – Nyabo
Sir – Ssebo
Baby – omwana
Baby boy – omwojo
Baby girl – omwishiki

bitokye: Matooke or Bananas
Obuhunga – Maize Meal or corn bread
Ebihimba – Beans
Enyama – meat
Oburo – Millet Bread

Other words and phrases
Good morning. How are you?
Oraire ota (orei-rota) Replies: I'm fine Ndeire gye (ndei-re-jeh) or Ndyaho (indi-aho)
Good morning. Did you sleep well?
Oraire gye? (orei-reh-jeh) Reply: Yes, fine, okay Kare (Kar-eh)
Good afternoon. How are you?
Osiibire ota (o-see-bee-rota) Replies: Nsiibire gye (insi-bi-reje) or Osiibire gye (Osi birejge)
Good afternoon. How has your day been?
Waasiiba ota (wasi-wota) Reply: Fine, good – Naasiiba gye (nasi-baje)
Thank you: Webare (We-ba-re)
Thank you very much: Webare munonga (Way-ba-lay mu-non-ga)

Some scholars believe that Ankole originally was occupied by Bantu-speaking agricultural Bairu. Later, Ankole provided a passage for Hamitic peoples, possibly the Bahima, migrating from Ethiopia southward. These pastoralists conquered the Bairu and proclaimed themselves the rulers of the land. According to some scholars, the more numerous Bairu were serfs and the Bahima were the dominant ruling class. For the most part the two ethnic groups coexisted peacefully.

When the British created Uganda as a protectorate in 1888, Ankole was a relatively small kingdom ruled by a king (Mugabe) with supreme power. In 1901 the British enlarged the kingdom by merging it with the similarly small kingdoms of Mpororo, Igara, Buhweju, and Busongora. The power of the Omugabe was curtailed considerably once his kingdom was legally and constitutionally controlled. However, as the Omugabe of Ankole, the king was entitled to all the titles, dignities, and preeminence that were attached to his office under the laws and customs of Ankole. A political relationship based on serfdom, slavery, and clientship ceased to exist under British rule, and the Bairu became less marginalized and despised.

Four years after the independence of Uganda in 1962 serious conflicts arose between the Ugandan central government and the Buganda kingdom that led to the suspension of the constitution of Uganda; this effectively abolished the kingdoms in that country, including the Ankole kingdom. In 1993, by popular and persistent demand, monarchism was restored in Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro. However, the Banyankole were not united in their quest for the restoration of the Ankole kingdom, and the matter remains unresolved into the twenty-first century.

In the early history of Ankole most of the nomadic pastoralists had no settled dwellings. Even the king had only a small dwelling with a stockade forming an enclosure for his cows at night. There was no courthouse, and his council met outdoors. In later years that changed considerably. Today settlements are scattered all over the hills, slopes, and valleys of Ankole, consisting of both traditional grass-thatched and Western-style (brick and corrugated iron-roofed) homesteads. Each family owns a fairly large plot of land around its homestead, but usually the homesteads are close to one another. From the top of one of the more than a thousand hills of Ankole, the view of the banana groves appears to be leveled at the top and the surface is entirely green.

Subsistence. The land available to each homestead is used for livestock or subsistence farming. The animals kept are predominantly cattle, along with a few goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens.

 The Banyankole possess large herds of a native long-horned breed of cattle that are valued for their milk and meat and are of great importance as indicators of power, wealth, and prestige. The crops grown are millet, the staple and favored food, sorghum, potatoes, bananas, coffee, tea, beans, and vegetables.
Ankole long horn cattle

Commercial Activities. The Banyankole who engage in agriculture sell some produce and beer to get cash to buy clothes, utensils, and furniture and pay for the education of their children. Similarly, those who raise livestock sell some of their animals or animal products in the form of meat, milk, butter, skins, hides, and eggs to raise cash. Craftspeople also sell or exchange what they produce. After the British arrived, commercial activities expanded immensely as there was a flood of manufactured goods (sweets, utensils, clothes, fertilizers, electronic goods, lamps, bicycles) that were in high demand.

Industrial Arts. The king employed expert craftsmen such as blacksmiths who made spears, knives, axes, and ankle bands and armbands out of iron; carvers who made milk pots, drums, wooden spoons, and carved decorations out of wood, ivory, and bone; skinner-dressers; bark cloth makers; sandal makers; and beer brewers. Chiefs engaged the services of the Bairu to supply them with spears, watering pails, axes, and milk pots. The Bairu also engaged in weaving, making mats and baskets, and carving.

 Trade took place between the Bahima and the Bairu in the goods that each group produced. There also was considerable trade between the Banyankole and people from kingdoms such as Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro as well as people in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Congo. Those who traded with the Banyankole traveled to Ankole to purchase whatever they considered of commercial value, and the Banyankole also traveled to sell and buy goods. This form of trade has continued to the present day.

Division of Labor
 From about age eight a boy is expected to be useful in and around the house as well as go to school. He goes out with the men who take the cattle to the pasture and learns to herd cows, milk them, treat their ailments, and protect them from wild animals, especially lions. Both girls and boys learn agricultural activities such as cultivating, sowing, harvesting, and guarding crops against birds and animals. Girls are taught the household chores they will perform when they are married. The mother plays a significant role in rearing children; she disciplines and sends them on errands and supervises their grazing calves. Her duties include cleaning the house, cooking, and looking after children. Children are taught to show respect for their elders and relatives. Mothers teach girls to wash milk pots, churn milk, and prepare food. Girls also engage in making bead ornaments, weaving, making mats, fetching water and firewood, sweeping, babysitting, and going on errands.

Among the Bahima herding cattle was the principal occupation for men. In addition they were expected to build homes for their families and pens for cattle. Among the Bairu both men and women were principally engaged in agricultural activities. In the main men were responsible for clearing the land, while women engaged in household chores. Both men and women did harvesting, but women did winnowing, grinding, and thrashing of millet. Comparatively, Bairu women engage in much physical work; Bahima women spend more time caring for their beauty and personal appearance.

Land Tenure
 According to the customary law of Ankole, all land was vested in the Omugabe, who controlled it on behalf of every Munyankole who could use it and benefit from it. Similarly, all animals, particularly cattle, belonged to the Omugabe, although people could do what they wished with their livestock as long as they did not sell the animals to people from outside Ankole without express permission from the Omugabe. This has remained the practice, with the limitation that there is no longer free land available for anyone to claim. People now receive land from their parents or relatives or obtain it commercially.

Kin Groups and Descent
 The Banyankole are divided into three major patrilineal clans: Abahinda (royal people), Abasambo, and Abagahe. Each clan traditionally had one or more totems. The Abahinda had two totems: Nkima —a small black-faced monkey—and bulo —millet that is unhusked and uncooked. The Abahinda were not allowed to engage in magic or medicine or eat unhusked and uncooked millet. Clan exogamy was widely practiced. The three clans are broken down into numerous subdivisions, each of which has a function. Among the Abahinda there were warriors, herdsmen, guards, princes, those who purified and painted the king with white clay, royal shoemakers, carriers of the royal spear, milkers, and those who bathed the king during coronation ceremonies. However, marriage within the clan was acceptable if the couple had second or third totems that were different from each other. Those who belonged to the same totem contributed to the well-being of one another by helping those who were sick, burying the dead, bailing out those in debt, and hunting down those who murdered a clan member.

Marriage and Family
 By the time girls turned eight or nine, particularly among the Bahima, preparation for marriage began. They were no longer free to run and play without some form of control. Girls were mostly kept indoors, where they ate beef and millet porridge and were forced to drink milk in large quantity so that they would become fat. Being fat is associated with beauty, and the drinking of milk is said to contribute to one's beauty. As soon as a girl's breasts emerge, she is warned by her parents to abstain from sexual activities, which may lead to pregnancy and disgrace the family. In the past pregnancy outside marriage was punished by death or expulsion from the home.

                               Ankole marriage

A Munyankole father, occasionally assisted by his relatives, is obliged to get a wife for his son by paying the required bride-wealth. This consists of two cows, three goats, and some pots of beer among the Bairu; among the Bahima it may range from two to twenty cows, depending on how wealthy a person is.
Banyankole Girls were not allowed to choose their bridegrooms themselves, or the boy may propose to the girl during adolescence. The parents rather found a good family for them, a family who respected their social status, their prestige and their cows. The family gives a part of their property as dowry to their daughter when she gets married. The practice of divorce was legal.

A girl could normally not be offered for marriage when her elder sister was still unmarried. If marriage was offered to her younger sister, the parents would sometimes manipulate at the giving-away ceremony.
They would send the elder sister. When the groom come to know of it, he could go ahead or he could pay more bride wealth to get married to the younger sister. It was the responsibility of the groom’s father to pay the bride wealth and all costs for his son’s marriage. During the wedding ceremony, the girl would be accompanied by other members of her family, e.g. her aunt. Once the bride-price has been paid, preparations for the wedding begin. On the wedding day the bride's father slaughters a bull for food. Other forms of food and a considerable amount of beer are prepared for feasting at the bride's home. This is followed by another feast at the bridegroom's home, where the marriage is consummated. At the wedding ceremony the girl's aunt confirms that the groom is potent and that the bride defended her virginity before the marriage was consummated.

Some Banyankole traditions assert that the groom would have first sex with the bride’s aunt. The aunt was to prove the groom’s potency just by watching or listening to the sexual intercourse between the groom and her nice. She had to adapt and train the girl to the situation of her new home. Banyankole girls were supposed to be virgins until marriage. In the most situations the aunt would be an elderly woman of the same age as the mother of the groom.

Okuteera oruhoko describes the practice that takes place when a girls refuses to marry, or whom a particular girl had rejected. The boy could force the girl to marry him, abruptly without her consent and without a wedding celebration.
This practice was common in the characteristic of the traditional Banyankole society. The offender boy had to be fined to paying a huge bride wealth. There were various ways in which this practice was carried out:
- One way was by using a cock. A boy who had desired and wished to marry a girl, who had rejected him, would get hold of a cock and go to the girl’s homestead. He would throw the cock into the compound and afterwards ran away.

The girl had to be whisked to the boy’s home immediately. It was believed the cock should crow when the girl was still at home. She had no chance to refuse; she had to follow the boy, without making unnecessary celebrations.
If she did not, she herself or somebody else in the family would instantly die.- Another Banyankole practice was to smear millet flour on the girl’s face. If the boy chanced to find the girl grinding millet he would pick some flour from the winnowing tray used to collect the flour as it comes off the grinding stone and smear it on the girl’s face.
The boy would run away, and swift arrangements would be made to send him the girl as any delays and excuses would cause consequences similar to those methods described above.
The Banyankole Bahima have three other ways in which the okuteera oruhuko will be done:
- The boy has to put a tethering rope around the girl´s neck and then pronounce in public to the community that the girl had done it herself.
- The second one was to put a plant known as orwihura onto the girl’s head.- The third one was that the boy has to sprinkle milk on the girl’s face while the girl is milking.
It should be pointed out that this practice was only possible if the girl and the boy were from different clans.
The Banyankole did not have any peculiar birth customs. Usually, when a woman was to give birth for the first time, she would go to her mother´s home. Women would give birth themselves, without any help. However, if things went wrong and troubles started, an old wife would usually help giving birth and accompany the process.
The child could be named immediately after birth. The practice was performed after the mother had finished the days of confinement referred to as ekiriri. The woman would confine herself for four days if the child was a boy and three days if the child was a girl.

After three or four days, as the case may be, the couple would resume their sexual relationship in a practice known as okucwa eizaire. The name would be given by the father, the grandfather, and the mother of the child.

However, the father’s choice usually took precedence. The names given were verbs or nouns that would appear in normal speech. Often the names also portrayed the state of mind of the persons who gave them.

The name given to the child depended on the personal experience of the father and the mother, the time when the child was born, the days of the week, the place of birth, or the name of an ancestor. It was normal for a woman to have sex with her in-laws and even have children by them. Such children were not regarded any differently from the other children in the family.

Displaying numbers with the help of fingers, this is counting, is also something special and unique for this tribe. They also knew blood brotherhood between different tribes, in this way guaranteeing mutual respect and help, such as within the family or a clan.

A social distinction between the Bahima and the Bairu was established by prohibiting intermarriage between them. The Bahima would find it repugnant to marry a Mwiru. Moreover, it was illegal for a Muhima to give cattle to a Mwiru. A Mwiru would have no cattle for bridewealth for a Muhima wife since all he had was unproductive cows and bull calves. Cattle were essential not only for the legitimacy of marriage but also for the legitimacy of the children born out of a marital relationship.

A woman with no children has no status among the Banyankole, and most women wish to marry and raise many children. If a woman is unable to bear children, her husband is likely to contemplate taking a second wife. Monogamy was the standard practice, though polygyny was not prohibited. Both the Mugabe and wealthy Banyankole practiced polygyny. Today monogamy remains the predominant form of marriage, influenced by Westernization, Christianity, education, and the traditional Banyankole model.

Naming ceremony
The child could be named immediately after birth.The normal practice was after the mother had finished the days if confinement referred to as ekiriri.
The woman would confine her self for four days of the child was a boy and three days if the child was a girl.
After three or four days, as the case may be the couple would resume their sexual relationship in a practice known as okucwa eizaire.
The name given to the child depended on the personal experience of the father and the mother, the time when the child was born, the days of the week, the place of birth, or the name of an ancestor.
The name would be given by the father, the grand father, and the mother of the child. However, the father’s choice usually took precedence.
The names given were verbs or nouns that could appear in normal speech. Often the names also portrayed the state of mind of the persons who gave them.
For example, the name Kaheeru among the Banyoro portrayed the fact that the husband suspected that the woman got the child outside the family.
In traditional Ankole, it was normal for the woman to have sex with her in-laws and even have children by them. Such children were not regarded any differently from the other children in the family.

Blood brotherhood
The Banyankole had the practice of making blood brother hood. A person would make a blood brother in a ceremony known as okikora omukago. The actual ceremony involved the two people sitting on a mat so close together that their legs would overlap. In their right hands, they would hold sprouts of ejubwe type of grass and a sprout of omurinzi tree (erythina tomentosa). The Bairu would hold in addition a sprout of omutosa (fig) tree (ficus eryobotrioides).

The master of ceremonies would make a small cut to the right of the naval of each man.The end of omurinzi tree and ejubwe grass were dipped in the blood on the incision and put into the hands of each person. For the Bahima, only the mutoma sprout was used. Then a little milk or millet flour was poured in the blood in case of the Bairu and each man would hold the other’s hand with the left and they would both swallow the blood and the milk or the blood and the millet flour in each other’s hand at the same time. Blood brother hood could not be made between people of the same clan because naturally, they would be regarded as brothers. Blood brothers would treat each other as real brothers in every respect.

Domestic Unit
 A household consists of a nuclear family or an extended family if some family members, such as aged parents or brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and others, decide to live with the nuclear family on a temporary or permanent basis. In some cases, immediately after marriage the married couple may live with the husband's family, sharing the same compound, or not far from their parents and continue sharing a number of activities, including cooking and eating together.

 The Banyankole consider a son to be of special significance because he is an heir to his father's name and wealth and will be responsible for the well-being of his mother when his father dies. If a person is unlikely to recover from illness, he is asked to identify one of his sons as an heir. In general, the oldest son is named, though in some cases this may not apply and the father may identify any of his sons to assume that office. If clan members feel that the father has not made the right choice, they may advise him accordingly or override his choice in favor of the son they think is more suitable. In the past failure to name an heir resulted in the king claiming a person's possessions and assigning them to anyone else he wished.

Succession and the nomination of the heir to the throne were based on two rules. First, the heir had to be a member of the royal line. Second, he had to be the strongest of the king's sons. To determine who was the strongest, the sons had to fight among themselves. The fighting resulted in death or exile until one son emerged as the victor, entitling him to claim the drum (Bagyendanwa) and the right to ascend to the throne.

 Generally, children are welcomed and warmly treated by all their relatives. The naming of a child is carried out immediately after birth or after the seclusion period. A number of factors influence the type of name that is given to a child: the experience of the mother and father, the time of day when the child is born, the day of the week, the place of birth, and the name of the ancestors (this applies only to the Bahima since the Bairu do not use ancestors' names). The father plays the predominant role in naming the child. At the end of about four months, if the child is a son, the father holds the child, dedicates two cows to the boy's use, makes him sit for the first time, and gives him the name of one of his ancestors. A baby girl is made to sit by her mother and is given the name of an ancestor. She is carried outside the house, directed to look over the plains to other kraals, and told that her fortune and wealth will come from there. This declaration was made in reference to the husband who would marry her when she reached the appropriate age.

A specific rate of development is considered normal, and if a child appears to be a slow developer, small bells are tied to the child's ankles and wrists to encourage him or her to walk according to their rhythm. The child remains close to the mother day and night. During the day the mother plays with and feeds the child. She may put the child to sleep in his or her crib or carry the child with her as she does her daily household or garden chores. At night the baby sleeps with the mother until the arrival of the next baby (usually after two or three years). Then the child may share a bed with his or her brothers or sisters or with other relatives staying with the family. If the mother is too busy to do so, relatives may take care of the child. The relatives who may help in this way are the child's grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

For the first seven years of life boys and girls play together, guard calves, and engage in games and activities related to warfare; marriage; herding; building; wrestling; shooting at a target with arrows and making toys out of clay, wires, and other materials; boxing; swimming; playing hide and seek; dancing; and throwing objects. Milk is part of the children's diet, and they are expected to drink it in large quantities; failure to do so leads to some form of reprimand or punishment.

When a girl experiences menarche, she tells her mother, who may decide to inform her husband and others immediately or to conceal it for a while. A mother will conceal the event only if she does not wish her daughter to marry right away or to be persuaded to have sex and run the risk of pregnancy. Although the Banyankole have no special ceremony to mark the attainment of puberty by a boy, he is expected to be able to support himself, marry, and be able to support both his family and his parents in their old age.

Sociopolitical Organization
Social Organization
 Perhaps because of their military advantages, the Bahima maintained domination over the Bairu. They imposed an inferior legal and social status and insisted that they pay tribute to the Bahima through the king, who was invariably a Muhima.
The Bairu were not permitted to possess productive cows. If a Mwiru worked for a Muhima, he was given barren cows and bull calves as remuneration. If a Mwiru owned productive cows, a Muhima could dispossess him of that livestock. While the Bahima participated in military activities, the Bairu were not allowed to do this. Similarly, Bairu could not hold high office. They were restricted in the exercise of blood revenge against the Bahima. In terms of blood revenge, they were prohibited from killing a Muhima, whereas a Muhima could kill a Mwiru as a matter of course.

The Mugabe, together with the chiefs and wealthy Bahima, owned slaves, mainly Bairu captured during raids on neighboring kingdoms. It was a common practice for slave owners to give slaves to friends as presents. Slaves had no legal status, and a slave owner could deal with them as he wished. Slaves were not entrusted with herding cattle since they were considered untrustworthy; supervision of slaves was done by a Mwiru headman.

Political Organization
 The kingdom of Ankole was controlled by the Mugabe, whose rule was absolute and whose decisions were final. In him were vested physical, magical, and religious powers. The king made decisions regarding peace and war and was responsible for all major political appointments in the kingdom. Appointees could be dismissed for incompetence or personal incompatibility or because they brought bad luck to the king. However, it was impossible for the Mugabe to run the government by himself, and there were some elements of democracy in the running of the government. The king was assisted by his mother, sister, the enganzi, chiefs, office holders, military bands, and a host of servants and specialists.

Next to the king in importance were the kings's mother and sister, who could veto his decisions. Nobody could be ordered to be executed without the consent of the mother and the sister. After the mother and sister came the enganzi, who was the king's chief of chiefs, carrying titles such as prime minister, head chief, beloved one, favorite chief, executive chief, and chief adviser. The enganzi was selected for office with input from the king's mother and sister. It was a policy that the enganzi not be a member of the king's Abahinda clan. For this reason, it was not possible for the enganzi to ascend to the throne. The enganzi was the king's confidant and the only person aside from the pages who could enter the palace at any time. He had his kraal in front of that of the king so that he was available any time the king needed to consult him on state matters.

While an enganzi had to be chosen among the Bahima, over fifty years after the arrival of the British this changed so that a number of Bairu were elected to the eminent office of the enganzi a number of times. Initially the Bahima resisted, but there was not much they could do to change the course of events as political changes swept across the Kingdom.

The kingdom of Ankole had sixteen districts, each of which was under a chief (Mukungu ) appointed by the Mugabe. The sixteen chiefs were invariably cattle keepers who had agricultural people as serfs. The authority of a chief was limited. A chief did not control the movement of subordinate chiefs and other people who might decide to move into his district and graze their animals there. All the land was free to cattle owners, who could settle where they wished and could move elsewhere at their convenience.

Under the chief in the district, there were junior chiefs who reported to the district chief particularly when there were matters that needed his attention. Otherwise they operated more or less independently. Among these junior chiefs were Bairu who assisted with the collection of tax. Despite Bairu junior chiefs playing this role, the Bahima had problems recognizing them as such.

Social Control
 Judicial authority was vested in the king, with certain judicial powers exercised by Bahima and Bairu extended families. The king could administer punishment to his subjects in the form of death, exile, beating, torturing, and cursing. He had the right to confiscate the cattle of his subjects, could override the judicial decisions of chiefs and kinship groups, and was the only one who could grant the right of blood revenge. However, no one could be executed without the consent of the mother or the sister of the king.

Whenever one of the subjects appealed to the Mugabe regarding a decision made by one of the chiefs, the matter was referred to the enganzi or one of the favorite pages to try the case. However, disputes of a serious nature, such as those involving more than fifty cattle or women deserting husbands, were brought directly to the attention of the Mugabe for resolution. The Mugabe's court was not in session all the time, but when there were cases, the enganzi brought them to the attention of the Mugabe. The court session took place in the open, where the Mugabe sat in the shade of a tree as he listened to the case. Those in attendance were the enganzi, the Mugabe's pages, private guards, chiefs, and common people.

Benevolently the king would see that a subject whose livestock was raided got the necessary assistance in regard to defense. If a client lost his livestock or property, the king would help him acquire new property or livestock. If one of his relatives was murdered, the king would grant the right of blood revenge.

 As in any other society, Ankole experienced a range of conflicts at an individual, family, regional, and national level. There were ethnic group as well as political and religious conflicts. Starting at the end of World War II, the Bairu challenged the premises of hierarchy and subordination inherent in the Ankole structural setup. This led to formation of movements such as Kunyamana, which means "to know each other," whose principal purpose was to protest against inequality that the Bahima had imposed on Bairu. As a result, there were changes introduced to cater to the concerns raised by Kunyamana. It is important to note that despite the levels of animosity between the Bairu and Bahima, ethnic conflict in Ankole did not lead to open violence.

The majority of Bairu are Protestants. Most positions of power were held by Protestants with very few Roman Catholics and Muslims holding such positions. This was a source of conflict which had be to be addressed for peaceful coexistence.

There were also conflicts between the king and the colonial government, the former feeling that he was being bullied and marginalized, while the latter felt that the king was not doing what was expected of him as king. Meetings were held and written communication was exchanged with the colonial officers threatening to remove the king from office if his behavior did not change for better. However, there is no record to show that such threats were ever implemented.

Religious Beliefs
 The Banyankole believed that there was a powerful creator whom they referred to as Ruhanga (God) with permanent residence in heaven. Though there were no prayers directed to him, prayerlike expressions were used. At the birth of a child, people would express their joy by clapping the hands and saying tata Ruhanga ("Father God"). In the event of sickness they would say Ruhanga akutambire ("may God heal you").

According to Banyankole, Ruhanga created the first man—Rugabe—and first woman—Nyamate—who were to fill the earth with their offspring. From these first human beings were born kings who, after their death, were deified and assumed the role of gods of fertility, earthquakes, thunder, and other such occurrences, to whom they presented their requests.

Apart from kings, who became gods after death, the Banyankole attached special importance to ghosts. Some of the functions of the ghosts were hovering around the living, helping them, or displaying their displeasure if they were not properly treated by surviving relatives and friends, as well as punishing those who failed to adhere to clan law and customs. It was believed that while ghosts were invisible, their presence was unmistakably felt in the wind that blew in the trees and grassy areas for the cattle keepers. For peasants, the presence of ghosts was felt as audible rustling in the grain and the plantain trees. People turned to ghosts more than to the gods for help and made offerings and supplications. Every family in Ankole had a shrine for ghosts, and cows were dedicated to them. Milk was provided for ghosts on a regular basis, and in some instances meat was made available.

Since the arrival of the British and other people from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, many of the Banyankole have embraced Christianity and Islam as a way of expressing their spirituality and belief in God as their creator. It is reported that there was a time when the king of Ankole, Kahaya, became a Christian. This meant he had to divorce six of the seven wives he had and retain only one in keeping with the church requirement. There are times when conflicts arise between the new form of religion and Banyankole cultural values and traditional forms of worship.

Religious Practitioners. The Banyankole did not have a formal religion and clergy. Traditionally, sacrifices were carried out by mediums and medicine men.

Ceremonies. Various ceremonies are carried out among Banyankole some of which involve joyous occasions, while others may be sad occasions. The joyous ceremonies involve weddings, birth of children, dedication of children, commemoration of important events, rites of passage, coronation of the king and receipt of visitors bringing bridewealth. Sad ceremonies would involve death in the family or the death of the king, sickness, and displeasure of the ancestors. For most of these ceremonies, there is eating, drinking, speech making, singing, and dancing.

 The Banyankole engage in numerous artistic activities involving music, literature, sports, weaving, and dancing. Historian Morris is reported to have collected and translated Ankole's epic poetry. Many missionaries and Banyankole have written books in Runyankole which are widely read at home and at school. Many events taking place in society are expressed in the form of poetry. In the evenings and other times children and parents share stories depicting events and episodes in society.

Epic poetry was composed to celebrate raids of various kingdoms. Songs would be composed to praise the warriors, their valor, and the invincibility of their weapons. There were also songs for praising cattle to the effect that they were objects of beauty and joy forever. In doing this they would use various parts of the body as well as instruments such as flutes, lyres, and drums.

Banyankole are also known for engaging in activities such as making agricultural implements including hoes, sickles, axes, and knives; weapons such as spears, bows and arrows, and clubs of hardwood; making pottery, weaving mats and baskets, using iron, copper, and brass to make jewelry including necklaces, bracelets, headrings, and anklets.

 The Banyankole generally believe that illness is caused by God, ghosts, or magic. God is said to cause illness and ultimately death because his desires and rights have not been fulfilled and adhered to. A ghost causes illness if cows dedicated to the family are sold or bartered without the consent of the ghost, if offerings due to him are not made, and if clan laws are violated. A hostile ghost from another clan can cause illness. If a person has a grudge against another person, a magic rite may be performed over beer, which is then offered to that person to drink. Once a person discovers that he has drunk such beer, he or she dies of fear.

If an illness is not serious, a man is taken care of by his wife, and a woman by her mother, with traditional (often herbal) medicine. If the illness is serious, a medicine man is called in to discover the cause. Then an appropriate traditional doctor provides treatment. For a fee, female traditional doctors treat women patients; male traditional doctors treat both women and men patients.
With the availability of health facilities in the form of hospitals and clinics, many Banyankole have availed themselves of Western treatments without necessarily forsaking the traditional model of healing.

Death and Afterlife
 Among the Banyankole illness is not considered a natural cause of death; therefore, such deaths require an investigation to find the responsible party. By contrast, old age is accepted as a sufficient cause for death. It is held that God allows old people to die after the completion of their time on earth. The Banyankole view death as a passage to another world.
When a man dies, every relative, along with friends and neighbors, is informed. A person who fails to attend the funeral without a good reason may be suspected of being associated with the death. Before burial, the body is washed and the eyes are closed. As the deceased is placed in the grave, the right hand is placed under the head while the left hand rests on the chest. The body lies on the right side. One or more cows are slaughtered to feed everyone present. Beer is provided as part of the mourning. The mourning goes on for four days. A deceased woman is treated in a similar manner except that in the grave she is made to lie on the left side as if she were facing her husband. Her left hand is placed under her head, while her right hand rests on her chest.

Traditional Marriages In Uganda: Ankole Style
.among the Bahima (section of the Banyankole) girls who were about the age of marriage were forced to feed on milk until they were very heavy. They could barely walk, an Ankole elder once joked during an introduction ceremony.
The traditional marriage has despite this influence survived the test of time. Although a few things could have changed because of religion and modernity, many Banyankole still embrace their traditional marriages because the elders still emphasize and control cultural marriage.

                                            Ankole bridal dress,Uganda

Indeed, many people intending to marry usually go for consultations from elders. So, what are the key spectacular elements of the Ankole marriage?

Marriage Arrangements:
The common thread in the Ankole marriage like many African traditional marriages is to create closeness to the bridal family. This is done through a third party called the Kateraruume (literally meaning somebody who will remove the dew from the path).

Even today when couples go for the official introduction and marriage after they have been co-habiting, this go between is key in initiating the marriage negotiations.

The Kateraruume is a highly respected person representing the groom's interests and is charged with facing the bride`s family and ensuring that the bride`s family is willing to accept the groom`s family to formally discuss the marriage.

In case the proposal is endorsed, the man's family approaches the girl`s family with the Kateraruume leading them there. At the home of the bride`s family, the go-between knocks at the gate and is invited in with the groom entourage after some teasing. The entourage usually comes with beer.

The Kateraruume then indicates to the girl`s marriage panel that he is on a marriage mission. The go-between then explains his mission and is asked many questions by the girl's family. Later, they discuss the marriage payments, which can be picked anytime after the two families have agreed, sometimes on that same day.

This is followed by preparations for marriage. In Ankole tradition, the marriage payment included cattle, which may go to over 10. These gifts are presented to the bride`s family symbolizing the ability of the groom to take care of his woman.

The bride and groom to be:
During this ceremony, the bride and the groom are not party to the discussions. The bride is usually hidden while the groom has to keep quiet throughout the discussions and wait for the outcome. In this case however, the groom-to-be is king because everything is done on his behalf.

In traditional Ankole society, a man marries a woman. A woman never marries a man. It is taboo if a woman seeks out a man`s hand in marriage. Also, it is the man who chooses not the woman. Therefore the woman has to be marry-able.

Unlike today where men treasure small sized women for marriage (I hope you have heard of words like portables and songs like obukazi obutono bulimu ekyama- those small women last longer or literally those small women have years in them), in the Ankole tradition, slim girls were unfit for marriage.

That is why among the Bahima (section of the Banyankole) girls who were about the age of marriage were forced to feed on milk until they were very heavy. They could barely walk, an Ankole elder once joked during an introduction ceremony.

The Give Away (Okuhingira)
Unlike today where the men feel cheated by paying bride price, in the typical Ankole tradition, a groom gains from the marriage.
Actually, the gifts (the emihingiro) that the bride comes with sometimes are more than those paid by the groom as bride price. For example, among the Bahima-Banyankole, the aunties and uncles give cows to the bride during the kuhingira.

Younger girls and boys called the enshagarizi then escort the bride to the groom`s place after the blessings from the elders. Today, the groom`s side has to organise the transport for these people because they are very important for any marriage ceremony in Ankole. Going back is not necessarily the role of the bridegroom.

After the kuhingira, the bride`s side is still is control though. The bride according to the culture is not supposed to do any work until the cultural initiation. This is done after about ten days from the giveaway day.

During this initiation, the bride is made to light fire in the kitchen in the tradition called okukoza omumuriro (helping the bride to start toughing fire).

Because of modernity however, some brides have left the bridal room (orusika) the day after marriage to continue looking for a living in the competitive world where every minute lost contributes a lot to poverty in the homes.


The History of the Ankole-Watusi breed is long and distinguished. Its lineage can be traced to before 4000 B.C. as proved by rock paintings in the Sub-Sahara, the Egyptian and Meroetic pyramids, before the first pharaohs ruled Egypt and Kush, when a breed known as the Hamitic Longhorn (according to animal historians) now commonly known as Ankole-Watusi lived along the Nile particularly prevailing around the shores of lake Victoria and Tanganyika. The Breed found its way into ancient Egypt.Over the period of 3,000 years later, the cattle found their way east through Ethiopia to Arabian peninsula and spread west into ancient  Garama ( now Chad and Libya) and other parts of Africa. The majestic animal may have been a result of an African Buffalo Hybred with shorter extinct type of African Aurochs thousands of years ago or simply an original by itself.

Debunking  general theory on  Ankole-Watusi Cattle’s Origin from India.

The belief that the breed is originally a hybrid of Zebu from the Indian sub- continent, identifying it as a sub- specie Sanga cattle and therefore as an intermediate type  formed by hybridizing the indigenous African humpless cattle with Zebu cattle allegedly brought in from India to Uganda seemingly over 40,000 years ago is largely unfounded or lacks historical evidence especially on how Indians  brought in the Zebu to  inland central Africa, bred it in Uganda forming the Sanga (Ankole-watusi) type and vanished back to Asia living the cow to the benefit of Bahima and Batusi peoples!!.

The Ankole-Watusi breed could be a hybrid of something else extinct (African Aurochs perhaps) with an African Buffalo or an original by itself considering the fact that, the first interaction of Asians and indigenous Central Africans did not take place until around 700 AD.The Breed is way too older to have  initially been introduced during that period.

Instead the Zebu breed( dominant in south East Asia,..which might alternatively  be an original by itself from Africa)  could possibly be the intermediate stage between the breeding process towards the Ankole-watusi type and was henceforth cast for hard labor and economic tasks  and taken to Asia from Africa many centuries back by  the Elamites for farming and transportation tasks and adopted by Dravidians in the Indus valley and not the other way round.

Debunking  theory of lower Egyptian origin of the Breed.

This theory thrives on a construed notion that everything remarkable in Africa started from lower Egypt and not on a merit of Egyptians importing it from else where in Africa, just because the only place on the continent where recorded history of ancient Africa managed to survive is largely seen in modern day Egypt on pyramid walls where these cattle have been  painted .

Lower Egypt having been a desert area, there is no way  this cattle specie could have originated in such sandy desert environment but most likely around the source of the Nile where there is vast plains of lush vegetation and fresh water in fair climate making it possible for such a majestic Animal to have come about and thrived.The appearance of the cow shows a specie that stemmed from a much greener environmental area compared to general characteristics of desert animals such as Camels.

This also proves that ancient Egyptians and Garamantes traveled and traded back and forth in-land Africa in search for Animals for domestication and other animal based products such as leopard skins,tasks,bones,blood,meat,grains, medicinal herbs, frankincense ,spices,fruits, iron,gold, Lime stone and slaves and concubines.Paintings of east African birds such as cranes,ibis and animals i.e giraffes and hyena e.t.c can be seen in ancient Egyptian art.Ancient people from the north of Africa i.e the Numidians,Garamantes and Egyptians traveled and interacted as far as the Zambezi river.It is during these early incidents of hunting and trading expeditions in pre-dynastic periods that the breed was taken to Saharan Kingdoms and Ancient Egypt from central African grasslands (Savannah) and later earned a symbolical  reverence and worship among early Egyptians.They also regularly traveled from Egypt down south to the source of the  Nile in Uganda and around lake Tanganyika alternatively to offer  sacrifices to the  Nile Gods   and along several other positions on river’s journey north for its purification and flood inundation.

The Ankole-Watusi cattle in  Uganda, Rwanda , Burundi and Eastern Congo with their truly distinctive horns, are known around the world for their giant horns that can grow to eight feet in length.. ,in flat, circular or lyre shapes. These horns not only provide formidable defense against predators, but blood circulating through the honeycomb interior provides an efficient mechanism to cool the animal’s body temperature in a  hot climatic instances, just like a giant radiator.

In Uganda the Banyankole/ Banyoro-Hima-Hema  tribe’s variety is known as the Ente zenya-Ankole (ANKOLE CATTLE). In Rwanda and Burundi, the Tutsi-Nyamulenge tribe’s variety is called the Watusi(these involve of Inyambo and inkuku types) or Inka Ntutsi (WATUSI CATTLE). Culturally the animals that  grew the longest horns were reserved for the royalty, and are called “Cattle of Kings” for this reason. The true name of this breed of cattle is the Ankole-Watusi from Hima-Nyankole and Tutsi tribes they originated from.In other tales the cattle are associated with the ancient Cwezi people and the batembuzi who are thought to have been the cows breeders and distributors over time.

Ankole-Watusi cows are spectacular in all aspects.They are elegant and graceful.Other tribes that depend on these breed of cows are the Masai,Banyoro,Bahaya and the Itesots


The Ankole-Watusi are medium-sized cattle, with bulls weighing up to 1,600 pounds and cows up to 1,200 pounds, standing approximately six feet tall at the shoulder and are a very social breed. Watusi horns can reach 8 feet tip to tip and can have a base circumference of up to 28 inches.  Calves Newborn calves weigh just 30–50 pounds (14–23 kg) and remain small for several months

In East Africa, traditional wealth was measured in living heads of cattle.


The breed was/is sometimes regarded among Tutsi and Bahima tribes as sacred.Also in ancient Egyptian beliefs and contemporary Indo- religions.

The notion of a sacred cow is  relatively seen in ancient Egyptian Tenetian faith which is an animal husbandry based faith also practiced by ancient Elamites. It existed from Africa to Indus valley.

This practice also stems from 70,000 years ago when hunter gatherers learnt to herd wild  animals and eventual domestication of them. (


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