The Bakonjo People & Their Culture

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The Bakonjo, also known as the “Banya Rwenzururu or the people of Rwenzururu” are found in western Uganda in Kasese district and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Congo, the Bakonjo are known as the Banande. The Bakonjo are the largest inhabitants of the Rwenzori Mountain Ranges besides the Bamba and the Bambuti. The Bakonjo are physically short and firm people. The Bakonjo-Bamba are rather small, short and dark- skinned people. The Bakonjo possess great dignity, are calm and straight forward. They live in homesteads usually made of one or two rectangular houses, with a few small huts that are widely dispersed and patched on the edges of the foothills for storage.

The Bakonjo belong to a Bantu Ethnic group called the Bayira. They speak Konzo language and are often shortened to the Konzo. The Bakonjo are about 30,000 in population in Uganda. They form the original population of the people in the mountainous areas and forests. Their natural surrounding offered them a rich distinction in small beating instruments, wooden horns, among others. More to that, the Bakonjo were very good hunters who hunted either alone or in groups. They used dogs during their hunting and hunting was seen as a very significant role in their community.

Today, the Bakonjo mostly practice agriculture and animal husbandry. They are known for growing crops like yams, cassava, sweet potatoes, soya beans, coffee, to mention but a few.

Their Origin

The origin of the Bakonjo has two sides of the story. According to the first legendary story, the Bakonjo are believed to have once lived on Mount Elgon in Eastern Ugandan. They are believed to have later migrated during the Kintu migration along with the other Baganda. However, instead of settling in Buganda, the Bakonjo decided to proceed and settle in the Rwenzori Mountain highlands. This was because, Mount Rwenzori had the same climate conditions as those on Mount Elgon where they had once lived. 

Another legend claims that the Bakonjo have inhabited Mount Rwenzori right from the very beginning and that they possess any foreign origin. The legend states that their ancestor emerged from the Mount Rwenzori caves and thus giving birth to the rest of the Bakonjo. This legend however, is simply a myth.  

Their Bakonjo-Bamba Traditional Initiation

The Bakonjo share some cultural elements with the Bamba and one of them is the element of initiation from childhood to adulthood. This tradition involved undergoing circumcision for all male children before or as they approach puberty. The initiation was often practiced together by the Bakonjo and the Bamba. The initiation ceremony involved all male children from the age of 3 years up to seventeen years.

Their Traditional Marriage   

According to the Bakonjo, marriage was seen as a matter of social concern. It was customary to book marriage partners earlier. The booking was often done on the day the boy was initiated. The marriage was socially recognized only if bride price was paid. The bride price was paid in form of goats especially.  For instance, the number of goats one had determined the wealth status of the concerned families.

In addition to the goats, an animal skin and a digging stick had to be part of the bride price.The digging stick was meant to replace the girl’s labor and the animal skin represented the animal skin used by the girl when she was still a child. However, in today’s current times, the digging stick and animal skin have been replaced by a hoe and a blanket. Furthermore, divorce was very rare among the Bakonjo, however, in case it happened, all the goats presented as bride wealth would be given back to the boy’s family. Also, all the unmarried girls were expected to stay virgins until marriage. if a girl conceived before marriage, she would be executed.

Their Traditional Religion

The Bakonjo believed in two powerful beings that is Nyakabarika and Kalisa. Nyakarika had an unknown structure but was believed to be the most supreme spiritual being among the Bakonjo. According to them, Nyakarika had the ability to heal, haunt, kill, cause barrenness, give fertility and bless hunting activities or otherwise. More to that, Nyakarika was supposed to be pleased at all times.

On the other hand, Kalisa was believed to be significant especially when it came to hunting. Kalisa was regarded as a monster with only half a body i.e., one arm, leg, ear, eye and half nose. However, Kalisa portrayed a lot of importance towards hunting since it was a valued occupation among the Bakonjo. The Bakonjo also constructed shrines that were dedicated to Nyakarika and Kalisa on the eastern and southern slants of Mount Rwenzori. The shrines were made of bamboo coverings. The shrines were not meant for anyone to enter.  Cultural visits to the Bakonjo of western Uganda can be done as part of Uganda wildlife safaris to Queen Elizabeth National Park or Hiking safaris to the Rwenzori Mountain Ranges. Visiting the Bakonjo will give you a glimpse of their amazing culture and tradition as you tap deeper into their unique way of life in the mountains.

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