A canopy of trees, a cool shade, a gate made of reeds and a scenic view of violent white and brown water gushing down the peaceful water bed. Welcome to Ssezibwa Falls, a hidden beauty in some village called Kayanja, 10km off the Kampala-Jinja highway.
At the turn, you will not find a sign post to announce or direct you to Ssezibwa Falls, instead there is one announcing a sugar plantation. But locals are willing to direct you to this place. I took a boda boda (motorcycle) through the murram road and all the way to Ssezibwa.
Towards the cultural site you will drive, walk or ride through a canopy of trees that form a cool shade underneath with a soft breeze wafting through. The leaves that have fallen off the trees make good ground for locals who sit under the trees to take a break from the scortching sun in their gardens.
As we ride towards the gate, I notice the gate made of reeds, a standing legacy among the Baganda, who from time immemorial, used reeds to fence off their homes and farmlands. Ssezibwa is one of the cultural sites listed and managed by the Buganda tourism and culture ministry.
At the gate is no one to let me in and when we rode in, we were welcomed by the sight of a group of visitors here to call on spirits for luck, prosperity and life as I later on learn from the resident guide Francis Muwambi.
He shares with me the story of Ssezibwa and how it came into being. Ssezibwa Falls was born by a woman at this particular spot located in the forested part of this village.
Legend has it, as Muwambi tells me, that Ssezibwa was born of a woman called Nakangu Tebatesa, wife of Nsubuga Ssebwato.
“Nakangu while pregnant got misunderstandings with her husband and she returned to her father’s house but her dad advised her mother that she returns to her marital home after the third day,” the guide explains.
She was escorted by the mother who left her a little distance close to her home. She walked on but as she approached home she got so tired and decided to rest in a bush nearby. “It is here that she gave birth to two streams of water, meaning she became a nnalongo (a woman who gives birth to two children (twins) in one birth). But a man had seen her enter the bush so he told Nsubuga that he had seen his wife and together they went into the bush. She heard them and called out to them. ‘Ndiwano’ (I am here). They found Nakangu had just given birth to a child and saw a pool of water flowing,” Muwambi explains.
“I have given birth to water,” she told her husband. “At night Nsubuga had a revealing dream in which he saw his child in the bush. The traditional leaders confirmed to him that his wife had given birth to a river,” the guide adds about the legend.
So he went visiting and later it became known that his wife had given birth to Wasswa- who came to be known as Ssezibwa, which Muwambi interprets as Ssizibwa (the one with the right of way) and Kato, another river in Nyenga, called Mubeya River.
“Since then, this place has been important in Buganda kingdom. The tree you see over,” he points to a prominent tree “is one of the oldest here and was planted by Kabaka Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa. It is called the Nkalati tree. The Kabaka met subjects and presided over ceremonies like meeting his kinsmen,” Muwambi further explains.
The sitting Kabaka of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Frederick Muwenda Mutebi II, officially opened this cultural site in 2002 and planted a tree as well. But besides the cultural rituals, this is a place where worshippers of different religious inclinations come to pray. “In fact some spiritual leaders baptise people here,” Muwambi adds.
But it doesn’t matter. Ssezibwa Falls is a place where any tourist will find tranquillity for relaxation purposes with a restaurant and bar as they learn about the rich history of Buganda and the falls with a river that flows into Lake Kyoga.
At the site are also a number of caves where worshippers spend time and even pray overnight and call on their cultural spirits. There is a nature trail that runs through the trees and onto lawns that are not well-maintained and up to the rocks. An entrance fee of Shs2, 000 is paid to access the Ssezibwa Falls.