The year 2020 will see plenty of Top Twenty lists here at Balladeer’s Blog. Here’s a look at 20 Bunyoro Gods. Bunyoro was located in and around present-day Uganda. The people had an elaborate pantheon of deities. For the top gods of the Nyanga people instead, click HERE
RUHANGA – The supreme god of the Bunyoro pantheon. The creator and initiator of the world after he separated the Earth from the sky and adorned the sky with stars. Ruhanga stayed remote and, though omnipotent, was seldom invoked or prayed to. He provided the Banyoro people (Bunyoro for the place, Banyoro for the people) with children, animals and the harvest, but also was the author of disease, sickness and death.
On the freshly-created Earth Ruhanga put three seeds into the ground and in 1 day 3 calabashes had grown. all on one stem. He took a man/woman couple out of the first 2 calabashes but found just a lone man in the third. Ruhanga named the men KAKAMA, KAHIMA and KAIRU.
After subjecting the men to tests to determine their worth, Kakama was judged the most worthy and Ruhanga decreed his descendants would be the ruling class. He further decreed that Kahima’s descendants would be the cattlemen class and Kairu’s descendants would be the farmer class. (No the myth doesn’t say who Kairu has the children with.)
An alternate version of this myth has Ruhanga create two male/female couples, the first of which is to be ancestors of the royalty and the second couple is to be the ancestors of the serfs. A third version of this creation myth states Ruhanga stayed in his home in the sky where he created a man, Rugabe, and his wife, Nyamate, and sent them down with various animal couples to populate the Earth.
Once there was a time when only animals died permanently and humans could all be resurrected. All that was required for the resurrection was the expression of joy among all of the living. However, one woman refused to dress up in her best clothes and meet the newly risen because her pet dog had died. “Why should I go,” she asked, “when my dog is gone?” Ruhanga heard this remark and said “So people don’t care what becomes of their dead? They shall no longer rise again, then, for death will terminate their lives.”
(What a jerk! Every myth that depicts gods and goddesses acting like this always makes me think of the Gnostic myth about how these power-crazed deities are all really the insane godling Yaldabaoth under various names.) Anyway, Ruhanga then decreed that the stars in the sky would have immortality and not humans.
NYAMIYONGA – The god who ruled over the Netherworld. He sometimes meddled in the affairs of the world, as in the myth of Isaza, whom he tricked into becoming trapped in the Netherworld so Nyamiyonga could position Bukuku the Usurper on Isaza’s throne. Nyamiyonga had sent a messenger to Isaza proposing a blood pact, but Isaza, rightfully wary that Nyamiyonga was planning treachery that would enable him to rule over the land of the living as well as the land of the dead, sent the blood of his gatekeeper Bukuku instead. (Or in some versions, the blood of his possession, the moon)
When Nyamiyonga found out he had been tricked (in some versions from the traitorous Bukuku himself) he resolved to lure Isaza to the Netherworld forever. First he sent his daughter Nyamata to lure Isaza into his clutches. Not knowing who this beautiful woman was, Isaza fell in love with her and married her. He resisted all her entreaties to visit her mysterious home since he couldn’t bear to be parted from his beloved cattle.
So, using this fondness for cattle (Get your minds out of the gutter!) Nyamiyonga caused two of his most handsome cattle to be discovered near Isaza’s kraal. They were taken to the king, who soon loved them the most of all. (I said stop it!)
One day Nyamiyonga summoned the cattle home and the inconsolable Isaza went in search of them and thus was lured into Nyamiyonga’s realm. The ruler of the Netherworld refused to let Isaza leave and to repay the insulting trick he had played on him with the substituted blood, placed the source of that blood, the commoner Bukuku, on Isaza’s throne.
MULINDWA – The goddess who protected the royal clan. Each of the 46 clans of Bunyoro had its own protective deity. They each also had their own totem-name which could be an animal, e.g. Kiroko (hippopotamus) or a plant, e.g. Bulo (millet), a utensil, e.g. Kaibo (basket), or a part of the body, e.g. Amara (stomach).
No one was allowed to marry a member of their own clan except the royal clan. Kings could only marry their own cousins but it is known that several married their sisters. Mulindwa was said to be a half-sister to the god Ndaula.
ISAZA – Moon god and early ruler of the Banyoro people of Bunyoro. The moon was considered one of his possessions (or, in alternate myths part of his empire and therefore subject to his will). The last king of the Batembuzi Dynasty. After Nyamiyonga trapped him in the Netherworld (see above) he placed Bukuku the Usurper on Isaza’s throne. Bukuku’s reign was marked by its cruelty.
MUHINGO – The god of war. Every general had to sacrifice to Muhingo before marching off to battle. If he returned victorious sheep had to be sacrificed to Muhingo.
NDAULA – The god of epidemics. His main temple was on the frontier so that offerings could be brought to him when a disease raged over the border in the hope of keeping it outside the country. He was the founder of the Bachwezi Dynasty and the first of its members to incarnate as a god. (SEE BELOW FOR DETAILS)
NYAKAKAIKURU – Sun goddess. She is depicted as an old woman who holds up the sun so it does not fall on the Earth. She carries it across the sky to the west, where, at the end of each day she devours most of the sun. She tosses a piece of the “sun meat” to the supreme god Ruhanga, who overnight crafts a new sun, which is always ready by morning.
MUGIZI – God of the body of water called Lake Albert in English. His medium wore garlands of shells. Anyone wanting to travel by boat across the lake had to bring offerings to Mugizi for a safe voyage.
NYINAMWERU – The daughter of Bukuku the Usurper. When she was born the diviners foretold that the son who would be born of her would kill Bukuku and assume the throne. To prevent this, Bukuku had her locked away in a plush section of the royal household. Eventually SIMBU, son of Isaza and Nyamata, penetrated (as it were) his way into her room and after spending three months with her, left her pregnant with his son Ndaula.
KIGARE – God of cattle. His priest would advise the king regarding negligent herdsmen. (“Tonight on Cattle Police”)
KAIKARE – Goddess of the harvest. Her medium was always a woman. People would bring her offerings of millet before harvesting their crops.
SIMBU – Son of the moon god Isaza and Nyamata, daughter of Nyamiyonga, the god who ruled the Netherworld. Simbu was born in the Netherworld where his mother and father were being held by Nyamiyonga so he could put Bukuku the Usurper on the throne.
Simbu was not bound in the world of the dead like his father so he left the Netherworld and entered Bukuku’s capital. Bukuku had been warned by a seer that he had reason to fear any child his daughter Nyinamweru would bear so he had imprisoned her in a plush prison that could only be entered through his own well-guarded palace. Intrigued by this, Simbu sent messages to Nyinamweru through her maid.
Encouraged in his attentions Simbu infiltrated the palace and entered Nyinamweru’s prison where the myth says he spent 3 months with her, undetected by her father and his guards. (That’s a crack bunch!) Once Simbu knew he had impregnated Nyinamweru he left and returned to the Netherworld where he took another wife and fathered the god KYOMYO, who established the Bito Dynasty.
LUBANGA – God of health. His temple had to be surrounded by rows of living trees. Prayers for good health to the god had to be accompanied by offerings of banana beer for blessings.
MUNUME – Weather-god. He was invoked in time of drought or conversely when there was too much rain. The king would send a sacrifice of an ox, while the people would send sheep and fowls which would be sacrificed and eaten as a sacred meal at the temple door for the priests and the people, after the priests had sprinkled the blood in the temple.
WAMALA– The god of plenty who could help to increase the number of children, calves, crops and all other living beings. He was the son of the god Ndaula. He had his temple near the royal palace where his medium, who was dressed in a special costume, gave oracles.
The king and the nobles of the realm would come with cows and bull calves as offerings when they wished to consult the oracle. The cows would be milked and the milk would be placed in the temple, after which the god would possess the medium. This medium would go into a trance and afterwards deliver the god’s message regarding the sickness of the cattle or the failure of the crops (or the airing of the grievances).
The sacrificial meal would be eaten by the priests and the people with the medium receiving special portions. After this the people would light fires and spend the night singing and dancing. Before incarnating as a god Wamala, also called Wamara, was the last ruler of the supposedly divine (and possibly non-existent) Bachwezi Dynasty. Some myths say the Bachwezi all left Earth for the Netherworld and others say they all vanished into Lake Wamala in Singo.
Miscellaneous myths and beliefs:
*Batembuzi Dynasty – Kakama, the mythic ancestor of the Batembuzi Dynasty nobility, had a son named Bada, who succeeded him to the throne. Bada’s son Ngonzaki in turn succeeded him to the throne and his son Isaza became the last ruler of the Batembuzi Dynasty. The Batembuzi Dynasty is sometimes credited with introducing long-horned Ankole cattle to the Bunyoro region. Other myths attribute that introduction to the Bachwezi Dynasty.
* Bachwezi Dynasty – The Banyoro of Bunyoro believed their first king descended from the sky realm of the gods together with his cattle. Isaza, the last ruler of this dynasty (the Batembuzi Dynasty)vanished into the Netherworld.
Bukuku the Usurper assumed the throne and his daughter, Nyinamweru, who was one day visited by a god named Simbu (also called Isimbwa), the son of Isaza, who impregnated Princess Nyinamweru and then returned to the Netherworld. The princess gave birth to a boy named Ndaula (also called Ndahura).
Since Bukuku the Usurper had been warned that he had reason to fear any child his daughter would bear, he ordered the child to be drowned. He was thrown into a river but by chance his umbilical cord snagged in a bush and the baby was saved by the potter Rubumbi, who raised the child as his own. He knew that it was Nynamweru’s child and relayed word to her that it was safe, even though Bukuku believed it dead.
When Ndaula was grown he became a herdsman for Rubumbi. Once he drove Bukuku’s herdsmen away from a drinking trough so he could water his adopted father’s cattle first. This angered Bukuku, who decided to punish the potter’s sone who dared antagonize the king’s herdsmen. He had Ndaula brought to the throne room and ordered his men to beat him. Ndaula overcame the guards and seized Bukuku’s own spear and killed him with it. Nyinamweru prevented further conflict by revealing that Ndaula was her son.
Ndaula then ruled in Bukuku’s place, instituted the Bachwezi Dynasty and declared it a law that as soon as the king felt too old to rule he would hand over power to his son and retire to the Netherworld as a deity. At the end of his rule Ndaula became incarnate as the god of epidemics listed above.
Later it became tradition for the outgoing king to take poison as soon as he was no longer fit enough to rule. This ritual suicide was believed to hasten their path to godhood. The royal princes would then battle each other for the throne until only one was left, the losing combatants having all been killed or forced to flee into permanent exile.
Academic debate continues over whether or not the Bachwezi Dynasty ever really existed, much like the legendary Hung Vuong Dynasty in Vietnamese mythology. The rulers of the Bachwezi Dynasty supposedly introduced coffee cultivation, bronze-working, iron-working, and fortress-building as they expanded the military and political influence of their realm, which at its height was the combined Bunyoro-Kitara Empire. This empire was said to have encompassed the whole of central, western and southern Uganda, northern Tanzania, western Kenya and eastern Zaire. Some scholars scoff at this notion and say the empire, if it existed, was much smaller.
Culturally the Bachwezi Dynasty supposedly contributed the notion of centralized government to the people of the region. They also are credited with granting women an expanded role in the activities of the royal court. They also supposedly introduced wrestling and the game of mweso.
* Pythons were regarded as sacred in Bunyoro and were referred to as “calves”. The king had a special temple at Kisengwa where the pythons were fed daily on milk. These divine pythons were domesticated to the point where they would never kill human beings.
* The Banyoro of Bunyoro (I just like saying that) believed that earthquakes were caused by the spirits of old kings stirring in their graves. Those graves were elaborately cared for in hopes of preventing earthquakes. (These days no one seems to want to take this simple precaution.)
Source books for the above entries:
African Mythology: An Encyclopedia Of Myth And Legend
The Aquarian Guide To African Mythology
A Dictionary Of World Mythology
A Dictionary Of African Mythology