Ntungamo District is the home of some of the most intriguing cultural sites in western Uganda. Recognizing their potential to generate substantial revenue for the district, the local leaders have now decided to gazette, develop and manage them as tourism establishments.
The investment plan
The district tourism officer, Robert Aturinda, presented to the council a 10-year Tourism Development Plan for developing, exploiting and protecting the sites. Among the sites to be developed, Ekyabagabe, Kiyanja and Kitami Kya Nyawera sites stand out.
According to the tradition, Ekyabagabe is a spot (marked by a big tree with gnarled roots and extensive leafy branches) where the (Abami) kings from the Kingdom of Rwanda were installed before its collapse.
The kingdom existed between 5th and 19th century. Ekyabagabe is located in Kashenyi Ngoma Sub-County, two kilometres from Uganda Rwanda boundary.
The other is, according to local accounts, the lake was used by the Bacwezi and later Rwanda Kingdom leaders. The spot is in Kiyanja village Rwentobo, Rwahi Town Council. Kitami Kya Nyawera is a place where Chwezi and Rwanda Kingdom priestess lived. It is located in Kimara village Kiana Kayonza Sub County.
Sites under consideration
There are other tens of interesting sites including Lake Nyabihoko, Karegyeya rocks, Katengatenga rock and Rukoni rocks believed to have been sites for Bacwezi whose dynasty begun around the 11th century and ended in the 15th century.
“People have been thinking about tourism as going to national parks and game parks to look at animals. They think tourism is about game and going to Bwindi or Queen Elizabeth. But there are places in Ntungamo with good stories that if well documented and told can attract local and foreign tourists,” says Aturinda.
A place of healing
Kitami Kya Nyawera, Kiyanja and Ekyabagabe were turned into shrines for followers of the traditional African religion commonly referred to as the Bacwezi faith. The Rev Can Dr Medard Birungi Bya Yesu, former Kyambogo University chaplain, now an evangelist, says Kiyanja is also revered by the Born Again Christians.
“When the Western evangelism started in the 1930s, Kiyanja was one of the sites that used to bring Christians together. They would converge there every year and pray for the nations of East Africa, the revival evangelism was so strong that it grew the modern church and rooted Christianity in our area. This is more less the Namugongo of western region, I think we need to promote it and get it back as Christians,” says Rev. Birungi.
Rev. Birungi Ministries hosts Healing of Nations Convention every year in Rwentobo Town located just two kilometers from Kiyanja. “When these people come here every year, life becomes different for residents, they buy things from the trading centre, they speak to the community and some of the psychological needs are addressed. Tourism can help develop the area,” he says.
Chrysostom Munyaneza who says he works at a bank in Rwanda has been at Ekyabagabe to pray for deliverance from witchcraft he claims to have suffered due to job related malice in the country.
“I did not know this place, when I prayed I was referred here. I came looking for this place and I have spent three weeks praying. This is a sense of faith that makes us heal. When you are faithful God does a lot for you. You have seen people go to Namugongo or those who go to Gahini or Kibeho in Rwanda every year. When you believe you get healed. I cannot say this is just a tree, it is a source of life; it is where you pray and get what you want,” Munyaneza says.
Jonan Arinaitwe the caretaker of Ekyabagabe says the place attracts up to 1500 people every year from different places in Uganda and Rwanda.
“After people have got healed from here they normally come back with gifts that they live at the base of the tree including money, crops and animals which are taken by other people in need,” says Arinaitwe.
The district councillor for Ngoma sub county Dan Butera says the place is busy and it should be improved into a tourist site.
“It is more less a church, people come and camp there, they come with vehicles and spend days there. The only challenge is that the people in the neighborhood are failing to tap revenue from those who visit the place. There are no lodges and good eating places for these tourists who come to pray. Residents need to be mobilised to tap into this,” Buteera says.
Employment for residents
Yoramu Kasharu, a resident of Rukarango village where the Katengatenga rock is located says different people including whites and locals visit the area for tourism and healing. He claims that Bacwezi still visit the area and can be heard at night.
The Chief Administrative Officer Kweyamba Ruhemba says tourism is one of the untapped resources in the district and with such sites the district can earn a lot of money.
“I think what we need to do is to improve our road infrastructure and position our people to think about tourism. The sites are there, they just need to be developed not only for the district to earn money but also for the residents to earn from tourism,” says Ruhemba.
Aturinda adds, “When they are talking about tourism in Uganda, Ntungamo is not mentioned. We also want to tell the world that we have what to see and not only to see but to have that spiritual healing when one visits.”
Nshenyi Game Reserve located in Kitwe, Kafunjo Mirama Hills Town council and part of Isingiro district was de-gazetted in the 1970s and given to cattle keepers who turned it into farm land.
Other places being considered as potential tourist sites include the birth place for President Yoweri Museveni in Omunkondo Nyaburiza parish Ntungamo Sub-County, Kyafoora hot springs and Enteraniro where River Kagyera separates Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
About Ntungamo District
Ntungamo area evolved from Rwampara and Kajara counties which were part of former Ankole Kingdom during the reign of Omugabe Kahaya Rutindangyezi. Rwanda Kingdom under its powerful and spiritual leader Kigyeli at one time extended its influence there and had its central base in Kabezi area and present-day Ngoma Sub-county.
The town is perhaps best known as a stop over post for tourists and travellers on their way to gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or on safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
It can be found some 41 miles south-west of Mbarara on the main road to Kabale and is bordered by Mbarara District to its north-east, Isingiro District to its east, Sheema Distict to its north, Mitooma District to its north-west, Rukungiri District to its west and Kabale District to its south-west with the republics of Rwanda and Tanzania to its south.
Ntungamo is a bustling, pulsating town with a number of shops, boda boda riders weaving in and out of the shoppers and traders touting for business, music blasting from every corner and its fair share of arguments, raised voices, laughter, power cuts, litter and often under repaired housing in the town centre itself whilst, as you travel outwards from its three main streets, there are leafy, grassy areas amongst the rolling hills.
Set at the intersection of the route from Kampala to Rwanda with the road to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ntungamo is a natural stopping off point and trading community.
Trades people in Ntungamo District are also engaged in fishing mainly performed on Lake Nyabihoko although mud fish capture is common in more localised swampy areas, production of local Waragi ~ peeled ripe banana juice mixed with roasted and ground sorghum to perform a brew within a week; iron smelting by traditional local blacksmiths known as the “Abaheesi”, some hunting and pottery making along with basket, drum and jewellery making, and of course, traditional brick making by placing wet, clayish soil into Akatiba (wooden box) to make bricks, which, when dried, are burnt in fire stacks to harden them ready for the construction of homes and enclosures.
There are a few good places to stay, mainly lodgings which are cheap and mostly suitable for local travellers.
It is also famous for being the home district of the first lady and minister of education Janet Museveni, who is from Ruhama County.