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Degraders target Bunyoro cultural sites

Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom cultural sites are being threatened by industrial development and encroachment.

The sites have the potential to be listed among the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) sites.

The recent threat to these sites is the oil and gas development. The sites include those which relate to early occupation and Bunyoro-Buganda wars, burial sites of former kings and dwelling places of Omukama Chwa II Kabaleega.

Kabalega was famous for resisting colonial rule. Some of the archaeological sites date back to between the 10th and17th centuries.

The kingdom had mouthed plans to start developing and erecting sin posts, for the sites, after many have been encroached on and the cultural institution was finding hard to evict the encroachers.

It is also pointless to develop the aforementioned sites when people are depleting them.

The sites include Kyamuleju, which is located in Kijura, Masindi district, where Omukama Kabaleega fought with Sir Samuel Baker in 1872 and won.

The site has underground tunnels, food storage facilities and an armoury.

Baker had raised a flag and wanted to annex Bunyoro to the Equatorial Province under Ismail Khedive, which led to the famous battle of Baligota Isansa.

Baker is said to have encircled Kabaleega and though he could not escape, but was disappointed when he (Kabaleega) almost killed him.

The kingdom avers that they cannot improve the site when it is encroached on. The kingdom said in the past that they want to construct shops, restaurant and an information centre for tourists who would want to know things about Omukama Kabaleega.

Kicumba Nywobo site, an entry to Murchison Falls National Park, which was a command post of Gen. Ireta, one of Omukama Kabaleega’s commanders in the 1890s and where Kabaka Mwanga was received by Kabaleega after he had escaped from Buganda and the two were arrested together, is also encroached on.

Others are royal ranches in Kiryandongo district, where Kabaleega used to look after orphans of the soldiers who died in the war, by giving them milk from cows he reared there.

Sugarcane cultivation is ubiquitous there and the feature must be protected for posterity to take stoke of the time that predated their existence.

Semwema Cave in Kakumiro district, the first Parliament (Rukurato) of Bunyoro, around 1400 AD, was attacked by believers of Faith of Unity who destroyed some of the artefacts in February 2020.

Kibiro salt gardens, which was the main source of income for the kingdom and empowered the kingdom economically as Omukama Kabaleega would exchange the traditional salt for ivory and gun powder, has since a suspected oil spill on March 19, 2020, been threatened.

This followed drilling of temperature gradient holes and conducting geothermal surveys at Kibiro salt producing village in Kigorobya sub-county, Hoima district.

The President of the Pan-African Archaeological Association (PAA), Dr Freda Nkirote M’Mbogori, in a letter dated September 1, 2020, to the cultural and heritage fraternity in Uganda, said there was a need to protect Kibiro Salt Gardens cultural heritage for the benefit of the local community.

She also asked the Government to carry out a holistic heritage impact assessment at the highest standard possible that protects both livelihoods of the people and the site’s history, as well as cultural resources.

Kibiro, whose spill has not been cleaned by June 16, 2023, two years after it (spill) happened, is important because it has been on the UNESCO tentative list since 1997.

UNESCO listing helps the place to be known, attracts grants, researchers and people come to learn, hence bringing in more traffic of tourists.

Elders say when sites are destroyed, it kills the cultural tourism potential of the region, denying many people employment and the targeted tourists who will come through Hoima International Airport, which is currently under construction.

 The latest are sites being destroyed during the ongoing clearance of Bugoma central forest reserve by Hoima Sugar, to cultivate sugarcane.

The cultural site is where Omukama Nsinga Kanyabugoma, who reigned as the King of Bunyoro in the pre-1400 period, was buried and is believed to have been behind the planting of Bugoma forest for medicinal and environmental conservation purposes.

Omukama Nyabongo I Rulemu who ruled Bunyoro around 1850s, his burial ground in Kigarama village, Kaisekenkere parish, Matale sub-county in Kibaale district has its trees cut down for cultivation.

In 2020, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) was dragged to Masindi High Court for allegedly destroying the Chwezi cultural site and the tree planted in commemoration of the return of the lost counties in 1964.

However, the ministry of gender, labour and social development department of museums and monuments which is supposed to be a custodian of the sites said their team is at sites where most surveys of oil and gas are being undertaken.


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