The Bakonzo/Bakonjo-Bamba are a small group of the Bantu speaking people in Uganda, they are short and dark skinned. They are among the 54 different tribal groups that make Uganda a true boiling pot of cultures. The Bakonzo-Bamba are believed to be the indigenous dwellers of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges. The Rwenzori Mountains are jealously protected by the Bakonzo who live deep in its foothills. Originally, the block mountain was called Rwenzururu but later, it changed to Rwenzori.
The Bakonzo people originated from the Congo and they settled around the Rwenzori Mountain region, about 300 years back. Over 800000 Bakonzo people live in Uganda presently and like Bamba, the word ‘Ba’ is attached to both 2 Bantu tribes and it means people belonging to and Rwenzururu denotes to snows. The Rwenzori Mountains define existence of the Bakonzo and 2 stories have been told about their origin. One story/theory believed that Bakonzo are the indigenous to the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon. They believe the Rwenzori Mountains belongs to them.
Post the advent of Toro government, Bakonzo slowly settled along the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains. The block mountain ranges was and still blessed with reliable rains and beautiful lakes which are natural storage tanks that support many human activities, wildlife survival. There is belief that Bakonzo ancestors evolved from the Rwenzori caves and the rest of the Bakonzo were produced.
The other theory believes that Bakonzo originated from near Lake Victoria (Nalubale). It is asserted that some of the art works at Kasubi tombs-the cultural heritage of Buganda shows that the 2 clans escaped from central/Buganda to the Rwenzori Mountain region creating the Konzo community.
The Bakonzo are short by height and dark skinned. They make up the original population of the forests and Rwenzori mountain areas. They believe in super human powers-their gods “Kalisa” & “Nyabarika”. Nyabarika happened to be the greatest spiritual power-known to them as ruler over life and death. The gods were protected in shrines built in form of huts and sacrifices were offered.
History has it that the Bakonzo were good hunters-they used to hunt independently and as a group. Dogs were used for hunting and generally, hunting played a significant part in their community. Whistling was the commonest form of communication for the Bakonzo in their community or while hunting. They belong to Bayira Bantu speaking group and notably, they are industrious, self reliant.
The Bakonzo-Bamba people considered marriage as a great social matter. Booking spouses was normal for families during their early life and this could be done during the day. Marriage could only be recognized when bride wealth was fully settled. The bride wealth at the time included goats and the economic status of the families was used to determine the number of the goats. Besides goats, other items includes digging stick, animal skin and it was the work of the girl to replace the digging stick with her lost labour and then the skin was replaced with the one when the girl was young.
Presently, a lot has changed, a hoe and blanket are used instead of digging sticks and skins. Unlike before, the modern days have been characterized by divorces something that used to be rare. In the event that divorce occurs, all goats paid for bride wealth have to be returned. At the time, all unmarried girls were supposed to be virgins and in a case where she gets pregnant prior marriage, she could be executed.
Bakonzo-Bamba traditional initiation
The Bakonzo have a lot in common with the Bamba. Initiation is one commonest element and this was mainly performed to transform the young from childhood to adulthood. Male children had to undergo circumcision before or after their puberty. The ceremony at the time could start from Bwamba and end in Bukonjo. This was done in intervals of about 15-17 years.
Bakonzo believe in the 2 supreme beings/super powers of Kalisa and Nyabarika. Kalisa was mainly viewed as a monster with one eye, one arm, half nose, half body, one ear etc. Kalisa is said to be the greatest spiritual being with power to heal, haunt, kill, offer fertility or cause barrenness.
Rwenzori Mountains of the Mountains are central to the Bakonzo life who dwell along its lower slopes and also, a home to Kitsamba their central spirit, the King of the Mountains. In Lukonzo, the word Rwenzori denotes to rainmaker and the mountain ranges are known as Mountains of the Moon -during the day, they are covered by cloud. At night, they are clear and visible.
Rwenzori Mountains are located in the extreme border area shared between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C). This block mountain is an important source of water to the surrounding areas and to beautiful lakes such as Lake Albert, Edward, George etc.
Bakonzo depend largely on subsistence farming, mainly growing yams, beans, millet, potatoes, bananas etc. Recently, a section of them plant coffee, maize and cassava. They are found in an area endowed in terms of fertile soil, fresh and clean water etc.
Bakonzo are generally unique from other tribal groups in Uganda. Their language isn’t easy to adopt by any other Uganda tribe even the very closest tribes like the Batooro in Kabarole.
How to explore the Bakonzo-Bamba cultures
A cultural tour offers the best alternative to visitors on Rwenzori Mountaineering to also explore more about the Bakonzo and their unique cultures, traditions, practices, dances etc. This is during the community walk around Ruboni village, walk around the rocky Mubuku River as you watch the locals carrying out their daily activities.
During the Bakonzo cultural tour, a number of activities are performed including hands on experience on basket weaving, entertainment from the locals as they dance, tell interesting and inspiring stories about their lives to mention but a few. Bakonzo cultural encounters can be incorporated with variety of experiences in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park including mountaineering, nature walks, bird watching etc.