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Uganda Archaeology - Central Region

Old Kampala Fort

Old Kampala Fort was established by Captain Lugard in December 1890 and it was The Imperial British East African Company's administrative headquarters until 1894 when the company collapsed and the colonial office transferred the headquarters of the Protectorate to Entebbe. A small building exists on the hill. The building formed the first Museum between 1908-1910. Unfortunately, the site is not easily accessible to the public, as the place has been taken over by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.


Kasubi Tombs

Kasubi Tombs is the most prestigious and attractive historical site located in Kampala District. This is the traditional burial site of four former kings of Buganda, namely: Mutesa I - 1856-1884; Mwanga II - 1884-1897 -Exiled to the Seychelles in 1899 - Died 1903 and buried at Kasubi 1910; Chwa II - 1897-1939; Mutesa II - 1939-1966 - Exiled to England-Died 1969 and buried at Kasubi in 1971. Inside the enormous domed and grass thatched building are a variety of artefacts that belonged to the kings this also reflecting the traditional Ganda architecture. There are other houses of a similar shape, three of them being the most important. The biggest of them all, Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga,is the tomb house. Then there is the two -doored house, Bujyabukula,through which visitors pass while going to the tombs.

The third house Ndoga-Obukabais the drum's house. Inside these houses and especially Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga,the visitor is attracted by the magnificent structural rings, which were constructed from the ground up to the apex. The rings were constructed with palm tree leaves. In addition to the rings, one is amazed by the straight poles, which support the house and are covered with bark cloth.

The house is divided into two halves with large and long curtains of bark cloth. One half known as Kibirais the actual area where the kings were buried and each king's grave has a corresponding platform in the other half. The latter is where the visitors are allowed to go. In front of each king's platform you find regalia in the form of spears, shields and photographs. Traditional mats are spread on the floor and visitors, who have to remove their shoes at the entrance, sit before they can receive enlightenment from the guides. Four ladies are to be found seated inside the house, two on each side of the house.

These are representatives of the widows of each king and they take monthly turns to hold vigil. While on this routine duty called Ekisanja,they tidy the house and make the mats, which are spread on the floor. On the left hand side of the house near the entrance there is a stuffed leopard, which is said to have been Mutesa I's pet animal, a MWESO board, a table and chair, as well as drums, all of which belonged to Mutesa I.

Previously, the site had an outer fence, which covered the whole place (6 1/2 kms) and an inner fence, which covered a smaller area in which the three houses mentioned above are found. There are also other nine houses inside the inner fence some of which house representatives of the widows while others contain the twins of the kings. Princes and princesses of Buganda, who are direct descendants of the respective Kings who are buried at Kasubi, are also buried there inside the outer fence.

Kasubi Tombs are located 5 kms from the city center on a hill called Nabulagala to the south west of Kampala along the Kampala Hoima road. It is open to the public from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. everyday of the week, including weekends and public holidays.

Other burial sites of the former Kings of Buganda are widely spread in the counties of Busiro and Kyaddondo. One of these which is also constructed in traditional architecture is Wamala Tomb, which is the shrine for Suna II. The tomb is situated on a hill and it can be reached from Nansana or Kawempe or Bwaise. Although the site is larger than Kasubi Tombs, it is less attractive as there are no inner or outer fence structures there.

Near Ndeba trading center and below and South West of the Lubiri at Mengo, is the Kabaka's Lake. This is a man-made lake, which was constructed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II between 1886 and 1888. It is said that everybody in the Kingdom of Buganda participated in its construction. Kabaka Mwanga had intended to stretch the lake up to Lake Victoria. He had shifted from Munyonyo near the lake and established his palace at Mengo.

Kabaka Lake

Kabaka Kalema's Komera (prison), 3 kms off the Kampala-Masaka Road at 14 kms, is an attractive prison ditch which is well maintained and ideal for picnicking. This was the site where King Kalema imprisoned and starved to death his rivals and opponents during succession struggle in Buganda between 1888 and 1889. Kalema's reign was itself short-lived as Mwanga II regained power with the assistance of the Christian factions in 1890.

A similar prison ditch also exists at Kyebando opposite the Bahai Temple, itself an attraction north ofKampala City. It was constructed on the orders of the Queen Mother to Mutesa I, who was called Muganzilwaza, also to imprison and starve to death Mutesa's rivals and opponents in 1856.

Namugongo Martyrs

Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is another attraction situated 8 kms off Kireka trading center. This is the site where 22 Christian converts were executed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II in 1886. The victims were canonised by the Pope in 1969.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Uganda have built churches there and the former is very impressive. Within Lake Victoria are Lolui Islands. These are important archaeologically in that there exists three sites with rock gongs and geometric rock paintings in red pigment.

Along Lake Victoria at Kigungu in Entebbe are the Lourdel and Amans landing sites, which today form Kigungu fishing village and the Kigungu caves. Archaeological survey and analysis of the finds from the caves indicate that they were settled by Early Iron Age people. The site is accessible and it is below the OldEntebbe Airport runway.

A mysterious archaeological site is the Tanda Pits near Mityana town. Legend associates them with Walumbe (death) but the interesting thing about them, is that they are so deep and so narrow that it is difficult to tell how they were dug into the rock.

The Bacwezi traditions

The Bacwezi traditions in Central Western Uganda are recounted through impressive earthworks, magnificent rocks and rock-shelters, caves, mounds and shrines. The most impressive system of earthworks, which is related to the Bacwezi is BIGO BYA MUGENY! in Mawogola, Masaka District. Lying on the southern edge of the Katonga river, the Bigo has an extensive outer ditch system stretching 10 kms in concentric form. The outer ditch or trench runs all the way along the top of the ridges.

Within the outer trench are four other trench systems which are concentric and running into each other so that the space within one trench system resembles a cattle enclosure. The inner most trench surrounds a short but adequately raised hill which commands the whole expanse of the trench system, the Katonga swamp and the plainland area beyond it. It is within the inner trench systems that archaeological excavations were carried out. The site is of late Iron Age and, according to tradition, it was one of the capital sites of the Bacwezi.

Bigo Bya Mugenyi

This is located in Masaka District and features found are large earthwork built by the Bachwezi and related kingdoms.There are two concentric earthworks, an outer ditch and an inner royal enclosure in which local people believe that the earthworks have supernatural powers. Access to Bigo Bya Mugenyi to motorists can be made via three directions. One can divert northwards at Bukiraga, 8kms before reaching Ntusi County headquarters and trading center, pass the Karusonsornozi dam up to Buteraniro dry dam. One would then walk the remaining 3 kms to the outer trench. The second approach is through Ntusi trading center, following the road which passes by the Kyambogo darn and the Nakabiri dam ranch, following the Bigaga valley up to the Kabukongote hill, again 3 Russ from Bigo. One would also have to walk the remaining distance but the oath is so wide that a motor cyclist can easily be used. The third approach is through Makore trading center up to the Kakinga river adjacent to the inner trench systems. A village is fast growing along this route and within a short time, a motorable road will be established running from Makore to Bigo Bya Mugenyi.

Within a short distance and on either side of Bigo Bya Mugenyi and also on the southern edges of the Katonga river are the smaller earthworks of Kasonko to the north and Kagago to the south-west. Their trench systems are intermittent.

Ten kilometers south of Bigo Bya Mugenyi is the NTUSI complex. Ntusi trading center is 65 kms from Masaka town branching west at Nyendo trading center. Ntusi archaeological settlement is complex because archaeological evidence exists in abundance in the form of pottery and bones everywhere one walks. And this evidence covers an area of 2 kms square from the county headquarters, especially towards the west and north. Also of great importance archaeologically, are two sizeable mounds locally known as the Ntusi male and female mound. Excavations have been carried out on both mounds and a lot of finds especially pottery and bones, go as deep as 4 metres. There is also a lot of ash in them. Charcoal tests from the diggings have placed the settlement of Ntusi to between 1100-1400 A.D.

Bwogero

Other smaller mounds abound throughout the village. Another riddle that makes Ntusi a complex is another man-made basin locally known as Bwogero It is about 150 metres from the male mound. The upturned soil forms the raised edges of the basin, which has gaps that might have formed entrances and exists for the users of the basin. The abundance of pottery and bones not only in the mounds but also on the surface throughout Ntusi village indicates that the occupants of the site practiced a mixed economy.

There is also evidence of iron-working, ivory carving and wood working in the archaeological findings. Ntusi might have been an important ritual center for the Bacwezi drawing a lot of people from all walks of life, where great feast were carried out at intervals and which would be crowned with the performance of a rite of passage through the Bwogero. Most of the remnants of the pots which were used for cooking food and the bones of the animals, were piled up into mounds the top of which were burnt, perhaps for sanitary reasons. Ntusi is very accessible being 65 kms from Nyendo in Masaka. The grounds of the county headquarters are very ideal for camping.

Masaka Hill

Masaka Hill is located in Masaka District and it commands the whole expanse of the area to the north as far as 20 kms away. During the early part of this century, it was an active ritual center and according to the traditions it is thought to have been the site of the last capital of the Bachwezi leader Wamara. The hill is surrounded by two concentric ramparts and is topped by a grove of ancient fig trees that thougt to have some ritual significance. Masaka hill can be reached by rail through the Kampala -Kasese railway and alighting at Lubale Railway Station, It can also be reached by road through Lwemiyaga trading center, again up to Lubale Railway Station. From Lubale, people are canoed to and fro across the Katonga river at a fee of Shs 3001= each person per trip.

Mubende Hill

This is located in Mubende District and the features include the focal point for Bacwezi related religious cults. Sixty kilometres along Masaka hill to the north is the ridge of 99 hills, which forms Mubende Hill. It is one of these hilltops by same name is associated with Ndahura, the first Mucwezi ruler of the legendary empire of Kitara. A big tableland exists on top of the hill, which formed Ndahura's palace. Although archaeological excavations have teen carried out and analyses of the finds have proved Mubende hill to be an ancient settlement site, it is also important for the shrine of Ndahura's medium and wife Nakaima. According to tradition, Ndahura's spirit is enshrined in a very big and old tree with root buttresses(the Nakaima tree at the top of the Hill which is some 400 years old and where is still a site for worship), which form nooks as high as 3 metres into which supplicants place offertories in form of money, drinks etc.

Up until 1908 when the place became the residence of district administrators, there used to reside a priestess or medium also known as Nakaima, who would be a representative from the first Nakaima's clan - the snail clan. During that year, her residence was destroyed and offertories were limited to small items like money. However, after independence, supplication, which included big feasts in which goats, sheep and chicken are slaughtered and eaten amid heavy drinking and much dancing resumed up to this day.

Below Mubende hill is the Mubende administrative and trading center. The site is a winding two-kilometres drive from the center up the hill. With a fine road fromKampala through Mityana to Mubende town, the Nakaima tree on Mubende hill can be an important tourist attraction. Facilities for food and lodging can be found at Nakaima Hotel within the town. Mubende town itself is halfway between Kampala and Fort Portal.

The tree is believed to contain Ndahura's spirit and thought to be at least 400 years old and is named after Ndahura's wife, renowned for her mystical powers. The Naikama tree has been a site of worship for centuries, and once guarded by a hereditary line of priestesses of the Basazima clan. The last of this died in 1907, and her regalia is now on display in the national Museum. To visit a couple of other Batchwezi related sites in the area , head north on the dirt road from Mabende to a village of Kakumiro about 35 kilometers 22 miles drive.

Munsa Earthworks

Forty kilometers north of Mubende hill is the Munsa Earthworks surrounding The Bikekete Rock Shelters. The earthworks are associated with a Mucwezi ruler known as Kateboha. The earthworks are formed of three ditch systems with the outer trench running on top of a ridge covering about 5kms long and ending into River Kyebumba. The second and middle trench also runs along a lower ridge and its two ends also reach River Kyeju to the north of the Bikekete rocks. The inner trench surrounds the Bikekete rocks. Abundant pottery, grinding stones, iron slags and bones can be easily seen on the surface within the tuner trenches. The Bikekete rocks form impressive rock shelters with intercommunicative alleys from one shelter to another. There are three rock shelters with space, which could accommodate between fifty and one hundred people.

Semwema Hill

Munsa earthworks is five kilometres from Kakumiro trading center. One and a half kilometers from Kakumiro trading center is the Semwema Hill, a rock outcrop of impressive nature Inside the hill is an equally impressive CAVE which opens from the western end. No one knows who Semwema was but the cave consists of three structures or chambers inside the rock, each on top of the other, with stone stairs leading into each chamber. The upper chambers are small and they might have been sleeping quarters. The bottom chamber is circular, measuring about 20 metres in diameter. There is a big circular rock in the middle of the hall about 2 metres in diameter. It might have formed the court chamber but as the cave is an active shrine with offertories in form of money being placed on top of the round stone and its crevasses, it might as well have been a ritual center.

As a matter of fact, Kakumiro region is characterised by impressive work outcrops with impressive shelters. A recent archaeological survey of the region discovered abundant finds in form of pottery shards within and around the rock shelters. A deduction from the finds was that people possibly for defensive purposes dwelt within and around the rocks.

Fifty kilometers to the north-west of Munsa earthworks in Hoima District are the Kiibengo Earthworks. They are also associated with the Bacwezi, but the trench systems have been destroyed through settlement and crop cultivation.

Description

Uganda is well endowed with cultural, historical, and natural sites, which are of great archaeological and tourist importance.

Visiting Archaeological Places

The best place to begin any exploration of this heritage is at Uganda museum, which specializes in the collection, documentation, conservation, storage and presentation through exhibitions and educational services of Uganda's cultural objects. The biggest of the three museums is the Uganda Museum, located 3 kms from the city center on Kira Road just after Mulago Hospital. Apart from the rich ethnographic displays covering a wide range of the traditional life of the peoples of Uganda, it also boasts of being the best museum in East and Central Africa with a wide variety of music collections. The other two museums are in Kabale and Soroti towns and they provide a home for limited ethnographic collections.

Uganda's cultural and natural sites and monuments can be categorised into royal tombs of the former kings of the Kingdoms of Uganda, earthworks (both historical and archaeological), forts of explorers and colonial agents, rock shelters and rock paintings, caves and memorials.

Last Updated on Monday 23rd November 2009

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