In Kampala, Northern Uganda, the Kasubi Tombs is a major spiritual center for the Baganda people
by Jackie Kisibo
The Kasubi tombs, traditionally known as Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga, a religious place in the Buganda kingdom is situated on a hill within Kampala-Uganda. The tombs are a burial place for the four previous Kings of Buganda known traditionally as Kabakas, and are situated five kilometers away from Kampala city center on Kasubi hill. Historically, Buganda Kabakas have always built their palaces on strategic hills in order to find easy ways to escape during an invasion and to control the major roads to the palace. The Baganda belong to the Bantu speaking people, one of Uganda’s ethnic groups. According to tradition, the first Kabaka of Buganda was Kintu who is said to have come with his wife Nambi. Kabaka Kintu is said not to have died but to have disappeared into a forest at Magonga.
The Kasubi tombs are one of the burial grounds/royal tombs of the Kabakas of Buganda, and the site is an example of traditional Ganda Architecture, culture and living traditions. The palace was built by Kabaka Mutesa I in 1882 and according to culture, each king was supposed to be buried at a separate site when he died and a royal shrine to house his jawbone which was believed to contain his spirit was to be established at another site. Mutesa I was the 35th King of Buganda (1856-1884) and the first king to be buried in his former palace (the Tombs) at Kasubi without removing his jawbone. Mwanga II who succeeded his father Mutesa in 1884 was the second king to be buried at the Tombs after his remains were brought back from exile (Seychelles islands) in 1910. His son Daudi Chwa II succeeded him at the age of one year in 1896 and ruled until his death in 1939. He too was buried in the Tombs. Daudi Chwa II was succeeded by his son Edward Mutesa II and the then governor of the Uganda protectorate. He died in 1966 in exile (London) and his remains were brought back and buried in the Tombs in 1971.
The Kasubi Tombs is an important Burial site for the Kabakas of Buganda because old traditions were broken at the site when the Kabakas were buried together. Each prince and princess who is a descendant of the four Kabakas is also buried at Kasubi behind the main shrine. The site is important as a cemetery of the royalty of the Buganda kingdom.
The tombs comprise the Bujjabukula (Gatehouse) a beautifully built gate, which is the entrance of the site. It’s constructed with wooden columns and a wall made of wooden woven reeds. The gate leads to a small courtyard with a circular house-House of Royal drums (Ndoga-obukaba) where the drums are kept. In the main courtyard, there are several houses built for the widows of the kabakas and other ritual purposes. At Kasubi and all other royal tombs, there is an area behind a back-cloth curtain known as kibira (forest) where the real Tombs of the kabakas are and where certain royal ceremonies are performed like the new moon ceremony and the consultations of the mediums. In front of the curtain, there are raised platforms corresponding to the position of each kabakas tomb behind the curtain. Entrance to the “Secret forest” is only limited to the widows of the Kabakas, the royal family, the Buganda Prime-minister (katikkiro) and the Nalinya (kabakas official sister).
The Kasubi Tombs are adorned with royal regalia like spears, drums, medals, photographs and shields of the kabakas buried there. The structure is supported by wooden poles wrapped in backcloth and the floor covered with grass and palm leaves mats. Backcloth traditionally popular for clothing is a fabric made from the soft back of a fig tree (Ficus natalensis) and has a strong ritual importance to the people of Uganda. Thatching of the roof is carried out by members of the Ngeye clan (colobus monkey clan) ant the decorators of the poles are from the Leopard clan, who are the only people allowed to do this work. Pregnant women and widows are not allowed to enter the building while its being thatched since this is believed to cause leakage. Similarly, the thatchers are not supposed to have sexual intercourse during the thatching period. The great roof is supported by 52 rings, which represent the 52 clans in the Ganda culture.
The Baganda cultures can also be experienced at sites like Katereke prison where the king imprisoned his brothers in a trench. Naggalabi coronation site, Buddo where the kabakas of Buganda have been crowned for the past 700 years. Wamala Tomb the secret burial place of Kabaka Suuna II (1836-1856) who had 148 wives and 218 Children. Namasole Kanyange Tombs where the mother to Kabaka Suuna II was buried. Ssezibwa Falls is a spiritual place for the kings and Baagalayaze Nnamasole Tombs where the mother of Kabaka Mwanga II was buried.
The magnificent features of the Kasubi tombs represent the rich traditions and heritage of the Baganda people. People believe that every person’s death has a spiritual origin and there is interaction between the living and the dead. The cultures of the Baganda lie in the Magnificent Tombs, where the bodies and spirits of their forefathers, rulers and traditions lie to date.
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