BAGANDA OF UGANDA
The people of the Baganda Tribe are from Uganda, East Africa. The Baganda Tribe is situated beside the northern and western shores of Lake Victoria in the east African nation of Uganda. The Baganda are the largest tribe in Uganda, they comprise slightly more than one-fourth of Uganda's total land mass.
The Baganda speak a language called Luganda. This is derived from the Niger-Congo family of languages. In the Luganda language, the singular form of Baganda is Muganda. Like many other African languages, Luganda is tonal, meaning that some words are differentiated by pitch. Words that are spelled the same may carry different meanings according to their pitch.” Luganda is rich in metaphor and in proverbs and folktales.
Contemporary Uganda is largely divided between Catholic and Protestant worshipers, with a small (15%) representation of Muslims (Every Culture). This was not always the case, and as a result the religious worship of Ugandans borrows as much from their past as from the present. Traditionally, two kings ruled the Baganda, one to represent spirituality and one the material world. Deterioration in the significance of Balubaale Guardians (canonized members of distinction among the Baganda tribes) separated many people from the traditional social structures of their ancestors, and supplanted the necessity of a second King in the 19th century. By 1945, imported religions had completely erased the Balubaale, and the influence it exerted over national matters.
An important foundation of Balubaale was the communal morality which it maintained. Believing in an earthly need for good behavior kept morality within tribes and the presence of the Guardians served as a reminder of the exception of moral acts. Imported religions lacked this communal sense, taking their cues on morality from divine scriptures and clerics. This created a vacuum in many rural areas as communities sought to reassert the common values of their ancestors. In recent years, this has caused resurgence in folk beliefs such as ancestor worship and protection from evil powers (witches) has blended with Christian beliefs, and formerly “pagan” terms are being incorporated into Christian practice. Ugandan history since its separation from Balubaale has been fraught with difficulties in exerting communal concepts of righteousness in state as well as in formal and informal social interaction. What has resulted is a Ugandinization of the newly predominant faiths along traditional lines with the Balubaale cult.
Sacred Space and Royal Shrines in Buganda
The Ganda have organized their territory into two major components: the sacred and the profane. While each of these spaces is important in their own right and can be studied alone, this traditional tribe has incorporated their understandings of both these worlds into the very structure of their kingdom. For the Ganda, “the opposition is not between the absolute and the relative, order and chaos, or reality and nonreality, but between two different forms of order and reality whose separation and complementarity make up the wider reality of the universe”. In other words, they believe the profane and sacred worlds are mutually dependent and only when they are in harmony is the society truly representative of the universe.
The profane is not understood as the polluted or bad. It is simply meant to indicate the homogenous and everyday life. The kingdom’s administrative centre is in the profane portion of the territory. Although there are shrines to direct the attention toward the sacred, the profane is not to be looked down upon. Separated by rivers and landmarks, the two worlds are separate but dependent. It is a natural and important part of life, where everyone must find themselves at certain points in daily living.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Ganda sacred and profane dichotomy is the prescribed way of acting in both circles. Whether in the spiritual or administrative realm, participants were to act the same. The only way to differentiate the sacred from the profane was the label given to the place; the space was constructed to be stronger than the individual actions. Anyone could enter the sacred space, just as the same person could become profane once outside of the prescribed space, “in Buganda, the [king] was indeed revered for his power, but he was not a sacred figure until he disappeared and entered the sacred world”. In this case, the king would not become profane simply by leaving the sacred space: Humans are always humans, meaning that they have the ability to be both sacred and profane. What is important is that they are not themselves polluted. They are ritual experts on pollution. Humans are actors within these spaces, where the spirit of either side will inspire them to do what is necessary.
Buganda Objects of Ritual
The Buganda culture is ripe with rituals, many of which utilize various material objects as key elements. Ceremonies and rituals from weddings, death rites, initiations, births, worship, protection and religious ceremonies use material objects such as plants and herbs, animals, pottery, foods and money as integral parts of the process.
Plants are one of the most commonly used objects of ritual in Buganda; one 2004 study recorded 89 species of plants and herbs used in 26 different cultural and social rituals. This study also found that plants are used more often in rural communities and the ceremony they are most often used in is weddings, which was recorded to use over 26 different plants, depending on location. The purpose of the plants used in wedding ceremonies is diverse, as they are used for bridal perfume, to secure an acceptance of proposal from the bride, and to prevent her from being stolen away before the wedding, to prevent witchcraft being used against the couple during the ceremony, as gifts to the in-laws, elderly and the Gods, to promote good fortune, fertility and happiness among other things. The method of use of these plants also varies from burning, smoking, planting, wearing, gifting, eating, smelling, and presence or display.
Another important use of plants in the Buganda culture is for the making of musical instruments which are a big part of traditional Buganda ceremonies. Drums, harps, and string instruments are often hand-carved from particular trees and plants which can vary depending on the intended ritual use of the instrument. Drums for death rites are made from a tree said to have healing powers, while drums for dance are made from a tree with protective powers.
Another way in which objects are utilized in Buganda ritual is through the giving of gifts, a part of many traditional rituals. One of the most common forms of gift is money, but also includes food, resources, token items such as carvings or decorative figures, livestock and pottery. Gifts are given in many ceremonies for numerous reasons, such as appeasing the higher powers, sign of respect or as a token of luck or well wishing. The gift giving often has its own set of rituals, depending on the occasion, and is often an integral part of the whole ritual.
Another common object in Buganda ritual is pottery which serves both practical and symbolic purposes. This is also one of the oldest recorded uses of objects in ritual and is regarded as the primal material of life, the basis of human creation. Often pots and sometimes figurines are made from clay for use in ritual. Women are often in charge of creating the practical pottery, such as pots for water and domestic use, while men are more often given the responsibility of producing art or symbolic clay works. Elders and spiritual leaders are also common creators of symbolic pottery.
While the use of objects in ritual is common across the various customs and traditions of the Buganda people, the purpose and meaning is varied and complex. The meaning behind the use of any object depends on the socio-cultural context in which the ritual takes place. One object can be used in two different rituals and hold entirely different meanings and purposes. The meanings and purposes of each object are culturally and socially derived therefore changing with any other variables such as religious beliefs, geographic location, history, financial availability and many other demographic variables.
Attitudes towards birth and kinship structures among the Baganda
Abasi Kiyimba’s article on “Gendering social destiny in the proverbs of the Baganda” examines kinship structures through his analysis of traditional proverbs, concentrating specifically on how these proverbs expose gender relations and gender biases throughout the construction of Baganda society. He focuses specifically on how this social structure affects notions of valuing women and their role in the society when it comes to the outcome of a birth, and how the attitudes towards the gender of children in Baganda society are responsible for many of the structures that make up the Baganda’s culture.
Kiyimba discusses how analyzing oral traditions underscores the prevalence of attitudes in day-to-day life among the Baganda. He says that when people engage in oral traditions, they “play an important role in the psychological construction of communities” and that, “the oral literature of the Baganda has many images of women and men in the various social institutions of marriage, parenthood, political power and work” (254). Oral traditions take on an element of a ritualized practice in that they help place a person in a social context and are part of a cultural activity in day-to-day life, so the attitudes exposed through proverbs in relation to birth may help an external perspective to better understand the reasoning behind the culture’s beliefs.
The Baganda have a culture which focuses power and authority predominantly through men, whose social status comes from clan relationships—the Baganda have fifty four. Naming is patronymic for both male and female children. Marriage is based on male preference and women are judged by male standards of beauty—Kiyimba notes that while beauty is preferable for a woman to move upward in status in society, beauty in aman is not valued; instead, his wealth, inherited status, and prowess makes him valuable socially.
Men’s status is highly linked to the quality of children he produces. Male children are prized, and female children as viewed as a burden. The Baganda practice polygamy, so a man has ample chances to produce a male heir from any number of wives, including slave women, who, if they bear a son, can rise to free status. While men have a primary wife, the woman who bears a son is prized over the primary wife if she is unable to bear healthy male children.
A woman who does not bear male children loses face herself, as well as negatively affecting her clan and family—kinship, in this case, closely links the entire society, not just primary family units. A mother with only female children has no secure place in the home (she can be supplanted by other wives who can produce boys) and it is only when she has produced a male child that she has begun a family. Her only way to achieve power in this society is to have a male child. Once she achieves this, she wields a small amount of power and security, and becomes “untouchable” by the other women in the tribe (her social role is secure). Other than producing a male child, a woman has no intrinsic worth as an equal; she is a material object used in producing profitable marriages, and her worth is directly equal, before childbirth, to her innate physical characteristics. Even beauty in an individual woman is undervalued, however. Several of the proverbs Kiyimba analyzes refer to beauty as an abstract quality that is not worth pursuing in a particular woman, because beauty fades eventually, and that any beautiful woman is as good as the next.
Because a woman’s worth is measured by her ability to have male offspring, even beauty is not as valuable provided the outcome of a birth is male. Kiyimba notes several proverbs that state that it s better to marry an ugly woman who has boys that a beautiful woman whose children die. Kiyimba also mentions local myths and stories that cast women who have twins (a girl and a boy) as good wives when they sacrifice the girl and present only the boy to their husbands.
For the Baganda, birth is only a positive experience in a woman’s life if it solidifies her social role as mother to a male child who may inherit the father’s name and power. How this affects the woman’s view of birth is problematic. The effect of the ritualized proverbs that Kiyimba identifies and considers expose deep-seated gender inequalities in Baganda society.
Rites in the Tribe
There are four stages that each Bagada individual passes through in their lifetime: omwana (child), omvubuka (youth), omusajja or omukazi (man or woman), and at death one becomes an omuzima (spirit). Grandmothers are the adult figure that instructs girls after they menstruate for the first time. This occurs when the girl is secluded and includes topics such as sexual matters and domestic responsibilities. A prerequisite to having an adult status is marriage and birth.
With respect to woman during pregnancy, they take an herb called nalongo to widen her “public” parts. Whether she has conceived before or not would determine the month of pregnancy that this herb would be taken. Once the baby is born, the umbilical cord is kept to be used in a ceremony called Kwalula Abaana, which in essence is a naming ceremony whereby the child gathers with members of the fathers’ clan to receive his or her name. The afterbirth (kigoma) is buried near the doorway of the residing house in order to protect the child from evil – such as killing the child or rendering the mother barren. The mother spends three days in confinement and after approximately two weeks, the husband would have sex with her. This is part of the ritual connected to the child’s health and on this day the child is named.
Kiyimba, Abasi. “Gendering social destiny in the proverbs of the Baganda: reflections on
boys and girls becoming men and women.” Journal of African Studies, 17:2
December 2005. Pp. 253-270
 Ray, Benjamin. Page 373.
 E.K. Kakudidi. Cultural and Social Uses of Plants from and around Kibale National Park, Western Uganda. 2004. African Journal of Ecology. Vol. 42. 114-118.
 C. Spindel. Potters and Pots. Iron, Gender and Power. 1993.