Inside Bunyoro’s historical Mparo royal tombs

Friday August 3 2012

Inside Bunyoro’s historical Mparo royal tombs

Omukama Kabalega’s tomb in Mparo, the area where his palace was also located. Over time, other kings have been buried at this site. Photo by Francis Mugerwa. 

By Francis Mugerwa

Mparo royal tombs are some of the most treasured historical sites in the region that was once under the Bunyoro Kitara empire.

Located about 3km along the Hoima-Masindi road in Mparo Division, it is the burial site for the great Omukama Kabalega, Bunyoro’s most known king, Sir Tito Winyi, father of the current Omukama, and several royals.

Many people pay visits to this site to perform rituals and also to pay homage or seek inspiration from Omukama Kabalega.

He is widely remembered here for resisting British colonialists who had allied with Buganda to fight Bunyoro for opposing colonialism. He is a key figure in African history and remains one of the remembered figures for putting on a resilient resistance against imperialism.

After being defeated eventually in April 1899, Kabalega was exiled in Seychelles. He later died in 1923.

In front of the gates to the tombs is a cone-shaped monument painted in white and black. It was built on a site where Sir Emin Pasha first met Kabalega in 1871.

Before accessing the site, one will have to be thoroughly checked by royal guards who guard the site.

Mparo royal site was rehabilitated by UPDF in 2009 prior to the activities lined up for the Heroes’ Day celebrations that year.

The soldiers constructed a perimetre wall and renovated the traditional huts and tombs inside the site, which was formerly Kabalega’s palace.

“Traditionally, kings would be buried inside their palaces,” says Bunyoro Kingdom’s education minister, Hajji Bruhan Kyokuhaire.

Kabalega’s tomb is inside a round-grass thatched hut, which has a wooden door.

A visitor has to make confessions to the caretakers of the tomb before being permitted to access the site.

“It is a taboo for one to enter this tomb when you had an extramarital affair the previous night,” asserts Fatuma Nyabigambo, 80, a caretaker of the tomb. She explains that it is a requirement and a ritual for every visitor to deposit an amount of money he or she chooses in a basket before you get a guided tour of the tomb.

Inside the hut is the tomb, which is covered with a large cowhide pegged down with nine pieces of traditional hoes. Lion and leopard skins, which served as floor coverings in Kabalega’s palace are spread inside the steps the tomb.

Other royal sites
Inside the hut are a number of implements, which include smoking pipes, clay pots, milk and water containers, baskets, wooden bowls, sticks, spears, drums, shields, and wooden stools. There are coffee berries, which are said to have been used by Omukama Kabalega and Omukama Sir Tito.

“Several people with various problems come here to seek solutions from the spirits of the kings” says Nyabigambo, who calls herself a wife of Kabalega. She is an heir of Majuma Timbigamba, who was one of Kabalega’s wives.

Bronze and iron spears handed down from the Chwezi and Babito dynasties are also kept in this royal tomb.Cone-shaped crowns, flutes and necklaces worn by kings in the Chwezi dynasty have also been preserved and kept inside this tomb. There is the tomb of Sir Tito Winyi, father of Omukama Solomon Gafabusa.

The kingdom’s archives reveal that Buyaga hill which is located in Kyanaisoke Sub County in Kibaale District is said to have been occupied by the kingdom’s healers and priests about 1,200 years ago. Documents indicate that the area has 42 royal graves on a site, known as Kyanku Kyamihingo. “These royals would cure illnesses and mitigate epidemics in the kingdom,” says Mr Yolamu Nsamba, a cultural historian and the Omukama’s principal private secretary.

Bunyoro Kingdom has several royal sites and each royal site is located on an eight square mile piece of land.

“The land on most royal sites has been encroached on. We are starting to open the boundaries of all the kingdom land,” Nsamba adds.