Exploring the tail end of Kabalega’s trail

Tourists inside Kabaleega’s royal tomb. The spot where his body lies is surrounded by royal regalia such as apparels, stools, musical instruments played during coronation, tools, shield and other personal armor which are symbols of authority.  PHOTO/ERIC NTALO

What you need to know:

  • The Mparo creates a viable potential to identify sites, and map out the Kabaleega’s tourism trail.

There is a unique, cone - shaped monument with old peeling paint situated at the back of the Mparo.

The twelve layered structure surrounded by a chain-link has commemorative information in  both the native runyoro language and English against a black plaque –“ Hanu Nuho Omukama Chwa II Kabalega Yasangirwe Dr. Emin Pasha” translated as “ At this place Omukama Chwa II Kabalega received Dr. Emin Pasha” on September 22 1877. 

Kabalega meeting Mehmed Emin Pasha behind the then main palace is symbolic of how he was suspicious of Pasha’s colonial agenda, and that he did not welcome him with open arms.

We venture into the tail end of Kabalega’s trail where Bwogo Fred Rujumba, a retired civil servant turned tourist site guide brings to life the thrilling story of one of Bunyoro’s best kept secret. 

The tale of Mparo 
Mparo originally served as the royal residence of the most famous and revered King of Bunyoro, and now is an equivalent of a royal mausoleum of the 23rd King of Bunyoro-Kitara.

According to both oral and written literature, after succession, Kabalega erected his palace at Kyamungu Rukindo in Buyaga County. 

He later left Bugangaizi to Busindi, where he established his residence at Kikuube on top of a hill. Then after defeating his eldest brother, Kabigumiire Ruhwino of Kahere, who had been expected accede to the throne, he relocated to Bulyasojo, Masindi where he was found by Sir Samuel Baker in 1872. 

After the Battle of Baligota Isansa with futile attempts of Abarusura to capture Baker, Kabaleega transferred his palace to Kibwona.

After the departure of Baker, he shifted to Bulyango in Masindi, and finally Mparo in present-day Hoima.

All the counties of Bunyoro which had rebelled during Kyebambe Nyamutukura III’s reign –Tooro, Buleega, Butuku and Busongora-were conquered during his stay at Mparo. 

Years later, when Kabaleega passed on, his body was taken by road via Namasagali port, then by boat across the Nile to Masindi Port, and to Masindi before being laid to rest at Mparo in Hoima, his famous residence where he had lived longer than in many other palaces –on April 26, 1923. 

Charming site guide 
Clad in an oversized long sleeve striped shirt, baggy trousers tightened with a saddle tan belt and safety boots, the site guide did not make a great first impression of the conventional demeanor characterized by guides who work at royal cultural heritage sites. 

He took us to a uniport erected at the designated entrance of the Mparo. The circular shelter made out of iron sheets is coated with sky blue paint, and the rusty roof thatched with grass needs a makeover. 

With classroom design’s proven effect on teaching and learning, Fred Bwogo takes us on a royal journey through storytelling. No one wants to sit through a dry, humorless history lesson, but because of his good sense of humour from the start coupled with in-depth knowledge, powerful teaching aids on the walls, charisma and quick-wit, we sit for over an hour listening to him. 

Information Centre 
The history at Mparo is divided in three sections; at the information centre, tombs, and the Emin Pasha monument at the exit point. 

In secondary school, students explore dynasty in their history lessons as a period of time during which a country is ruled by members of the same family. 

To put this into perspective, Bunyoro has so far been ruled by three dynasties; Abatembuzi (600AD-1350) which lasted 750 years, succeeded by Abacweezi (1350-1500) which ruled for 150 years, and the Ababiito  who took over from 1500 up-to-date. The current dynasty has reigned for 523 years so far. 

To drive his message home, Bwogo points at the charts with a list of Kings that have ruled Bunyoro-Kitara. Abatembuzi had 19 Kings with prominent names such as Kintu, Kakama and Bukuku. 

The Abachweezi who ruled for a shorter period had three Kings, namely, Ndahura, Mulindwa and Wamara.  

The current ruling clan of the Ababiito has produced 27 including Rukidi Mpuuga , Nyabongo Rulemu I, the famous Omukama John Chwa Kabaleega II (1869-1899) who resisted colonialism, Duhaga II Anderea Bisereko MBE (1902-1924), Sir Tito Winyi  Gafabusa IV (1924-1967) and  Omukama Rukirabasaija Agutamba Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I (1994-todate). 

Access to the courtyard 
Kabalega’s hut is a beautiful structure built of local materials such as a grass. Just like most cultural sites, visitors to the Mparo are recommended to dress modestly out of respect for the historical and cultural significance of the site. 

While there is no strict dress code, Bwogo Fred advises us to avoid wearing revealing clothing. It is important to show respect for local customs and culture. 

“Ensure you leave your sandals and shoes outside. This is a sacred place! ,” he cautions. 

This is an uncontested tradition at Mparo. 
“For the ladies who are ‘members of parliament’ (to imply ladies on their period) and my esteemed guests who made love a few hours ago, do not step inside!” he pleads.

There was a sudden silence with each guest contemplating their next move. His message was packaged for adults, considering the number of children who were part of the visiting group.

Inside the tombs
Kabalega’s tomb is a traditional architectural marvel, where a sense of greatness is felt. It is made of woven reeds.

Reeds are used for making ceilings, and walls because they are resistant to weathering, and there is a traditional belief among some cultures in Uganda that reeds have protective power. 

The floor is covered with a huge bark cloth obtained from the fig trees (Mutuba). 

The spot where his body lies is surrounded by royal regalia such as apparels, stools, musical instruments played during coronation, tools, shield and other personal armor which are symbols of authority.

“Whenever Kabaleega strolled around the palace, the clinging of these ndege (ankle bells) articulated his movements,” reveals Bwogo as he shakes the metal jingles. 

Visitor motives 
As we walk towards the last section, Bwogo notes that the Mparo is often visited by students who desire to supplement their history lessons. He says that in a month, 100 to 200 tourists visit the cultural site, and he is optimistic that the numbers will soar. 

“The Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom plans to gazette this land which will prevent unlawful occupancy, and there is goodwill to improve this area,” he says. 

Monument of Emin Pasha 
The last section of the monument was erected in commemoration of the meeting between Kabaleega and Mehmed Emin Pasha who had been sent to Bunyoro by Khedive Ismail, the ruler of Egypt.

Khedive had a vision of extending the boundaries of Egypt to occupy areas south of Gondokoro as far as Indian Ocean. 

The 30 peaceful days Pasha spent at the palace trying to woo the Omukama to agree turned into a wild goose chase. Much as he failed to succeed on his assignment, Emin Pasha described the Omukama as a friendly, talkative and flexible person with whom they communicated in Arabic and Swahili. 

Tourism Opportunities 
The Mparo creates a viable potential to identify sites, and map out the Kabaleega’s tourism trail.

Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and Uganda Tourism Board can possibly trace the trail from his birthplace Buleega.

The next point could possibly be the Nyakahuma (Nakayima) tree in Mubende, a coronation site  and then follow to other important sites in Bunyoro history  such as Budongo forest, Mpumudde, Mengo hospital where his injured arm was amputated, Busabala where Kabaleega and Mwanga boarded a steamer on their way to exile, among others.

Meanwhile, Nuwahaire Brighton, marketing executive at Hoima Buffalo Hotel (HBT) who organized the visit to Mparo proposes the development of a cultural information centre where visitors could stop to learn about the great Kingdom.

“It is ideal for photographic exhibition of the life and times of Omukama Kabaleega and other Kings that have ruled the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom which in the long term can turn to a museum.

Besides, the centre can be used promote other historical and wildlife attractions in Bunyoro,” he explains. 

Situated in Mparo village, Four Kilometers out of Hoima town on Hoima- Masindi road is the final resting place of the renowned Bunyoro King Kabaleega who resisted colonialism and one of his sons Omukama Sir Tito Winyi who was bestowed a title of Muzahura nganda for his diplomacy.