Igongo Museum: A collection of Ankole culture and diverse history

Monday December 30 2019

Typical Munyankore woman. Dickson Iga, the

Typical Munyankore woman. Dickson Iga, the Igongo Cultural Museum guide, describes a typical Munyankore woman. PHOTOS BY ERONIE KAMUKAMA 

By Eronie Kamukama

Somewhere on a hill in Biharwe, Mbarara District, a cream and grey monument sits.
It is closed off to the rest of the world by a fence that wades off encroachers.

Indeed it is worth all the protection.
It tells the story of as far as 1520, the eclipse of Bunyoro cattle raids in Ankole.
The Banyoro raids spread as far as Rwanda and the solar eclipse raid at Biharwe, to date remains a memorable experience in Ankole.

During the raid, the Banyoro made a fright after the king ordered his subject to leave without the heard of the cattle that had been captured in the raid.
The eclipse soon disappeared giving the Banyankore this belief that the cows were from god.
That is quite a throwback and that is a story, I first hear at Igongo Cultural Museum.

It is a community museum painting the way of life of natives of south western Uganda, largely about the Banyankore and to a less extent, the Bakiga.
How the museum came to be 10 years ago, is as interesting as its interior, laden with history from the 1420s to date.

It is named after a hill in Rwenjeru Parish, Biharwe Division in Mbarara District.
During the reign of King Ntare III of Ankole, rain poured over villages, leaving crops and livestock lifeless.

It was believed the disaster was a punishment from the gods thus the king handed his white spotless cow to diviners for sacrifice at Igongo Hill.
A few days later, the rain was gone but a lake – now Mburo - formed.

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For years, the Banyankore have told the events on the hill of Igongo. It is recently when a museum was opened and named after the well-known hill where people worshiped and found salvation.

Munyankore warrior. A sculpture presenting the
Munyankore warrior. A sculpture presenting the look of a Munyankore warrior before going for battle.

There are several sections in the museum and if you are to explore each one of them, you need to spend at least three hours, which should give you value for the Shs10,000 (local tourists) pay to get the story and the feel of the museum.

Most of the artefacts reflect the daily home lives. The skills section which includes pottery, carpentry, basketry, hides, the first of the attractions, takes me on an adventure.

The Stone Age is definitely some long gone era but the pounding stones, wet stones used to sharpen knives, stone pebbles used to clean utensils and sharp stones used to skin animals are impressive.

“Iron ore is not commonly used but we still have blacksmiths who make knives and spears locally. We still use grinding stones to grind roasted sorghum which we use to ferment banana juice and make local beer. In the past, we used them a lot to grind millet which was our staple food,” Dickson Iga, the tour guide, says.

Thirteen calabashes used mainly for storage are on display too; ekishaabo still used to make ghee, ekisisi used to store fermented porridge or beer, ekirere used to store milk, orutuuha used to serve beer to heads of families and engunga used to withdraw blood from people’s heads in case of disease, among others.
Most of calabashes have been replaced by plastic, glass and melamine containers today.

“We do not stop at displaying these calabashes and pots, we have experiential activities and one of the activities is pottery where guests are engaged. We churn fermented milk for ghee, do local beer brewing, graze and milk cows on the Ankole long horned cattle farm. Charges depend on the activity so you could pay Shs15,000 for the farm tour if you are East African,” Iga says.

For homesteads, the museum reconstructs the traditional home of Banyankore crop farmers with a mother grinding millet on a stone, a father smoking his pipe, drinking beer from his pot while telling stories to his child, who eats from a pot.
The homestead experience is greatly enhanced by the traditional homes of the Banyankore cattle keepers and the Bakiga.

History has it that most African men were polygamous. In between the hills of Kabale, the Mukiga man built four houses for his four wives and fenced off the home using wooden poles to protect them from wild animals.
Small granaries on one side stored sorghum. Construction has since evolved too.

“We used to paint with cow dung, lime, charcoal. People have moved to the squared house and the modern house in this region,” Iga says. As we carry on, the transport system is also opportunity for my mind to imagine the thought process of the Banyankore. A king is carried specially in ekitwarire. Stretchers or engozi carried brides while omugamba mainly seen at giveaway ceremonies today, is used to carry luggage.

The means of trade, which saw cattle keepers exchange ghee for millet, potters exchange pots for spears, Baganda exchange barkcloth for milk, Bakonzho exchange salt for milk products, are there, in addition to the cowrie shells introduced by Arab traders to date’s currency.
Cow bells, drums and trumpets signaling meetings, death, community work, danger, location and prestige are all on display.

And from here, I find out that in 1959, Ageteraine, the first newspaper came to market.
Music instruments and board games speak too; the bass potted drum, the shakers, the fiddle, the bells, wooden piano, wooden flute to traditional dances, ekitaguriro and ekizino, not forgetting wrestling for strong men and the board games played to improve mental work.
Of all sections, it is one sculpture of a woman sitting amid the fashion trends of past centuries that speaks loudest.

“Men in the region love women with black hair that looks like a tree canopy, white eyes, a long neck, small breasts, smooth hands, waistline, hips like a churning gourd and feet like a baby’s. When men meet a woman, that is what they use to examine,” Iga explains.

Igongo is such a collection of the Ankole rich culture and history that will walk you into hundreds of decades ago within just under three hours.

A growing tourist attraction

The rich culture and history at Igongo Museum invites hundreds of tourists every year.
“At times we have six schools a day from Jinja, Kampala, Kiruhura and around Mbarara. Walk-ins are there in holidays. Locals come to appreciate their culture and because this is an information centre, other tourists stop on their way to the south to learn the culture of Banyankore,” Iga says.

Iga also tells me of the Kings of Ankole and at the tail end of this conversation, I wonder what Ankole would be if fallen President Obote did not abolish kingdoms during King Gasyonga’s reign.

Artifacts. A tourist admires some of the
Artifacts. A tourist admires some of the Banyankore artifacts at Igongo Cultural Museum.

“We have had princes, the Late Barigye, now it is his son Rwebishengye, if it is restored, he becomes King,” he says, right before I take several selfies and trace my fingers across the sculpture of a long horned cow, erected in front of the museum.

A collection of ankole culutre and history

Igongo is a community museum painting the way of life of natives of south western Uganda, largely about the Banyankore and to a less extent, the Bakiga.
How the museum came to be 10 years ago, is as interesting as its interior, laden with history from the 1420s to date.
It is named after a hill in Rwenjeru Parish, Biharwe Division in Mbarara District.
During the reign of King Ntare III of Ankole, rain poured over villages, leaving crops and livestock lifeless.
It was believed the disaster was a punishment from the gods thus the king handed his white spotless cow to diviners for sacrifice at Igongo Hill.
A few days later, the rain was gone but a lake – now Mburo - formed.

Skills crucial

According to Mr Ocic, it is wrong to give people handouts to start a business without training them on what it takes to keep a business on the market is deception.

“It is easier to start a business than to sustain it in a market. You have to know that the consumer has minimum expectations of certain standards. If you do not meet the minimum expectations, your business is going to collapse.

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