Kibooga and Kahinju: The Rival Songora Queens who Saved the Kingdoms of Nkore and Toro and Fought Over the Destiny of Busongora

Busongora as an independent state or kingdom was founded around 1090 AD. From the kingdom’s very inception, women had high status in society. In the waning years of the 19th century, two Basongora women would hold the fates of two states in their hands. Their names are Queen Kibooga and Queen Kahinju. Both women were young princesses of Busongora when they were married off to the rulers of the neighbouring states. Their roles in history have been underrated.

Princess Kibooga was sent to the kingdom of Nkore, and about 20 years later princess Kahinju [Boopi clan] was sent off to the young Toro Kingdom – their destinies would collide and the survival of both Nkore and Toro would depend entirely on the mettle of these two women. They both tried, in the ways they knew best, to save Busongora from extinction. In the end they managed instead to save the kingdoms in which destiny had made them matriarchs.

Nkore is one of the oldest kingdoms in the world, having been founded right after the collapse of Busongora’s Chwezi empire – probably in the early 1300s – by two brothers, Ruhinda and Kayangwe, the younger sons of Chwezi Dynasty Empress Njunaki Kamaranga. Their elder brother Shagama-rwa-Njunaki had become the king of Busongora, and he helped them set up their own kingdom in what later became Karagwe and Nkore – at that early time it was called Kar’ro-Karungi [or simply “Kar’ro”].

Despite centuries of alliance that had protected them both from the scourge of slavery that was afflicting the rest of Africa, relations between Nkore and Busongora had become strained in the 19th century. In 1843 the King [Omukama] Mutambuka of Nkore invaded Busongora at least three times. The King of Busongora, Kyomya IV Bwachari, had only a decade earlier – in 1830 – helped a renegade Nyoro prince named Kaboyo to secede and set up an independent kingdom called Toro, to the north of Busongora, in the northbank of the Musizi River. After three destructive battles, Kyomya’s war with Nkore was concluded with a truce – the Basongora and BanyaNkore become allies again instead of enemies, and to assure themselves of this fact, a young Songora princess named Kibooga was given in marriage to the Crown Prince of Nkore – the young but competent and heroic General Bacwa.

By the time Kyomya IV joined the ancestors in 1850, the borders of Busongora and its neighbours Nkore and Toro seemed settled and all was well. However, all was not well at the court of Mutambuka in Nkore. The presence of Kibooga at the Nkore court strained the seams of the political system and exposed its weaknesses. Apparently Kibooga was such a beautiful and electrifying trophy that all the men at court fought over her – especially King Mutambuka and General Bacwa. The enemity between the two simmered for years and culminated in Bacwa accidentally killing the son of Mutambuka’s sister in a drunken rage after a vicious quarrel with the king. Bacwa fled into exile, but they sent a vial of poison after him. Bacwa died in Karagwe. Mutambuka was distraught about Bacwa’s death and died a broken man.

Bacwa’s young widow bore several children – some allegedly were the children of her father-in-law, the old king Mutambuka. Kibooga’s children include Rukamisa, Igumira, Ntare, Bikwatsi, Rwakarombe and a daughter Magwende. When Mutambuka died, a civil war broke out between those who thought the throne should go to one of Mutambuka’s brothers and not any of his surviving sons. Bacwa had commanded the loyalty of the army, his death had opened a rift in the kingdom that Mutambuka had been unable to fix.

Kibooga’s children were the youngest of the princess when Mutambuka died, and so the brunt of the violence in the civil war targeted the older royals. One day more than 50 princes of Nkore – all of the faction of sons – were lured into a death trap set up by their uncles. The two sides agreed to enter the conference-house unarmed during a parley, but on sitting down to talk, Baganda mercenaries broke out from behind the false walls and proceeded to stab the younger faction. The population of Nkore was revolted by the massacre and support shifted to Kibooga’s children – they had been too young to attend the meeting and had escaped the massacre. Kibooga emerged as the champion of Nkore. Kibooga made alliances and had the help of the Basongora and the Bahororo.

In 1873 Kibooga won the war and crowned her son Ntare V king of Nkore. That same year, a new king acceded to the throne in Bunyoro. His name was Kabalega, and his first order of business was war! Kabalega was charismatic and fearsome. He wasted no time in exterminating his Nyoro rivals for the throne, and invaded Toro and Busongora in short order. The BaToro fought valiantly, and the Basongora came to their aid, but to no avail. Kabalega overrun Toro and obliterated it, and absorbed its warriors into his army, married one of the princesses and executed the rest of the Toro royal family. The Songora Queen of Toro, Kahinju, survived the carnage, and believing the fate of Busongora was the same as Toro’s fled to Nkore together with hundreds of Toro furgitives – including her three young sons, one of them an infant – to go find Queen Kibooga and get help.

In the meantime the BaSongora acquitted themselves better than the BaToro. After obliterating Toro, Kabalega’s army had crossed the mountains and headed directly to the salt works at Katwe in Busongora. The vicious fighting along Kazinga Channel lasted weeks and nearly wiped out the Balebeki clan who bore the brunt of the attack – and constituted the bulk of the navy of Busongora. In the end the Nyoro were repulsed and the first war ended. However, while retreating from Busongora Kabalega still managed to take hundreds of Songora captives.

On arriving at Queen Kibooga’s court, Queen Kahinju was ushered in for a private audience. It is unknown what the two Queens said to each other, but whatever it was ended badly, and resulted in Kibooga ordering her guards to seize Kahunju’s two elder sons, Kamurasi and Musuga. Despite Kahinju’s desparate pleas, Kibooga ordered for the two boys to be summarily executed. Kibooga then instructed the petrified Kahinju to take her surviving toddler son, and the rest of her Toro entourage, and leave Nkore Kingdom and never return.

Kahinju left Nkore horrified and distressed and went to Buganda. The Ganda royals were afraid to offend Kabalega’s Bunyoro by saving the escaped Queen of Toro, and afraid to offend Kibooga’s Nkore from whence Kahinju had been expelled so precipitously. The Baganda – who’s offending part in executing Mutambuka’s sons during Nkore’s civil war still rankled – decided it would be prudent for Kahinju and her infant to keep a low profile, and so sent them to live among poor peasants in some out-of-the-way backwater hamlets.

The exiled Queen, her toddler, and the extinct kingdom whence they had emerged, were soon forgotten and life’s struggles went on in the rest of the world. The armies of Bunyoro and Busongora met two more times in two years – the second time the Banyoro fared worse than the first. The commander of the Nyoro army – the General Jigija was killed by the Basongora. Jigija was King Kabakega’s uncle. The King of BuNyoro vowed vengeance and invaded Busongora for the third time in 1875 with almost the entire Nyoro army. The Songora armies led by General Mahinda fought back in a vicious war with the Nyoro that involved guns, trench warfare, and even the levelling of hills and the diversion of the courses of rivers. The emplacements, redoubts and trenches the two sides built are still existing and can be visited in Busongora.

Nonetheless, in 1875 the Basongora managed to hem-in the Nyoro army divisions in the Rukooki Valley, and along the entire lengths of the Nyamwamba and Rukooki Rivers, and to maul the Nyoro remorselessly for several long and bloody weeks. According to the victory Songora songs from that war, the Nyoro troops were lacerated so savagely that dread and panic spread through the Nyoro ranks until, at last, Kabalega’s warriors suddenly broke formation and “the Munyoro fled” in terror and disorder “across the Rukooki and Nyamwamba…with one shoe on.”

Thus Busongora remained unconquered and independent, whereas Toro was crushed and disappeared entirely after 1875. It would take the most absurd and unusual set of chance events involving an errand-boy named Apollo Kaggwa – and Kahinju’s conversion to Christianity – to revive the fortunes of Toro. But that was 20 years in the future.

After that gruesome 1875 war of Busongora the Banyoro were exhausted, and Kabalega did not dare to invade Busongora again. Instead Kabalega married the captive Songora princess Kabalebeki and she convinced him to spare the lives of his other captives, and to make peace with Busongora. In 1893, 22 years later Kabalega would troops to aid Busongora when Busongora was at war with itself, and also under attack by the Europeans and their Nubian and Swahili allies, the baToro, the Maniema, and the Kilongalonga – all at once.

In the meantime, a lot of profound changes took place in the world between 1875 and 1885. The world underwent revolutionary change in politics, industry and commerce. The colonial ambitions of the resurgent European powers led them to invade Africa once more. Busongora was targeted early on, and put up a spirited struggle against European encroachment. By 1886 BuSongora Kingdom was aiding Buganda’s resistance against European colonial occupation. Despite his confused passive-aggressive handling of the everyone around him, the young King [Kabaka] Mwanga of Buganda considered the state of BuSongora an ally.

In a now famous 1886 event immortalised by the once famous English poet Roden Noel, one of Kabaka Mwanga’s envoys to BuSongora Kingdom – a then little known 20 year-old royal page named Apollo Kaggwa – insisted on delivering the money and treasure from BuSongora’s Queen Kogyere III Ikamoro, to Mwanga’s palace even though the Kabaka of Buganda had already ordered the execution the Apollo Kaggwa while in absentia, on account of Kaggwa being a leading Christian convert.

Kaggwa – having been abandoned by his fellow Ganda envoys, who fled when they learned of the execution orders against them collectively – stealthily made his way back to the palace of Mwanga and with the help of the guards, deposited the money and treasure at Mwanga’s door before fleeing to Kibooga’s court in Nkore Kingdom. Kaggwa’s associates that were not on that errand to Busongora did get caught by Mwanga’s executioners and have become known to posterity as the “Uganda Martrys”.

During Kaggwa’s exile in Nkore, Alexander Mackay and other missionaries in Buganda – having learned of Kaggwa’s noble act of delivering money to his would-be executioner Mwanga – had written to the London papers and made Apollo Kaggwa world-famous. Thus Kaggwa was made an international hero of the anti-racist and Christian cause – an example of the nobility of the blacks, contrary to the malign beliefs of the Europeans about Africans. Unbeknownst to Kaggwa, he had lectures made in his honour across Europe and the rest of the world. He would later be knighted for his brave act on the road from Busongora.

Between 1886 and 1890 Apollo Kaggwa lived in Nkore. He was dramatically recalled and made Buganda’s youngest Prime Minister at only 25 years old, apparently after Mwanga had been pressured to sign-off on the absurd arrangement. The exiled errand-boy Kaggwa was wasting away in Nkore one day, the next he was in charge of one of Africa’s most powerful kingdoms from which he’d fled in terror. Apollo Kaggwa’s first order of business upon becoming Prime Minister of a bankrupt Buganda state – was to find lots of money to run the kingdom… and he knew exactly where to look – Busongora.

In 1891 Busongora was still the same old anti-colonial and anti-christian Busongora that had supplied the Kaggwa when he was the envoy of a rebellious Mwanga – but it was also a Busongora torn at the seams by a vicious civil war. Queen Kogyere III Ikamoro had died in 1889. Her successor Busongora’s Rwigi III had been deposed in early 1891, and rival claimants to the throne were declared kings and then deposed one after another, and left to sort each other out on the field of battle.

Kaggwa could not now simply go over to a Busongora in turmoil, at the helm of a delegation of European colonial agents who were enemies of Busongora, and ask for help in the form of money or resources. So, instead Kaggwa turned to his one of his new masters – a British officer named Frederick Lugard. They settled on the idea of invading Busongora outright while it was still disorganised and with rival claimants fighting for the throne. Lugard also needed to fund the desperately cash-strapped colonisation project on behalf of the insolvent Imperial British East Africa Company that had sent him to Africa.

Busongora was home to the largest industrial complex in central Africa – the Katwe salt works. Moreover, Busongora had working cooper mines, and reserves of cooper, gold, ivory and hides, and other precious objects in its palaces and forts.

In their plans, Kaggwa and Lugard were helped by an exiled Toro court official in Kaggwa’s employ – a man named Byakuyamba – who reminded them of his Queen Kahinju and her son. Lugard realised that if he invaded Busongora it might be construed as illegal by British government and by the IBEAC. Kaggwa was also going to be unable to justify to the Baganda why he was attacking King Mwanga’s Songora allies. Thus they came up with a convenient argument involving the Songora Queen Kahinju of Toro and her half-Musongora Kasagama son returning home to claim a disputed throne – never mind it wouldn’t be acceptable to Basongora. At that time the old Toro territory was fully under control of Bunyoro, and Kabalega’s kingdom being united was not subject to conquest just yet, nor was it as rich as Busongora.

The plans thus concluded, Lugard and Kaggwa sent for Queen Kahinju and Kasagama from the countryside and delivered them to the Buganda royal court with instructions to prepare themselves to ascend a throne in Busongora. It is not known if Queen Kahinju objected to the plan. However, while Kahinju was in exile, the Basongora had not come to her aid – no doubt on account of Kibooga’s disposition. At the same time it must have occurred to Kahinju that she had no choice in the matter – the invasion was coming anyway and she might be of use to the Basongora if she went along rather than staying away. Returning to Busongora with the aid of a European and Ganda army might give her leverage to assist Basongora, punish Kibooga, revive Toro’s fortunes, and perhaps get even with Kabalega at the same time.

In August 1891 when Lugard was ready, he forcibly entered BuSongora with Kahinju [now baptised Victoria], her son Kasagama and Byakuyamba, and a large entourage of Baganda officials, as well as soldiers – and maps and plans in hand, devised by Kahinju and Kaggwa both of whom had a good idea about the layout of Busongora’s capital region. They entered BuSongora with guns blazing. BuSongora, which was at war with itself, responded to the attack rather uncharacteristically – confused by the strange coalition of former allies on a warpath and led by none other than Kahinju – a Songora princess. After several skirmishes with baffled BaSongora warlords reluctant to engage the British without the consent of a substantive king, the Basongora withdrew just out of range of the British bullets, and waited.

Lugard eventually picked courage and marched to the Katwe Salt Works and constructed a fort, raised a flag there, and in a stilted ceremony declared Kasagama king of a new Toro inside Busongora. The BaSongora who had only just recently defeated invasions by the Maniema were not amused by the ceremony, sent message and told Lugard that Toro used to be some way to the north – over in Kabalega’s Bunyoro – and that he ought to go do his coronation events with Kasagama over there, or failing that, elsewhere outside Busongora.

Not long after the Basongora regrouped and attacked the fort and took down the British and Toro flags. By that act Kahinju was firmly and finally placed in the same category as all the other enemies of Busongora – and for years after she would struggle to win over the Basongora, and when that failed, she would try to annex Busongora to the resurgent Toro.

However, In the meantime Lugard, Kahinju and Kasagama and their troops retreated to Hamukungu to the east of Katwe, and repeated the flag raising process with the same pathetic results. Lugard then moved north to Kinyampoma Hill [Kabukyero] and set up camp there, but seeing that he was surrounded, broke through and went northward to Kavalli to retrieve Emin Pasha’s old Nubian garrison. The Batoro waited at Kinyampoma for help until Lugard returned with Nubian and Senegalese fighters that had served under Emin Pasha in Sudan. Having found the additional troops he needed, Lugard established a long line of forts in BuSongora along the route to Buganda, and had the Basongora’s main armies cordoned off behind the ring of forts.

Lugard moved BaToro out of Kinyamoma in southern Busongora and took them to Busongora’s north eastern Mwenge province where they managed with their plans to alarm a senior Songora prince named Kaihura. Kaihura appealed to Kibooga for help and moved to Kazinga to join the civil war. Kahinju’s activities in Busongora woke up Kibooga in Nkore, and she sent help to Kaihura in hopes of pacifying Busongora. It would take Kaihura 3 years to defeat his rival claimants to the throne, and become king in 1894.

In the meantime Capt. Frederick Lugard had been recalled by the IBEAC. He was replaced by Major. Roddy Owen. Owen met the Basongora leaders several times and tried to help them settle their differences with the BaToro – he suggested the creation of a federation, and prevented the BaToro from invading Busongora. However, in 1893 Roddy Owen was forced to evacuate Busongora in a hurry in order to save himself. He fled to Buganda to avoid encirclement after a Muslim rebellion broke out in Buganda. Busongora was also under attack by the maniema, the Kilongalonga and the Banyoro. Owen’s absence gave Kahinju freedom and she used it to lead a Toro invasion into Busongora.

The divided Basongora somehow managed to regroup and to defeat all the attackers , and then moved northward to fight the Banyoro. Suddenly Kahinju’s Toro and Ganda army found itself trapped between the Banyoro and the Basongora. Kahinju fled up into the Rwenjura [Rwenzori] mountains, and remained there until Owen returned a few months later. In the meantime the Basongora under Kaihura’s command defeated Kabalega once again. In 1894 Kibooga’s ally Kaihura acceded to the throne as king of the reunified Busongora. Kaihura had also won the respect of the Europeans and the Baganda, and so Kahinju and Kasagama no longer had exclusive access to the support of the foreign powers.

Toro’s weakness compared to BuSongora which it was trying to occupy, was such that in 1894 the Commissioner MacDonald issued orders to Major Roddy Owen to have Kasagama abandon entirely the idea of a Toro Kingdom based in the Rwenzori region and instead set up a kingdom on land in Singo in Buganda. It was only after the reinstatement of Kasagama at Fort Portal, that British government – reinvigorated by the capture of Kabalega and Mwanga in 1899 – reissued orders to its commissioners in the region to try and get BaSongora and Banyoro to be part of a federation with the then geographically undefined Toro.

In 1894, Toro was formally restablished at Fort Portal [Kabarole] in the Mpanga River valley. It was considerably south of the original Toro that had been located north of the Musizi River in what was now southern Bunyoro. Kahinju’s son Kasagama was made king of Toro. Victoria Kahinju was essentially in charge of Toro during her lifetime. Her son Kasagama was never as popular as his mother, nor as brilliant nor as brave. It was Kahunju’s claim to Busongora that became the driving force behind Toro’s expansion. The first post 1830s Toro at Misizi had consisted of only four counties. The second post 1894 Toro was made up of nearly five times as much territory, and all of it in Busongora.

The BaSongora rejected the idea outright of their territory being annexed by Toro, or their being in a federation with Toro. The BaSongora agreed instead to protectorate status directly under the British, but not under any other neighbouring kingdom or state. D.A. Low states – in his “Fabrication of Empire: The British and the Uganda Kingdoms 1890 – 1902” [Page 162] – that the Toro Confederancy “was still so novel and so arbitrary a creation that Kasagama continued to encounter all manner of local resistances.”

Describing the nature of problem in detail, Sitwell the colonial officer in charge of Toro is quoted in a letter he sent to his superior – one Berkerly – in June 1896, suggesting that Toro should be “without a king at all. On all sides there are people asking to be under an Englishman & not under Kasagama at all, in fact everywhere except [‘Toro proper’] and Chakka, Nyama being absolutely under Kasagama’s thumb, the cry is the same.”

At that time Kyaka [Chakka] was part of BuSongora’s province of Kitagwenda. The British had responded to Songora resistance first by breaking Kitagwenda into three parts – one part being Kyaka [now known as Kyegegwa District], another Kitagweta, and the third being the reduced remnant of Kitagwenda. In 1894 it was put under the control of a series of usurpers and agents of Buganda, Toro and the British. In any event the vassal king Nyama was removed and replaced by another muSongora royal, Bulemu III Kaizire, who also eventually revolted against Kahinju and Kasagama and demanded unification of Busongora under a Musongora royal. After Bulemu was removed in 1911, Kyaka was directly annexed to Toro and ceased to be a separate vassal kingdom under any pretext.

The King Kasigano succeeded King Kaihura of BuSongora. Kasigano was deposed in 1907 by the British and Belgians, on account of his objections to running the proposed border between Uganda Protectorate and Congo Free State through the middle of Busongora. The claimants to the throne of BuSongora after Kasigano – including Kazoba II Kajungu, and Kanagwa II Korongo, and Bulemu III Kaizire – had all been deposed in 1910 and 1911 by the Belgians and the British. In 1911 Busongora’s Shema province was annexed to Nkore, and Bunyampaka [now known as Busogora County] was gradually taken over by the Toro (kingdom) Development Company (TDC).

As Kahinju’s control waned, the British and Toro Kingdom followed on the annexations and encroachments by resettling – beginning in 1920 in Kitagwenda – thousands of immigrants from Kigezi and Byumba [Rwanda]. So much immigration was done deliberately to supplant the BaSongora, that by the 1960s the original Songora population of Kitagwenda, Kitagweta and Kyaka had become a paltry minority. By 1931, the only parts of Busongora that were not made part of Toro, had been annexed to Nkore, Bunyoro and Buganda, or had been made part of the Congo Free State.

That both Kibooga and Kahinju were Songora patriots is not in doubt. Their enmity and their actions with regard to Busongora were meant to try and save it – especially considering what had happened to its neighbours. In the end they couldn’t save their homeland Busongora, but instead are remembered for saving the kingdoms to which they had become matriarchs. Kibooga’s cruelty towards Kahinju may be unjustifiable – but perhaps seen in the light of her other actions Kibooga may be understandable.

Kibooga certainly had had no qualms about being cruel in her dealings with all her enemies. Even her own family had suffered at her hands – as she had grown older she had become increasingly extreme in her methods of government. One of her victims was her own daughter, Magwende – whom she allegedly forced to abort, or had her babies exposed and killed. Kibooga’s goal in preventing her children from having their own children may not be inscrutable.

Some claim that she didn’t want Magwende having children before her son Ntare V had had his – presumably in order to prevent the possibility of Magwende’s children from usurping the throne. This explanation is not credible, especially given the fact that Ntare V was probably impotent due to poisoning and injuries suffered during the Nkore civil war. As far as I can tell, neither of his two Songora wives had children with him – and it was not unusual in Huma [Songora] culture to raise children who were not one’s own. There was none of the paternity obsessions in Huma culture at that time as there are now. Bahuma raise children that were fathered by relatives as their own, without any misgivings. They also expect that their children will be raised by other BaHuma relations without discrimination.

However, Queen Kibooga’s reasons for doing many of the things she did are mysterious. She had suffered immensely on arrival at Nkore’s court on account of jealousies and confusion over her status in Nkore’s royal court. Several of the princes and ranking Nkore generals fought over her and she must have wondered about their conduct.

Nonetheless, Kibooga and n had a lot in common. In their choices of wives for their sons, both Kibooga and Kahinju followed a tradition that showed where their hearts were. Kibooga died in 1894, one year before the death of her son Ntare V, whom she had given as wives two Songora princesses – one of whom was the daughter of the former king of Busongora Bulemu II. After Kasagama was forced to divorce his numerous other wives upon conversion to Christianity, his mother Kahinju gave to him for his wife the daughter of Rwigi III Kakinture. So even though Busongora could not save itself at the start of the colonial occupation, it supplied to the kingdoms around it able Queens and administrators.


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Written by King Ndahura II Imara Kashagama (1)

Ndahura II Imara Kashagama is the king of Busongora. Busongora Kingdom straddles the border between Congo and Uganda in the middle of Africa.

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