Empire of Kitara

According to oral tradition in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, the Empire of Kitara (also known as Bachwezi, Bacwezi, or Chwezi empire) was ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi (or Chwezi) successors of the Batembuzi Dynasty. According to oral tradition, the Kitara Empire lasted until the 16th century, when it was invaded by Luo people, who came from the present-day South Sudan and established the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. The sphere of influence of this empire would have included what corresponds to modern Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi. There is no evidence of the historicity of such an empire, and scholarly opinion is sceptical, but the tradition has been important in the political history of Uganda, especially in the Buganda kingdom of the 19th century, whose kings sought legitimacy by declaring themselves the heirs of the Kitara empire.[1][2]

Batembuzi dynasty

The Batembuzi are known in oral traditions from Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, Rwanda and Karagwe. They are considered as demi-gods – superhumans with divine creative power who did not die but merely disappeared into the underworld. The founder of the Batembuzi dynasty is said to have been Ruhanga, also considered to be the creator. According to an Uganda Travel Guide, the traditional lineage of Batembuzi kings is:

  • Ruhanga, the creator
  • Nkya, brother of Ruhanga
  • Kakama, son of Nkya
  • Bada, son of Kakama
  • Ngonzaki, son of Bada
  • Isaza, son of Ngonzaki

Bachwezi dynasty

A number of current Great Lakes kingdoms claim inheritance from the ancient Kitara empire, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi Many traditional gods in Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda have names associated with the Bachwezi kings. Isaza is considered the last of the Batembuzi dynasty. However, the Bachwezi dynasty is said to descend from Isaza. Before he descended into the underworld, he is said to have impregnated Nyamate, the daughter of Nyamiyonga, king of the underworld. As a result, Nyamate gave birth to Isimbwa, who became the father of Ndahura, the first Mukhwezi of the Bachwezi. The Bachwezi are often associated with great earthwork sites found in western Uganda.[3] Archaeological discoveries made at Bigo bya Mugenyi, the capital of the empire, and Ntusi located in present day Mubende District of Uganda show evidence of an urban centre.[4]

Babiito dynasty

The Kitara Empire finally broke up during the 16th century with the advent of the invading Luo people from the north (Nilotic expansion).[2] A people known as the Biito, led by a Chief called Labongo, invaded Bunyoro, the northernmost province of Kitara, from where the empire was ruled and would later settle large areas of northern Uganda, and around the north-eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Labongo established his rule in what was now Bunyoro-Kitara, becoming Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi, the first in line of the Babiito kings which provided the dynasties that also ruled in the kingdoms of Toro, Kooki, and some chiefdoms of Busoga.[3][5]

To the south of Bunyoro, the rest of the Kitara was superseded by the development of several kingdoms located within, or across, the span of several present-day national boundaries, including Ankole mainly in Uganda, Karagwe and Kyamutwara in Tanzania, and the kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda.[6]


  1. ^ Doyle, Shane. "Bacwezi and Kitara: Genealogy and political legitimacy in Uganda, from 1860 to the present day "The founding myths of a number of Great Lakes kingdoms claim inheritance from an ancient empire of Kitara, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bacwezi. These claims are treated by historians today with a great deal of scepticism. Kitara, if it ever existed, seems unlikely to have been a centrally controlled, homogeneous empire. The Bacwezi were most probably a collection of local deities, redesignated as a dynasty by incoming monarchs, seeking to add to their legitimacy. But there can be no denying the power of images of Kitara and the Bacwezi in the politics of the region. This paper would examine two of the ways by which political leaders have appropriated the legacy of Uganda's ancient past. Most obviously, Uganda's kings from the late 19th century to the present day, have sought to claim the title of true heir of Kitara, in order to secure the favour of foreign power-brokers. More interestingly, the ideological legacy of the Kitara empire has in some cases limited the ethnic exclusiveness of 'traditional' kingship in the region. The kingdom of Bunyoro, in western Uganda, has encouraged immigration from other parts of East Africa for at least fifty years, on the grounds that Kitara had also been an expanding, multi-ethnic empire, and that the current Babito dynasty has bridged the divide between Bantu- and Luo-speakers in the region."
  2. ^ a b Mwambutsya, Ndebesa, "Pre-capitalist Social Formation: The Case of the Banyankole of Southwestern Uganda." Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review 6, no. 2; 7, no. 1 (June 1990 and January 1991): 78-95.
  3. ^ a b "History of eastern Africa: The early interlacustrine kingdoms", Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Kamuhangire, Ephraim, "Impact of change and diverse perceptions: Conflicts of meaning and interpretations – Ntusi and Bigo Bya Mugyenyi archaeological sites in Uganda"
  5. ^ A brief History of Toro Kings (Toro Kingdom website)
  6. ^ S. Karugire, A Political History of Uganda (Nairobi and London: Heinemann, 1980), p.15.

External links

  • Mwambusya Ndebesa, "Impure Royals? All Baganda Have Some Foreign Blood", The East African, February 3, 1999
  • The Batembuzi Dynasty (at Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom website)
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