Nyabihoko: The lake with an intriguing history

Wrath of the gods. Some people believe that the gods, angry at a cattlekeeper and his family for their transgressions, turned their homestead into a mass of water. There are other stories like this about the lake.

Friday May 11 2012

Nyabihoko: The lake with an intriguing history

Lake Nyabihoko is a sight for nature lovers and anyone interested in a little bit of Uganda’s rich culture.  

By Perez Rumanzi

Deep inside Ntungamo District, 372 kilometres south of Kampala, lies a mass of water called Lake Nyabihoko from which the sub county where it is located; Nyabihoko, got its name.

The six-square-kilometre lake cuts into the three sub counties of Bwongyera, Nyabihoko and Rubaare, which are largely inhabited by a cattle keeping (Bahima) community.

Getting there
To get there, one branches off at Katinda town on Ntungamo-Kabale road and travels 15 kilometres further. The alternative route is Ntungamo-Rukungiri road, branching off at Rwashamaire trading centre and travel 26 kilometers ahead.

There are no taxis moving on the routes to the lake on a daily basis, so for those without personal vehicles the place can be accessed by travelling on boda bodas or special hired vehicles.

The lake is surrounded by gentle slopping hills. In its centre, there is an island, where Mr Dan Kaguta, the Resident District Commissioner of Wakiso, has established a place for leisure called Mutuumo Island Resort.

It is not by accident that the name Mutuumo became the choice of the resort proprietor. It is a name associated with the legend about the formation of the lake on which this island sits.

Legend behind the lake
Popular legend in Ankole has it that the lake swallowed a family of a cattle keeper called Mutuumo centuries ago. There are two popular and intriguing accounts of how and why the family of the legendary cattle keepers’ family “drowned”.

“Our father told us stories he heard about how this place became a lake. It was a grazing land. The lake came and swallowed Mutuumo’s family that lived here,” Mr Gideon Bitahwire 79, who is also the chairperson of the fishing community at the lake, says.

Mutuumo was a muhororo cattle keeper. But he was also a merchant who left his family behind for weeks to trade in cattle products like ghee to Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Buganda on foot, a life that would later contribute to his family’s peril.

Different accounts
Mutuumo was not at home when the lake swallowed his family. According to the legend, his youngest daughter, Keitetsi, used to hear soil dropping from where she always sat, while making ghee.

Keitesi would tell her family about hearing soil beneath the calves’ house, and how it sounds like its dropping into deep water.

Her repeated claim would often be dismissed by the family as a sign of laziness on her part. But while Mutuumo was away in Rwanda, the homestead and family members got submerged by the forming lake.

Another version about the formation of Lake Nyabihoko is the myth about Mutuumo’s family members eating a forbidden cow.

Mutuumo, a herdsman, kept many cows but in his kraal was born a forbidden cow locally called Ente Ngobe (the cow is born with multiple colours and is up to now never eaten by the Bagahe clan in Kigezi and Ankole) which he was told by his gods that he should never eat even when it dies.

When he was away on his trade errands, the cow died and his family feasted on it. This triggered heavy rains that fell for 28 days non-stop, causing floods in the area until the water swallowed the family, and the area turned into a lake.
The number of children Mutuumo had is not known, but it is believed that he had not produced any boy and he used Bairu (cultivators) as herdsmen of his hundreds of cattle.

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