Empire of Kitara

Empire of Kitara

The Empire of Kitara (also known as Bachwezi, Bacwezi, or Chwezi empire) is a strong part of oral tradition in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, including the modern countries of Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. For almost a century, from the advent of direct European contact in the later 19th century to the latter 20th century, much of scholarship treated the tales as a representation of historical fact, but more recently the scholarship, led by University of Paris scholar Jean-Pierre Chrétien, has cast doubt on the historicality of the stories, interpreting them as a myth. In The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History, Chrétien contends that the story was created as a response to the dawn of rule under the Luo empire, the sole historical record of an organized Nilotic migration into the area.[1]


Oral tradition

In the oral tradition, Kitara was a kingdom which, at the height of its power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, included much of Uganda, northern Tanzania and eastern Congo (DRC), ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi (or Chwezi) who were the successors of the Batembuzi Dynasty.[2]

According to the story, the Kitara Empire lasted until the 16th century, when it was invaded by Luo people, who came from the South of the present-day Sudan and established the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. However, there is no historical record whatsoever that confirms this hypothesis, and to be sure, no linguistic relic of the so-called Chwezi empire exists in either Kenya, Tanzania, or parts of central Uganda. Moreover, the Chwezi were purportedly a pastoral (nomadic) people, implying that some of the dense forested area of central Uganda would have not been conducive to their lifestyle.

Evidence suggests that the clans of Buganda, for instance, have their own history (based on oral tradition) that is exclusive of the history of the Kingdom of Buganda. Yet, the so-called Chwezi empire appears not to have left any clans behind or any organizational structure. This further cements the thesis that the so-called claims of the Bachwezi Empire are indeed apocryphal at best, and possibly mythological at worst.

Batembuzi and Bachwezi dynasties

The Empire of Kitara was founded by the Batembuzi Dynasty, who were succeeded by Bachwezi Dynasty. Little is known about the Batembuzi and Bachwezi, or when they established Kitara. Much of what is known is based on mythology and oral tradition.[3] A number of current Great Lakes kingdoms claim inheritance from the ancient Kitara empire, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi.[4] The reign of the Bachwezi is shrouded in mystery and legend, so much so that many traditional gods in Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda have names associated with the Bachwezi kings.

The Bachwezi are often associated with great earthwork sites found in western Uganda.[5] Archaeological discoveries made at Bigo bya Mugenyi, the capital of the empire, and Ntusi located in present day Mubende District of Uganda, reveal rich deposits of an urban centre which represented a highly organized society.[3][6]

Babiito dynasty

The Kitara Empire finally broke up during the 16th century with the advent of the invading Luo people from the north.[2] A Luo clan known as the Biito, led by a Chief called Labongo, invaded Bunyoro, the northernmost province of Kitara, from where the empire was ruled. The Luo had migrated from present-day Sudan, and would later settle large areas of northern Uganda, and around the north-eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Labongo established his rule in what was now Bunyoro-Kitara, becoming Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi, the first in line of the Babiito kings which provided the dynasties that also ruled in the kingdoms of Toro, Kooki, and some chiefdoms of Busoga.[5][7]

To the south of Bunyoro, the rest of the Kitara was superseded by the development of several kingdoms located within, or across, the span of several present-day national boundaries, including Ankole mainly in Uganda, Karagwe and Kyamutwara in Tanzania, and the kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda.[8]

Scholarly interpretation

Originally, onlookers took the Bacwezi stories to be literal history. John Hanning Speke, one of the earliest Europeans to make contact with the people of interlacustrine Africa, accepted it at face value, fitting it into his interpretation of the Hamitic hypothesis, which he used to assert that the evidences of organized, more sophisticated populations of Sub-Saharan Africa were the result of a wave of Nilotic migration, namely from Egypt and Sudan. Into the 20th century, major scholars, including Roland Oliver, at one point accepted the major claims of the stories.


  1. ^ Chrétien, Jean-Pierre; Scott Strauss (October 2006). The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. MIT Press. 
  2. ^ a b Mwambutsya, Ndebesa, "Pre-capitalist Social Formation: The Case of the Banyankole of Southwestern Uganda." Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review 6, no. 2; 7, no. 1 (June 1990 and January 1991): 78-95.
  3. ^ a b The Batembuzi Dynasty (at Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom website)
  4. ^ Doyle, Shane. "Bacwezi and Kitara: Genealogy and political legitimacy in Uganda, from 1860 to the present day
  5. ^ a b "History of eastern Africa: The early interlacustrine kingdoms", Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. ^ Kamuhangire, Ephraim, "Impact of change and diverse perceptions: Conflicts of meaning and interpretations – Ntusi and Bigo Bya Mugyenyi archaeological sites in Uganda"
  7. ^ A brief History of Toro Kings (Toro Kingdom website)
  8. ^ S. Karugire, A Political History of Uganda (Nairobi and London: Heinemann, 1980), p.15.

External links

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