Soldiers pay last respects to the body of Kabaka Edward Muteesa II in 1971.
As Queen Elizabeth II is laid to rest today, we revisit some of the norms and traditions that accompany a fallen
monarch in Bunyoro and Buganda kingdoms.
After 70 years on the throne as the head of state of the
United Kingdom, and of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth died on September 8 at the age of 96 years. Her eldest son and heir to the throne, now King Charles III, has been taking a leading role in the ten-day elaborate ceremonies for the state funeral which has taken at least 20 years to plan.
The British government dubbed the intricate protocol of
handling Elizabeth’s death “Operation London Bridge.” It ranges from succession rules to the process of transporting the Queen’s coffin from Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she died, to Edinburgh, and then to London where she’s to be buried later today.
Once the death of Queen Elizabeth II was confirmed, phone
calls were made to the Prime Minister and then to other heads of State, especially in the Commonwealth.
Buckingham Palace then released the news to the
media. Flags on official buildings in the UK were flying at half-mast within 10 minutes of the news being announced.
This, however, did not stop an old tradition of placing a
printed and framed announcement of the Queen’s death outside the gates of the Buckingham Palace.
Traditionally the death of the King or Queen was announced
through a notice pinned at the gate of Buckingham palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburg Scotland.
The official notice at the palace gates, announcing Elizabeth’s death, read: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral
this afternoon. The King and Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
This meant that Prince Charles’s succession and ascension to
the throne happened seamlessly and almost unnoticed. But once back in London, the new King had to follow an old tradition to take oath of office, the Proclamation of Ascension.
A drum is at the centre of royal ceremonies in the ancient
kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro. It is probably the most important tool of communication, going back to the very beginning of kingship in this part of the world. The drum announced the ascension to the throne of a new king; it announced the start of end of war. Celebratory ceremonies would have a drum as
a major part and so did times of mourning such as the death of the king.
In Bunyoro, from the Batembuzi and Bacwezi times to the
current Babiito Dynasty, the sounding of royal drums in a particular way announce the death of the King. These drums include the Nyalebe and Kajumba drums which the Babiito dynasty inherited from the Bacwezi.
The drums are then turned upside down to symbolize a vacant throne. This practice is called “okujuumika engoma” and it’s only the new monarch who turns the drums again as he ascends to
the throne in another practice called “Okujuumura Empango.”
Arthur B. Fisher, a missionary priest in Uganda during the
early colonial times, captured some of the practices in his book, Twilight Tales of the Black Baganda.
Given the title, an average reader may be made to
believe it is about Buganda. But the book documents pre-colonial history in both Bunyoro and Tooro and was written with the help of Kings Andereya Bisereko Duhaga II of Bunyoro and Daudi Kasagama Kyebambe III of Tooro.
Fisher writes that in the old Bunyoro Kitara, as soon as the
Omukama died, his eldest son was summoned and commanded to bring a cow without blemish, of good pedigree, and whose calves had never died. This was tied to the doorpost of the death chamber, and the son was told to milk it himself into a sooty pot, and to pour the milk into the mouth of his dead father, so as to feed the spirit. The favorite wife of the dead Omukama attended to the corpse,
shaving off the hair, cutting the finger and toenails, and placing flowers in his clasped hands. When this was done, all the relations and people were allowed in to view the body. At sunset, the corpse was carried into an outside shed. Here it was cut open and all the internal organs were tied up in a calf’s skin and cast into Lake Mwitanzige, now called Lake Albert.
The jaw was kept apart for the ceremonial burial. And the
son who successfully buried the jaw of the dead king ascended to the throne as his successor. This was a major trigger for succession wars. The last kind on whom this tradition was performed was Omukama Kamurasi IV who died in 1869.
The prince who performed the ceremony was Chwa II Kabalega, probably the greatest of Bunyoro rulers.
Dunstan Leonard Sserunyiigo Kasolo, a researcher for the
Buganda Kingdom, is one of those who attended the burial of Kabaka Muteesa II in April 1971. Kasolo, now aged 90, says traditionally, the monarch’s demise is announced through the sounding of the royal drums known as Mujaguzo, a set of
more than 100 drums sounded in times of happiness and grief.
Kasolo, who was a close friend to Kabaka Muteesa and his
elder brother, Prince Mawanda, adds that water is poured into the fireplace known as Ekyooto Gombolola, which burns 24 hours throughout the King’s reign to put it off thus the phrase that “the fire out means that there is no king on the throne of Buganda.”
Fredrick Lukyn Williams, a British historian and lecturer at
the Makerere University College in the 1930s, documented the death of the Kabaka Daudi Chwa II in November 1939. According to an article in the Uganda Journal of January 1940, Volume VII, No 4., the Kabaka’s death was announced several hours after his passing.
Williams says in the article that on the evening of November
22, 1939, the Katikkiro announced to the people from a megaphone stationed at the current Bank of Uganda headquarters in Kampala that the Kabaka had died that morning.
The words used were that he had released his hold on the shield,
Agye omukono mu ngabo,” Williams writes on page 177 of the publication.
Afterward, the announcements were spread by word of mouth.
Ascension the throne
It appeared smooth and seamless as Prince Charles ascended
to the throne and succeeded her mother within minutes of the Queen’s death. For 70 years he knew, and the world knew, he was the next in line.
In Buganda and Bunyoro, however, there was no Crown Prince, at
least not openly.
In principle, all sons and brothers of the King qualified to succeed
him. This is why succession was always a do or die affair, for the queue was long and ambiguous. In Buganda, the first son of the King did not qualify to succeed his father to the throne. But this age-old tradition suffered a knock in the 1880s, in the middle of religious wars, when Kiweewa, son of Muteesa I, took the throne and became Kabaka.
Kasolo says the selection of the heir to the throne was
always through a vote in the Kingdom’s parliament, the Lukiiko. Here the Katikkiro, Kasujju Lubinga and Nkima clan head – Mugema presented Princes born to the king and brothers to the king. The prince who became heir was chosen depending on the prevailing political conditions so that the kingdom would have
a king who would be able to handle the political situation.
He adds that according to the 1900 Buganda Agreement
now only Princes descended from Kabaka Muteesa I qualify to take over the throne.
Once a Prince got the majority votes in the Lukiiko, he
became King immediately by covering the body of the deceased monarch with a bark cloth as the Kingdom cannot stay with a vacant throne.
The Prince performs the ceremony of ‘Okubika Akabugo’ by looking at the face of his father and then covering the body with bark cloth.
In his Will, Kabaka Muteesa II appeared to depart from the
old tradition of letting the Lukiiko elect his heir to the throne. He seemed to openly indicate he would wish for his son, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, to succeed him.
Indeed, when he died in London, in November 1969, Prince Mutebi covered the father’s body with bark cloth and thus became King. Though this would be understandable, as there was no Lukiiko to sit and determine the next King since Kingdoms had been abolished in 1967.
In Bunyoro, the prince who had been chosen, or had won the succession battles, buried the deceased King by dropping nine coffee beans in the grave and then placing a piece of bark cloth.
Under the Bunyoro customs, a day after the demise of the King,
in the morning all the sons of the late monarch would be brought before the traditional chiefs and the chiefs would choose one whom they wish to be their ruler.
Mourning the king
In the UK members of the public lay tributes of flowers at
dedicated sites at different palaces as a sign of grief and comforting the royal family. Flowers are left outside the gates of the palaces by the subjects. Flags fly at half-staff across the entire Kingdom during the whole time of mourning.
Another tradition within the Royal Family includes the
wearing of mourning bands. These are worn on the left arm and must measure three-and-a-quarter inches wide.
Among the Banyoro and Baganda, one key sign for mourning was
the wearing of the back cloth and banana fibres. Women wear black busuuti, while men wear kanzu with a bark cloth tied around their waists as a sign of mourning. People would wail and roll on the ground. This was witnessed in 1971 when the death of Sir Tito Winyi IV of Bunyoro died and the body of Sir Edward Muteesa was brought back home for state burial.
In 1995 when Omukama Kaboyo Olimi III of Tooro died, the period of mourning from the time the King died to
the time his son – Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukudi IV – ascended to the throne, lasted 17 days.
Burial of monarchs anywhere in the world is, and has been, a grand affair. Queen Elizabeth II will be buried next to her husband in St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle, the same place where her father, King George VI, was buried in February 1952. At least nine other Kings are buried in the same place.
In both Bunyoro and Buganda traditionally, kings would be buried inside their palaces after elaborate ceremonies. For Buganda, the jaw of the King was buried in a tomb enclosed in a building in a part called ekibira, or the forest.
In Buganda, the last King to be buried in his palace was Muteesa I in 1884. That palace was eventually turned into the royal burial grounds, now housing four of three more Kings: Muteesa’s son Mwanga II who died in 1903, Daudi Chwa II and Muteesa II.
In Bunyoro, a freshly dug grave for the King called Iziba or the water well and once the remains of the monarch are interred, the tomb becomes Egasani in singular or Amagasani in plural. A king would be buried with some precious items such as royal shields, spears and drums.
In Bunyoro, Mparo(in Hoima) became the site for the burial of royals. After two decades in exile, Chwa II Kabalega was buried at Mparo when he died in April 1923. His son, Tito Winyi, who spent more than 10 years living with the legendary warrior in exile in the Seychelles, would follow him to Mparo after his death in 1971.
The body of the departed king would be wrapped in hundreds of bark cloth pieces before burial. These rituals have been changing as these kingdoms embraced some of the aspects of other cultures. The funeral ceremonies of Daudi Chwa II, Tito Winyi IV and Muteesa II had strong elements of British style ceremonies.
For instance, after Muteesa II’s body was returned on 30, March 1971, a military ceremony in British style was held at Kololo presided over by President Idi Amin. In the evening, the coffin was driven on an open carriage to Namirembe Cathedral and kept in the Hannington Chapel for the night. Here people lined up to pay their last respects to the Kabaka.
During the second night, the body was taken to one of Muteesa’s palaces in Bamunanika where Kasolo recalls that it is here that Katikkiro Mayanja Nkangi formally declared Prince Mutebi the new King and showed him to the people.
The body was brought back to Namirembe the following day, where a requiem service was held.
Kasolo vividly remembers the somberness in the service and the words by Bishop Cyril Stuart.