Abagabe b’Ankore I: An intriguing and highly informative book.

When I visited my local book store recently, I was only looking for Katondoozi (the Runyankore dictionary). I didn’t find a copy but I couldn’t afford to leave the store empty handed. I picked Abagabe b’Ankore I (Kings of Ankore Kingdom).

So in the last couple of weeks I have been going through the pages of this rather fascinating book. I must admit though that my reading is at its worst because this book as fascinating as it was should have taken me only a few days to finish not weeks! I won’t blame my busy schedules lately for my slacking, I need to work onrejuvenating my reading discipline.

This book, as the title suggests, is written in Runyankore, one of the many native Bantu languages of interlacustrine Africa from Western Uganda. Not so many books have been written in Runyankore or any other native interlacustrine languages and only a handful of contemporary people of my age can read a book or better still write in their native language. We were robbed by English. I survived!

So whereas the content of this book was highly informative of what happened in the reigns of so many Ankore Kings, more important and fascinating was the new things (words, names, places, objects, expressions, proverbs and sayings, idioms, etc) that I have learnt in the process. I would still have read this book if only to learn the new words I have learnt in my own Runyankore!

The book tells of the lives of the Kings of Ankore Kingdom, Abachwezi and Abahinda. The book begins by telling how in the beginning, Nkore had no kings (Abagabe) and then suddenly, their first king fell from heaven and they would call him Ruhanga waabo Nyamuhanga. Ruhanga is the common Runyankore name for God the Creator (Ruhanga coming from the word Okuhanga –to create). So this first king of Nkore (Ruhanga waabo Nyamuhanga) was believed to be a demi-god (omucwezi) and that he produced three sons; Kairu, Kahima and Kakama. That Kairu would become an agronomist (a lineage that would give to the Bairu of Ankore), Kahima became a pastoralist (a lineage that would give to the Bahima of Ankore), while Kakama (Rugaba) would inherit his father’s throne after he returned to heaven (a lineage of the Kings of Ankore). So Ruhanga was succeeded by Rugaba, then Nyamate, Ruyonga, Ishaza, Isimbwa, Ndahura, Wamara and Ruhinda in that order. The Bachezi are believed to have been very giant and tall people and were highly feared and that they would perform miracles (after all they were demi-gods)

These were popular childhood stories but I could never experience them first hand that reading a whole book about them myself. Of course such a story of a king falling from heaven and then returning back and bla bla bla sounded like a riddle as I read and actually someone caught me off-guard laughing alone as I read the story at a coffee shop. She looked puzzled by why this young man was laughing alone but she didn’t know I was laughing at how weird yet intriguing this story sounded.

These kings would later disappear after so many bad things kept happening to them. Their animals were dying (especially the death of Bihogo bya Mpuuga), their important people were dying (like Mugyenyi and the two Mutuumos), their subjects could no longer respect them, and other misfortunes. The book however doesn’t tell of any years when these first kings (Abacwezi) ruled the kingdom of Ankore.

So when the Bachwezi disappeared, the reign of Abahinda would begin. What is very intriguing however, is the fact the first Muhinda king (Ruhinda) was also the last king among the Bachwezi. Should we say that the Bachwezi empire never ended and what we know as the modern kings of Ankore until Gasyonga II (1944-1967) were still Bachwezi? The book clearly tells us that Ruhinda was a son to Wamara (Omucwezi), then how he became to be Omuhinda is what I’m yet to understand. From my senior one biology class, we were taught that no man can produce a dog and no dog can produce man. So how then could Omuchwezi give birth to Omuhinda?

So Ruhinda would be succeeded by Nkuba ya Rurama, followed by Nyaika, Ntare I Nyabugabo, Rushango, Ntare II Kagwejegyerera-Mishango, Ntare III Rugamba-Namaju, Kasaasira, Rumonje, Mirindi, Ntare IV Kitabanyoro, Macwa, Rwabirere, Karara, Kairaga, Kahaya, Nyakashaija, Bwarenga, Rwanga, Rwebishengye, Kayungu, Gasyonga I, Mutambuuka, Ntare V, Mukwenda, Kahaya II, and Gasyonga II. It should however be noted that there we so many other illegitimate kings who would fight their way to the throne and killing a king by a prince to become a king was always very normal and expected. There are only a few kings who ruled peacefully without being involved in battles and fighting.

Some kings were hated while others were hugely loved. One interesting story in this book is the story of Omugabe Macwa and his right hand man called Jejere. Jejere loved his king (Macwa) so much that when Macwa died, Jejere’s life literally stopped. He wouldn’t say anything without mentioning the name Macwa so people needed to prove if Jejere really loved Macwa or he was up to something. So they sent some people to tell him that all his sons and cattle had been raided by warriors (ababisha) and had been killed and animals taken away. Of course it was a concocted story and they expected Jejere to go into shock and run to the scene. He instead replied calmly “kabafe, Macwa we kayafiire” (let them die, even Macwa died!)

There are so many fascinating things and stories and words in this book. I can’t go on writing because however much I go on, it will still remain a drop in the ocean. Find a copy for yourself from the local book stores. For the non-Runyakitara readers, perhaps you will find an English version, but for those who can read Runyakitara, it’s a must read.

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