Like other Bantu groups, the origins of the Banyankore could be traced to the Congo region. Legends hold that the first occupant of Ankole was Ruhanga (the creator), who is believed to have come from heaven to rule the earth. Ruhanga is believed to have come with his three sons Kairu, Kakama and Kahima.

There is a story about how Ruhanga gave a test to determine which of his sons would become the heir. The test is said to have been that of keeping milk –filled pots on their laps throughout the night. At the end of it all, the youngest son, Kakama, is said to have passed the test followed by Kahima and last came the eldest son, Kairu.

Judging from the performance in the test, Ruhanga is said to have decreed that Kairu and Kahima would serve their brother Kakama. Thereafter he went back to heaven, leaving Kakama or Ruhanga, as he was also called, to rule the land. This legend portrays social stratification in Ankole society. It was concocted so as to make the Bairu accept their sub servant position to the Bahima as being supernatural.

Marriages and family

Traditionally, the normal pattern was for both the parents of the boy and the girl to arrange the marriage, sometimes without the knowledge of the girls concerned. The initiative was normally taken by the boy’s parents and upon the payment of an appropriate bride wealth; arrangements would be made to fetch the bride. Customarily, a girl could not be offered for marriage when her elder sister or sisters were still unmarried. If a marriage offer was made for a young sister, it is said that the girl’s parents would manipulate issues in such a way that at the giving- away ceremony, they would conceal and send the elder sister. When the bridegroom would come to know it he was not supposed to raise questions. He could go ahead and pay more bride wealth and then go ahead and marry the young sister if he could afford it. It was the responsibility of the father to pay in full the bride wealth and meet all the other costs of arranging his son’s marriage.

During the wedding ceremony, the girl would be accompanied by among others, her aunt. Some traditions assert that the husband would first have sex with the aunt before proceeding to have it with the bride. Another piece of tradition says that the duty of the aunt was to prove the potential of the bridegroom by just watching or listening to the sexual intercourse between the bridegroom and her niece. It is said that her duty was to advice the girl on how to begin a home more so, since Ankole, girls were supposed to be virgins until marriage. The first tradition is false because in most cases the aunt would be an elderly lady almost the same age as the mother of the bridegroom but the other two traditions are true. If the parents of the girl were aware that their daughter was not virgin, this information was formally communicated to the husband by giving the girl, among the other gifts, a perforated coin or another hollow object.


“Okuteera Oruhoko” was a phrase used to describe the practice whereby a boy whom the girls had deliberately refused to love or whom a particular girl had rejected could force the girl to marry him abruptly without her consent and much preparation.


The Banyankore did not have peculiar birth customs. Usually when a woman was to give birth for the first time, she would be sent to her mother. Brave women, and majority of them were brave, could give birth by themselves without any need for a midwife. However, if things went wrong, an acting midwife, usually an old woman would be summoned.

If the afterbirth refused to come out freely and quickly after the child, some medicine would be administered to the woman. If the normal herbs failed to induce it out, the husband of the woman was required to climb with a mortar to the top of the house, raise an alarm and slide the mortar down from the top of the house.


The child could be named immediately after birth. The normal practice was after the mother had finished the days if confinement referred to as ekiriri. The woman would confine herself for four days of the child was a boy and three days if the child was a girl. After three or four days, as the case may be the couple would resume their sexual relationship in a practice known as “okucwa eizaire”. The name given to the child depended on the personal experience of the father and the mother, the time when the child was born, the days of the week, the place of birth, or the name of an ancestor. The name would be given by the father, the grandfather, and the mother of the child. However, the father’s choice usually took precedence.

The names given were verbs or nouns that could appear in normal speech. Often the names also portrayed the state of mind of the persons who gave them. For example, the name Kaheeru among the Banyoro portrayed the fact that the husband suspected that the woman got the child outside the family. In traditional Ankole, it was normal for the woman to have sex with her in-laws and even have children by them. Such children were not regarded any differently from the other children in the family.


The Banyankole did not believe that death was a natural phenomenon. According to them, death was attributed to sorcery, misfortune and the spite of the neighbors. They even had a saying: “Tihariho mufu atarogyirwe”. Meaning; “there is no body that dies without being bewitched”. They found it hard to believe that a man could die if it was not due to witchcraft and malevolence of other persons. Accordingly, after every death, the persons affected would consult a witch doctor to detect whoever was responsible for causing the death.

A dead body would normally stay in the house for as long as it would take all the important relatives to gather. During this period, the whole neighborhood would not dig or do manual work because it was believed that if anyone dug, or did manual work during the mourning days, he would cause the whole village to be ravaged by hail storms. Such a person could also be regarded as a sorcerer and could easily be suspected of having caused the death of the person who had just been buried. If the dead man was the head of the house hold, his leading bull would be killed and eaten to end the days of mourning. Further ritual ceremonies would be conducted if the dead man was very old and had grandchildren. If a person died with a grudge against someone in the family, he was buried with some objects to keep the spirit occupied so that it would fail to have time to haunt those with whom the deceased had a grudge.

The Royal Regalia

The royal regalia of Ankole consisted of a spear and drums. The main instrument of power was the royal drum called “Bagyendanwa”. This drum was believed to have been made by Wamala, the last Muchwezi ruler. This drum was only beaten at the installation of a new King. It had its special hut and it was considered taboo to shut the hut. A fire was always kept burning for Bagyendanwa and this fire could only be extinguished in the event of the death of the King. The drum had its own cows and some other attendant drums namely; kabembura, Nyakashija, eigura, kooma and Njeru ya Buremba which was obtained from the kingdom of Buzimba.


The Banyankole idea of Supreme Being was Ruhanga (creator). The abode of Ruhanga was said to be in heaven, just above the clouds. Ruhanga was believed to be the maker and giver of all things. It was, however, believed that the evil persons could use black magic to interfere with the good wishes of Ruhanga and cause ill- health, drought, death or even bareness in the land and among the people.

At a lower level, the idea of Ruhanga was expressed in the cult of Emandwa. These were gods particularly to different families and clans and they were easily approachable in the event of need. Each family had a shrine where the family gods were supposed to dwell. Whenever beer was brewed or a goat slaughtered, a gourd full of beer and some small bits of meat were put in the shrine to the Mamdwa. In the event of sickness or misfortune, the family members would perform rituals called okubandwa as a way of supplicating the gods to avert sickness or misfortune.

Method of counting

The Banyankole had their own method of counting. They could count from one to ten using fingers. One was indicated by showing only the fore finger. Two was indicated by showing their first and second fingers, three was indicated by raising the last and the third fingers one one’s hand, and five was counted by clenching the fist with the thumb enclosed. Six was indicated by showing the first, second and third fingers. Seven was implied by holding down the third finger and showing the first, middle and last fingers. Eight was implied by snapping the first fingers of both hands, nine was indicated by clenching the middle finger with the thumb, and clenching the fist with the thumb outside meant ten.



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