Uganda Table of Contents
Bunyoro lies in the plateau of western Uganda. The Banyoro (people of Bunyoro; sing., Munyoro; adj. Nyoro) constitute roughly 3 percent of the population. Their economy is primarily agricultural, with many small farms of two or three hectares. Many people also keep goats, sheep, and chickens. People often say that the Banyoro once possessed large herds of cattle, but their herds were reduced by disease and warfare. Cattle raising is still a prestigious occupation, generally reserved for people of Hima descent. The traditional staple is millet, and sweet potatoes, cassava, and legumes of various kinds are also grown. Bananas are used for making beer and occasionally as a staple food. Cotton and tobacco are important cash crops.
Nyoro homesteads typically consist of one or two mud-and- wattle houses built around a central courtyard, surrounded by banana trees and gardens. Homesteads are not gathered into compact villages; rather, they form clustered settlements separated from each other by uninhabited areas. Each Munyoro belongs to a clan, or large kinship group based on descent through the male line. A woman retains her membership in her clan of birth after marriage, even though she lives in her husband's home. Adult men usually live near, but not in, their father's homestead. Men of the same clan are also dispersed throughout Bunyoro, as a result of generations of population migration based on interpersonal loyalties and the demand for farmland.
The traditional government of Bunyoro consisted of a hereditary ruler, or king (omukama), who was advised by his appointed council consisting of a prime minister, chief justice, and treasurer. The omukama occupied the apex of a graded hierarchy of territorial chiefs, of whom the most important were four county chiefs. Below them in authority were subcounty chiefs, parish chiefs, and village heads.
The Nyoro omukama was believed to be descended from the first ruler, Kintu, whose three sons were tested to determine the relationship that would endure among their descendants. As a result of a series of trials, the oldest son became a servant and cultivator, the second became a herder, and the third son became the ruler over all the people. This tale served to legitimize social distinctions in Nyoro society that viewed pastoral lifestyles as more prestigious than peasant agriculture and to emphasize the belief that socioeconomic roles were divinely ordained.
During colonial times, the king was a member of the Bito clan. Bito clan members, especially those closest to the king, were considered members of royalty, based on their putative descent from Kintu's youngest son, who was chosen to rule. The pastoralist Hima were believed to be descended from Kintu's second son, and the Iru, or peasant cultivators, were said to be descended from Kintu's eldest son, the cultivator. Even during the twentieth century, when many Banyoro departed from their traditional occupations, these putative lines of descent served to justify some instances of social behavior.
Among the most important of the omukama's advisers were his "official brother" (okwiri) and "official sister" (kalyota), who represented his authority within the royal clan, effectively removing the king from the demands of his family. The kalyota was forbidden to marry or bear children, protecting the king against challenges from her offspring. The king's mother, too, was a powerful relative, with her own property, court, and advisers. The king had numerous other retainers, including custodians of royal graves, drums, weapons, stools, and other regalia, as well as cooks, musicians, potters, and other attendants. Most of these were his close relatives and were given land as a symbol of their royalty; a few palace advisers were salaried.
Almost all Nyoro political power derived from the king, who appointed territorial chiefs at all levels. High-ranking chiefs were known as the "king's men" and were obligated to live in the royal homestead, or capital. The chief's advisers, messengers, and delegates administered his territory according to his dictates. During colonial times, the three highest ranks of chiefs were assigned county, subcounty, and parish-level responsibilities to conform with the system British officials used in Buganda. Most kings appointed important Hima cattle farmers to be chiefs. People provided the chiefs with tribute-- usually grain, beer, and cattle--most of which was supposed to be delivered to the king. Failure to provide generous tribute weakened a man's standing before the throne and jeopardized his family's security.
Data as of December 1990
Uganda Table of Contents