Gisu people

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The Gisu people, or Bamasaba people of Elgon, are a Bantu tribe[1] of the Masaba people of eastern Uganda, closely related to the Bukusu people of Kenya. Bamasaba live mainly in the Mbale District of Uganda on the slopes of Mount Elgon.


The Masaba, Bukusu and Luhya people believed that their ancestors were Mundu and Sera.[2] The people of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Highlands have no name for Kundu, except that it is a mountain peak in Oromiya.

The Bamasaba ancestor, Maswahaba migrated from the Ethiopian Mountains traveling via Lake Turkana to Sironko and settled around Bududa where he fell in love with a Maasai girl who was known as Nabarwa. The family of Nabarwa demanded that in order for Maswahaba to marry their daughter he had to undergo their rite of circumcision. He agreed to do so.


Bagisu women having a discussion on feminism

Circumcision in Africa is an old culture as practiced by the Bamasaaba in Eastern Uganda. The culture of circumcision was adopted by the Bamasaba from their in-laws the Maasai people. The men among the Bagisu tribe undergo initiation ceremonies known as Imbalu. The initiation ceremonies among the Bamasaaba are held every two years during August.

The Bamasaaba ancestors lived on bamboo shoots also known as maleya in the Lumasaba language. These bamboo shoots are collected from bamboo trees on top of Mt. Elgon.

Origin of the name Bagisu[edit]

Maswahaba's first son with Nabarwa was Mwambu who was nicknamed Nkisu by his Maasai uncles who had stolen his fathers cows from him. Masawahaba failed to pronounce the nickname of Nkisu meaning a bull in Maasai language, given to his son his uncle and he pronounced it as Mugisu. 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 is fully understandable by other dialects, and is also understood by the Bukusu. The Bamasaba share a lot of things with the Bukusu from Kenya. They share culture and according to the Bukusu the Bamasaba are their real brothers its only the border that divides them.



  1. ^ Mwakikagile p. 194.
  2. ^ Peoples and Cultures of Uganda. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers. 2011. p. 100. ISBN 9789970250349.


Further reading[edit]