How Ankole culture is dying

A man herds Ankole long-horned cattle, which are a symbol of pride to the people of Ankole Kingdom, in south western Uganda. PHOTO / RAJAB MUKOMBOZI

What you need to know:

  • Mr Mbyate Beshobora, 87, a resident of Rwebishuri, Kakiika, Mbarara City, says many Banyonkore have forgotten about the Ankole folklore, rites of passage, relationships, living conditions, clothing, food, education, language, religion, and family life that played a significant role to their well-being in society.

Elders, researchers and professionals from Ankole Sub-region, the home of  the Bantu speaking Banyankore people, are worried of continuous loss of their cultural norms that are being eaten up by new modern trends.

Mr Mbyate Beshobora, 87, a resident of Rwebishuri, Kakiika, Mbarara City, says many Banyonkore have forgotten about the Ankole folklore, rites of passage, relationships, living conditions, clothing, food, education, language, religion, and family life that played a significant role to their well-being in society.

He says the absence of a cultural institution has seen their culture consumed by modern technology.

“For survival of Ankole culture and values, young people were targeted.  Legends and tales used to teach proper moral behaviour to the young generation. Riddles, storytelling, and proverbs were all intended to create a moral sound society, but all these have now been neglected and substituted with TVs and smart phones in the name of modernity,” Mr Beshobora says.

He blames parents for silently killing their culture.

“They [parents] buy these gadgets for their children to keep them busy as others spend long hours in night parties and bars, some are too busy looking for money, but even those who seem to stay at home are busy on WhatsApp and watching movies on TVs,’’ Mr Beshobora says.

Institutional role

The senior researcher and director for innovations and technology transfer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Dr Medard Twinamatsiko Katonera, says culture is based on traditions and customs and ought to be institutionalised to keep it relevant.

“We are in the advent of globalisation where there is direct commingling of global practices with tradition. There is no boundary between post modernisation and traditionalism. Everything is conjoined and you realise that parents no longer have time for their children, everything is left to the schools, maids and where they go,” he said.

Mr Twinamatsiko says so many customs and norms in the Ankole culture have changed, for instance Banyankore no longer follow and fulfil all marriage requirements.

“The faces of girls at giveaway parties were not supposed to be seen, but nowadays, we see their faces. It was a preserve of the beauty, integrity and originality of a Munyankore woman, so by the time a man sees his woman, he is excited,” he said.

 “Young men and women would dress appropriately in Ankole, but of late, all that has changed,” Mr Twinamatsiko adds.

Mr Twinamatsiko believes the English language has replaced Runyankore because local languages are criminalised in some schools yet it is one of the subjects taught in primary and secondary schools.

“There is a contradiction between integrating Runyankore as a subject in schools and the actual expectations of teachers. We must attach value to our language because at the moment, it is wrong for a child to speak Runyankore in some school,” he says.

The chairperson of Mbarara District, Mr Didas Tabaro Tumwesigye, acknowledges that the abolition of Ankole Kingdom has seen a decline in cultural norms and ways of living.

“Much as we are busy, let us try hard to find and respect our tradition and cultural norms. People now think when you speak English, you are civilised and modernised, which is completely wrong,” he explains.

Mr Tabaro says the worry is that those who would be reminding, guiding and teaching the young generation about the culture are aging and the youth are not showing interest in their traditional beliefs and values.


Mr Zabron Rwabushaija, 80, a resident of Nyabubare, Bwongyera, Kajara in Ntungamo District, an advocate of Ankole culture, says modernity has swallowed the Ankole culture.

“For us in Ankole, we are left to admire what we borrow from elsewhere. Haven’t you heard statements like even their girls (Banyankore) are in prostitution on streets and bars? Talk about teenage pregnancies, all these things were never heard when the culture was still intact. The young people were molded through traditional practices such as rites of passage, folklore and traditional education,” he says.

Mr Rwabushaija says he is not against modernity because it is shaping the world order, but maintains that cultural values and traditions must be advocated for.

The chairperson of Ankole Cultural Trust (ACT) and the Prime minister of the defunct Ankole Kingdom, Mr William Katatumba, blames a few selfish individuals for blocking the restoration of the kingdom.

“All these challenges you are seeing with moral degeneration, criminality, destruction of the environment, poverty and food insecurity in Ankole is because of politics and a few selfish individuals who have stood in the way for the restoration of the kingdom. If our kingdom is not restored, we are yet to see the worst,” Mr Katatumba said.

He said before the abolishment of the kingdom, there were structures at every level that were responsible for guiding, educating and giving advice on all issues that impact positively on the community.  Mr Katatumba said they no longer have such structures in place.

“We have no budget to do this work, we cannot fundraise to get money for the same. We have just been reduced to making appeals and showing support for the restoration of the kingdom through writings,” he adds.

The Ankole Kingdom monarchist, Mr Emmanuel Asiimwe, says modernity in the absence of Ankole cultural leadership has distorted foundation upbringing in society.

“Ankole culture was the foundation for the family, each member’s wife, husband, children knew their roles and responsibilities. This created harmony, love and survival in families. But today, a husband is not a husband, wives are not wives, children are not children, they are all competing on who should be a family head and status. Men have neglected families, but also women want to compete with men to head the family,” he says.

Keeping culture alive

Some private players have tried to keep the Ankole culture alive.

 Igongo Cultural Centre and Country Hotel in Biharwe Mbarara City North Division have documented the history of Ankole culture, displaying artifacts, hosting performances on culture, dancing, storytelling, and replicating architectural constructions and traditions such marriages, cooking and food preservation.

Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime, the director general of Igongo Cultural Centre and Country Hotel, says modernity has come, but we need to look for ways to co-exist.

“Generations keep changing, the past seems to be buried. What we need to do is to blend our own traditions in modernity. That is why as Igongo, we have tried to document the history of Ankole to make it an easy reference for anybody interested in the culture. I have also been publishing books on Ankole culture,” he said.

Mr Tumusiime says cultural institutions are reference points and that in their absence as has been in Ankole, sister institutions such as schools, family, and the church can play their roles.

Prof Alex Ariho, the executive director of Excel Hort Consult Agro-tourism Centre in Mbarara City, says there should be deliberate efforts to transform communities in both modernity and cultural context to preserve the Ankole culture.

“Some of the challenges we are facing such as environmental degradation is ignoring the cultural context in trying to do things the modern way. You cannot destroy a wetland if you know water is a source of livelihood. At our agro-tourism centre, we explain to our visitors how in the past our grandfathers used traditional means to harness nature and survive,” he said.

Mixed  feeling

Ms Mary Rwabushaija 68, a resident of Kakiika in Mbarara City, says the Ankole culture created a lot of divisions among the residents and people have not expressed much interest.

“There was competition and division in terms of development between Bairu (cultivators) and Bahima (cattle keepers).The Bahima treated themselves as superior over the Bairu and this at times brought tensions and that is why majority Bairu are against the Kingdom restoration,” she said.

Ms Rwabushaija says in the absence of the Ankole Kingdom, families and communities should take a centre stage in imparting value in the young generation.


      Ankole is one of the sub-regions in south western Uganda that consists of 12 districts and a city, which formerly constituted the Ankole Kingdom.

   The region borders Tanzania in the South, Rwanda in Southwest, and DR Congo in the North West.

The districts in the sub-region include Mbarara, Kiruhura, Kazo, Isingiro, Rwampara, Ibanda, Ntungamo, Sheema, Buhweju, Bushenyi, Rubirizi, and Mitooma.

The sub-region is mainly the home of Bantu speaking people known as Banyankore with a population of more than 3.2 million people, according to the 2014 census. They speak Runyankore and are predominantly cattle keepers and cultivators.

Like other kingdoms in Uganda, Ankole Kingdom was abolished by President Milton Obote on September 17, 1967. Despite the restoration of other Kingdoms in 1993 by President Museveni, Ankole Kingdom wasn’t.

By the time of its abolishment, there were 23 recognised kings from Ruhinda to Gasyonga II. Since 1993, the pro and anti-restoration of the Kingdom (Obugabe) groups have had disagreements on whether the 600-year-old traditional institution should be revived or not.

The anti-Obugabe group argue that in the old days of the monarchy, the cattle keepers (Bahima), who were the rulers, reportedly brutalised the cultivators (Bairu). They say this fueled tensions and divisions based on these social classes.

On November 20, 1993, there were attempts to install late Prince John Patrick Barigye, the son to late Gasyonga II, as the King of Ankole in Nkokonjeru Mbarara City, but later collapsed after the government nullified his coronation.

Prince Barigye died in 2011 before being installed and his successor Charles Aryeija Rwebishengye is yet to be recognised.

Compiled by Felix Ainebyoona, Rajab Mukombozi & Julius Byamukama


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