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.
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.
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.
It is said the servants liked meat a lot and are believed to have requested Mutuumo’s wife to slaughter the Ngobe for them and not let other family members eat it, if it was forbidden.
But since Mutuumo had fathered one of his children from a servant (Mwiru woman) and his official wife never knew about it, the consequence to the whole family was inevitable... a child of his had eaten the forbidden meat.
Even more accounts
James Tumusiime, the proprietor of Igongo Cultural Centre in Biharwe Mbarara, says books like Abakozire Ebyokutangaza Omuri Nkore (Those who did amazing things in Nkore) written by Kesi Nganwa, say Mutuumo had lost almost all his cattle in the floods but one of the few remaining ones named Kajeru, produced and its off springs produced more and Mutuumo’s herd increased again.
“It is said that the cow told him that, ‘when I die never eat me’. But the time came when the cow died. Mutuumo was away and his wife, not bothered about this ‘covenant’, ordered for the skinning of the cow and the family ate it. The family was swallowed by water and it became a lake,” Tumusiime quotes from the book.
Some accounts have it that when Mutuumo returned from Rwanda and saw the lake, he knew that all his cattle, his wife, children and servants had perished. Out of sorrow, he drowned himself in the water.
However, another account says Mutuumo went to a place called Kakyera in Mburara (present Mbarara) where he became a servant in the farm of a Mwiru (cultivator). While there, he got into a quarrel with other servants and distressed, he drowned himself in Lake Kakyera (presently in Rakai).
Kaguta says they have found evidence that Mutuumo or other people lived in the area.
“A strong herdsman must have lived here. Parts of pots people used, a smoking pipe and many other things, which are hundreds of years old have been found. These attest to the existence of human life here. But what we can’t verify is the whole story about Mutuumo and how it ended,” he says.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate mythical incident, people like Kaguta and Mwesigwa Rukutana are doing lucrative business at this historical site.
Lake Nyabihoko is a tourism destination for local and foreign tourists, as well as holiday makers. There are services and activities like birds watching, camping, bars and restaurants, lodging, and games like pool and Volley ball.
There is a lot of fishing, with over 40 fishing boats moving on the lake. Mutuumo Island Resort can be reached by boat from the bay. A visitor rings a bell from the fish landing site across and the boat dashes to pick him or her.
Susan Kobusingye, manager at the resort says there are always more foreign tourists between the months of May and July, with at least two people checking in daily.
Kobusingye, who first visited the lake as a student, says students visit in June and July during the second school term for educational trips. The resort also receives holiday and honeymoon couples, especially in November and December, who stay there for at least a week or two.
On the eastern side of the lake, is Pelican Resort Beach owned by Rukutana. The hotel also offers bar and restaurant services, lodging, and other facilities like sauna and steam bath. The resort is a party centre, with at least three parties held there monthly.
History still has a place
But the neigbours of the lake, mainly Bahima, do not enjoy fish. They only draw water for using in househoold chores and for feeding livestock. Majority do not eat fish because of the myth that a lake swallowed one of their own and they cannot marry Bairu because a Mwiru woman led to the death of their own.
No matter how it came to be, Lake Nyabihoko is a sight for nature lovers and anyone interested in a little bit of Uganda’s rich culture.