King of Toro (The Omukama)
The Omukama of Toro is the name given to rulers of the central African kingdom of Toro. The kingdom lasted as an independent state from the 16th to the 19th century. Although no longer the ruler of a state, the Omukama of Toro remains an important figure in Ugandan politics, especially among the Toro people of whom he is the titular head.
The Kingdom of Toro
The kingdom of Toro, of the Babiito dynasty, aptly claims its rightful origins in the ancient empire of Kitara. The first son of Omukama Kyebambe III of Bunyoro rebelled and annexed the southern part of his father’s kingdom, forming his own kingdom. He placed the northern border of his new kingdom at River Muziizi. The kingdom of Toro was born, under the reign of Rukirabasaija Omukama Kaboyo Kasunsu nkwanzi Olimi I.
Following the death of Omukama Kaboyo Olimi I, there followed several other kings and princes on the Toro throne. Some of them reigned for very short periods of time, during which they were still referred to as “Omubiito” (prince), not by the right title of “Rukirabasaija Omukama“. When we include such princes, the number of Batooro kings comes to 8. The present Omukama is Rukirabasaija Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV.
The people of Toro
The people of Toro are known as the Batooro (singular, mutooro; adjective, kitooro; language, Rutooro). They are a proud tribe of about one million strong. They enjoy a rich culture of oral tradition, tribal customs, indigenous handicrafts, patriotism, and very high self-esteem. Like all African children, Batooro children are taught to respect and value their elders. They are also taught to love and be proud of their tribe and country. Pride in being a mutooro is a value of paramount importance that is inculcated into every mutooro child from birth. There are certain behaviors, manners of speech and personal conduct, therefore, which are considered to be beneath a self-respecting mutooro.
Traditionally, for instance, a mutooro is not supposed to speak words or make any utterances that distort the mouth and make the person look undignified. Unfortunately, the observance of this norm made it difficult for many Batooro to pronounce certain foreign language words effectively! A mutooro has to make a conscious effort to break with tradition in order to utter some foreign expressions that end in an open mouth or a distorted facial expression.
Traditional eating habits of the Batooro left them prone to malnutrition as their choice of acceptable cuisine was very limited. Many of the good, nutritious foods that abounded in their kingdom were taboo. A mutooro did not eat “birds” or their eggs. So, for the longest time, the Batooro did not eat chicken or eggs. A mutooro did not eat “frogs” (a derogatory name generalized over everything from the water, including fish). It was ironic; therefore, that while Toro boasted of having two fresh water lakes teeming with delicious tilapia Nilotic, they considered it beneath them to eat the fish! A mutooro did not eat the meat of any animal that had upper teeth, because such an animal was like a dog. This ruled out pork. For some reason, Batooro women were, and still are, expected to be even more dignified than their male counterparts. Whatever the taboo was, it went double for the women. As modern times slowly caught up with us, we slowly started breaking some of our long held traditions. To this day, however, there are some old Batooro women who will not allow chicken, fish or pork to be cooked in their kitchens!
The Batooro had a concept of a supreme being Ruhanga. Ruhanga was believed to have created all things. He was believed to be a good and benevolent being who unless wronged could not do harm to the people. However, it was believed that the world was full of evil doers; evil spirits and sorceress who could employ their magic to undermine Ruhanga and cause disease, misfortune, barrenness, death and droughts or even bad weather.
The Batooro believed that there existed mediums some of whom were agents of the devil while the good ones were agents of Ruhanga. The Batooro also believed in the Mamdwa cult. Shrines were constructed for the worship of Emandwa in every home. The Mamdwa were usually worshipped and praised by playing ofentimbo (drums) and trumpets). In the actual process of worship, people would wear skins (emikako) knitted with beads and cowrie shells. An important medium of the Mamdwa would wear a six centimeter bark-cloth material with horns on the head (ekisingo). The whole process of worshiping involved a lot of eating and drinking.
In the event of disease, death or misfortune, a mufumu (divinera0 would be consulted to interpret the demands of Emandwa. Thereafter, appropriate measures would be taken to appease the Mamdwa. Supplications to the Mamdwa were normally effected at night. A man would put fire in front of the house and pronounce his problems to the Mamdwa. The language used to in addressing the Emandwa was slightly different from the common one used in ordinary parlance. The pronunciation of certain words was slightly altered. Surprisingly; in talking to Emandwa the Batooro would use Runyankole terminologies. For instance Omukama was pronounced as omugabe, okurora, as okurora, omwaana omwerere, and several others
GREETINGS/ Empaako (names of endearment)
Unique to the people of Toro, Bunyoro (and one or two tribes in Tanzania and Congo) is a special name of endearment, respect, praise, etc., known as Empaako. In addition to the name the world will know the child by; each mutooro child is given one of the ten “Empaako” names. The Empaako names are: Abaala, Abooki, Abwooli, Acaali, Adyeeri, Akiiki, Amooti, Apuuli, Araali, Ateenyi, and Atwooki.
There is a twelfth one, Okaali, reserved only for the Omukama (king). Okaali is very special in that it is not for everyday use to greet the Omukama. It is used on occasions when our tradition elevates the Omukama to the rank of our gods. When we “worship” our king, we address him as Okaali. The Omukama is the only mutooro with two Empaako names. Upon becoming the Omukama, no matter what his Empaako was before, he takes the Empaako Amooti. This is the one we use to greet him on an everyday basis. On special, traditional ceremonies and rituals, we greet him as Okaali.
Contrary to the norm that kitooro names have a kitooro meaning and say something, the Empaako names do not mean anything in Rutooro; because they really are not kitooro names in origin. They were brought to Bunyoro by the Luo who invaded Bunyoro from the North. They have been assimilated into the language and tagged with special meanings; for instance, Akiiki bears the tag “Rukiikura mahaanga” (savior of nations); Abwooli is the cat; Ateenyi is the legendary serpent of River Muziizi, etc. The Empaako is used for respect, praise and love. Children never call their parents by their real name; they use the Empaako. Calling one’s parents by their “real” names is considered a sign of disrespect, even poor upbringing.
When Batooro greet each other, they use the Empaako, e.g. “Oraire ota, Amooti?” (Good morning, Amooti?). Amooti is the Empaako in this example. Very often one will hear an exchange like this: “Empaako yaawe?” “What’s your Empaako?” “Adyeeri, kandi eyaawe?” “Adyeeri and what’s yours?”
Having established each other’s Empaako, they proceed to exchange greetings. Our relatives, close friends, and (sometimes) important members of the community, expect us to know their Empaako. It is impolite not to know it! Sometimes one tries to ask other people while the relative, friend, important person, etc. is not hearing, so one can greet them without having to ask them their Empaako. Grown-ups can generically apply the Empako Apuuli to young male children whose Empako they do not know. The Empako Abwooli may be equally applied to young female children
Marriage and family
Occupied an important position in the cultural life of the Batooro man would not be regarded as complete before he got married. Formerly, marriage would be arranged by the parents of the boy and the girl without their knowledge with or without their consent. During the preparations however, the consent of the girl would have to be sought.
A middle-man was usually sought by the boy’s side and his role was socially recognized and rewarded. He was known as Kibonabuko. He had the duty of making investigations about the character of the girl, her family background and her ability to work. After such ground work was completed, the Kibonabuko would proceed to secure the girl from her parents on behalf of the boy’s family.
The Kibonabuko would wake up one morning and go to the girl’s family and declare his intentions to marry their daughter. He would make the following statement to the father of the girl:
Sir, I come to you that you should build a house for me. I would like you to be part of my clan; I have come to ask for a wife, the builder of the house.
The normal response from the girl’s father was: I don’t have any child”. The Kibonabuko would insist that the child was there, and on being asked who exactly he wanted, he would name the girl. If the father consented, the Kibonabuko would thankfully kneel down as a sign of appreciation. The next step would be for the boy’s family to take beer to the girl’s parents for the bride wealth to be fixed.
The bride wealth was normally in the form of cows. It varied between the Bahuma and the Bairu. For the Bahuma, it ranged from six to twenty cows. For the Bairu, the ceiling was about eight cows. They would often make payments in goats and hoes. All or part of the bride wealth when due, would be received during a ceremony known as Okujuka. It was a very important ceremony involving a lot if eating, drinking and merry making. Thereafter, the young man’s family could send backcloth and some skins for the bride’s dress. Meanwhile other formalities would be finalized for the wedding.
On the wedding day, another big feast was organized. The bride would be collected around six or seven o’clock in the evening. Before leaving, she would first perform a ritual of sitting on her parents laps. This ritual was known asokubukara. She would then be lifted onto a litter and carried to the bridegroom’s home. On arrival, she would perform a ritual of being carried on her parent’s in –laws laps. There she would be sprinkled with some herbal water (endemezi) to welcome and bless her. Before the feasting started, the bridegroom would go to bed with the bride, to perform another ritual, okucwa amagita. Thereafter, the guests were given coffee berries, smoking pipes, beer and later food. If the girl was found to be a virgin during okucwa amagita, a gift of a cow or a goat would be sent to her mother to congratulate her on raising her daughter well. On the third day, the bride’s friends and relatives would give her gifts from home. They would come to see where she had been taken. The bride would spend some days in confinement and, at the end of it all, an elaborate ceremony would be held to bring the girl out and to initiate her into the art of cooking and house keeping
In the event of a divorce, bride wealth would be refunded. However, part of the bride wealth would be retained if the woman had already had some children with her husband.
Other tourist attractions in Toro
Kibale National park
This is an extensive biodiversity National Park, protecting large block of rainforest birding. It harbors the greatest variety and concentration of primates found anywhere in East Africa. Superb birds and primates combined with easy access, a good infrastructure and a variety of interesting activities make this forest a worthwhile destination.
Many of the facilities are community-based, thus providing the local community with the necessary revenue to keep their interest focused on the long-term protection of the areas.
It is the most accessed of Uganda’s major rainforests; Kibale is a home for over 13 remarkable primate species, including L’Hosts and red Colobus monkey. The elusive forest elephant, smaller and hairier move seasonally into the developed part of the park
Kibale national park is located in the Toro kingdom, bordering fort portal and it covers are area of 795 sq km. Since the park is accessible, its only 320km from Kampala and an hour’s drive from Kasese all by road transport
While at Kibale national park, you can carry out activities like, chimp tracking and this is considered as the major activity in this national park because it has the highest concentration of primates in the Africa. However other activities like bird watching, forest walks, community walks and game viewing of the beautiful crater which lies between fort portal and Kibale forest and all these activities can be carried out throughout the year since Toro has the best weather in Uganda
Katonga Wildlife Reserve
This is a game reserve in western Uganda, along the banks of River Katonga sharing the two districts of ibanda and kamwenge covering the size of approximately 211sq km and this place is accessed by road from Kampala covering about 200km
The wildlife reserve was established in 1998. The reserve is a recent addition to Uganda’s list of protected wildlife areas. It protects a network of forest-fringed wetlands along the Katonga River. It best explored by foot and by canoe. It is home to over forty (40) species of mammals and over one hundred and fifty (150) species of birds; many of them specific to wetland habitats.
Commonly sighted in the wetland reserve are elephant, waterbuck, reedbuck, Colobus monkeys and river otters. Also found in this habitat is the shy Sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope with webbed hooves. Viewing this game from a canoe, whilst they come to the water’s edge to drink is a thrilling and memorable experience.
This reserve can be visited in January-Febraury and July-August since it’s the dry season but one could still visit any time for activities like bird watching and game viewing
Rwenzori Mountain National Park
The fabled “Mountains of the Moon” lies in Western Uganda along the Congolese boarder with the Snow – covered equatorial peaks rise to a height of 5,109m and lower slopes are blanketed in moorland and rich montane forest. Most of the park is accessible only to hikers although the magnificent scenery and 19 Albertine Rift endemics would be ample reward for Birders.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the eastern slopes and glacial peaks of the 120km-long Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’, a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination; it covers the area of 996 sq. km
You will do activities like mountaineering trailhead, bird watching of over 195 species and Nature guided tours through all the vegetation zones at the glacial peaks and these activities can be accessed through the Nyakalengija trailhead a 22km from Kasese off Fort Portal road and also you can visit the park in January-Febraury and July-August because they are considered dry months but rain is possible due to unavoidable season changes.
Semliki National Park
This lies on the southern shores of Lake Albert in the far west, 50km from fort portal and it covers the area of 221 sq km and offers a mosaic of different habitats with some excellent birding opportunities.
The Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve (formerly called the Toro Game Reserve) is subtly different and shows affinities with the northern savanna woodland with over 400 bird species coupled with a number of exotic scenery views.
No visitor to the reserve should miss a boat trip on Lake Albert for nowhere else in Uganda do you stand a better chance of seeing the mighty shoebill this national park is considered to be the top with many bird species in Uganda thus the birding activity is key, plus nature guide walks, game viewing and this park can be accessed and visited throughout the year
Queen Elizabeth National Park
This is Uganda’s most popular National Park found in the south west near fort portal and Kasese, it covers an area of 1,978 sq. km; getting here is by road or air but by road one will use the Mbarara route of the fort portal and you will expect to participate in activities like launch trip at the Kazinga channel, game viewing, bird watching, chimp tracking, game drives and guided nature walks
It stretches from the crater-dotted foothills of the Rwenzori ranges in the north, along the shores of Lake Edward to the remote Ishasha River in the South, incorporating a wide of variety of habitats that range from savanna and wetlands to gallery and lowland forest.
The lush savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers prime grazing to buffaloes, elephants, various antelopes and a checklist of over 600 bird species.
The Kazinga Channel is the widest, 40km long natural channel that connects Lake Edward in the west, to Lake George in east. The channel is a dominant feature of the Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda’s most popular reserve covering a total of 1,978km2). The Kazinga channel attracts a various range of animals and birdlife, with one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos and numerous Nile crocodiles.
On the East of the Channel lies Lake George – a small lake with depth of 2.4m (250km2). The lake is supported by streams from the Rwenzori Mountains, north of the lake. Lake Gorge outflow is through the Kazinga Channel which drains into Lake Edward (one of Uganda’s major freshwater lake) situated west of the channel, covering 2000km2.
Boat Cruise along the Kazinga Channel is quite rewarding and one of the most famous launch trips in Uganda. Boat drives at the Kazinga Channel offers the opportunity of viewing hundreds of water birds, huge mammals like hippos, buffaloes, elephant herds. On occasions you might see a lion or a leopard along the banks of the Kazinga Channel and the must see birds include pelicans and flamingos