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Omukama Kabaleega of Bunyoro: A Great African Nationalist

Kabaleega also spelled as Kabalega was born to Omukama (King) Kyebambe IV Kamurasi Mirundi. He was born on 18th/June/1853 in Mwenge. This is in the present day Tooro Kingdom.

Omukama Kabaleega of Bunyoro: A Great African Nationalist
Omukama Kabalega 1879 – 1899
Source: bunyorokitarakingdom.org

Omukama Kabaleega spent his early years in Buleega. This is where his father had been exiled by a rebellion in Bunyoro Kingdom.

It was from here that he was lovingly called “Akaana ka Abaleega.” This literally means ‘a kid of people from Buleega.’ The people shortened the phrase “Akaana ka Abaleega” to Kabaleega. He was one of the 38 children of Omukama Kamurasi.

Kabaleega’s mother and siblings

Kabaleega’s siblings included; Kabigumiire (who dared fighting for the throne) and Kyabagungu (who was temporarily king). The rest are; Kerline Kanyamukono Byanjeru and Ndagaano Rutakya.

Omukama Kabaleega’s mother was Kanyange Nyamutahingurwa Abwooli. She became Kamurasi’s wife after the Abarusuura had acquired her as treasure. This was during one of their raids in Buleega. Kanyange was a member of the Buyenzi clan.

She belonged to Abahuma/pastoral class. Kanyange was a daughter of one of the kings of Buleega. This is in present day Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Indeed, her name was symbolic of her striking beauty. That is; Kanyange (from enyange – the egret). Nyamutahingurwa (a beautiful woman who can easily be noticed and admired by any man)

Character and personality of Omukama Kabaleega

As a trained soldier, Kabaleega was courageous, single-minded, and sympathetic to the common people. However, the likes of Kamuhanda Omudaaya viewed him in a different way.

That is; as short–tempered, headstrong, proud and opinionated – ironically. These are the very reasons why Kamurasi preferred him!

Kabalega was headstrong, with a determined character. 

Omukama Kabaleega was intolerant of rebels. This is according to one of his nicknames, “Ekitule-kinobere-Abeemi”. One by one, he punished rebellious royals and their supporters. For example, he sentenced Prince Komwiswa to life imprisonment.

He also sent Prince Rujumba to Mwenge to look after his (Kabaleega’s) cattle. Kabaleega also put his sisters to death. This was after he had defeated the Chope-based rebels.

Omukama spoke Runyoro and was fluent in Sudanese Arabic. He was also fluent in Luganda, Lugbar, Acholi and Alur, among other languages. However, in public, he preferred Runyoro and the aid of an interpreter.

What was Kabaleega’s physical appearance?

Kabaleega was physically striking. At about 5 Ft. tall, the king was a tall and strapping man. He had a small head with a light complexion. His mother had a light complexion too.

He had very large eyes and a broad but low forehead. The king’s cheekbones were high, with a large mouth.

Emin Pasha described Kabaleega as a swarm, jovial and simple. Emin spent a month and plus days at Omukama Kabaleega’s court in 1878. Emin said, “He is very lively; he laughs a lot, often shaking with mirth. Kabaleega is very talkative. He also appears to submit to ceremonial with a certain measure of constraint.”

Kabaleega’s constant spitting was the “only bad habit” Emin noticed in him. He described Omukama Kabaleega as immaculately clean, suave and closely shaven. He had small, neat hands and fingers, with well-trimmed nails.

This contrasts with Sir Samuel Baker’s description of Kabaleega. He described the king as a “gauche, awkward, undignified lout and a coward.” Baker said that Kabaleega was “cruel, cunning and treacherous to the last degree.”

In Baker’s view, the king’s every virtue was a vice. Kabaleega’s teeth were “exceedingly white” while his large eyes “projected disagreeably.”

Omukama Kabaleega’s leadership

Omukama Kabaleega ascended to the throne in 1870. He was only sixteen years of age. Kabaleega was the 23rd Mubiito king of Bunyoro-Kitara. He ruled for only 29 years. That is; from 1870 to 1899. The king was one of the 38 children of Omukama Kamurasi.

One of his known elder bothers is Kabigumiire Ruhwino.

How many children did Kabaleega have?

Omukama Kabaleega is said to have fathered one hundred and forty children. Among them, seventy eight (78) were sons and sixty two (62) were daughters.

Some of the prominent children of Omukama Kabalega include;

  • Prince Jaasi Nyakimoso. He is the eldest son of Kabalega. Nyakimoso died in a war in 1899.
  • Prince Yosiya Kitahimbwa
  • Prince Andereya Bisereko Duhaga II
  • Sir Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV
  • Prince John Nyakaana
  • Prince Yakobo Karakaba
  • Princess Victoria Mukabagabo

Other children include;

  • Prince Hezekiah Rwakiswaza
  • Prince Zakayo Jaawe
  • Prince Ramanzani Mwirumubi
  • Prince John Kabaleega
  • Prince Kasohera
  • Prince Katyetye
  • Prince Binuge
  • Prince Swizini Kaijamurubi. He is Omukama Kabaleega’s known last born among his children in Bunyoro.

Some of the known wives to Kabaleega are; Maliza Mukakyabara Bagaaya Akiiki. She was Kabaleega’s first wife. Nzaahe Bagaya, Kabaleega’s second wife.

The Omukama also had many other concubines.

Kabaleega’s praise names in his kingdom

Kabaleega was given a number of praise names in his leadership. These include;

  1. Ruhiigwa which means “persecuted”. Ekitule-kinobere-abeemi, which means “intolerant of rebels”.
  2. Rukolimbo Nyantaliibwa Mugobe, meaning that “peas whose green leaves cannot be eaten as vegetable.
  3. Rwotamahanga, which means “the consumer of rebellious nations and the defiant.”
  4. Bagwigairebata, which is a name of his favorite Remington rifle.

During his leadership, Omukama Kabaleega spent thirty three days with Emin Pasha at Mparo. Emin was trying to convince Omukama to accept colonial rule. However, the final answer to Emin from Kabalega was No!

Kabaleega’s fight for independence of his kingdom

In 1872, Sir Samuel Baker declared Bunyoro as part of Equatorial province. However, Kabalega did not agree with Baker. This prompted the British to invade Bunyoro on 1st/January/1894. They claimed to be spreading civilization to the locals.

Omukama Kabaleega declared war on the British in retaliation. This came to be known as the Great War of 1894-1899. However, he was overpowered by the British. In 1896, on 30th June, Kabalega was formally deposed by the British. Bunyoro was declared a military district.

The king ran for his life in Northern Uganda. This he did together with Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda. They both continued to oppose the British. These African kings fought for their kingdoms. However, they were not successful.

Omukama Kabaleega was finally captured in 1899 on 9th, April. He was taken into exile in the Seychelles islands. The king arrived in the islands on October/7th/1901.

Omukama Kabaleega of Bunyoro: A Great African Nationalist
Omukama Kabaleega after being captured by the British. Next to him is one of his wives.
Source: Twitter.com

When did Omukama Kabaleega die?

Kabaleega was released to go back to his kingdom on 14th February, 1923. Unfortunately, he died before reaching the borders of Bunyoro – Kitara. The king died in the present day Busoga region. He died at the age of seventy.

The place at which he died was named after his word; “Mpumwire/Mpummudde.” Meaning, I have rested.

On April/26th/1923, the body of Omukama Kabaleega was laid to rest at Mparo Royal tombs. These are in Bunyoro kingdom. The tombs are in Hoima district, mid-Western Uganda.

Omukama Kabaleega of Bunyoro: A Great African Nationalist
Mparo Royal Tombs
Source: bunyorokitarakingdom.org

On April/26th/1999, his last funeral rights were held. This was the end of a century of mourning.

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