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Bakonjo Bamba

Bakonzo-Bamba is Bantu speaking group of people that are said to have a common origin with other Bantu groups in Uganda. Bakonzo are found in Districts of Kasese and Kabarole. They are the most numerous group of people of the Rwenzori region and being more than the Bamba. Physically the Bakonzo are generally short and stout people and legendary stories have it that the Bakonzo once lived on Mount Elgon in east of Uganda and that during Kintu’s migration (the first Muganda), Bakonzo came with Kintu with other peoples to Buganda. Rather than settling in Buganda, Bakonzo decided to move on and settle in western highlands of Mount Rwenzori which have a climate similar to that of Elgon where they had originally lived.

This is said to have happened around 1300 A.D where another tradition asserts that the Bakonzo have lived in the Rwenzori Mountains from the time memorial and that they have no any other foreign place of origin.

The tradition asserts that ancestors of Bakonzo emerged from caves of the Rwenzori Mountains and produced the rest of the Bakonzo.  The tradition is however too simplistic to be accepted and what could best be said is since Bakonzo are Bantu speaking and they could trace their origins to the Congo basin where the other Bantu groups also originated from.

Marriage among Bakonzo-Bamba was a matter of great social concern as it was usual for these families to book for spouses early in life and often this booking would be done on that day the boy was initiated.

Marriage couldn’t be socially recognized unless bride wealth had been settled and bride wealth was normally paid in form of goats. The number of goats was to be determined by the economic status of the family concerned.

A digging stick with an animal skin had to also be included in addition to the goats. The digging stick was meant to replace the newly married girl’s lost labour and the skin was to replace one used by the girl when she was young. However in modern times, a hoe and blanket have replaced the digging stick and animal skin.

Divorce was rare among the Bakonzo-Bamba but in the event, all the goats given as bride price would be given back to the boy’s family. All the un-married girls were expected to be virgins and if a girl conceived before marriage, she would definitely be executed.

Bakonzo shared a number of elements of culture with the Bamba people. One the elements were the initiation ceremony. The purpose of this initiation was to transform initiates from childhood-adulthood. All male children before reaching puberty stage had to undergo circumcision and this was conducted jointly by both Bakonzo and Bamba. The ceremony would begin in Bwamba region and then end in Bakonzo as the initiation ceremony was conducted after long intervals and often 15-17 years.

Bakonzo believed in two supreme gods; Kalisa and Nyabarika. Kalisa was believed to be a monster with one arm, one leg, one ear, one leg, half nose and half of the rest of the body. Kalisa was believed to be a half man. The structure of Nyabarika was not known as he was believed to be the most powerful spiritual god. He had the power to heal, haunt, kill, give fertility, cause barrenness and make hunting expeditions successful. Kalisa was regarded as a very important god mainly with respect to hunting since hunting was loved among the Bakonzo people.

The southern and eastern slopes of Rwenzori are where the Bakonzo used to construct shrines dedicated to Kalisa and Nyabarika gods. The shrines would be made of Bamboo and were too small for a man to enter.

The shrines are said to have been so many in the Bamboo zones of river Nyamagasani and river Nyamwamba and were rare in the valleys of Mubuku and Bujuku. These shrines were huts built in pair and the largest huts were slightly one meter high. Food offering of matooke, chicken, goat’s meat was placed on stakes between two pairs of huts.

Hunting was very important among the Bakonzo, although it was enjoyed mainly as sport and more importantly, hunting was a source of food. The skilled hunters occupied an important part in society and the main instruments of hunting included bows, hunting nets, spears, arrows and ropes and Bakonzo also kept dogs.

The hunting troops could consist as many as 30-60 people. There were rules concerning the conduct of the hunting and the sharing of the meat.

Before setting off to a hunting trip, sacrifices were offered to Kalisa and Nyabarika gods for the success of the hunting experience and if the expedition was successful, pieces of meat were left at the slaughtering place and a small fence of bamboo stakes was setup across the hunting path to stop any angry spirits from following them.

Bakonzo had a system of secret communication used within families and this art was strictly a father to son affair as conversation was done through whistling. This communication method was used during hunting to convey messages like; animals are trying to turn back, the dogs have been sent for, monkeys have come to the ground on the other side of the river, Messages could go as far as a kilometer away.

Bakonzo are also agriculturalists growing mainly matooke, potatoes, yams, cassava and beans and at a later time, they took up coffee and cotton growing.

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