How Bakiga migrated from Rwanda to Kabale

An illustration of group of Bakiga arriving in Kabale from Rwanda. ILLUSTRATIONS BY COSMAS ARINITWE

What you need to know:

  • Great trek. In the mid-1800s, it is said about 1,400 Bakiga arrived from Rwanda and settled in what is today Kabale District in south-western Uganda. The colonial government in 1946 resettled them in north Kigezi, Ankole and Tooro sub-regions due to overpopulation and later in 1973, former president Idi Amin attempted to relocate them to Karamoja. In a six-part series, we bring you the Bakiga’s great trek to Uganda, their war with the Batwa over supremacy, the challenges they faced in their new home and how one of them went back to rule Rwanda, writes Faustin Mugabe.

Kabale in Rukiga means a small stone. In the beginning, there was a small stone from which the name Kabale was derived.
Those who saw it, according to Kigezi-based historian Festo Karwemera, said the mysterious stone was small in size, round in shape and very heavy in weight.
Originally, the mysterious stone was situated at where the Kabale District headquarters are located today. According to Karwemera, young men while grazing, or out of curiosity, would attempt to either roll or lift the stone, but in vain. The place became a centre of attraction for many.
Whenever parents asked for the whereabouts of their boys, they always got a response, “bari aha kabale” (they are at the stone), Karwemera tells Sunday Monitor from his home in Kabale Municipality.
When Europeans arrived and could not pronounce the word aha kabale, they shortened it to kabale. Asked what happened to the mysterious stone, the aging Karwemera says it is believed that the colonialists stole it and took it to Europe.

Kabale is situated in south-western Uganda and borders Rwanda. Long before the arrival of the Europeans in Kigezi, and the 1911 establishment of the common border line between Rwanda-Urundi (Rwanda), Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Congo Leopoldville (DR Congo), Kabale (Kigezi) shared a border with Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Mbarara District in Uganda.
But with the mushrooming districts in Kigezi sub-region, especially in the last two decades, the once large Kabale has now reduced in size.
Nonetheless, Bunyonyi, one of Africa’s deepest lakes, the beautiful terraces on undulating hills and valleys and cold weather have remained the identity of Kabale.
It was because of the cold weather and mountainous nature of Kabale that when British deputy secretary of state for colonies Winston Churchill visited Uganda in 1907 he called Kabale the “Switzerland of African”.
The 91-year-old Karwemera told Sunday Monitor that in the early 1960’s he interviewed Nuhu Karaza, a man who saw the small stone from which the name kabale was derived.
The stone, which was situation on Makanga Hill, was known in Rukiga as “akataterurwa ka kabale” (can’t be lifted of kabale).
Karwemera says the man told him that as a youth, he argued with others that he could lift the stone from the ground. So a date was set. The man lifted it off the ground, but not without getting ashamed.
He admitted to Karwemera that as he lifted the mysterious stone a few inches off the ground, he passed the “behind gas” amidst cheers and jeers from spectators.

How Bakiga came to Kabale
Before they settled in Kabale, the Bakiga came from Rwanda and Zaire in the 1800s.
In 1967, Ugandan historians led by Prof Samuel Karugire from Makerere University, Zakayo Rwandusya and Ndebesa (not the Makerere University professor) from Kisoro, and Festo Karwemera and Paulo Ngorogoza from Kabale researched and compiled a book titled History of Kigezi in South West Uganda which reveals the history of the Bakiga in Kigezi.
They research revealed that Bakiga entered Kigezi from Rwanda, and from there they settled in Kigezi.
In his writing under the topic The Origin and Settlement of People in Bufumbira, Rwandusya reveals that part of his source of information was his granduncle Basazo Tibarura Yamutago Abagiri Kanyeihamba whom he had interviewed in 1918. His other sources were elders who he interviewed in 1927 who settled in Kabale (Kigezi) as teenagers from Rwanda.
In a simple calculation, if someone was about 50 years old in 1917, he could have been born in 1867. And if he was 80 years old, he then could have been born in 1837, meaning that he could have heard first-hand accounts, or even witnessed the Bakiga emigrate from Rwanda.
The Bakiga came in different groups at different times. They, like other African tribes, have clans and sub-clans. When they first arrived, individual leaders headed each clan or sub-clan such as the Basigi (Basigyi), Bagahe and Bazigaba.
It should be noted that at the time these people came to the “country” called “Rukiga” they were not known as the Bakiga, but as Basigi, Bagahe, Bazigaba etecetra.
But because upon arrival they settled in present-day Rukiga County, their neighbours in the north, the Bahororo, called them aba Rukiga (people of Rukiga) and later explorer Henry Stanley called them the Wakiga people.
Other British colonialists such as Sir Harry Johnston in his book Uganda Protectorate Volume I and II and called them the Kiga people. Thus, the Basigi, Bagahe, Bazigaba and other clans came to be known as one people, the Bakiga.

Period of arrival
From oral narrations recorded from Bakiga elders by Ugandan historians in their book History of Kigezi in South-west Uganda, they estimated that the Bagahe clan could have been the first to arrive.
“They arrived in Kigezi in 1400 from Rwanda where they had occupied Buhandagara, Muduga Kigango, Bunyambiriri, Buhoma, and Bugoyi. The first Mugahe to arrive was Nkurunkumbi, a kinsman of Ruganzu. Ruganzu’s sister Robwa was the wife of the Omukama of Bugyesera who lived in Gisaka,” the elders wrote.
The Bagyeshera are believed to have arrived in Rukiga from Gisaka, Rwanda, where they had been ruled by Kimenyi, son of Ruhinda.
They came after their leader, Kimenyi, had been murdered in vengeance. It is said he was killed by a one Mukubu on order of king Kirima Rugwe of Rwanda. The sub-clans under the Bagyeshera are: Bashambo, Bagunga, Barunga, Barunga and Baishikatwa, among others.

The Basigyi are thought to have arrived in Kigezi in around 1450 from Rwanda. But they had originally migrated from Rutshuru, Congo before going to Rwanda. Around 1450, king Kigeri I of Rwanda attacked them, killing their leader Migina and forcing them to escape to Bufumbira where they settled near Kigyezi (Kigezi) area near Rukiga.
The Abakiga ba Bagiri are assumed to have arrived in Rukiga in around 1522, according to the narrations from the Bakiga elders. They were escaping persecution from King Yuhi II Gahima of Rwanda.

Next Sunday read about the Batwa- Bakiga war for supremacy

How Banyarwanda become Bafumbira

Kigezi became part of Uganda in 1911. Britain, Uganda’s colonial master, gave Helgoland strip to Germany in exchange for Kigezi as a concession.
It was during the Brussels Convention of 1910 that it was agreed that territories in Africa obtained after the 1884 Berlin Act be re-mapped and surveyed in order to ascertain boundaries, size, and the location of certain physical features such as lakes, rivers and mountains.
That is why most physical features are today shared by two or three countries. It originated from the Brussels Act of 1910 which involved three countries – Britain, German and Belgium. The pact signed was also known as the Anglo-German-Belgian Convention.
Among other reasons the convention was held was because a year before, in 1909, king Leopold II of Belgium who owned the Congo Free State (now Democratic Republic of Congo) had died.
And so a new agreement was required between the Congolese and the British. Therefore, the new agreement repealed the earlier agreement signed between the British and king Leopold II. And also, another one was signed between the British and Germans.

Kigezi comes to Uganda
After the 1884 and 1894 agreements, the whole of Kigezi sub-region, excluding Rujumbura County in now Rukungiri District, that belonged to Germany territory (now Tanzania) and the DRC, was given to Britain.
During the Brussels convention, it was agreed that the area south-west of Uganda (Kigezi) be given to Britain in exchanges for the Helgoland strip in Germany. The Kigezi area exchanged stretched from Congo to Ankole kingdom and curved out part of present day Ntungamo District.
This is how the Rwanda-Tanzania-Uganda border as we know it was demarcated in 1910. This is recorded in the Uganda protectorate annual report File No: 256 of 1913, which was published after the two accords.
In part it says: “With regard to the Uganda’s boundary with the German sphere of influence south-west Uganda curving away southwards beyond 1 degree south, the Germans agreed to transfer a strip of land in exchange of Britain returning a small territory called Helgoland in Germany.”
“After the Brussels convention, the British signed agreements with the Germans and the Congolese to affirm territorial ownership of new colonies in the east African region.”
And so after a mutual understanding was reached between Britain and German, on May 14, 1910, the Anglo-German agreement was signed, officially giving Kigezi area in Uganda to be under British rule.
On October 30, 1911, Captain Reid led the British team which met the German and Belgian team at Kabale to plant stones marking the boundary between Uganda, Rwanda-Urundi and the Congo Free State.
Former king Makobore of Mpororo attended the function as the chief of Rujumbura County after Mpororo had been divided into counties for easy administration, according to Sir Harry Johnston’s book Uganda Protectorate Volume 1 published in 1902.
Thus, it was the Anglo-German agreement of 1910 that officially made the Bakiga and Banyarwanda (Bafumbira) in Kigezi citizens of Uganda.

Banyarwanda become Bafumbira
Ever wondered why the people in Kisoro District are called Bafumbira, but the language they speak and write is Kinyarwanda?
Until 1969, the people who lived in present Gisoro area, now Kisoro District, were not known as Bafumbira, but Banyarwanda-Ugandans.
Before 1910 when Kigezi became part of Uganda, the people who stayed in the south-west of Kigezi (Bufumbira County) were known as Rwandans, while those living in Busanza were known as Zairwas because that territory was in Belgian Congo, now DRC.
Busanza west and the neighbouring Murenge hills became part of Congo. Of course, the people who lived in Bufumbira, Busanza and Mulengi hills were Banyarwanda who had settled there before the 1884 partitioning of Africa by the Europeans.
However, many came into the area after the 1897 war and famine in Rwanda. Just as when the Banyarwanda arrived between 1400 and 1897 and settled in Rukiga and were called Abarukiga (people of Rukiga), similarly when the Banyarwanda went and settled in the beautiful and fertile Mulengi hills, the Bacongo people called them Banyamulenge (people of the Mulenge), which they are still called to date.
Though the Banyamulenge are segregated in the DRC, they lived in Congo long before the Europeans partitioned Africa and separated relatives by international boundaries.
In Gisoro, that the Europeans wrote as Kisoro and the word changed to this day, when Western education penetrated that area (now Kisoro District), especially after the First World War, books used for teaching were written in Kinyarwanda and published at Kabgayi Catholic Mission near Kigali, Rwanda.
The trend remained until after Uganda got independence in 1962.

So what happened?
In 1959, there was genocide in Rwanda. Some Tutsi fleeing the genocide entered Uganda and settled among their relatives, especially in Bufumbira County.
During the 1969 population census, there was confusion and misinformation. The Tutsi refugees in Bufumbira feared that by mentioning their true identity, they would be identified as refugees. They told the enumerators that they were Bafumbira.
And so the enumerators documented them as Bafumbira. In that year, the matter was brought before Parliament of Uganda for clarification. So from 1969 a new tribe called the Bafumbira came into existence.
Today, the Bafumbira are recorded as the 6th tribe of Uganda in the 1995 Constitution.