Empire of Kitara
The Empire of Kitara (also known as Bachwezi, Bacwezi, or Chwezi empire) is a strong part of oral tradition in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, including the modern countries of Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
In the oral tradition, Kitara was a kingdom which, at the height of its power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, included much of Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi (or Chwezi) who were the successors of the Batembuzi Dynasty.
According to the story, the Kitara Empire lasted until the 16th century, when it was invaded by Luo people, who came from the present-day South Sudan and established the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. However, this hypothesis has been questioned by scholars on whether the invasion really took place. There is no historical record that confirms this theory, and to be sure, there is no linguistic connection of the modern day Banyoro, Baganda, Banyankole and Banyarwanda with any of the Luo dialects but relics of the Chwezi empire exists in parts of central Uganda,Rwanda and Burundi. The Chwezi were purportedly a pastoral (nomadic) people, implying that some of the dense forested area of central Uganda would have not been conducive to their lifestyle also part of the reason why they may have left so soon to other areas in the south of the rift valley.
Batembuzi and Bachwezi dynasties
The Empire of Kitara was founded by the Batembuzi Dynasty, who were succeeded by Bachwezi Dynasty. Little is known about the Batembuzi and Bachwezi, or when they established Kitara. Much of what is known is based on mythology and oral tradition. A number of current Great Lakes kingdoms claim inheritance from the ancient Kitara empire, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi. The reign of the Bachwezi is shrouded in mystery and legend, so much so that many traditional gods in Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda have names associated with the Bachwezi kings.
The Bachwezi are often associated with great earthwork sites found in western Uganda. Archaeological discoveries made at Bigo bya Mugenyi, the capital of the empire, and Ntusi located in present day Mubende District of Uganda, reveal rich deposits of an urban centre which represented a highly organized society.They are thought to have arrived in the western parts of Uganda, around 500 B.C., from the North planting seeds of leaders and introducing a more organised Kingdoms in the great lakes region of East Africa.They took over Bunyoro Kitara from the Batembuzi and later their bloodlines went on to form kingdoms of Buganda, Ankole, Toro, Rwanda, Karagwe, Burundi and the lost kingdoms of Zanj.
The Kitara Empire finally broke up during the 16th century with the advent of the invading Luo people from the north (Nilotic expansion). A people known as the Biito, led by a Chief called Labongo, invaded Bunyoro, the northernmost province of Kitara, from where the empire was ruled and would later settle large areas of northern Uganda, and around the north-eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Labongo established his rule in what was now Bunyoro-Kitara, becoming Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi, the first in line of the Babiito kings which provided the dynasties that also ruled in the kingdoms of Toro, Kooki, and some chiefdoms of Busoga.
To the south of Bunyoro, the rest of the Kitara was superseded by the development of several kingdoms located within, or across, the span of several present-day national boundaries, including Ankole mainly in Uganda, Karagwe and Kyamutwara in Tanzania, and the kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda.
For almost a century, from the advent of direct European contact in the later 19th century to the latter 20th century, much of scholarship treated the tales as a representation of historical fact, but more recently the scholarship, led by University of Paris scholar Jean-Pierre Chrétien, has cast doubt on the historical reliability of the stories, interpreting them as a myth.
- Mwambutsya, Ndebesa, "Pre-capitalist Social Formation: The Case of the Banyankole of Southwestern Uganda." Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review 6, no. 2; 7, no. 1 (June 1990 and January 1991): 78-95.
- The Batembuzi Dynasty (at Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom website)
- Doyle, Shane. "Bacwezi and Kitara: Genealogy and political legitimacy in Uganda, from 1860 to the present day
- "History of eastern Africa: The early interlacustrine kingdoms", Encyclopædia Britannica
- Kamuhangire, Ephraim, "Impact of change and diverse perceptions: Conflicts of meaning and interpretations – Ntusi and Bigo Bya Mugyenyi archaeological sites in Uganda"
- A brief History of Toro Kings (Toro Kingdom website)
- S. Karugire, A Political History of Uganda (Nairobi and London: Heinemann, 1980), p.15.
- Mwambusya Ndebesa, "Impure Royals? All Baganda Have Some Foreign Blood", The East African, February 3, 1999