Ankole Culture

The Banyankore belong to the Bantu group and they inhabit the greater part of the south western region of Uganda comprising of districts of Kiruhura, Mbarara, Isingiro, Ntungamo, greater Bushenyi and the inhabitants of Rukungiri called the Banyarujumbura share the same traditions.

The name Ankole arouse from the Nkore Kingdom which was expanded by the British Colonialists to incorporate other smaller Kingdoms of Mporororo, Igara, Buhweju and Sheema.

The legends have it that the Banyankole originate from the common ancestor called Ruhanga who descended from heaven with the three sons namely Kakama, Kahima and Kairu. One day, their father out them to test in order to ascertain the heir and gave them three milk pots full of milk each for one person to put them on their laps thrugh out the night and that they would hand them over to him the next morning. During the night, Kairu fell asleep and all the milk flowed out of the milk pot leaving it empty, Kahima felt hungry and seeped on his milk while Kakama kept his milk and the milk pot intact till morning. In return their father Ruhanga declared Kakama would become a King and the heir to the throne, Kahima would look after his cattle while Kairu would become a cultivator. This legend explains the social setting in Ankole where there is Abakama – the rulers from the Bahinda lineage, the Bahima who are primarily pastoralists and the Bairu who are primary cultivators.

The Banyankole in general are in two categories namely the Bairu and the Bahima. These two groups carried out different roles as the former were cultivators while the later were pastoralists. However, the societal changes have taken place and both practice mixed farming though their traditional roles remain primary. Traditionally the two groups lived in harmony with barter exchanges where the Bahima acquired food stuffs and local brew from the Bairu acquired cattle products form the Bahima.

Banyankole Dance

Regarding the marriages, traditionally among the Banyankole, the couple would even reach the wedding day without knowing each other. The boy and the girl’s parents would organize the marriage for their children. The initiative was taken by the groom’s family and would send the envoy to learn more about the girl’s family. This was followed by the members of the groom’s family approaching the bride’s family to ask to be born in the family by offering them a wife that is when they have liked the bride’s family, relatives, clan and the customs. The bride’s family would also accept to give them their child or decline the request depending on the stature of the groom’s family that is the family history, relatives, clan and the traditions. From there, the bride wealth would be agreed upon and the cows are the commonly used. The number would be determined a range of factors including the wealth of the groom’s family, the groom himself that is if he has a defect on him they would definitely over charge him or if he was a Mwiru marrying from a Muhima he would pay some extra cows for buying his origin and this practice is locally called “Okugura obwiiru”. Determining the amount of the bride wealth was and still among the challenging thins in the Banyankole marriage process. In fact the numbers would be too much for the groom’s family and they would end up leaving the bride to any other potential suitor. After agreeing on the amount bride wealth, they will also agree on the date of choosing them locally known as Okujugisa. The members from the bride’s family including the bride’s brother would go to the groom’s home and then taken to the cattle herd to freely select the agreed bride cows. This was and still a challenging moment as the both sides do not want to lose. The bride’s family want to take the best while the groom’s family want to remain with their best and as a result it is a real war.


The two groups would even fail to reach agreement and marriage arrangements end there. However, the common practice was for the groom’s family to hide their most loved cows from the bride’s members but if they are unfortunate enough that the members from the bride’s family come across the hidden cows, the members from the bridal family would leave the rest and take those ones. After selection the preferred cows, the day is set when the groom’s family will bring them and they would be brought on the date agreed upon. This is locally called Okureta enjugano. The fire smoke would be lit in broad day to welcome the cows into the bride’s family amidst gathering of people including relatives, friends and neighbors. The groom’s family must carry with them a traditional singer / rapper (Omwevugyi) who would rap on their behalf pleading to the bride’s family to accept their bride wealth. After this event, the day for the giveaway would be set and the bride would be eventually given away to the groom to start up a family. During this process right from the start when the groom picks interest in the bride, the bride is kept inside the house, given plenty of milk and great care to ensure that she gains considerable size and looks most beautiful. This process is locally called “Okwarika”. This would even continue in the groom’s family for an extended period until she is taken back to her family to remove the veil and start performing some tasks at her newly joined family. The process of making her gain size before she gets married was done by her family to show the other side that their daughter is not hungry and has not been lacking milk and if the groom’s family take her they work hard to maintain her size or even surpass and when she is brought back to her family to remove the veil locally known as Okutasya ekihara, it would be an indirect evaluation of the mentioned. Another thing about the marriages of the Banyankole is that the girl could not be given out for marriage where elder sisters are still unmarried. The parents of the girl would conceal and giveaway the elder sister at the end and even of the groom eventually notices it after the wedding he was n not supposed to raise eye brows. The only option would be going back and marry the younger sister if he had the capacity to handle it.

Kyom on the hunt - Nina has the flower with which she will mark Tim

At the wedding ceremony, the girl who would actually be wild to go to the groom’s family, would be accompanied by her paternal Auntie who had a mission of ascertaining whether the two children were functioning properly in terms of sex and introducing the daughter to new family. Though shallow traditionists assert that the auntie would have sex with the groom to prove his manhood, it cannot be substantiated as at times the auntie would be an elderly person even of a similar age as that of the groom’s mum. It is put that the auntie would listen or watch the couple as they play sex to prove & advice accordingly. The auntie would also help the daughter on how to begin the home as the girl was supposed to a virgin. If the girl’s was found not virgin, a perforated coin or any other hollow object would be sent to the girl’s parents to extend the dissatisfaction from the groom’s family.

More about the Kinyankole marriage was an interesting practice called Okutera Oruhoko. This was a practice done by a male to marry a girl who had refused to marry him. The practice would prompt the hast preparation and marriage would then be effected immediately other than the normal long process. Among the Bairu, there were two ways; one was when the boy came running with the cock and throw it in the girl’s home and then run away. The girls family would rush to take the girls to the boy’s family as it was feared that nice it crowed when the girl was still at home, any family member would die instantly. Another means was to smear millet flour on the girl’s face. This would happen when the boy finds the girl grinding millet and then picks the flour from the winnowing tray where flour would be collected as it comes from the grinding stone. The boy would run away instantly and hast arrangements would be made to send the girl to the boy’s family in fear of death on the girls family.

In the Bahima, the practice of Okutera Oruhoko was carried out in three ways; the first one is that the boy would put a tethering rope around the girl’s neck and would thus pronounce in public that he had done it. Another form was to put a plant called Orwihura on the head of the girl and the last one was to sprinkle milk on the girls face while milking by the boy. The practice would only be possible if the boy and the groom hailed from different clans.

The Oruhoko practice was a bad practice and would be practiced by boys who had no alternatives. The boy would be revenged on when it came to the bride wealth. The bride’s family would double the bride price and the extra charges would not be returned the groom’s family even if the bride divorced.

About the births, woman giving birth for the firsts was and still sent to her parents and traditional brave women would give birth by themselves while others that failed, traditional mid wives were summoned especially old woman from the village. If the afterbirth failed to come out, the traditional herbal medicine would be administered to the woman and if it fails the husband was required to climb the housetop with a mortar and raise an alarm and then slide the mortar down form the top of the house.

The child would be named after the birth and normally after the days of confinement. The naming would be done by the father, grandfather, or the child’s mother and it would depend on the parent’s personal experience, the time of the child birth, the day of the week, the birth place or an ancestral name. In all, the father’s name would take precedence. Traditionally, the child belonged to the entire family, village and the clan but more intimately to the clan. The in laws of the woman would have sex with her and would even produce children with her and the children would face no problem in their upbringing. It would be hard if the father woman played sex with an outsider someone not related to the family.

Regarding death, the Banyankole believed that the death was a natural thing. It was always attributed to misfortune, sorcery and the negativity of the neighbors. The phrase Tihariho omufu otarogirwe loosely translated as there is nobody who dies without being be witched notes of their attachment of death to sorcery. The people concerned would consult the witch doctor about what killed their person. The dead body would stay in the house to wait for the respective friends and relatives to gather. The Bairu would burry in the plantation or in the compound while the Bahima would burry in the Kraal. The burial would take place in the afternoon and the bodies would face the east. The women were meant to lie on their left while men lied on their right. Following the burial, the women were accorded 3 days of mourning while men were according 4 days. The relatives, friends and neighbors would remain that the deceased’s home camping and sleeping there. In the neighborhood, no serious work would be carried out and it was feared the hailstorm would hit the area. The person who attempted to do that would be noted as a sorcerer and would be easily suspected to be responsible for the deceased’s death. However, the whole thing of not working in the neighborhood was meant to console the relatives of the deceased. If the dead was a family head, the leading bull (Engundu) would be killed and eaten throughout the mourning days. Other rituals would be practiced if the man was old and had grandchildren. If the deceased had a grudge with someone in the family, he was buried along with some objects to keep the spirit occupied so as to desist it from coming back to haunt the living. Special burials for the people who committed suicide were also arranged. The body would be cut off from the tree by a woman who had reached her menopause locally known as Enchurazaara and that the woman would be heavily fortified by charms as it was believed that anyone who cut the rope used during the suicide would also die. Traditions also show that the corpse of the person who committed suicide was not touched on and that a grave would be dug directly to where the body is hanging and after the rope would be cut and the body falls directly into the grave and buried. The tree would also be uprooted and burnt and the relatives of the deceased would not use any piece from it for fire wood.

The Spinster also had a special burial arrangement. The Spinster was sought to have died unsatisfied as she was not married. Thus in order to prevent this, one of the brothers was supposed to pretend making love with the corpse. This act is locally Okugyeza empango ahamutwe. The body would then be passed through the rear door and then buried. If the man (bachelor) passed on unmarried, he would be buried with a banana stem to occupy the space of the supposed wife. The body was also passed through the rear door.


The Banyankole also has a practice of blood brotherhood locally known as Okukora omukago. The ceremony involved in two people who sat on a mat close to each other and their legs would overlap. They would hold ejubwe grass and a sprout of omurinzi tree (erythina tomontosa) in their right hand. In Bairu, they could hold a sprout of omutoma (fig tree). The head of the event would make a small cut to the right of naval of the two men, the end of omurinzi tree and ejubwe grass would be dipped in the blood at the incision and put into the hands of each person. The master of ceremonies would make a small cut to the right of the naval of each man. The end of omurinzi tree and ejubwe grass were dipped in the blood on the incision and put into the hands of each person. The paties would then swallow at the same time. The blood brother hood could only be made by people from different clans as the people of the same clan were regarded as brothers. The blood brothers would treat each other with great respect and love till death.

Regarding the political setting, the Banyankole had a centralized system of governance it was headed by the King called Omugabe assisted by the Prime Minister called Enganzi and then there were provincial chiefs called Abakuru by’ ebyanga. Below these, there were Sub County and Parish chiefs that assisted in local affairs. The King’s position was hereditary and monarchical in nature and the Bahinda Clan were detained for this position, the lineage if the throne descends from Ruhinda an offspring of Wamala the last King of the Bachwezi and Njunaki. Whenever the King finished his race, the suitable heir would be coroneted and the time of burying him his wives would commit suicide or forced to do so as to be buried together. Some servants in the Royal Court would also commit suicide. The corpse of the King would be called Omuguta to differentiate from that of ordinary Munyankole which is called Omurambo. One would not mention that Omugabe afire but would mention that Omugabe ataahize because the King does not die. Ankole Kingdom suffered the 1966 Obote crisis when he abolished all the traditional Monarchs in Uganda and though other Kingdoms were restored with coming of National Resistance Movement under President Museveni, Ankole has been denied such a chance up to now. The King is there but with no Royal Regarding as the Royal Drum Bagyendanwa is in captivity at the Uganda National Museum.


The Royal Regalia of Ankole consisted of a spear and a drum Bagyendanwa which was made by the last King of the Bachwezi, Wamala and left to is son Ruhinda. It would only be beaten when the new King was being coroneted. The drum had its special hut and it was a taboo to shut its hut, had a burning fire that would only extinguished when the King dies, had its own cows and the attendant drums namely Nyakasheija, Kabembura, Eigura, Kooma and Njeru ya Buremba which was obtained from the Kingdom of Buzimba. omugabe Barigye

The Banyankole in the supreme creator Ruhanga the creator and was said to be above the clouds in heaven and was not noted to be the giver and maker of all things. However there were other cults followed at lower level named Emandwa and these were gods of different clans and families and would be approached when in need.

Regarding the economy the Banyankole kept the long horned cattle which were source of food, prestige and status in society. The Bahima had great attachment to the long horned cows and formed center of their lives. They could graze in morning up to the night time without returning home. The depended on milk, blood and meat for the food. The cow’s urine and dung was used for medicine. The Bairu practiced cultivation and they mostly grew millet and Cassava.

About the entertainment, the Banyankloe have their traditional performances called Ekitaguriro and the Bahima would swing their arms in the air imitating the horn of their cattle while the Bairu would hit the ground with their energetic feet to produce a vibrating sound. The Banyankole could also sing; (okweshongora) and rap (okwevuga).