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Empire of Kitara

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Empire of Kitara
Kitara kya Nyamenge (Nyoro)[a]
Approximate extent of Kitara under Wamara per D. H. Apuuli:
  Legendary extent (according to some Banyoro oral traditions)
  Probable extent (according to archaeological evidence)
CapitalPer legends:
Common languagesProto-North Rutara[7][8]: 82 
  • Munyakitara (pl. Banyakitara)
  • Mukitara (pl. Bakitara)
  • (Kitaran)[9]
• Tembuzi dynasty
  • c. 1000 – c. 1200 (according to C. A. Buchanan)[2]: 116 
  • c. 1000/1100 – c. 1300 (according to J. P. Gorju)[1]: 161 [6]: 7 
• Chwezi dynasty
  • c. 1200 – c. 1400 (according to C. A. Buchanan)[2]: 116 
  • c. 1350 – c. 1400 (according to E. I. Steinhart)[9]: 356 
  • c. 1300 – c. 1500 (according to D. K. Jordan)[10]
  • c. 1300 – c. mid/late 1600s (according to J. P. Gorju)[1]: 161 [6]: 7 
  • c. 1300 – c. 1400 (according to K.W.)[11]: 44–50 [6]: 25 
Preceded by
Succeeded by
A map of various pre-colonial African states from different periods, including Kitara, but with a bias towards West and North Africa.

Kitara[b] (sometimes spelt Kittara[12] or Kitwara,[13][2] also known as the Chwezi Empire[4]) was a legendary empire that is regularly mentioned in the oral traditions of the Rutara people in the African Great Lakes.[14][15][16][17][18] Kitara is said to have had territory in modern-day Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[19]


Tembuzi dynasty[edit]

Ruth Alice Fisher wrote that Kakama Twale became the first king of Kitara as willed by Ruhanga.[20]: 74  K. W. (standing for Kabalega and Winyi) and John W. Nyakatura wrote that Kintu was the first king, and consider Kakama (lit.'little king') and Twale (Itwale in K.W.'s account) to be separate. In their accounts, Kintu was succeeded by Kakama, who was succeeded by (I)twale.[21][22][23][24][3]: 5  John Roscoe and Petero Bikunya only mention "Twale" and "Twari" respectively.[25]: 87 [26]: 5–7 [2]: 116–117, 121 

Nyakatura then mentions that Twale's son, Hangi, succeeded him.[3]: 6  Roscoe mentions Hangi and Nyamenge being the king after Hangi, although he wrote that there is no more information available about them.[25]: 87  In Nyakatura's account, Hangi has two children: Ira lya Hangi (lit.'long ago of Hangi') and Kazooba ka Hangi (lit.'little sun of Hangi').[3]: 6  Julien Gorju states that Ira and Kazooba were direct sons of Ruhanga, as Hangi was the Nyoro name for Ruhanga.[1]: 39 [6]: 16  Nyakatura states that Kazooba succeeded Ira after he died without an heir. Roscoe states that Kabangera succeeded Ira, but there is no more information about him, although some timelines consider Kazooba and Kabangera to be the same person.[25]: 87 [27]

In Nyakatura's account, there was a notable population increase during Kazooba's reign, and he was loved by his subjects so much that he was deified after his death and succession by Nyamuhanga.[3]: 6  Under Nyamuhanga, there was also an increase in population and he was deified after his death and succession by Nkya I (lit.'lucky', as Nyamuhanga had trouble having a child).[3]: 6–7  Due to the similarities between Kazooba and Nyamuhanga, Gorju analyses them as the same person.[6]: 15  Nyakatura writes that Nkya I was succeeded by Nkya II, and Nkya II was succeeded by Baba (lit.'father'[2]: 120 ).[3]: 7  Gorju analyses Nkya I and Nkya II as the same person, as both of their fathers were barren.[6]: 15  Fisher writes that Baba succeeded Kakama, but Roscoe implies that Baba succeeded Kabangera.[20]: 75 [25]: 87  Carole Ann Buchanan states that Baba was said to be wealthy, having many people and goats, and Fisher states that this prosperity was shared with the ever-increasing populace.[2]: 120 [20]: 75 

Nyakatura and K.W. write that Baba was succeeded by, in chronological order, Kamuli, Nseka (lit.'way of laughing'), Kudidi (who reigned for longer than usual), Ntonzi (who put down rebellions, lit.'wooden sticks'), Nyakahongerwa (lit.'that which is sacrificed for someone') and Mukonko (who also reigned for longer than usual).[3]: 5, 7 All other accounts mentioned beforehand state that Baba was succeeded directly by Mukonko.[2]: 120 [20]: 76 [25]: 87 [6]: 15  Regardless, all accounts agree that Mukonko was succeeded by Ngonzaki[c] (lit.'what do I want?', as he was very wealthy[3]: 7 ) Rutahinduka (lit.'he who does not turn around').[6] K.W. states that Ngonzaki was succeeded by Isaza Mukama, then Isaza Nyakikooto, but all other accounts consider Isaza Mukama and Isaza Nyakikooto to be the same person.[6]: 15  As a young monarch, he favored fellow young people over older people, banishing his old counselors and replacing them with young ones. However, after he nearly suffocated to death, he restored the elders' positions, as they were able to save him.[2]: 122 [3]: 7–8 [5]: 41–42 [6]: 13–14 [20]: 76–78 [28]

After Isaza's imprisonment in the underworld, his deputy Bukuku proclaimed himself king, as Isaza did not yet have any sons. However, Bukuku was a commoner (Iru or omwiru), and the people did not like being ruled by one. Thus, the chiefs of most of the counties rebelled against him.[2]: 127–129 [3]: 15–16 [5]: 45 [6]: 17 [20]: 84 [28] Fisher and Dunbar state that Bukuku had to retreat to the south-west of Kitara and Bikunya states that Bukuku only ruled over Kikwenusi, Kisegwe and Kijagarazi, although the location of said places are unknown.[6]: 17 [20]: 84 [26]: 15–16 [2]: 129  All accounts state that Bukuku was killed by his grandson, Karubumbi,[d] over a dispute about watering some cattle, then he proclaimed himself king, thus founding the Chwezi dynasty.[2]: 140 [3]: 20–21 [5]: 47 [6]: 17 [20]: 88  Fisher and Dunbar wrote that the people were overjoyed as he resembled his paternal grandfather, Isaza.[6]: 17 [20]: 89 

Chwezi dynasty[edit]

Because the rebellious chiefs refused to submit to Karubumbi, he led a series of campaigns to regain the lands of Isaza. Fisher wrote that his first campaign was against Ntale (chief of Ankole), causing him to surrender,[20]: 89  but Nyakatura, Buchanan and Bikunya wrote that his first campaign was against Nsinga, chief of Bugoma.[3]: 22 [2]: 141 [26]: 19  However, all of these accounts agree that Nsinga was executed after being accused of witchcraft.[20]: 90 [3]: 22 [2]: 141 [26]: 19  Places that Karubumbi was said to have annexed include Buruli, Karagwe, Sukuma, Rwanda, Busoga, Ankole, Tooro, Bunyara, Busongora, Bulega, Bukidi, Buganda and Madi, although accounts often disagree on the chronology of these campaigns and expeditions.[20]: 89–94 [3]: 25–26 [2]: 142 [28] Fisher and Dunbar wrote that out of praise, Isimbwa, Karubumbi's father, announced that Karubumbi will be henceforth known as Ndahura (lit.'I will care for').[20]: 95 [6]: 18 

Accounts agree that one day, Ndahura disappeared and did not return home, however the reason for this is disputed. Fisher and Dunbar wrote that while Ndahura was waiting for Wamara, his son, to return from an expedition, Ndahura was swallowed up by the earth and stayed to the underworld with his servant for two days.[20]: 96 [6]: 18  Nyakatura, Buchanan and Apuuli wrote that during a campaign in Ihangiro against Bwirebutakya (lit.'the day does not dawn'), Ndahura was captured as "darkness fell upon Ndahura's army",[3]: 28 [2]: 189 [28] and K. W. and Albert B. Lloyd wrote that Ndahura was killed in said campaign.[22]: 159 [29]: 69–70  Unlike other authors, K. W., John Beattie, Nyakatura and Dunbar wrote that Mulindwa ruled as a deputy/regent during this time.[3]: 28 [5]: 47 [6]: 18, 20  Wamara then became the next king of Kitara. Nyakatura wrote that Wamara was chosen to succeed Ndahura after some deliberation,[3]: 28–29  Dunbar wrote that Ndahura appointed Mulindwa yet Wamara seized the throne,[6]: 18  and Fisher wrote that Ndahura reluctantly allowed Wamara to reign.[20]: 97 

The Chwezi, especially Wamara, generally lost the respect of the people as Wamara's rule was malicious[20]: 101 [6]: 19 [5]: 48  and tensions rose among themselves (e.g. Nyangoma's[e] attempted murder of Mugenyi, Ndahura's half brother).[2]: 190–191 [3]: 29 [5]: 48 [6]: 18–19 [20]: 99–101  Misango,[f] from the south, was said to have raided Chwezi cattle with his army, but was later killed.[2]: 195–196 [3]: 37–38 [20]: 104–105  Fisher wrote that Mugasa, Wamara's uncle and chief of the Sese Islands, rebelled against him, although the uprising was quickly squashed.[20]: 102  Fisher and Dunbar then wrote that Bihogo, Mugenyi's rare ox which gave fragrance to whatever water she drank, had a fit and died, and that Wamara ordered witch doctors to dissect her.[6]: 19 [20]: 105–106  Nyakatura, Beattie, Apuuli wrote that Wamara, troubled by misfortunes, summoned his witch doctors to explain the meaning of them, who then slaughtered some bull calves for divination.[3]: 38 [5]: 48 [28] Nevertheless, accounts agree that the cattle's body was empty and had no organs, and the witch doctors were surprised.

There happened to be two brothers, Nyakoka[g] and Karango, who came from Bukidi, and Nyakoka said that he would solve the mystery if he entered into a blood pact with one of the Chwezi. Nyakoka made a blood pact with either Mulindwa (according to Nyakatura, Beattie and Apuuli) or Mugenyi (according to Fisher and Dunbar). He then split the head and hooves with a hatchet, all the internal organs fell out, and an irremovable black smut settled on those organs. Nyakoka is said to have explained that the empty body signified the end of Chwezi rule, the organs being in unusual places signified that the Chwezi will pack up their belongings and move elsewhere, the organs in the head specifically signified that they will still rule through the "spirit mediumship" cult and the unremovable black smut signified that the country would be ruled by foreigners with darker skin. The Chwezi were disappointed by this interpretation, and would have killed Nyakoka if he was not told of this beforehand by his blood brother and escaped. They eventually decided to abandon Kitara.[2]: 198–199 [3]: 38–41 [5]: 48–49 [6]: 19–20 [20]: 106–109 [28]


Nyakoka then went back to Bukidi to inform inform the sons of Kyomya (some of Isimbwa's grandsons, later called the Biito) that they should succeed Wamara due to Kitara's situation. Nyakatura additionally mentions Kanyabugoma (a messenger sent by the Chwezi) and Mugungu arriving after Nyakoka to relay the same information. Eventually, they all went on a journey to Kitara, where Isingoma Labongo Rukidi became the first Babiito king.[2]: 207–214 [3]: 50–53 [5]: 51–53 [6]: 32 [20]: 111–114 [28]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Isaza was said to be the first king to divide Kitara into counties (amasaza, sg. isaza) and according to folk etymology, the word isaza was derived from his name.[2]: 123 [3]: 8–9 [5]: 41 [6]: 14 [28] In the following table, chiefs in bold and light red rebelled against Bukuku according to Bikunya and Heremenzilda K. Karubanga.[26]: 15–16 [30]: 2  This table is not exhaustive.

County Chief
under Isaza/Bukuku[22]: 157 [26]: 15 [2]: 123 [3]: 9  under Ndahura/Mulindwa under Wamara
per Nyakatura[3]: 26–27 [6]: 29 [31]: 18  per Karubanga[30]: 4 [2]: 187  per Nyakatura[3]: 31 [28][31]: 18–19  per Chrétien[h][4]: 1344 
Kitara proper (corresponds to Kyegegwa District) Nyamenge Ibona Mugarra Ibona Un­known
Kaaro-Karungi / Ankole Machumulinda Wamara Mugenyi Katuku[i]
Bwera (Mawogola County) Mukwiri Ibona Un­known
Busongora (eastern part of Kasese District) Koogere Kahuka Kazooba Kahuka Rubanga
Tooro Un­known
Mwenge Nyakirembeka Mugenyi Mugarra Mugenyi
Busoga Ntembe Un­known Muzinga Un­known Ntembe
Bugangaizi (eastern part of Kibaale District) Kabara Un­known Un­known
Bugahya (north-eastern part of Hoima District) Nyamurwana Kiro Kahuka of Misinga Kyomya
Bugungu (corresponds to Buliisa District) Kwamango[j] Kahuka
Chope (north-eastern part of Kiryandongo District) Kaparo Kiro
Buruli (corresponds to Nakasongola District) Nyangoma Rubanga Rubago
Busindi (corresponds to Masindi District) Nyakadogi Un­known Kapimpina Un­known
Bugoma (south-western part of Hoima district) Nsinga Kanyabugoma of Nsinga Un­known Kanyabugoma of Nsinga Un­known
Sese Islands Mugasa/Mugassa
Bulega [fr] (eastern part of Ituri Province) Kalega Mulindwa Kiro Mulindwa
Bunyara (in Kayunga district) Nyakaranda Mugarra Mulindwa Mugarra
Muhwahwa (corresponds to the rest of Buganda) Ntege of Koya[k] Kyomya (earlier), Rusirri (later) Kyomya Rusirri Ishabwana
Rwanda Un­known Un­known Ibona Un­known
Ganyi / Acholi Ganyi Un­known
Masaka Nyaba
Buddu Katani of Msinga Kagora

Modern studies[edit]


M. S. M. Kiwanuka suggests that the extent of Kitara implied by writers like Roland Oliver, Merrick Posnansky and A. R. Dunbar have been influenced by nationalism:

Hitherto, conclusions reached by writers such as those cited above on the history of the Empire of Bunyoro-Kitara, have been based largely on the traditions of Bunyoro, which besides being never subjected to any critical examination, are unfortunately coloured by nationalist sentiments.[17]: 30 

He also points out the lack of evidence for these claims:

The civilization of the Bachwezi and their political influence is still asserted to have extended even to areas where there is no memory of the Bachwezi or their cults. Maps have been drawn to show the vastness of the Empire but no one for instance has asked when Bunyoro extended her influence to Equatoria.[17]: 30 


John E. G. Sutton writes that according to archaeological evidence, some earthwork sites said to be in Kitara can be interpreted as separate capitals:

There is in fact a reasonable case for interpreting each of the big earthwork sites — Kibengo, Munsa and Bigo — as a capital for those who controlled the grasslands of those districts. In this way Kitara can perhaps be still imagined not as a single united kingdom but as a vaguer system of political organization and economic exploitation of this region some six or seven centuries ago.[32]: 58 [33]: 107 

Godfrey N. Uzoigwe calls Kitara "loosely-organized":

These traditions inform us in masterful and amazing detail – in spite of several lacunae – how their ancestors founded the first state system in the lake region and later converted it into a large, albeit loosely-organized ‘empire,’ that extended beyond the region. That ‘empire’ they called Kitara Kya Nyameng[e], an ‘empire’ won by the sword by larger-than-life individuals.[34]: 17–18 


Legends of Kitara were often used to give legitimacy to later dynasties and kingdoms in and around Uganda, especially Bunyoro, which claimed to be the direct heirs of Kitara.[10][35]: 460  Linant Pasha wrote that Muteesa I of Buganda claimed to be the only true descendant of the princes of Kitara.[36]: 76 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ lit.'Kitara of Nyamenge'
  2. ^ Nyoro pronunciation: [kitâɾa]; Tooro pronunciation: [kitáɾa]; Nkore pronunciation: [kitaɾa]
  3. ^ rarely spelt Ngonzaaki to be consistent with Runyoro-Rutooro orthography
  4. ^ also spelt Karabimbi (Fisher), Kyarubimba (Nyakatura), Kyarubumbi (Buchanan)
  5. ^ also spelt Nyangoro (Fisher and Dunbar)
  6. ^ also spelt Misinga (Nyakatura)
  7. ^ also spelt Nyakoko (Fisher and Dunbar)
  8. ^ Chrétien uses Haya sources instead of Nyoro sources.
  9. ^ also spelt Katukwe (Chrétien) or Katukura (Brian Taylor)
  10. ^ also spelt Ichwamango
  11. ^ According to Nyakatura, Muhwahwa was originally given to Koya but due to his old age, Koya delegated his chiefhood to Ntege, his son.[3]: 9 


  1. ^ a b c d Gorju, Julien P. (1920). Entre le Victoria, I'Albert et I'Edouard: ethnographie de la partie anglaise du vicariat de l'Uganda: origines, histoire, religion, coutumes [Among Victoria, Albert and Edward: ethnography of the English part of the vicariate of Uganda: origins, history, religion, customs] (in French). Rennes: Imprimerie Oberthur [fr].
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Buchanan, Carole Ann (1974). The Kitara complex: the historical tradition of western Uganda to the 16th century (PDF) (Thesis). Indiana University.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Nyakatura, John W. (1973). Uzoigwe, Godfrey N. (ed.). Anatomy of an African Kingdom: A History of Bunyoro-Kitara (PDF). Translated by Muganwa, Teopista (English ed.). New York City, New York, USA: NOK Publishers, Ltd. ISBN 0-88357-025-4.
  4. ^ a b c Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (1985). "L'empire des Bacwezi: La construction d'un imaginaire géopolitique" [The Bacwezi empire: The construction of a geopolitical imagination]. Annales. Economies, sociétés, civilisations. 40 (6): 1335–1377. doi:10.3406/ahess.1985.283241. S2CID 126663125.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Beattie, John (1971). The Nyoro State. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198231714.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Dunbar, Archibald Ranulph (1965-01-01). A History of Bunyoro-Kitara. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Schoenbrun, David (1990). Early history in eastern Africa's Great Lakes region: linguistic, ecological, and archaeological approaches. ca. 500 B.C. to ca. A.D. 1000 (PhD thesis). University of California.
  8. ^ Muzale, Henry R. T. (June 1998). A Reconstruction of the Proto-Rutara Tense/Aspect System. University of Newfoundland. ISBN 0-612-36209-4.
  9. ^ a b Steinhart, Edward I. (1981). "Chapter 18: From 'Empire' to State: The Emergence of the Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara: c. 1350-1890". In Claessen, Henri J. M.; Skalník, Peter (eds.). The Study of the State.
  10. ^ a b Jordan, D. K. (2007-07-13). "Organization & Mystification in an African Kingdom". Retrieved 2024-01-27.
  11. ^ Sykes, J. "The Eclipse at Biharwe". Uganda Journal. 23.
  12. ^ Speke, John Hanning (1864). Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile. Robarts - University of Toronto. New York : Harper.
  13. ^ Driberg, J. H. (1931). Gala colonists and the lake regions of Africa.
  14. ^ Bernsten, Jan (1998-03-01). "Runyakitara: Uganda's 'New' Language". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 19 (2): 93–107. doi:10.1080/01434639808666345. ISSN 0143-4632.
  15. ^ Tantala, Renee Louis (1989). The Early History of Kitara in Western Uganda: Process Models of Religious and Political Change, Volume 1. University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  16. ^ Balyage, Yona (2000-07-12). "Ethnicity and ethnic conflict in the great lakes region". Bugema University.
  17. ^ a b c Kiwanuka, M. S. M. (1968). "The Empire of Bunyoro Kitara: Myth or Reality?". Canadian Journal of African Studies. 2 (1): 27–48. doi:10.2307/483996. ISSN 0008-3968. JSTOR 483996.
  18. ^ Stokes, Jamie; Gorman, Anthony; Newman, Andrew J. (2009). Encyclopedia of the peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts On File. pp. 506–509. ISBN 978-0-8160-7158-6.
  19. ^ Doyle, Shane (11 January 2016). "Bunyoro-Kitara, Kingdom of". The Encyclopedia of Empire. The Encyclopedia of Empire. pp. 1–4. doi:10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe078. ISBN 9781118455074.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Fisher, Ruth Alice (1911). Twilight Tales of the Black Baganda. London: Marshall Brothers, Ltd.
  21. ^ K. W. (1935). "The Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara, Part I". Uganda Journal. 3 (2).
  22. ^ a b c K. W. (1936). "The Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara, Part II". Uganda Journal. 4 (1).
  23. ^ K. W. (1937). "The Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara, Part III". Uganda Journal. 5 (2).
  24. ^ Nyakatura, John W. (1947). Abakama ba Bunyoro-Kitara [Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara] (in Nyoro). Saint-Justin, Quebec, Canada.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ a b c d e Roscoe, John (1923). The Bakitara or Banyoro. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Bikunya, Petero (1927). Ky'Abakama ba Bunyoro [Of the Kings of Bunyoro]. London: Sheldon Press.
  27. ^ "Kings of Bunyoro – Bunyoro-Kitara USA". Bunyoro-Kitara USA. Retrieved 2024-02-10.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i Apuuli, David Hihumuro (1994). A Thousand Years of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom - The People and the Rulers. Fountain Publishers.
  29. ^ Lloyd, Albert B. (1900). Uganda to Khartoum, life and adventure on the Upper Nile. Robarts - University of Toronto. London, Collins.
  30. ^ a b Karubanga, Heremenzilda K. (1949). "Bukya Nibwira" [As the Sun Rises and Sets] (pamphlet). Kampala, Uganda: Eagle Press.
  31. ^ a b Taylor, Brian K. (January 19, 2017). The Western Lacustrine Bantu (3rd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-23322-5.
  32. ^ Sutton, J. E. G. (March 1993). "The Antecedents of the Interlacustrine Kingdoms". The Journal of African History. 34 (1): 33–64. doi:10.1017/S0021853700032990. S2CID 162101322.
  33. ^ Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (January 15, 2003). The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. Translated by Straus, Scott. Internet Archive. New York: Zone Books; Cambridge, Mass: Distributed by MIT Press. ISBN 978-1-890951-34-4.
  34. ^ Uzoigwe, G. N. (2012-02-14). "Bunyoro-Kitara Revisited: A Reevaluation of the Decline and Diminishment of an African Kingdom". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 48 (1).
  35. ^ Doyle, Shane (July 2006). "From Kitara to the Lost Counties: Genealogy, Land and Legitimacy in the Kingdom of Bunyoro, Western Uganda". Social Identities. 12 (4): 457–470. doi:10.1080/13504630600823684. S2CID 144630979.
  36. ^ de Bellefonds, Linant (1876). "Itinéraire et Notes de E. Linant de Bellefonds" [Itinerary and Notes of E. Linant de Bellefonds]. Bulletin Trimestriel de la Société Khédiviale de Géographie du Caire (in French). 1.