“May the spears kill me if I betray my subjects,” Bunyoro kings swore.
The former Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to Omukama (King) Dr Solomon Iguru of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Dr Yolamu Nsamba, says the Abakama (Kings) of Bunyoro swore to protect their subjects from Arab slave traders and their collaborators alongside injustices.
He narrates that on arrival from Oman to the coast of the Indian Ocean in 1729, the Arabs chased away the Portuguese before camping inland East Africa at Ujiji and Tabora in Tanganyika from where they crossed to Kooki to deal in slaves.
Unlike in Buganda where the Arabs collaborated with a number of kings (Kabaka) to raid and kidnap people into slavery in detest of Abagole (priestesses that exercised both secular and ritual authority before and during the reign of kings), the case was different in Bunyoro.
The Baganda kings that betrayed their own working through some of their Baganda subjects and Bakooki include Kabaka Kaguru Ntambi Tibucwekere.
Dr Nsamba explains that Bunyoro kings stood firm and declared slave trade inhuman.
Due to the Kabakas’ support to slave trade, Kaguru Ntambi Tibucwekere and his successors each spent only two years on the throne.
“The Abagole warned Kabaka Tibucwekere against involvement in slave trade but he never took heed which consequently depopulated Buganda. However, their advice infuriated the Kabaka and decided to persecute and kill them, ushering in his downfall with his reign lasting for only two years,” Dr Nsamba says.
The Arab and Baganda slave traders advanced to Bunyoro in collaboration with a section of Ababiito Abahaga (some greedy royal clan dissidents) but the kings declined to support the business declared inhuman by Abagole.
Dr Nsamba says Omukama “Ruhaga” Cwa Mujwiga whose name the Baganda mispronounced as “Duhaga” led the kingdom for 52 years as he got support from the Abagole for not condoning slave trade in his realm.
It should be noted that Omukama Ruhaga was named so in reference to his big cheeks while he was still a baby and the mispronunciation and misspelling distorted the meaning of the name and it got stuck.
Dr Nsamba adds that the passion to protect his subjects from slavery forced Omukama Nyamutukura to wage war against the Arabs and their Baganda and Bakooki collaborators who fled to Bulandaganyi in Busoga where the Omukama followed and thumped them before deploying his soldiers there to block the inhumane actors against returning to Bunyoro.
He says when Omukama Kamurasi – the father to Omukama Kabaleega found the Arabs burning huts in Bukedi to kidnap people for slavery, he decided to reinforce the Bakedi with his army and walloped the Arabs until they fled the area.
“Omukama Kamurasi’s act earned him adoration among the Bakedi who asked him to return with them to Bunyoro and gave him a praise name Okudidi – an Acholi connotation of being a good and merciful person,” Dr Nsamba says.
After the death of Omukama Kamurasi, there broke out a war between Kabaleega and Kabigumiire with the Abahaga supporting the latter because he was their ally condoning slave trade while the former detested it.
“The Abahaga said ‘engoma eragumirwa Kabigumiire kandi eraleegwa Kabaleega.’ Meaning the throne will be managed by Kabigumiire and begged by Kabaleega,” Dr Nsamba quotes.
However, Kabaleega defeated Kabigumiire and the Abahaga and fought against slave trade in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
“Had Kabigumiire ascended the throne, slave trade would have flourished in Bunyoro because he was a favourite of the Abahaga who supported the inhumane trade.” Dr Nsamba continues.
From Omukama Isansa, the kings of Bunyoro vowed never to mistreat and sell their subjects into slavery swearing: ‘Amacumu ganyite’ meaning ‘may the spears kill me if I betray my subjects’”, he says.