Sunday March 2 2014

Kampala’s oldest house

the century-old house in Kasubi. Its ceiling made of reeds.

The century-old house in Kasubi. Its ceiling made of reeds. PHOTOS BY HENRY LUBEGA 

Othe end of the tree lane is a huge compound with fermented millet spread out in the huge compound. Surrounded by wooden shacks on both sides, in the backyard is fermented sorghum spread out to dry.

Welcome to Bwanga house, Kabaka Mwanga’s first house before he became king of Buganda in 1884. Located in Zalwango Zone in Kasubi, off Hoima road, the house is part of the greater Kasubi Tombs site according to Musenero Mawejje, whose great grandfather was the chief brewer in the royal palace.

How it came to be
The 10-roomed house was built in late 1880s by youthful Mwanga, as his homestead. The first structure was grass- thatched. When he was crowned king in 1884 culture demanded that he builds a palace. He relocated to Masaja, where he built his first palace called Mukulutatamakaage(an elder of the home doesn’t abandon it). This palace did not last because he left it to build the present- day Twekobe in Mengo.

When he went to Masaja the house was left to the Basenero, the king’s brewers. During the turbulent times of his reign, he never returned to the place until when he died in exile. When it was decided that his remains be returned, the grass-thatched house, it was renovated in 1910 in preparation for the return of the body. The current structure (in picture) was completed in 1919. Since then, it was never renovated until after the return of Kabaka mutesa from exile in 1955, when the house was plastered, painted and the floor was cemented, on Mutesa’s order.

Musenero says the original palace sat on more than five acres of land but it has all been eaten up by development. The main compound is partly taken up by a car park; at the extreme end of the compound are public toilets and showers where one is charged Shs 200 and shs 500 for a shower. In the backyard, are other shanty structures with what used to be Mwanga’s private courtyard now a malwa preparation ground.

Due to its enormous size some rooms are rented out to other people, the verandah is now a tailoring workshop.

Unique architecture
This historic house was built with the Ganda version of a ceiling called okusisila. This was made of reed, palm poles or enkoma, and grass mixed with mud. Omumbejja Nandaula says, “with this kind of ceiling no heat can be felt from the roof.” It is also soundproof. The iron sheets that were put on in 1919 when its construction was completed have never been changed and none of them leaks either.”

Bwanga house has borne its fair share of the cost of Kampala’s changing face. Musenero says, “the road reserve meant for people to stand as the king passed by, is covered by new house structures and our rituals are no more.”