Most Ugandans who have gone through the country’s education system may have studied about Bigobyamugyenyi in their primary school. The site, believed to have been the capital of the Chwezi Dynasty, is found in Kabeho village, Ntuusi Sub-county in Sembabule District a 50km ride on a dusty and bumpy road from Sembabule Town Council.
At the site you are received by Tourism Police personnel at their semi-permanent structure police post that stands at an angle which enables them to see everybody who accesses the site.
The two policemen were deployed to register all visitors and ensure that the regalia and structures enclosed in the traditional shrines remain intact.
Ibrahim Batuume, a tour-guide at the site, is always on standby to take visitors around the home of the bachwezi who were believed to possess supernatural powers that would enable them disappear mysteriously.
History has it that the dynasty reigned at Bigobyamugyenyi between 1000-1500AD. Artifacts of ancient sharp-pointed spears and huge curved rocks at the entrance form the ruins of the cultural site. Practices such as paying homage to the gods while not compulsory, are expected of visitor. “One is required to humble themselves to pay respect to the Chwezi ancestral gods. They can even kneel and pray to the spirits for intercession,” says Batuume.
At the prayer place are baskets where people put their monetary offertory to the gods as an appeasement to guarantee safety of the visitors while inside the cultural site comprised of several traditional shrines.
The archeological site enclosed in a radius of about 4square miles piece of land has several caves and very deep ditches and forts, that all have various historical significances as told by the caretakers.
A narrow path leads one through various forts and caves, into a thick wilderness said to be habitat for wild animals. Therein also lies a mystical stream named after ‘Kabeho’ village; where soothsayer healers cleanse their clients (patients).
These healers are believed to be great grand-descendants of the Bachwezi and command a lot of respect from their regular clients. Close to the stream is an elevated magnificent hill upon which is a big grass-thatched hut that has survived for several decades.
The hut is surrounded by several other huts where people that visit the shrines to worship the gods can spend nights.
Inside the hut are decorated mats, skins and hides, calabashes, thick bamboo pipes, folds of beads, several pottery pieces in different shapes, dozens of spears stand among other items that are all preserved as ancient artifacts of the Bachwezi rulers.
Batuume explains that the calabashes are always filled with milk as an offering to the gods. “The milk is normally brought by worshipers who come here to intercede and ask for luck from the gods,” he says.
Behind this huge hut is a kraal, a symbol to show that the Chwezi were predominant cattle keepers. However, the kraal is empty.
“When someone, especially the caretakers, is possessed by spirits, it is believed that he can be able to see the cattle in the kraal, although others cannot see,” Batuume narrates.
Seat of royalty
In the site are several big stones shaped like chairs ‘Royal throne’, upon which the Bachwezi rulers are said to have sat to conduct meetings with their chiefs before issuing instructions.
In the same area, there is a well maintained water pool, which according to Prince Frank Nzhuzuure Mkungu, was the lavatory facility of the late kings and it is also where they derived authority to reign over their subjects. Mkungu who claims to be 37th heir of the Chwezi dynasty in the lineage of Wamala Nanshagwawo in the Bweera chiefdom, says the same supernatural powers are still possessed by the descendants.
Among other unique relics is a thick wall-like structure that is made out of stones. This Mkungu says was the perimeter wall that had been erected around the palace of their kings. “This palace was two miles wide and was later occupied by some Buganda kings that included the late Mwanga II who visited Bigobyamugenyi 700 years ago,” he says.
It is believed that upon tenancy at Bigobyamugenyi palace, the ancient Buganda kings; Kayima, Nakibinge and Ssemakookiro established their military base that helped in regaining Mawogola from Bunyoro Kingdom and defeating it in a battle Bunyoro had waged against Kkooki chiefdom.
An unexploited gem
The mysticism around Bigobyamugenyi is what gives the site its lifeline as visitors after its traditional significance, keep it relevant.
However, Mkungu reveals its tourism potential has not been boosted although a board of trustees responsible for preserving their cultural heritage was set up.
Emmanuel Kamihingo, Ntuusi Sub-county chairperson, says upon their strong demand to government to promote the site, in 2013 the Tourism ministry with support from the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) through its campaign of rehabilitation of major World heritage cultural sites, partly renovated Bigobyamugenyi site, but it was just a simple refurbishment.
“They hired personnel that cleared bushes around this place, replaced grass on some of the huts and demarcated boundaries to prevent encroachers on the land but this was not enough,” he says.
About the Bachwezi
They are believed to the founders of the ancient empire of Kitara which included areas of Uganda; northern Tanzania, western Kenya and Eastern DR Congo and were, therefore, accorded the status of demi-gods and worshipped by some local people at the time.
It is not clear what happened to the Bachwezi and there are many stories told about their disappearance. There is, however, a popular belief among scholars that the Bachwezi simply got assimilated into the indigenous tribes and could be the Bahima of Ankole and the Tutsi of Rwanda and Burundi.