The kingdoms of the Great Lakes

Guerriers du Buganda Source : Wikipedia
Warriors of Buganda
Source : Wikipedia

In the lower Imperial epoch, the region of the Great Lakes was the place of admirable kingdoms in their structure and which we are going to describe. This article will mainly focus on the kingdoms of Buganda and Rwanda, back then, the most important at the time.

The Kingdom of Buganda


The origin of that State is attributed to a semi-mythological man named Kinta. Some say he was the first of humans, which coincides with the birth of the modern man in the region of the Great Lakes. Other accounts depict him as a warrior, coming from the surrounding areas to conquer some territories lying the North of the great Lake Nyanza (now Victoria). Kinta might have been the first Kabaka (King of Buganda). Finally another version says that Kimera, prince of the neighboring kingdom of Bunyoro, was at the origin of Buganda.

All these accounts tend to say that the Ganda people have always been in the great Lakes and the sources of the Nile, and descend directly from the first humans. It was in the 13th century that Buganda really grew and became the master of the great lakes, dominating the Bunyoro. It extended from then on to end up covering an area twice as large as Belgium.

Roubaga, Capitale du Bouganda Tout en haut de la colline se trouve la concession royale Tournant du 20e siècle
Rubaga, the capital of Buganda. At the top of the hill is the royal concession (Turning of the 20th century)

The organization of Buganda

According to the African matriarchal tradition, the reign of the Kabaka was placed under the protection of his mother, through the brothers and sisters of the latter. The queen-mother carried the title of Namasole, and enjoyed a great prestige. She had her own palace. Kabaka’s sister seemed to be equally important. But while the king in Africa was succeeded by his sister’s son, the Kabaka was succeeded by his brother. The monarch was supported by his prime minister (Katikoro) and a royal council (Lukiko) made up of 10 provincial heads and court dignitaries. At his death, the new king was chosen by the Katikoro and the Mugenia (chief of the biggest clan).

The economy of the kingdom was based on a very fruitful agriculture, thanks to the exceptional fertility of the lands of the great Lakes. Famine was apparently unknown there to the 2 million inhabitants. The provincial chiefs levied taxes and officials were responsible for maintaining the roads leading to the capital city. In the 17th century, the Kabaka Kyabazu was having porcelain tableware and glasses.

Harpiste du Buganda Il joue la harpe qu'on retrouve partout en Afrique, y compris en Egypte ancienne
Blind Harpist from Buganda. He plays the harp that was found everywhere in Africa, including ancient Egypt

The British explorer Speke, is known to have sown division in Buganda. He told the king that he came from a people of Ethiopia, and that his people are from the descendants of King David of Israel. Speke tricked the Kabaka and his mother, pushing the king to want to convert to Christianity. The same tactics will be used in Rwanda, and will lead to the 1994 genocide.

Speke has left us a description of the Kabaka Mutesa at the end of the 19th century. He said, “He (Mutesa) sat on a red carpet lying on a platform, scrupulously dressed in a suit drawn from the bark of a tree. On the neck, he had a large ring of pearls meticulously arranged. On each hand and feet he carried rings alternately of brass and copper. Everything was light, clean and elegant. At his feet the insignia of royalty: a spear, a shield, and a white dog “[1]. This passage also tells us that the baGanda were skillful metalworkers.

The Army

Canöe du Buganda Source : Wikipedia
Canoe from Buganda
Source : Wikipedia

The country’s defense was particularly sophisticated. The king succeeded in gathering 125,000 men and 230 boats for a battle during the visit of the explorer Stanley. The baGanda made canoes which were 25 meters long.

The army was defeated by the English settlers in 1894. The Kabaka Mwanga was deposed, he was the last king of independent Buganda. The Swahili term Uganda designating the kingdom will be adopted by the English to name their colony situated in the north of Lake Nyanza. Although being occupied, the kingdom remained strong and considered. Mutesa II was the first (honorary) president of Independent Uganda.

Royal Architecture of Buganda
Royal Architecture of Buganda

The Kingdom of Rwanda

The baNyarwanda people traced their origins – through the narratives of their Tutsi ruling class – to northern Africa [2]. Knowing that God’s name in kiNyarwanda is Imana as in ancient Egypt, and based on some rare similarities with Egypt – especially the headdress of the elites imitating the military helmet of the pharaoh – we can suggests that Rwandans are of Egyptian origin. It is therefore a people coming from the north who will master the lands situated in the south of Lake Nyanza.

The division into castes among the baNyarwanda people was particularly clear. The nobility was bearing the title of Tutsi, and was linking that status to its number of cows which were exceeding 8 and its role in the country’s defense The farming people were Hutu, and had less than 8 cows. From one year to the following, one could change his status according to the number of cows he was possessing, but the leaders of course remained Tutsi. These two castes had the same language, the same God, and were under the authority of the same king. The aristocracy was involved in poetry and thinking. The queen mother named Nyirarumaga, founded the poetic style of the Rwandan dynasties.

Ce sont les baNyarwanda qui ont permis de comprendre la forme bizarre du casque militaire du pharaon. Il s'agit en fait d'une coiffure africaine. Les petits ronds sur le casque de Ramessou Maryimana (Ramsès II) représente le cheveu crépu qui se boucle au bout
The baNyarwanda made it possible to understand the bizarre shape of the pharaoh’s military helmet. It is actually an African hairstyle. The small circles on the helmet of Ramesu Maryimana (Ramses II) represent the frizzy hair which buckles at the end.

Later on, Rwanda eventually formed an alliance with Burundi, making the relations between the two entities particularly strong. The baNyarwanda were known for their propensity to war – aided by their dreaded wrestlers – and for their respect of women. The women were by the way strongly discouraged from participating in those violent adventures. According to Yolande Mukagasana, a war had been suspended because a woman had been unmasked among the soldiers on the battlefield.

muNyarwanda (Hommes rwandais)
muNyarwanda (Men from Rwanda)
Noblesse du Rwanda
Nobility of Rwanda
le Mwami (roi) Yuhi Musinga et la famille royale 1910
Mwami (king) Yuhi Musinga and the royal family, 1910
Princesses burundaises Admirez la grâce infinie
Burundi Princesses. Admire their infinite grace

It was the German and Belgian settlers who transformed the Hutu and Tutsi concepts into ethnic groups, instilling in the Tutsi a superiority complex as Speke had attempted to do with Mutesa. This is the root of the Rwandan genocide.


By: Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

Notes :

  • Histoire de l’Afrique noire, Joseph Ki-Zerbo
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Shaping the society christianity and culture, Pastor Stephen Kyeyune
  • [1] Histoire de l’Afrique noire, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, page 312
  • [2] Nations Nègres et Culture, Cheikh Anta Diop, page 362
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