Looking back at polygamy among Buganda royals

L-R: Ssekabaka Mwanga, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II and Kabaka Muteesa II

What you need to know:

HERITAGE: Early this week, a six month old prince born in the Buganda Kindom to Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II was unveiled. This may have caused quite a stir in the country as Baganda and non Baganda alike reacted. However, polygamy has always faired in the kingdom, as Life traces back through the years.

News about the existence of a second prince fathered by Buganda King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II this week struck like a bolt and was greeted with unusual excitement among Baganda. The young prince, Richard Ssemakookiro, born to an undisclosed Muganda mother belonging to the Nseneene (grasshoper) clan draws a sigh of relief to many Baganda, for he is now widely believed to be next in the line to the throne. The Kabaka already has a son, Prince Jjunju “Kiweewa” Suuna born in 1995 to a Rwandese mother, Venantie Sebudandi. Prince Jjunju being the first born son, the “Kiweewa” is traditionally ineligible to succeed his father on the throne, besides being born to a none muganda mother.

The emergence of Prince Ssemakookiro has, however, confused some Buganda subjects especially staunch Christians who reason that the king being a Christian and above all having been wedded at the mother of all Anglican churches in Uganda, St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe, should abide by Christian principles of monogamy and never look elsewhere or bear children outside wedlock.

Polygamous culture
Unknown to such critics, is the longtime and rich polygamous culture in the kingdom which according to some Baganda conservatives should come first and above anything else including what Christianity teaches. “Christianity only came to Buganda in 1877 with the arrival of the first Anglican missionaries Shergold Smith and Rev. C.T Wilson. Long before that, the Baganda believed and adored polygamous families and their kings led by example,” commented Mr Samuel Luboyela of Namungoona who is in his 70s.

Elizabeth Nankya of Wakaliga could not agree more. “In Buganda the Kabaka can never be questioned and is always right. We always regard him in high esteem and the entire kingdom is indeed proud of this,” she said. In contrast, Hassan Mutyaba of Mengo expressed surprise to learn that the Bishop of Namirembe diocese, Rt Rev. Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira is reported to have welcomed the good news according to media reports. “I doubt whether our king didn’t breach one of Christianity’s basic norms. I wonder why Bishop Luwalira didn’t see any problem with this. May be it’s me who is uninformed.”

That aside, the main reason why former Kabaka, Mukabya Muteesa didn’t fully embrace the Catholic faith despite singling it out among others was its strong “single wife” requirement. According to one historian, J.F Faupel, sometime in 1879 when Muteesa saw the three religions which had arrived in his country, he examined them more closely, then he gave his impression to all his chiefs assembled in public session saying, “The true religion is that which is taught by those men from France clad in long robes, but our wealth in women kills us and is an insuperable obstacle, my friends what shall we do?”

The reply of the chiefs, though disconcerting, was unreasonable. “Master,” they said, “Begin by sending away your women, perhaps we shall then follow your example.” Muteesa replied and agreed with them that this was totally impossible. Apart from Muteesa, many former Kabakas of Buganda had special attachments to women and valued marriage so highly. For instance, the 22nd King of Buganda, Ssekabaka Mawanda, would abduct as many wives as possible wherever Buganda invaded neighbouring kingdoms. One of these wives infected him with syphilis and Mawanda, it is said, introduced the disease in Buganda.

Then there was the 28th Buganda King, Kamaanya, who is believed to have reigned between 1814-1832. He was a great fighter and together with his men would at times spend a long time at war. Because he highly valued marriage and realised that many wives would desert their absent husbands, he came up with a law referred to as “Kasagira” which barred all women in Buganda from deserting their husbands so long as they still needed them. Whoever defied this was never allowed to remarry so long as their former husbands still lived.

One notable exception to being so keen at women was Ssekabaka Namugala, the 24th Kabaka who reigned between 1741-1750. Namugala was said to be a “great” drunkard who used to spend most of time feasting with his subjects, sparing no time for his families and wives. Little wonder he fathered very few children with only princes Kateregga and Kiboli being known.

Enter the modern era
Having many wives and fathering many children was up to last century still regarded as a sign of prestige among Baganda and members of the royal family. The 29th Ssekabaka Suuna II is said to have had 148 wives and fathered 218 children. One of his sons, late Prince Nuhu Mbogo was the father to late Prince Badru Kakungulu and grandfather to Prince Kassim Nakibinge of Tropical Bank.

Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi’s grandfather Ssekabaka Daudi Chwa II, the first Buganda king to fully embrace Christianity, for instance had more than a dozen wives and fathered 37 children. Of the 37 children, only three daughters and a son, the vocal Prince David Ssimbwa of Kabowa, are still live. Elsewhere, Mutebi’s father, Ssekabaka Edward Muteesa II too, was considered a staunch Christian, but was said to have married 11 wives and fathered seven daughters and 11 sons.

Of Muteesa’s 11 wives, five were from Buganda, three from Ankole, two from Toro and one a Kikuyu from Kenya. Among these was Winfred Keihangwe, a Munyankole princess from Ankole kingdom and the mother to Prince David Kintu Wasajja. She was imprisoned by former President Milton Obote and released only shortly before going into labour in 1966. Another wife of Muteesa II, Lady Ngatho, a Kikuyu from Kenya is mother to Princess Stella Ndagire who resides in Atlanta, USA. Notable among Muteesa’s sons born to the official wife Damali Kisosonkole is Prince Henry Kalemeera, an aeronautical engineer who works as flight engineer at American Airlines and residies in San Fransisco.

As for the current Kabaka Mutebi II, despite not being born to the official wife, some Baganda like Mr Joseph Kitonsa of Mutundwe says right from childhood, he was the darling of his father, king Muteesa II. Kitonsa thinks that it’s not automatic that the king’s heir must be the one born to the official wife and predicts that this is likely to happen once again. For starters, Kabaka Mutebi II is said to have been conceived in Southern France in the summer of 1954 when Muteesa II was on vacation with Ms Sarah Kisosonkole. He was at the time in forced exile in Britain.

In Buganda kingdom, the Kabaka has always been considered so powerful and not questioned by a commoner (mukopi). Ssekabaka Muteesa II, for instance, married two sisters, Damali Catherine Nakawombe Kisosonkole and Sarah Nalule Kabejja Kisosonkole. The king first married Damali Kisosonkole on November 19, 1948 at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe.

Six years later he married Damali’s younger sister, Sarah Kisosonkole, the mother to the current Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. Some Baganda like Doroth Nakawungu of Lungujja claim that Muteesa preferred the young one of the two sisters, but could not be allowed to take her. By then the Kiganda culture dictated that no daughter could be married off before her older sister was still around.

Succession rights
In Buganda, although one of the king’s sons in most cases takes the throne after the king’s death, there have been some exceptions. For instance, after the disappearance of Buganda’s second king, Chwa Nabakka and the death of his only son Kalemeera, Buganda spent sometime without a Kabaka until word went around that Chwa Nabakka’s son Kalemeera had fathered a son, Kimera while in exile in Bunyoro.

Culture dictates otherwise, giving the king liberty to do as he wishes (okusajjalata). The conservatives will be heard supporting the king and reminding him of how his grandfathers used to behave. Actually, there is a popular saying in Buganda that all women here belong to the king and many can be heard addressing him as “Baffe” (Our husband).

The writer is the author of The Kings of Buganda recently published by Fountain Publishers.


Who was Ssekabaka Ssemakookiro

  • The former Buganda king Ssemakookiro after whom the new prince has been named was the 27th king of Buganda who is believed to have reigned between 1797-1814. To take the throne, Ssemakookiro had to fight and get rid of his brother Jjunju. In Buganda, Ssemakookiro is remembered for having been a good fighter who waged many wars against neighbouring kingdoms.
  • He is also remembered for ordering his subjects to plant many mituba trees throughout the kingdom so as to enable Baganda get enough bark-cloth to wear. Ssemakookiro’s palace was at Makerere, the very place where the university is located today.
  • By being named after the great warrior, it is possible the royal family wants Prince Ssemakookiro in future to emulate the fighting skills and determination of the former king. In this case not to fight and wage wars against neighbouring kingdoms, but may be fight for Buganda’s rights and lost property “Ebyaffe”.
  • Coincidentally, Ssekabaka Ssemakookiro was a young brother to Ssekabaka Jjunju (26th Kabaka) just like Prince Richard Ssemakookiro now happens to be young brother to Kabaka Mutebi’s first son Jjunju “Kiweewa.