Culture in Uganda


Uganda contains more than 50 different indigenous languages belonging to two distinct linguistic groups and an equally diverse cultural mosaic of music, art and handcrafts. Uganda is one of the centres that rich in African cultural experience ranging from bantu in the central, west, south west and east to Nilotic groups.


The name Bagisu originated from the nickname Nkisu given to Mwambu by Maswababa’s Maasai brother- in- law, the Bamasaba speak a dialect of the Lumasaba language called Lumasaba which fully understandable by other dialects, and also understood by the Bakusu. Bagisu/ Bamasaba mainly practice farming as a way of life where they also grow bananas primarily for food and sell them for supplement the income earned from coffee, cotton and tobacco and their stable food for Bagisu is known as Malewa translated as bamboo leaves. Bagisu people live on Malewa which is a delicacy made from bamboo shoots that grows at the top of mount Elgon. The Bagisu people speak a dialect of Lumasaba language called Lugisu which is fully understandable by other dialects. Bagisu undergo a circumcision ritual called the Imbalu which held every after two years during the month of august.

The Bagisu have no tradition of an early migration from any place. They assert that their ancestors were called Mundu and Sera where tradition says that came out of the hole in mount Masaba (Elgon). Their early life seems to have anti- social almost based on the principle that says “survival for the fittest”. Very little that know about their history though they are known to be related to a sub- group of Luhya of Kenya known as the Bukusu.

Along Ugandan side of mount Elgon around Sipi falls and Mbale town you can meet the proud Bagisu people. Oral legends have it that the Bagisu can trace their origin to Masaba where is believed to have come from the cave on mount Elgon. The word Masaba means mountain in Lugisu language.

In Bagisu society there is no central rule, each of the clan has a non- hereditary chief that is appointed by the council of elders. The real control was in the hands of the traditional religious leaders also referred to as witches. It was held as an iron grip on society, traditions, beliefs and one of them is Imbalu circumcision when the boys became men in the tribe and take on all privileges and responsibilities of a male in that tribe including marriage.

The Imbalu circumcision rituals are one of those society norms passed down from the days of old to present. Oral legends tell us that the first ‘Mugisu’ man that was circumcised had a reputation of a womaniser, seducing women in his village and beyond including many who were married. He was brought before the elders who decreed that he should be castrated as a punishment and deterrent to other men.

Something did not work out as decreed, he was only circumcised and after he recovered, he continued his ways of old seducing even more women, it was said by some of them that he had become an even better lover. Other men not wanting to be left out on such pleasures had themselves circumcised in order become like the first Mugisu who was circumcised.

Public imbalu circumcision ceremonies are held during even numbered years between the months of August and December. It is a very great occasion in Bagisu society where male individuals undergo the ritual of passage to manhood and this involves the whole local community with even visitors allowed from far and wide. Boys and young men between 16- 25 years, some times even younger or much older are also considered the acceptable age for the Imbalu. Those that decide to be circumcised announce their intention in June or may and spend the following few months preparing for the Imbalu Ceremony.

The circumcision ceremony is done early in the morning before 10:00am and involves all the initiates from a given clan, a number of young men encouraged by a whistling and cheering crowd making their way to the circumcision ground carrying the initiates on their shoulders. The initiates have their faces plastered in ash and they are stripped half naked below the waist on their way to the circumcision ground. They usually line up in front of the crowd of family and friends, both male and female since the ritual is done in public.

One to be graduated from a young boy to a man and considered as responsible and indeed a real Mugisu through circumcision. The women’s true identity is also defined by marrying a real man who is circumcised and try to avoid those who fear circumcision and trying to avoid it but when after becoming men they may have to endure a rough forced circumcision. One time happened in newspapers where a Mugisu returning from abroad had to prove that he was indeed a man.

The public Imbalu circumcision ceremonies is considered as culture and traditions of the Bagisu and you can put it in your plan and have a safari during a time when the ceremonies take place and have an experience.

The Banyankole/ Ankole tribe

The Banyankole located in south western region, east of lake Edward was the kingdom of Ankole which was a typical bantu state. The Ankole agreement was signed on October 25, 1901, officially incorporating the kingdom into the British protectorate of Uganda.

It is said that the name Nkore formerly Kaaro- Karungi was adopted in the 17th century after the disastrous assault of Kaaro- Karungi by Chawaali, then Omukama(king) of Bunyoro- Kitara. Ankole came from Ruhanga (creator), the primary king of the Ankole is said to have descended from heaven to control the world with three sons, named Kairu, Kakama and Kahima are said to have accompanied Ruhanga in his life. One of the king’s sons was supposed to be chosen as the future king through the test. The boys had to spend the night with pots of milk on their laps as part of the test. Kakama, the youngest son is said to have finished the assignment first, followed by Kahima and finally Kairu, the eldest. After allegedly announcing that his brothers Kairu and Kahima will serve their brother Kakama, Ruhanga ascended back to heaven. The Bahima were a nomadic people that came to dominate the Iru who were farmers also referred to as Bairu. These two groups were treated as unequal partners. Prohibitions against intermarriage ensured that the two communities could keep their distinct identities and treated any marriages between them as null and void.

As of now, you can find Banyankole people living in these areas of Uganda: Bushenyi District, Buhwenju District, Mitooma District, Rubirizi District, Sheema District, Ntungamo District and Mbarara district.

The tradition dress code of Banyankole differentiated rank and gender, chiefs wore long robes of cow hide while the themes wore a little portion of the cow hide over their shoulders, the ladies subjected to wear skin hide cloths and also covered their faces while in public. If on a journey or when traveling to go to friends, Bahima women were carried during a cow skin- covered litter for fear that walking would tire them within the times cotton replaced cow hide as a way of body attire, on special occasions a Munyankole man might wear an extended white cotton robe with a western style sports coat over it. A hat resembling fez can also be worn, women cover their bodies, heads and partially their faces with bright coloured cloth.

The staple food of Banyankole millet supplemented with matooke, potatoes and cassava. Millet and meat were prepared on special occasions. Potatoes and cassava weren’t respectable foods and unless there was a true shortage of food, they might not to be presented to a visitor or to be eaten. It had been rear for a family to eat and finish the entire meal, however the family head wasn’t alleged to eat leftovers.

The Banyankore did not have peculiar birth custom, usually when a woman was going to give birth for the first time she would be sent to her mother. Brave women and majority of them were brave could give birth by themselves without any need for a midwife however, if things went wrong an acting midwife who usually an old woman would be summoned.

If the afterbirth refused to come out freely and quickly after the child there was some local medicine would be administered to the woman if the normal herbs failed to induce it out, the husband of the woman was required to climb with a mortar to the top of the house raise an alarm and slide the motor down from the top of the house.

The child could be named immediately after birth, the normal practice was after the mother had finished the days if confinement refered to as Ekiriri. The woman would confine herself for four days of the boy child and three days if a child was a girl, after those three or four days the couple would resume their sexual relationship in practice known as Okucwa ekyizaire. The name given to a child depended on the personal experience of the father and mother by the time when a child was born, the name of an ancestor would be given by a father or the grandfather and the mother of the child however the fathers choice usually took precedence. The names given were verbs or nouns that appear in normal speech, often the names also betrayed the state of mind of the person who gave them for example the name Kaheru among the Bunyoro portrayed that the husband suspected that the woman got pregnancy outside the family. Traditionally it was normal in Ankole for the woman to have sex with her in- laws and even have children by them, such children were not regarded differently from the other children in the family.

Traditionally, the normal pattern was for both the parents of the boy and the girl to arrange the marriage sometimes without the knowledge of the girl that is concerned. The initiate was normally taken by the boy’s parents and upon the payment of an appropriate bride wealth, arrangement would be made to fetch the bride. Customarily, a girl could not be offered for marriage when the elder sister or sisters were still unmarried if the marriage offer was made for a younger sister though it is said that the girl’s parents would manipulate issues in such way that the giving away ceremony, they would conceal and send the elder sister. When the bridegroom would come to know it, he was not supposed to raise questions. He could go ahead and pay more bride wealth and marry a young sister if he could afford it. It was the responsibility of the father to pay in full the bride wealth and meet all the costs of arranging his son’s marriage.

During the wedding ceremony, the girl would be accompanied by her aunt among others. Some traditions assert that the husband would first have sex with the aunt before proceeding to have it with the bride and another piece of tradition says that the duty of the aunt was to prove the potential of bridegroom by just watching and listening to sex intercourse between the bridegroom and her niece. It is said that her duty was to advice the girl on how to begin a home since the Ankole girls were supposed to be virgin until marriage. If the parents of the girl were aware that their daughter was not virgin would formally communicate the information to the husband by giving the girl, among the gifts was to include a perforated coin or another hollow object.

Okuteera oruhoko was a phrase used to describe the practice where by a boy whom the girls had deliberately refused to love or whom girl particular had rejected could force the girl to marry him abruptly without her consent and much preparation. The practice of okuteera oruhoko was characteristic of the traditional Ankole society but vestiges of it still appear, society decried this practice but it was common and helpful however, the offender had to fined by paying a big bride wealth. There were different ways in which this practice was carried out such as using a cock. A boy who had desired and wished to marry a girl who had rejected him would get hold cock go to the girl’s home throw the cock in compound and run away. The girl had to be whisked to the boy’s home immediately because it was believed and feared that should the cock crow when the girl still home refusing to follow the boy or making unnecessary preparations, she or somebody else in a family would instantly die.

Another way of Oruhoko was done by smearing millet flour on the face of the girl if a boy gets a chance and finds a girl grinding millet, he would pick some flour from the winnowing tray use to collect flour as it comes from grinding stone and smear it on girl’s face. The boy would run away and shift arrangement would be made to send him the girl as any delays and excuses would cause the abrupt death as well.

Among the Bahima, there was three other ways in which Okuteera oruhoko would be done; one of the was for the boy to put a tethering rope around the neck of the girl and then pronounce in public that he had done so. The second one was to put a plant known as orwihura on the girl’s head and the third one was for the boy to sprinkle milk on the girl’s face while milking. This was should be pointed out that this practice was only possible if the girl and the boy were from different clans.

Okuteera oruhoko was a dangerous and degrading practice, it was usually tried by boys who failed to have alternatives and if a boy was not lucky enough to elude and run faster than the relatives of a girl, it was usually done so abruptly that before the girl’s relatives could get organised, the boy would have disappeared. The punishment was usually inflicted on a boy through the payment of too much bride wealth, he would pay double or normal charge or even more and the extra cows which were charged were not refunded if the marriage failed or brokeup.

The Banyankole did not believe that the death was natural. According to them, the death was attributed to sorcery, misfortune and the spite of the neighbours they even had a saying that tihahariho mufu atarogyirwe meaning that there is no body that dies without being bewitched. They found it hard to believe that a person could die when it was not due to witchcraft. After every death, the people affected would consult a witch doctor to detect whoever was responsible for causing the death.

A dead body would normally stay in the house for long waiting all the important relatives to gather, a person would be buried either in the compound, plantation or in a kraal. Burial was usually done in the afternoon and the bodies were buried facing east. A woman was made to lie on her left while a man lies on his right and a woman was accorded three days of mourning while a man was accorded four days, during the days of mourning the neighbours and relatives would remain camping and sleeping at the home of the deceased.

During this period, the whole neighbours would not dig or manual work because it was believed that if anyone dig or did manual work, he would cause the whole village to be revenged by a hail storm and that person would easily suspect of having caused the death of a person who had been baried. However, the abstinence of the neighbours from digging and doing manual work was meant to console the relatives.

If the dead man was the head of a family or house hold, his leading bull would be killed and eaten at the end of days of mourning. Further ritual ceremonies would be conducted if the dead man was very old and had grandchildren, if a person died with a grudge against someone in the family, he was buried with some objects to keep the spirit occupied that so that it would fail to have time to hurt those with whom the deceased had with a grudge.

There were special burials for spinsters and those who committed suicide because it was considered as a taboo for one to commit suicide. The burial for these people was very complicated because the body would be cut from a tree by a woman who had attained menopause(encurazaara) such woman was heavily fortified with charms as it was believed that whoever performed the role of cutting the rope used by the suicide would soon die also

Traditionally, the spinsters and suicide victim corpse could not be touched, the grave was directly dug under the corpse so that when cutting the rope would fall into the grave and covered it that’s all. There would be neither mourning nor the normal funeral rights and the tree on which the victim has hugged would be uprooted and burnt, the relatives of victim would not use any peace of that tree for firewood.

For the spinster, if such a girl died was feared that her spirit would come back to hurt the living simply because she has died unsatisfied. In order to placate the spirits and avert its evil retribution before the body was taken for the burial and one of the brothers of the dead girl would pretend making love with the corpse. This act was known as “okugyeza empango ahamutwe” and then the body was passed by the rear door and buried. It is also said that if a man died unmarried, he would be buried with a banana stem to occupy the position of supposed wife which was believed to propitiate the dead man’s spirit and its evil retributions on the living. The body was also passed through the rear door.


Buganda was the largest kingdom in Uganda. It comprises slightly more than one fourth of Uganda total land mass and Uganda’s largest city and capital city Kampala is located in Buganda and the language spoken is Luganda.

The Baganda have a monarchy system of governance with a king known as kabaka who is considered as the spiritual and cultural leader of the tribe. The kabaka plays a virtual role in the Buganda culture and his coronation is a significant event that is celebrated with a lot of pomp and ceremony.

The Baganda traditions regarded marriage as a very important aspect of life. A woman would not be respected unless she is married and a man would be complete until he was married. The more women a man marries the more respect would have regarded.

The norms of Baganda, in the presence of the King women are expected to wear Gomesi or cloth that is covering their body and it is a taboo of not revealing your body in the presence of Kabaka. Men are supposed to wear Kanzu when they are officially visiting their in-laws.

Clothing in Buganda

The real Muganda women typically wears Gomesi which is a floor-length with brightly coloured dress with a square neckline and short, puffed sleeves. The garment is fastened with a sash placed below the waist and two buttons on the left side of the neckline and this worn on all festival and ceremonial occasions. For the man is a Kanzu which is a long cotton robe and it worn over trousers with a Western style suit coat over it. Young people wear Western style clothing, slacks, jeans, skirts, suits and ties.

Family life for Baganda.

the traditional terms for marriage was Jangu onfumbire which means come and cook for me the husband and father was supreme. Children and women knelt down to the husband in respect to his authority and he was served food first. After the marriages a new household is established usually in the village of the husband.

Crafts and hobbies

In addition to basketry and musical instruments, the manufacture of products from bark-cloth was and continues to be significant. The bark from a fig tree called Mutuba is socked in water, then beaten with a wooden mallet. This yields a soft material that is decorated with paint and then cut into strips of various sizes, larger strips traditionally were used for partitions in homes. While smaller pieces were decorated with black dye and worn as clothing by women of royalty.

Later, back cloth dress became the national dress. Today, one rarely sees bark cloth dresses. They have been replaced by the cotton cloth. Today you can find bark cloth as decorative placements, coasters and designs on the cards of Various sorts.


Sebei is an ethnic group of Uganda and Sudan and speak Nilotic language. Many members of this ethnic group occupy three districts of Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo found in eastern Uganda.


Teso/ Iteso people live in eastern part of Uganda in the districts of Soroti and Kumi, others are in parts of Palisa and Tororo districts, the political insecurity of 1990’s caused many iteso to move far as Iganga district. They are part of Lango group which is said to have come from Abyssinia by the first half of the 18th century they had settled on the shores of L. Salisbury. Historians have modified this tradition to assert that the Iteso are Nile- Hamitic group with similar origins as the Langi, the karimojong, the Jie and the Kuman.


Teso people have many beliefs where some affect agricultural activities and some limiting their interaction with other communities, these beliefs limit their agricultural production for instance, some highly producing crops that can earn for the farmers more income are banned from being planted in large scale and for more than one season for example millet should not be planted for two consecutive seasons because they believed that one season produce enough to prepare a local brew called Busaa that they drink during their ceremonies.

They believe that some of the cassava diseases are caused by livestock stepping in the field and do not believe that cassava diseases or environmental conditions affect or determine cassava produce, instead it depends on the person who plants believing that some people have blessed hands and others are not. They place a black clay pot facing downwards in the middle of groundnuts field to block the eyes of a witch from destroying groundnuts. They keep indigenous cattle for milk but not for meat and believe that red meat causes diseases as compared to white meat. If they are to eat red meat, they have to first roast it before cooking. They believe that if a woman passes across the groundnuts field during her menstruation period, the plants will wilt and die or not produce. A woman who has ever given birth to twins should never cross the groundnuts field.


The iteso had a variety of foods, millet was their staple food and other varieties included pumpkins, wild berries, groundnuts, peace, beans, meat of both domestic and wild animals, butter, maize, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, brown ugali made on special occasions milk and fish. Millet was served on one plate which would be shared communally. The men did not eat with women, they ate separately seated on stools, tree stumps or stools while women sat on mats in a circle around the food which was considered as good manners to join the circle whenever one was invited partake of a meal.


Teso community has different clans where members of the same clan cannot marry each other and for that case marriage is allowed only between two different clans. One cannot marry from his/her mother’s clan

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