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Myth / Great Lakes Bantu Mythology

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During the great migration of the Bantu speaking peoples from what is now Cameroon a subgroup encountered the pastoralist Cushitic tribes in East Africa from whom they adopted the custom of cattle herding and milking. Equipped with iron/steel, staple crops from Southeast Asia such as yams & bananas, and now cattle their clans settled down and established organized kingdoms along the Great Lakes spanning Lake Albert in the north of modern Uganda to the southernmost shores of Lake Tanganyika along the coast of Tanzania in the western section of the Great Rift Valley. Migratory pressures from further downstream of the Nile brought first an invasion of Cushitic tribes followed by Nilotic tribes that gave birth to new dynasties. The most notable of the Great Lakes kingdoms would became the modern states of Rwanda, Burundi, and the sub-national kingdom of Buganda which lent its name to the state of Uganda. Other important kingdoms include Bunyoro, Nkore, and Karagwe.


These diverse people found a common religion in the cult of the Ba-Chwezi or “Lawgivers”. This semi-mythical clan of rulers and sorcerers were worshiped as demi-gods and immortalized in legend. Some claim they came from the heavens, others say they migrated from the north, yet still some believe they came from under the earth. Whatever their origin the Ba-Chwezi were considered mighty leaders who established a great kingdom which birthed the different kingdoms of the Great Lakes. After being offended by men or disgraced someway they disappeared either underground or to the islands of the Great Lakes themselves, sometimes they were said to have been defeated in battle by the Nilotic warriors called the Ba-Bito. Prior to the ascent of the Ba-Chwezi some people believed there was a dynasty known as the Ba-Tembuzi who established society prior to the Ba-Chwezi.


The world consisted of three levels to the Bantu of the lakes. In the middle was the earth which was a disk with tall plants and pillars to hold up the dome of heaven made of blue rock. The heaven clan lives a largely tranquil existence where death does not exist. Occasionally the Heaven clan provides earth with lifegiving rains. The Rwandans call the thunder god “Nkuba” who is characterized as ruler of heaven when not naming the supreme god Imana. Sometimes the thunder god is in the shape of a ram or a great bird. The Heaven clan is usually distinguished from humans by their peculiar physical features: sometimes they have tails, sometimes they shine with supernatural radiance, other times they are half-people as if split vertically. The underworld is a shadowy realm where nothing can grow and the inhabitants subsist on ashes. The landscape often figures into the mythos as volcanoes and lakes were seen as gateways between the earth and underworld.

The leader of the Ba-Chwezi varies from region to region. From Rwanda southward the top deity is Ryangombe/Lyangombe (or Kiranga as he is called in Burundi) who is revered as a hunting god, slayer of monsters, cattle, and most importantly the center of the salvation cult. It was an egalitarian belief system that preached anyone initiated into his cult would awaken after death in a beautiful country where the inhabitants would enjoy the company of fellow initiates in drinking, smoking, and playing games to their heart’s content. In the vicinity of Lake Victoria (Nalubaale, meaning “Lake of the gods”) and especially Buganda the deity Mukasa (or Mugasha) is the head of the Ba-Chwezi. Mukasa is principally known as the kindly old god of the waters, in particular Lake Victoria. He is the great giver of prophecies and free of pretensions. Beloved by the peasantry as a bumpkin like themselves, Mukasa generously increases herds and children. Ndahura was the god of smallpox and king of the Ba-Chwezi in Bunyoro. Wamara or Wamala was the son of Ndahura and enjoyed much more widespread worship from Bunyoro to the land of the Nyamwezi. Wamara was the god of plenty, especially cattle. Some in this area even considered Wamara to be the creator God. In Northern Buganda the primordial ancestor Kintu retained his status as sire of the line of Ganda kings but also above the other Bachwezi, he was thought to have brought cattle to the world. Other notable Ba-Chwezi include Kagoro (god of lightning) and Irungu (god of the bush, hunting, dogs, and travelers).

Bunyoro Dynastic Cycles

In Bunyoro it is believed that the creator God Ruhanga created a brother for himself called Nkya. Nkya complained of boredom and asked Ruhanga to create more things. So Ruhanga made the heaven and earth, then the sun from a rock. But Nkya was afraid of the scorching sun so Ruhanga made clouds to cover it. Then he created the moon to allow a measure of visibility in the darkness of night. The earth was close to the heavens which were upheld by a tree, iron beam, and a pillar. Nkya comaplained of the oppressive sun so Ruhanga created plants to shade him further. Ruhanga took a bath in heaven and dumped his leftover water on Nkya who protested about the cold. So Ruhanga taught him to make houses, and then gave him farm animals to make life easier. Ruhanga broke a stone in three and made an axe, knife, and hammer for Nkya. Nkya wanted things to please his eyes so Ruhanga made natural wonders and wildlife. Nkya asked Ruhanga why the stomach only took milk and asked for more soldi food, so Ruhanga taught him how to cook but warned him that the stomach would rule humans and cause pain in the future.

Nkya had four sons: Kantu the oldest and the three nameless ones. They set out on a journey to meet Ruhanga and gain new names. After finishing a challenge to avoid spilling milk at varying degrees of success they got them. Kairu became the servant, Kahuma became the shepherd, then finally Kakama (King) Twale who was the youngest and spilled almost no milk: he became the first king. Kantu or “Little thing” was angry to receive nothing. So Kantu vowed to be a force of wickedness and disorder in the world. His first act was to invent the board game of Rusoro, which he then challenged Ruhanga to. Kantu won by cheating and made Ruhanga angry. When Kantu’s mother argued in his favor that was the last straw and Ruhanga kicked over the pillars of the world before ascending to heaven for good. It was thought that the kings of Bunyoro never die, by are simply kidnapped by Kantu to parts unknown.

King Baba succeeded his father King Twale and was beloved as a righteous and wise ruler. Kantu was jealous of his nephew and asked Ruhanga to take away hunger from humans. Without hunger, humans had little incentive to do much but sit around all day everyday staring at nothing. King Baba realized this was the work of Kantu, but Kantu got to Ruhanga first. Kantu told Ruhanga that Baba said blasphemous things about him. So in retaliation Ruhanga gave mankind starvation, sickness, and death. The first human to die was Baba’s firstborn son. At first people merely thought he was sleeping, so they asked Ruhanga how to wake him. Ruhanga pitied the child and intended for people to die only for four days before waking again. But Nkya said it would be best for people to die permanently, and so it was. King Baba was absolutely distraught and cursed the world for such unfairness. Then he allowed Kantu to kidnap him.

A few kings later, Baba’s descendant Isaza took the throne. Isaza was a cocky youth who removed all elders from court. One day he hunted a zebra and desired to make an outfit from the skin. Many people praised this new fashion and admired his beauty. But over time the hot tropical sun shrank the zebra skin until he could not remove it. In pain he asked his friends what to do. They told him suffering is the cost of any ruler’s status. The elders had a good laugh at Isaza’s expense before taking pity and throwing him into a pond. The water loosened the outfit and allowed Isaza to slip free. The young king humbly gave the elders back their authority.Nyamiyongo was the god of the underworld who wanted to rule the world of the living as well, so he plotted to befriend Isaza. Nyamiyongo offered blood brotherhood to Isaza who was rightfully suspicious of his intentions, so he sent Nyamiyongo the coffee bean dipped in the blood of his servant: Kwezi the moon god (in some versions Bakuku the gatekeeper instead). Nyamiyongo was humiliated by this deception and decided to send his beautiful daughter Nyamata to seduce Isaza. She appeared in his court asking for marriage, even apparently denying the need to negotiate with her family as is custom. Isaza wedded then bedded the mystery girl, but refused to visit her family. One day she insisted he come with her but he was too fascinated by his cattle to care about his desire for her: Nyamata finally understood. Returning to the underworld pregnant, she told her father all about Isaza’s cattle obsession and recommended sending the most magnificent bovines available. Isaza was delighted by the bull and heifer which appeared to have come from nowhere. As he tried to get them to mate, one day Nyamiyongo summoned them home. Isaza followed them into the underworld. Awaiting him were Nyamiyongo, Nyamata, the cattle, and his newborn son Isimbwa. Trapped in the land of the dead, he could only watch as Nyamiyongo installed Bakuku the traitor (or the cruel) on the throne as a great humiliation. None would recognize the claim of Bakuku however so the mighty kingdom balkanized into Bunyoro, Buganda, Rwanda, Tore, Nkure, etc. That was the end of the Ba-Tembuzi.

Bakuku had a daughter named Nyinamuiri. It was prophesied that his grandson would kill him, so he cut off her ear and one of her eyes to make her ugly before trapping her in a prison accessible only through his own palace surrounded by guards. Meanwhile in the underworld, Isaza’s son Isimbwa had grown into a handsome and strong man. His surprisingly affectionate grandfather Nyamiyongo married him to a lady of the underworld with whom he sired a son, Kyomya. They went on a hunting trip in the world of the living and found different game across the lands. Leaving Kyomya in the country of Bukidi, Isimbwa visited old Bunyoro which was bountiful despite rule by the despot Bukuku. Wanting his rightful kingdom back, he gave a bouquet of flowers to one of Nyinmuiri’s maid servants as a love offering with the promise to return in four days. Isimbwa built a great ladder and snuck into the compound with his servants and hunting dogs. Soon Nyinamuiri fell pregnant with a son but when she was almost due Isimbwa prepared to leave promising to be back in five months. Bakuku was shocked to learn that his grandson had been born and cast the baby into the river to drown or be eaten. But instead the infant was caught by the rushes and arrived safely on the other shore. A potter named Dubumbi found the baby and recognized him as Nyinmuiri’s. The princess was relieved to learn her baby was alive and Dubumbi would raise him as the twin of his wife’s newborn. After tricking Bakuku into believing this is what happened, Nyinmuiri had permission to give Dubumbi cattle and other gifts for his family.

The child grew into a youth named Karabumbi. Karabumbi was a mischievous and willful boy who was a shepherd for his foster father’s flocks. He would dig holes for people to fall into and laugh at Bakuku’s porters spilling milk or beer. He would also drive his foster father’s cattle in front of Bakuku’s cattle in order to drink up the water and use up all the salt. Bakuku’s men had enough of this insolent peasant and wanted to kill him. Bakuku offered to beat the lad himself. They waited in ambush for Karakumbi and sprung out when he came to water his cattle. Karabumbi slew one of his attackers with a fanged spear but was mobbed and brought before Bakuku. As Bakuku rose to punish him Karabumbi broke away from the guards and killed him with his own spear and sat on the throne. His divine radiance and regal manner awed everyone present and they knew he was a scion of the great god-king Isaza. Declaring the dawn of the Bachwezi dynasty, he proclaimed himself king of humanity. His mother Nyinmuiri had her lifelong prison torn down and entered the free world at long last. She was told to avenge her father, but instead bestowed upon her son a magic talisman to protect him from all harm and bad luck while embracing him. The people rejoiced that the reign of the gods has returned, and Karabumbi (better known as Ndaula) sought to reunite the broken kingdoms. But the now independent kings refused to give up their sovereignties and insulted Ndaula as the wretched son of a potter and grandson of a thug turned warlord. Unable to tolerate these insults, Ndaula brought war into the world for the first time. After declaring war on humanity he quickly subjugated Ankole and Toro, before bearing down on Bugoma. Chief Nsinga of Bugoma was absolutely terrified and didn’t know how to fight, so he put on a magic crown of beads & red feathers to kill Ndaula with sorcery. This failed because of the talisman and he was drowned in Lake Albert.

When Isimbwa learned his son was king he hastened to meet with him. Isimbwa celebrated reunion with Nyinmuiri and Ndaura. The festival where he publicly recognized his son’s lineage was such a spectacle that none could deny the claim. And so Isimbwa brought Kyomya from the underworld to live with them in their dominions. Nduala and Kyomya then waged a campaign to finally subdue the remaining rebels. Along the way Kyomya conquered and settled Kyagwe after defeating Chief Ntege. In his place was Kiro who was son of Ndaura. As the long and devastating war dragged on they were told by oracles that misfortune awaited them in the next village which Ndaura dismissed. A chief named Lukerege waited in ambush with a poisoned spear but was too afraid to leap out. So Ndaura dragged him from hiding by the nose and impaled him on his horned headdress. When all was said and done Ndaura brought home with him untold riches from the vanquished enemies.

Isimbwa burst into praise singing for his powerful son before the court. Ndaula made a point of sending his warriors to bring new lands under his control for tribute each year, until a few of them failed to respond to him. He with his servant sought them out and was devoured by the earth itself one day. Frantic to escape the underworld, they refused all food before calling out to the living search party for a spear. They used the spear to make footholds in the walls of the underworld and used a sling of goatskin to be pulled out. Quickly they bathed Ndaula to cleanse him of the defilement of the underworld, but it was too late. Two days had already tainted them. A man who has entered the land of permanent sorrow can no longer be king. Ndaula prophesied that the reign of his son Wamara would be the beginning of the end for the Ba-Cwezi. He gathered his belongs and followers before setting off to retire. They traveled to the kingdom of Toro where they stopped on the Semliki plains, it was so hot Ndaula jumped into the nearby spring and caused the water to boil. To this day the hot springs of Bulange are visted by people seeking to be healed of different ailments. He made wells at the top of the two highest hills for people to bathe in comfortably. Some say the Ba-Chwezi live there now. But Ndaura continued to a place called Butara where he constructed the Bridge of Ages. He and his followers ultimately settled near Lake Edward where the other Ba-Chwezi would visit them.

King Wamara divided the lands between his demi-god kindred. Isimbwa had sired five sons: Kyomya, Ndaula, Mugenyi, Mulindawa, and Mugasa. Ndaula has three sons: Wamara, Ibona, and Kiro. These nine descendants of Isimbwa were the most important Ba-Chwezi in Bunyoro. Nine was also the sacred number of the gods. They were the deathless and immune to illness. Mulindwa and Mugenyi were very dear to each other and never committed to any endeavor without each other. One day the Ba-Chwezi went hunting when the two brothers were watched and praised from afar by many adoring women. Mugenyi’s mother was angry because Mulindwa was considered the superior of the two. Ironically enough Mulindwa was in love with Mugenyi’s mother named Nyangoro, and brought her flowers after a successful hunting trip. She decided to seduce him into her home to be murdered. He was tricked into standing over a boiling pit of water hidden by a mat where he fell in. His screams of agony alerted his dogs and servants who told Mugenyi that his beloved brother was being killed. Mungenyi burst into his mother’s house and pulled out a now terribly scalded Mulindwa. Mugenyi was furious and wanted to commit matricide, but Mulindwa told him no matter how evil she was it would be an abomination to kill his own mother. So instead most of her clan was slaughtered and the survivors were forbidden to marry into the royal clan.

Wamara’s rule was plagued by wickedness throughout the lands and the will of Kantu invaded everyone’s hearts. The Ba-Chwezi started fighting each other and Mugasa attempted to usurp Wamara’s reign. He failed and his six sons were captured by Wamara. Mugasa rescued them and fled to the heavens. One day during a storm Mugenyi taught his nephew Kagore about the divine birds. It was said that the creatures drank water on earth before spitting it back on the world as rain. They would become tired by this and crash land on earth. Once they dried off again they would spread enormous wings and soar back to heaven in a flaming glory. The birds were dangerous, and often their games during flight created lightning. Sometimes people would have their throats torn and hearts ripped out by the storm birds during lightning strikes. Looking on them would blind people. Kagoro wanted to kill the lightning birds for causing such trouble but was told not to by his father, because heaven is the domain of the sacred and Mugasa kept some of their relations prisoner up there. Kagoro then summoned a lightning bird and rode up to the heavens on it. Mugasa went hunting up in heaven when his entourage encountered Kagoro. They brought him to the capital of heaven and were baffled by the regal demeanor of this peasant. When his relatives saw him they cried tears of joy. But Mugasa was afraid Kagoro had come to take his place as ruler of heaven. Kagoro merely stabbed him in the knee while he rested under a tree and demanded he release the people he had abducted from earth. Mugasa obliged.

Later on, a man named Misango raided the cattle of the gods while their champion Kagoro was visiting his mother-in-law. Mugenyi was speared for his trouble and Misango fled to Ankole with his prizes. Kagoro attacked Ankole and got the cattle back. Mugenyi hugged his favorite cow tightly when it was brought back to him. It was a magical beast named Bihongo. Bihongo was the most magnificent cow that ever lived. She gave off perfume wherever she drank from and her milk was the greatest anyone had ever tasted. Mugenyi swore to kill himself if he ever lost Bihongo. Unfortunately, just that happened. Mugenyi immediately grabbed a spear when he saw his dead companion and had to be held back by many men to prevent the suicide. The gods gave him well over a thousand cattle to lessen his pain, but nothing did.

King Wamara decided to hold a divination ceremony using the entrails of Bihongo. But when they cut her open, she had nothing inside. The witch-doctors were baffled and tried to lie, claiming it must mean he’ll become richer. Just as this happened a mysterious old man appeared from the shadows: It was the great wizard Nyakoko of Bukidi. He spoke to men, gods, and demons. All the realms were visible to him. The wizard offered to give prophecy if he could become blood brothers with the Ba-Chwezi and immune to harm by their hands. Mugenyi was ordered to become his blood brother, and so the wizard began his work. Before a big crowd he placed the hooves and skull of Bihongo on the carcass and split them with an axe: miraculously, all the missing organs spilled out of the skull. With the intestines in his hand, he ordered all of the mortals to leave the area. Nyakoko touched Wamara with his wand and began to speak the future. He saw only evil. The empty body represented the end of the Ba-Chwezi dynasty, the intestines meant Wamara would still rule though no longer as an earthly king, the hooves represented long wanderings, and the black smut that came out of the hooves represented a man with pitch black skin. This man was a barbarian from the far north who would claim leadership of the mortal kingdoms. The barbarian would know no castes, no order, no obedience, and no law. Under his reign servants would disobey masters, women would deny the authority men, cattle would ignore their herders, and dogs would not respond to their masters. The Ba-Chwezi were deeply offended by such blasphemy and conspired to kill Nyakoko. But one of the king’s wives had a dream where their slaying of Nyakoko doomed them to endless wandering, so she told Mugenyi. Mugenyi was the blood brother of Nyakoko and snuck him safety out of the Ba-Chwezi kingdom with supplies.

Then Wamara decided to throw a celebration to draw Mugenyi out of his suicidal sadness. They drank and sang about how the life of a god is so amazing only a fool would reject it for a cow. And bit by bit Mugenyi began to make merry, finally free from his misery. But his aunt mocked him. She told him he was quite a fool or a coward to make such an oath over s mere cow. Mugenyi was incredibly offended to be mocked by a woman and declared the world was unfit for the gods. The Ba-Chwezi assembled and agreed to leave the earth behind. So the Ba-Chwezi left their sacred regalia behind for mortal rulers and traveled north. On their way they met a barbarian tribe in Bukidi who sat under a Mubito tree. They instructed the barbarians to head south and take up leadership of the ingrates there. That barbarian tribe would be known as the Ba-Bito or princes. On the way out of the region Wamara realized they left behind the bowl of love and sent Kagoro to retrieve it. Kagoro tripped and spilled some of the love, meaning that from then on there would never be enough love for everyone on earth. And that was the end of the Ba-Chwezi age. They were only sighted a few times after that. Once by a man named Nyamsuma who received a bowl of infinite milk and a cow tied to a tree with a snake, th3 cow bore over 300 calves. Another sighting was by the young Kazoba who with his brothers were beckoned by three white haired girls in the bush whom they fled from in fear.

The Ba-Bito were the ancestors of the historical dynasties of many kings in the Great Lakes region. The barbarian prince Mpuga Rukidi was the prophesied king. He and his people were Nilotes, very tall and dark skinned warriors from the Sudan region. Mpuga Rukidi and his brother Kato were the bastard sons of Isimbwa. Mpuga and his brother discussed their meeting with the Ba-Chwezi when they saw the wizard Nyakoko arrive. Nyakoko was a dear friend of Nyakoko and they hugged. He asked them about their recent hunting trip and they showed him their catch. It was a strange creature that resembled a colobus monkey and a lion. It got up and ran off after they skinned it. There was a feast held in honor of the wizard’s return and he told everyone about the splendors of the Great Lakes and their sophistication. Mpuga’s heart ached to be their king, but saw himself as a lowly savage. Nyakoko boosted his spirits and promised to make him king if he could reign by his side. The Ba-Bito warned Mpuga that the women of the Lakes are treacherous and wanton, so he said they would marry their own sisters then. They warned him that the warriors of the south were fierce, but Nyakoko dismissed them: Mpuga was a prince worth fighting beside. When they came to the Nile, they gave a small girl to the river spirits for safe passage. As they continued there was a popular man named Nyarwa who he saw as a threat to his throne. So Mpuga faked deathly ilness and told Nyarwa to hunt up north without him. Mpuga Rukidi then took his followers in the opposite direction. Mpuga caused a stir in the capital of Bunyoro when he arrived, and the people were shocked to learn about their new would-be king. He was a barbarian, he was black on one side but white on the other vertically, he wore sheep skin, his hair was long and wild down to his shoulders, and he lacked civilized manners. Mpuga Rukidi felt nervous from all the contempt as he made his claim and offended by locals by entering the house of the gods. Nyakoko reassured him and the servants in Kitara tamed his wild appearance making him resemble a proper monarch in appearance and manners. Nyarwa eventually realized he’d been tricked then hurried south before being stopped and told that it would be impossible to confront Mpuga Rukidi as king. He cried out at the unfairness of this and the gods swept him up into the heavens, where he now intercedes for mortals.

Mpuga Rukidi looked for the royal drum and recovered it after feeding a poor peasant and his wife. There was a great coronation ceremony and the name of Ruhanga was invoked. The royal drum of the Ba-Chwezi would refuse to play for an illegitimate monarch but would thunder for the proper one. When Mpuga Rukidi played the drum it only roared but the second royal drum rolled into the court on its own and began to play itself. All the people celebrated the dawn of the new dynasty, and Kato was given Buganda.

Buganda dynastic cycle

Kintu was the first man said to exist. The supreme god Ggulu had two daughters, one of whom was called Nambi. Nambi and her sister visited earth where they met the human man with his cow. Nambi was enamored with him but he refused to join her in the heavens, so his cow was stolen by the Heaven clan and brought up. In some versions Nambi’s brothers steal Kintu’s cow because they think he’s unworthy of her. After completing five seemingly impossible tasks he gains permission from Ggulu to marry Nambi and get his cow back. Kintu lived happily for a time and taught his fellow humans about the arts of culture when Walumbe arrived in his village. Wakings was the brother of Nambi and the god of death. He demanded a niece or nephew to be his servant as was the custom among the Ganda, but Kintu kept refusing his request. Walumbe threatened him with death, but the concept didn’t quite exist yet. After the Walumbe began killing one of Kintu’s children each day he begged Ggulu for help. So Ggulu sent down his son Kaikuzi the digger to find Walumbe’s hiding place. The people of earth were told to be quiet so they could capture Walumbe when he came up from underground, but Kintu’s children cried in terror when he appeared and spoiled Kaikuzi’s attempt to sneak up on him. So Kaikuzi quit and Walumbe still claims everyone. Even so, Kintu swore that mankind would never die off.

From there Kintu continued to travel the lands of Buganda with his companions when he made war on Naggabali hill which was dominated by Bemba the snake. Kintu’s loyal friends the tortoises tricked Bemba into thinking they discovered immortality by cutting off their own heads and limbs each night (hiding in their shells). Bemba wanted to know this magic so he allowed them to kill him. In old age Kintu learned Nambi had an affair with his friend Kisolo. Kintu murdered him before leaving Buganda in pure shame at being the first murderer. Kintu’s son Mulanga refused the throne out of shame, so his younger brother Chwa Nabakka succeeded him. Kalemeera was the son of Chwa Nabakka and was afraid his father would vanish, so he kept a close eye on him. Chwa Nabakka felt suffocated and had him sent to Bunyoro where he befriended Mpuga Rukidi (Royal name now Wunyi). Mpuga Rukidi trusted Kalemeera so much he allowed him to sleep in the same bed as his own wife Wanyana. This quickly resulted in Wanyana becoming pregnant with Kalemeera’s child. Kalemeera feared for his life so his advisor fabricated a prophecy about Wunyana’s adultery that said Wunyi should never see or visit or think about her or her child, and throw the baby into a clay pit. Kalemeera was relieved and left Bunyoro where he died on the journey back to Buganda. Chwa had already vanished by then, and the people needed a king. Fortunately the baby was never killed and arrived in Buganda as Prince Kimera. His son Lumansi was his top commander during the war against Busonga but died during the campaign of sickness. His son Tembo was told that his grandfather Kimera murdered his father. So Tembo killed Kimera during a hunting expedition with a club. The now King Tenbo ruled alongside his sister Nattembo. His children had sex with each other and he went insane before dying.

Rwanda and Burundi dynastic cycle

Imana was the creator of all things. Once, he traveled the magnificent lowlands from Lake Tanganyika until he reached the uplands of Burundi in the Great Rift Valley. By the time he finished crafting the mountains on his way north he had become exhausted and rushed his work. Death wandered the earth as well in those days, constantly pursued by Imana (or in Rwandan telling, King Gihanga) and his hounds. One day as Imana closed in on Death, Death asked a woman to hide him so he could hide her in exchange. She opened her mouth and he jumped inside. Imana was annoyed with her fake ignorance and declared that death would claim mankind from then on. A while later, Imana created a deformed baby. The parents were angry about Imana’s poor craftsmanship and the father attempted to kill him with a knife. Fed up with human nonsense, Imana ascended to Heaven and has rarely been seen since.

Nkuba was the god of thunder and lightning, he was also the king of the heaven clan. His favorite wife was named Gasani, who was barren. She longed for a baby but nothing they tried worked. One day a prophetess named Imhamvu visited the queen of heaven and told her she would soon have a child. Gasani became intrigued and asked to know more. Imhamvu was made one of her servants in exchange for her wisdom. Gasani was told to make a milk jug from sacred wood and fill it with milk. Meanwhile Nkuba wished to wage a great campaign to bring the rest of heaven under his power. So he held a divination ritual to learn the best course of action. His saliva was fed to the sacred bull before the wisemen whispered questions into its ears before opening the body and reading its organs. Imhamvu told Gasani to quickly seize the heart of the white bull once the King and his oracles left the chamber. The heart was placed into the milk jug and hidden away in the private quarters of Gasani. Imhamvu told her to add a bit of warm milk to the jug each morning and evening for nine moons. On the night of the tenth full moon Gasani opened the jug and found a beautiful crying newborn in the curds. Gasani proudly named her boy Saba Imana Zeze or “Pray to God at the moment of his favor”: Sabizeze for short.

Nkuba refused to believe he had a baby with Gasani and dismissed his excited servants. On day eight after the birth he refused to hold his son and name him, as it’s done in Rwanda and Burundi. Nkuba was so sick of hearing about this infant that he demanded it be cast away anywhere else. Gasani with Imhamvu quickly hid Sabizeze and raised him in secret. Sabizeze grew into the most breathtakingly beautiful, wise, and loveable boy the world had ever known. Soon all of heaven know of the amazing boy. Nkuba once again scoffed that he’d specifically ordered that child killed. But everyone ignored his bitterness anyway. Visitors came from far and wide to adore Sabizeze, including the elders of heaven. When the elders saw the lad they visited Nkuba and implored him to see his son that was increasingly resembling him. Exasperated Nkuba marched to confront Sabizeze. All thoughts of adultery or murder melted from Nkuba’s mind as he gazed upon the offspring he always dreamed of having with Gasani. He hugged Sabizeze and lifted him high in the air, christening him “Imana” in the sense of divinity. But all would not prove well, Sabizeze became aware that he was different. The other royal children would joke and strangers would murmur about his unique origin. One day his servant overheard Sabizeze’s grandmother discuss his creation with Gasani. Sabizeze was extremely hurt and felt betrayed by these secrets.

Resolving to run away, he began to make preparations. First he grabbed his bow and arrows, then his dogs Ruzunguzungu “Circling” and Ruguma “Stay-Put”, next the royal hammer Nyarushara, and finally some flame from Nkuba’s smithy. Sabizeze convinced his brother Mututsi and his sister Nyampundu to join him. He brought along his pygmy servant Mihwabaro and his wife. Then he took with him two of every animal. Wielding Nyarushara, Sabizeze broke a hole in the vault of heaven and sent his party through. Nyarushara slipped from Sabizeze’s hands during the descent and made impact near the volcano Mt. Muhabura in Northeast Rwanda. The crater filled with water and made the pool Gipfuna. The group landed on a rock named Iknani in a region called Mubali. The people of Mubali saw smoke deep in the forest and were afraid of the mysterious strangers. But Kabeja was the king of Mubali who received them graciously. Sabizeze was named Kigwa “Fallen” and his followers were called Ibimanuka or “the descendants”.

The Ibimanuka taught humans many cultural arts and created prosperity. Kigwa decided to marry his sister Nyampundu and invited Mututsi to do the same. Mututsi didn’t like the idea of marry his sister and refused. Soon Kigwa and Nyampundu had two children: Sukiranya their daughter and Muntu their son. They invited Mututsi to marry his now grown niece. Mututsi wasn’t comfortable with this arrangement so Kigwa had an idea. He told Mututsi to move to the opposite valley and return claiming to be from another clan. Mututsi agreed and married Sukiranya. They had three children: Serwega, Muha, and Mukono.

Kabeja decided to go hunting one day but first decided to ask his diviners. Their contradictory predictions of his death led him to dismiss them. One said he’d break his neck drinking, another said he would be burned in a house fire, a third said he killed by a maiden’s spear, and a fourth said he would drown in the river. So Kabeja set out when it began raining after a Hutu served them beer. He and his men sought shelter at a young woman’s home. She’d left her awl outside and he stepped on it. Once inside a fire broke out and Kabeja was trapped. His remains were sent down the river.

Despite this unfortunate fate, Kabeja’s children married Kigwa’s children. From this line of descent came Gihanga. Gihanga functions as the Rwandan equivalent of Kintu (in some tellings his father Muntu is a version of Kintu). Young Gihanga was an intelligent and talented boy, so he quickly became favored by his great great grandfather Kabeja. This made his cousins Gahu and Gakara jealous, they feared Kabeja might give him their birthrights. Fortunately instead of moving to harm Gihanga they were sent visions from a higher power. They saw the destiny of Gihanga and were instructed to help him on his journey. Their purpose was to help Gihanga find the girl who would bear him the line of Rwandan kings. After a stay in Burundi where the king gave him a local wife he continued onwards after giving the people his wisdom and skill in smithing. Gihanga and his followers followed an Ingombe (antelope, or magical cow) until it brought them to a country ruled by a man named Jeni. They were forbidden to capture the creature which found a haven in the king’s kraal.

Eventually Gihanga was deemed worthy to sacrifice the Ingombe. He performed beautifully and had numerous admirers. One of which was Jeni’s daughter Nyamususa. She was forbidden to see men because it was said that her pregnancy would be the end of Jeni’s reign. So she faked illness to enter quarantine and summoned Gihanga in secret for a few trysts. Gihanga gifted her a knife and a small box with fire inside. While Gihanga brought ironworking to new lands Nyamususa couldn’t hide her pregnancy longer. Jeni had a group of pygmies take her into the bush to be executed when they encountered Gahu and Bakara along with their circle of oracles who had killed a cape buffalo. The seers offered to trade the buffalo for Nyamususa and she was saved. Nyamususa and her faithful handmaiden made it through the treacherous night using the box of flame to stay warm and ward off the wild beasts. Nyamususa was reunited with Gihanga and the seers had them married. Nyamususa mothered a girl named Nyira-rucyaba and a son named Kanyarwanda who would be the first Rwandan king. She bore other children who founded different kingdoms. However the princess from Burundi whom Gihanga married earlier arrived in the north of Rwanda. Gihanga went hunting and made a magnificent pelt out of antelope skin. Queen Nyamususa and Queen Nyirampirangwe began to fight over it. The struggle escalated and Nyira-rucyaba stabbed Nyirampirangwe in defense of her mother. In some versions Nyira-rucyaba had fallen pregnant by her lover Gahu who was later dismissed from court. Having committed murder, the girl fled into the bush. Nyirampirangwe was survived by her son prince Gashubi.

The fugitive Nyira-rucyaba encountered a wild man in the bush named Kagizoba (sometimes Gahu that lived as a hermit with no company save cattle and leopards) who cared for her and made her his wife. They lived happily for a time and had many children. One day cows began to stream from the river near their home. One of the cows fell behind from the herd because its calf was stuck in a vine. Kagizoba wanted to know what the beef tasted like but Nyira-rucyaba stopped him from killing the bovines and instead tamed them herself. Old Gihanga fell sick and wanted to see his daughter again, forgiving and forgetting the murder. Nyira-rucyaba healed him by sending milk from the mysterious cow. Gihanga enjoyed the milk so much he asked for Kagizoba to visit him. It was a trap and Kagizoba was imprisoned. Gihanga demanded the cow and all its delicious milk. Nyira-rucya traded the cow for her husband back. Later Gihanga sent his men to capture the river-cattle which they did in the many thousands. But Gashubi cried out from his hiding place when he saw a humongous bull rise from the waters. The boy’s cry caused the cattle to panic and head back to the river. Ever since then, Rwanda doesn’t get free cattle.

With this episode finished, Gihanga assembled his children to decide their inheritances. Each of his children were selected to rule a kingdom: Ankole, Bunyamwezi, Burundi, Buha, and Rwanda. Nyira-rucyaba was given the honor of milk offerings during the coronation of new kings, and the power to bless or curse depending upon how well they kept custom.


  • Abhorrent Admirer: Mukasa for Lyanyaibungo. She was a princess and daughter of god-king Wamara. He was an unkempt and crass hillbilly fisherman from the north. When Mukasa proposed to her she spat, and said she’d rather marry her own brother.
  • The Ace: Binego was held by many to be superior to even his famous father.

    • Ruganzu Ndoli was the standard by which Rwandan kings held themselves to. Master of every skill any monarch could hope to learn.
  • Achilles' Heel: Kibuka’s was his shadow.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Kintu was a huge prick in Bunyoro tales.
  • The Al Mighty Dollar: Considering nearly every god was associated with the welfare of cattle and cattle were the ultimate manifestation of wealth, most of them sit here by default. Mukasa in particular stands out as a giver of wealth, it was thought that he provided women with twins which were a great omen of material success.
  • Alloftheother Reindeer: Isimbwa (or Simbu) left heaven for partly this reason.
  • And I Must Scream: This was the alleged fate of people not initiated into Ryangombe’s cult after death. Their souls would be trapped in the volcano Mt. Nyirangongo where they would spend eternity breathing the noxious fumes and being burned by hot magma while they labored incessantly under the oppression of Lord Gongo on his plantations. It was guarded by Ryangombe’s warriors. Periodically Gongo and his fellow damned would attempt a jailbreak which was the reason for eruptions and earthquakes. A “lucky” few would occasionally escape and wander the earth as tormented evil spirits.
  • Andnowyoumustmarryme: In an odd “heroic” example Ryangombe tricked a maiden into marriage by asking her for milk after being invited to her home. He spat the milk in her face (the groom spitting milk on the bride was a traditional wedding custom in Rwanda) and that made it official.
  • Animorphism: Ryangombe’s mother Kalimulore was said to be half-Hyena on her mother’s side, and could shapeshift into one when she became drunk. In other tellings she drank lion urine from a big tree knot and was made into a were-lion who transformed when very hungry or angry.
  • Anti-Hero: Binego was an extremely ruthless person, but admittedly most of his victims had it coming. He was still considered the protector of worshippers during ceremonies.
  • Artifactof Death: The shield of Kibuka caused everyone in possession of it to die of terrible illness, so the Bunyoro warriors wisely sent it back to Buganda.
  • Axe-Crazy: Binego lies between this trope and Sociopathic Hero. His name means “Kills in one blow”. As a kid he massacred his uncles and all their cattle. He slapped his own mother (filial sacrilege) for hesitating to lead him to his father. Even worse, he torments cattle and causes them all sorts of misfortune. On his journey to aid his dad he casually murders strangers who mildly inconvenience him. One of his favorite boasts was "I am flayer, son of strength, I am the one who washes his hands with blood, I am the one with the red spear, I follow the thunderbolt of the clawed mother, I cut up for the vultures and behold the birds of prey are satisfied. "
  • Beak Attack: Lightning birds would this to unfortunate people assuming they didn’t vaporize them in a fiery blaze
  • Berserk Button: Cruelty to cattle, big time.
  • Body Horror: Rufu or death crawled inside of a girl’s vagina to hide from the Ba-Chwezi after getting his ass kicked
  • Boltof Divine Retribution: Anyone struck down by lightning was thought to have offended Kagoro.
  • Didyoujustpunchout Cthulhu: The Ba-Chwezi once beat up death itself and sent him running back to his master in the underworld
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Kagoro was chosen to be king of the Ba-Chwezi once by Ryangombe, so Mukasa retaliated with bad behavior. Kagoro punished Mukasa with exile underwater. Mukasa hit back by casting a drought over the kingdom. Kagoro hit back by letting his cattle eat Mukasa’s magic swamp grass. So Mukasa demanded Kagoro’s cow. So Kagoro had Mukasa’s son killed. Mukasa called down a great storm of hail and buried Kagoro under it, then demanded his sister as a bride. Mukasa cooked a terrible goat dish that smelled so bad it killed the girl. Kagoro escaped from his coffin of hailstones and learned his sister was dead, so he attempted to kill himself. Too bad he was immortal.
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: All over the place. In Binego’s case he went from baby to man in less than a week in time to help Ryangombe keep his throne.
  • Proud Warrior Race: In a world where cattle mean everything, men would do anything for them. It transformed their culture into this.
  • Really Gets Around: Ryangombe “I enjoy the mother and daughter at the same time”, “The elbow who can’t go a night without a nubile girl”, and “The sword that cannot spend a night without flesh”.
  • Rock Monster: Legend tells of a living boulder which moved at night causing trouble until Ruganzu Ndori commanded it to stop

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