Ndebesa Mwambutsya*

Historical and Geographical Setting

The area under study, namely Ankole, is in terms of territory a creation of the British colonial administration. It includes, besides, the nucleus of Nkole, the pre-colonial states of Igara, Buhweju Bunyaruguru, Buzimba and some parts of the former kingdom of Mpororo. The latter five were amalgamated into Nkole kingdom by the British, a process sealed off by the Ankole agreement of 1901. It is bordered by Buganda in the east, Tanzania and Rwanda in the south, Kigezi in the west and Toro in the north. According to the 1919 population census estimate, Ankole had a population of 149,469 inhabiting an area of about 6131 sq. miles.1 Ankole has a relatively varied climate. It is fairly dry in the east and wetter in the west. This climate allowed two types of economic activities to co-exist. Pastoralism dominated in the east and still dominates, in the countries of Nyabushozi, Kashari and Isingiro while agriculture dominated and still dominates in the west.

On the eve of colonial rule, Ankole was inhabited by two groups of people, namely the Bairu (agriculturalists) and Bahima (pastoralists). The distinction between the two groups still exists. However, although the Bairu and Bahima presently dominate in agriculture and pastoralism respectively, the occupations are no longer as exclusive as they used to be in pre-colonial days. In all the states that later came to form Ankole, the rulers were from the pastoralist group. In general terms, we can conclude that the Bahima group approximated to the nobility while the Bairu were commoners.

The states referred to above were until about the sixteenth century provinces of a larger entity, the Empire of Kitara. The empire, with the headquarters at Bigo by a Mugenyi, is said to have extended as far as the present day republics of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The founders of the empire are said to be the baCwezi who were the successors of the Batembuzi about whom very little is known. However, Archaeological discoveries made at Bigo by a Mugenyi in present day Mubende district of Uganda, corroborated with oral traditions, do reveal some information about the baCwezi and their culture. They are associated with the political culture of a centralized monarchical system of government using a drum as a symbol of power. Also with the system of living in places, endembo, accompanied with a royal regalia of stools, spears and arrows. Posnansky summarises the political cultures of these rulers:

The scaled of the earth works undertaking at Bigo, where the ditches in some places are more than fifteen feet deep and are out into solid rock, suggests rulers with a firm control over a relatively large manpower, such as would be possessed by a ruler of a centralized state.2

The Empire of Kitara lacked a cohesive machinery at the centre, had overstretched itself and was therefore difficult to control and was prone to insurbodinations. This was more likely to happen when the rulers of the provinces were princes and were as legitimate as anybody else to assume leadership in the provinces as autonomous kings. The level of technological development this time was also still low and transport was by foot. It was therefore not easy to put down a rebellion in time before rebels had consolidated their position. When the empire was crumbling from within there set an external factor. This was an invasion by the Luo-speaking people who had migrated from the Sudan and reached Kitara by about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Kitara Empire finally broke up during the 16th century at the advent of this Luo invasion. It is most plausible that the Luo invasion was not solely responsible for the break up of the empire but merely accelerated a process that was already in the making. The invasion only put the last nail in the coffin but success of the invaders over their future subjects was not on account of superiority of arms or organisation. In fact, after they had invaded the centre of Kitara, and established their rule in Bunyoro under the leadership of the Ja-Bito clan (founders of the Babito dynasty) they did not proceed farther south. Instead there was a backward movement northwards and north eastwards through present the Lango District to Eastern Uganda and onward to the present Nyanza province of Western Kenya. It is probable that they feared advancing farther south of Bunyoro where there existed strongly organised states and so, instead, they went eastwards the stateless societies.

The subject of the origins, expansion and disintegration of the Kitara Empire need not detain us here longer as all we needed to establish was the pre-colonial origins Ankole states. These states asserted their independence after the Luo invasion but retained the political structure of the baCwezi. Karugire and Mishambi come to the same conclusion on the question of the origin of these states: that the states which came to constitute Ankole asserted their independence after the break up of Kitara of which they had been component parts. Karugire concludes thus:

Finally, one may also refer to a historical fact. This is the fact that to the South of what became the Kingdom of Bunyoro, there simultaneously developed several kingdoms-Ankole, Buganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Karagwe, Kyamutwara, Ihangiro etc.3

And in a similar manner Mishambi has the following conclusion:

But the invading forces were not powerful enough to overrun the whole empire. The dominant clans in the periphery took advantage of this, asserted their independence and what we get now is a series of small kingdoms.4

Traditions have it that the baCwezi, the founders of the Kitara Empire disappeared and perhaps to heaven. But what actually transpired is that sections of the former ruling baCwezi, after asserting their independence, transformed themselves into new dynasties under different clan names. In fact the Bahinda dynasty of Nkole traced its origin and authenticity from the baCwezi. Posnansky re-enforces this evidence of oral tradition and he writes:

It is amongst the pastoral Bahima, who formed the aristocracy of Ankole, and their neighbours in Karagwe and Southern Bunyoro that the baCwezi tales are strongest.5

Before we leave this topic of nation and people, we need to clarify the social relationship between the Bairu and Bahima. The relationship between the two approximates to a caste system. This caste relationship has been a subject of controversial debate. Professor Karugire, among others, has denied that Ankole was a caste society. The problem, it seems, has been over the definition of caste. Let us cite two of the many definitions given by scholars so as to help us identify some common characteristics of castes which will be a guide towards the categorisation of the pre-colonial Ankole social system. According to Bongle, a caste includes three elements: repulsion, hierarchy and hereditary specialisation. He continues,

it is necessary to consider all three if one is to have a complete definition of the caste system. We say that a society is characterized by such a system of hereditary specialized groups, hierarchically superposed and mutually opposed; if it does not tolerate the principle of rising in status, of group mixture, of changing occupation; if it is opposed altogether to the mixture of blood, to advancement in social status, and to a change of vocation.6

For Kroebler,

caste may be defined as an endogamous and hereditarysubdivision of an ethnic unit occupying a position of superior or inferior rank of social esteem in comparison with other subdivisions.7

Getting bogged down with definitions in explaining a caste system will bring more problems than it can solve. It is therefore proposed to refer to characteristics of a caste which can be inferred from the above definitions and many others. A caste is generally characterized by endogamy, and membership is determined by birth. Social mobility is very minimal if at all it takes place and there is generally social discrimination based not on wealth or colour of the skin but on status determined by birth. In Ankole, the Bahima formed the high caste and the Bairu the low caste. Intermarriage between the two castes was rare and the Bahima despised the Bairu. Although the Banyakole are all black there are marked physical differences which distinguish to two peoples. The Bahima are generally taller than the Bairu who generally have flat nose and brown gum. Because of the occupational differences the two caste groups developed some cultural differences which marked one group from the other, and intermarriage between the Bahima and Bairu was very minimal.

As already pointed out, Karugire has refuted the contention that Ankole was a caste society; instead he labels it as a class society because there was social mobility based on wealth. He points out that some Bairu could acquire cattle, marry into the Bahima and, after about three generations, could become Bahima. Conversely if a Muhima lost cattle and therefore became poor he would become a Mwiru.8 His statistics upon which he bases his claim are actually deficient especially when during his research he failed to get examples of Bahima who became Bairu. It is true that there were cases of social mobility particularly from the lower caste to the higher caste. Cases of people who were in transition to the Bahima status are known, and these people were called Abambari in the case of Nkore and Abaratsi in the case of Mpororo. However, the presence of such minimal social mobility does not disqualify a system from being a caste. Indeed, as Cox says, "Yet instances of individual rising into higher castes, either by their own effort or with the aid of others are by no means unknown".9 And in his Caste and race in India, Ghyryre observed that "instances may be cited where not only women but also gifted low-caste men, sudras, have been able to work their way up into high ranking castes".10

It is also true that the Bahima did not form a total homogenous group as there were ranks among them. There were the members of the princely clan who we may approximate to the European classical aristocratic group and below them were the majority lesser Bahima. The aristocratic group belonged to the Bahima Bahinda, that is, of the Bahinda clan in the case of Nkore and the Bahima Bashambo, that is, of the Bashambo clan, in the case of Mpororo. However, they belonged to the same caste and intermarried. This phenomenon was also observed by Cox in India, and he comments that

the Caste is not a unity of colorless, undifferentiated individuals. Indeed the very nature of its organisation entails internal differentiation. Castes of any size always have their superior and privileged families.11

Pre-capitalist Mode of Production

In discussing the pre-capitalist mode of production, we shall bear in mind the fact that there is no single mode of production existing at any one stage of historical development except that of primitive communalism and the highest and last that of communism which is not yet attained. Amin* substantiates this fact succinctly when he observes that

None of these modes of production has ever existed in a pure state. The societies known to history are "formations" that on the one hand combine modes of production and on the other organise relations between the local society and other societies,...12

We shall try to describe different forms of manifestations of modes of production which should articulate, sometimes reproduce themselves. However, two things are certain: that one mode dominates the others, and that at each successive state one mode tends to weaken until it dies out. As Brewer puts it, "one mode of production normally dominates the others, defining a dominant or ruling class, except during brief periods of transition when a dominant mode is being supplanted."13


On the eve of colonial rule, Ankole had attained some advanced level of productive forces and production relations. Iron smelting and smithing dating to around 500 B.C. was an important activity in the area. This knowledge of iron smithing had enabled the Banyankole to overcome some of the vagaries of nature and to rely less and less at its mercy. They were no longer merely hunters and gatherers but settled agriculturalists and organised pastoralists though nomadic, and the iron labour implements enabled them to produce enough for subsistence, that is, reproduction of the producer and to have a surplus.13b This surplus production later enabled a class of non-producers to subsist as rulers as we shall be discussing below.

The Bairu, being agriculturalists, tilled the land, growing mainly millet, beans, sorghum, maize and bananas and root crops mainly sweet potatoes while the Bahima, who were pastoralists, tended cattle. The surplus of land produce, mainly grains, was stored in granaries Ebitara. Another surplus by the Bairu took a different form, and this was in the shape of tribute paid to the state functionaries. Another surplus was exchanged (bartered) for non-agricultural products. It can be asserted that Ankole society was not stagnating at the level of subsistence production i.e. producing for family consumption only. As Godelier argues at a general abstract level,

It seems obvious that the concept of subsistence economy, or self-subsistence - used frequently to characterize primitive economies do not limit themselves to the production of subsistence goods, but produce a surplus destined for the functioning of the social structure (kinship, religion) etc.14

To this subject of this surplus appropriation we shall return later.

In pre-colonial Ankole the unit of production was the family but, as we shall see below, in some specialized trade corporate labour process was emerging. The technology of production was the locally made hand hoe. The division of labour on the colonial eve had reached a stage beyond that based on sex only. It is this division of labour that we turn to now.

Pre-colonial Ankole was a stratified society. Contrary to the ideas of some African nationalist leaders and writers who have been carried by nationalist sentiments and hold that pre-colonial African society was egalitarian, Ankole was very stratified. In pre-colonial Ankole there were the exploiters and the exploited. To say that traditional African societies were not stratified is tantamount to saying that they were static and still at the lowest stage of human development, namely communalism. Caution should be taken that when referring to division of labour because it does not necessary presuppose exploitation although, for Ankole, this was the case.

In Ankole the major and obvious division of labour was between the Bairu and Bahima. As we have pointed out earlier the Bairu tilled the land and the Bahima looked after cattle. These two groups of people exchanged their products in this natural economy. It is important to note that among the Bairu there had developed a group of artisans specializing in smithing. Although members of these specialized artisans were part of the Bairu they did not want to be categorized as Bairu. Indeed, an informant insisted that although such people were of Bairu origin, they distinguished themselves from the rest by calling themselves simply Bahetsi, iron smelters. This implies that left on their own without colonial interferences a distinct class of artisans was emerging.

In Ankole the iron ore, Obutare, was mined in many places but could not be found everywhere. Also the quality of iron mattered a lot. What all this amounted to was that certain areas such as Bhuweju in Ankole and Kayonza in Kinkiizi specialized in the production of iron implements. Since the specialized iron-smith groups could not engage in agricultural production at the same time, they either exchanged their products for grain foods, goats and cattle products within the community, or bartered their products with long distance traders from far away regions. The technical knowledge of this specialized trade was jealously guarded and was passed on from father to son within the same group. Carpentry was another specialized trade. Like iron smithing, carpentry was done by members of the Bairu group. They made a variety of articles which included watering bowels (amacuba), milking pots (Ebyanzi), wooden plates (entatika), wooden spoons (endosho), stools, motars and wooden baths. The latter was used in the process of banana beer brewing, and the knowledge of this trade was also hereditary. However, in areas where there was high demand for the products, the knowledge would be passed on to some other person outside the lineage15 but, unlike iron smithing, there were no specialized clans or groups distinguished and distinct. Also women and young children were not allowed to participate in the production process. Other crafts of importance were basket weaving and pottery, they were mainly done by women.

Land, the major means of production, land was theoretically owned by the King's, Omugabe's. Rather than connoting any strictly defined property relationships in a western legal sense, the King's ownership of land was primarily a symbol of ultimate control by which legitimate authority over the society was claimed for the Nkore kingship."16 Every Munyakole was entitled to the use of land which in practice was communally owned and there were no clan lands as was the case in neighbouring Buganda. The Bairu grew grain crops in rotation and shifted to virgin land when soil fertility deteriorated. In other words they practiced a type of shifting cultivation but, because at the same time they had perennial crops, bananas, they were settled cultivators. Banana plantations were mainly found in river valleys where each cultivator owned some few acres of uncultivated land around his homestead. This individual possession, especially of the portions land fertile enough to sustain banana cultivation, was a pointer to the development of private ownership of land.

The pastoralists, Bahima, practiced communal grazing in portions of land near the homesteads, Ebyanya; for the purpose of grazing young animals were individually possessed. The Bahima were nomads and, as such, these private portions should not be understood to have been permanent possessions. More still land had not acquired the character of a commodity and when a Muhima migrated to another place the land was left free and anybody would settle on the same piece of land in future.

Now, that we have seen that the Bairu had some individuals plots and some banana plantations and that the Bahima had individual herds the next question to address ourselves to is how this property was shared after the death of the owner. According to Banyakole customs, when the head of the family died, his property was inherited by his sons, the female having no property rights of inheritance. All the sons had the right of inheritance and the aging father would make a will before he died. The heir to the head of the family, in most cases the eldest son, took a lion's share but, generally, every son was entitled to a share of the father's property.17 In certain circumstances an ostracized child was deprived of the right of inheritance. The whole system was akin to what Amin describes in the following words:

Inspite of this variety, the community modes production are all characterized by 1) an organisation of labour partly on an individual basis (that of the "nuclear family") partly on collective basis (that of the extended family or of the "clean" in a village) and the essential means of labour - land being the property of the clan, and its use, free to all the members, but according to specific rules (e.g. the use of plots distributed to the families, etc.); 2) the absence of commodity exchange and correlatively, 3) the distribution of the products within the community according to the rules closely connected with the kinship organisation.18

The products of the land took different modes of consumption in this basically natural economy. Production was of use values and even the little exchange and tribute paying took the form of use value. However, there was accumulation in form of cattle, goats and to a small extent women.19 The profit motive was essentially absent but just at the advent of colonial rule, the seeds of profit motive had started to germinate with the beginning of long distance trade.

The Bairu produced for their own consumption but since they could not produce everything they needed, they exchanged the surplus with the pastoralists. The exchange relations took the form of barter, and there was unequal exchange between the partners, this being one invisible way in which exploitation of one class or one people by another takes. The barter exchange was normally carried out by women. A Mwiru woman would take food, cooked or uncooked, to exchange with a Muhima woman hardly would a Mwiru woman take her produce, and get what she wanted at a single visit. She was always told to come next time and in each case the reasons given was that she was not ready. However, at every visit she had to bring a new load, and it was unthinkable to come without carrying something. When the Mwiru woman was in turn given what she had wanted which should have been the equivalent of a single visits load, she would have brought two or three extra loads. Over and above this exploitation through unequal exchange, it was the Mwiru woman who carried her produce to the Muhima's homestead and never the other way round.20

This exploitation was possible for a number of reasons. Apart from the extra-economic means of control which the Bahima had over the Bairu peasants, the Bairu were exploited because their products had relatively limited market. The Bahima constituted about ten percent21 of the whole Banyankole population. Secondly, the agricultural products that were exchanged were not diversified. The Bairu women brought almost one single item, that is, millet and, at a later time, bananas. The Bahima shunned the eating of most vegetable foods such as potatoes, beans and groundnuts. On the other hand the Bairu looked for animal products which were needed for a variety of uses. Besides, the Bairu were many and therefore provided a wider market. From the Bahima, the Bairu, in return for their produce, received ghee which was put to a variety of uses. It was used as sauce, medicine, in rituals, and for softening and straightening the skin clothes, Enkanda. The latter was also sought from the Bahima who were the owners of cattle. Blood food, enjubane, was also another animal product which was exchanged. Beef and, above all, the bull or calf for paying bride price were to be procured from the Bahima.

Another form exploitation took was through the institution of loan - like giving, Okugabisa. This was a type of loan given in the form of a cow or goat. Just like the loan given by the developed countries to the developing countries has turned out to be one means of draining more capital away from the loan recipient so was the Okugabisa in pre-colonial Ankole. In this system, two people would come to mutual agreement in which the recipient would either be in dire need of it or just for enhancing their "existing friendship". In the above loan-like offer, either the recipient would have asked for the cow or the offerer would have just approached the recipient and offered to give him a heifer, young bull or goat. If the one to give the cow was a Muhima and the recipient another Muhima, the latter would take on pot of beer or, at most, two pots as a sign of gratitude for the offer. The offer between a Muhima and a Muhima was normally a productive cow. On the other hand, if the one offering was a Muhima and the recipient a Mwiru, the latter would take about ten pots of beer, a number of basketfuls of millet flour or grain, a number of banana bushes and, sometimes, offer labour. For all this thanks giving, he would be given either a young bull or a non-productive heifer normally an inbreed, Obutembane. Indeed as Oberg has also noted,

The Bairu were not permitted to own productive cows. For services rendered to the Bahima, they were sometimes given barren cows and bull calves. These cattle the Bairu either kept for making marriage payments or slaughtered for food.22

By receiving this bull the Mwiru would have entered into a clientship relationship with the Muhima and enhanced the ties of exploitation. The Muhima could use this "friendship" to continue demanding more from the Mwiru, and it should also be noted that this offer was not non-payable. It was supposed to be paid back in future. When demanding it back the Muhima would bring at most only two pots of beer. This is the price the Mwiru paid in return for a non-productive cow.

Tribute Paying (Okutoija)

Ankole society was a tribute paying society, and was akin to what Amin characterized as typical of an African type of mode of production:

The so-called Asian mode of production which we prefer to call a tribute-paying mode, is very close to the feudal mode of production. It is characterized by the organisation of society into two essential classes: a peasantry organised into a community and a ruling class which monopolizes the political organisation of the society and exacts (non-commodity) tributes from rural communities. But while in the tributary mode of production the feudal lord has the eminent domain of the land, the rural community has the actual ownership.23

In our study case we found out that although the ruling class monopolized the political organisation and exacted tribute it did not rise as a land owning feudal lord. It is this non-land-owning ruling class that we now set to examine. As we earlier pointed out, Ankole society was a state society. The division of labour beyond the domain of sex and the improvement of productive forces which allowed a surplus to be produced led to the development of classes. It was therefore natural that a state institution should emerge to hold these antagonistic classes together. The role of a state in holding classes together was scientifically observed by Marx:

In most of the historical states, the rights of citizens are besides, apportioned according to their wealth thus directly expressing the fact that the state is an organisation of the possessing class for its protection against non-possessing class.24

The pre-colonial kingdoms of Ankole had a semi centralized monarchical system of administration. The head of the kingdom was known as Omugabe, king and his office embodied many offices viz: the political head, the judge and the military commander. The kingdom was divided into small sub-regions called Ebyanga, most of them under military leaders, Emitwe. The same military leader was also a political head of this district and, in the latter capacity, he was known as Omukungu. All the Bakungu (pl. of Omukungu) chiefs belonged to the ruling dynasty of the Bahinda clan, in the case of Nkore, and of Bashambo clan in Mpororo. Below the Omukungu were minor chiefs also called Bakungu. These were distinguished from the superior Bakungu because the latter could deal with the King directly. They were the Abakungu abarikwehikira which literary meant those who go to the King directly. In rare cases an individual from the Bairu (peasant) group would be elevated to the status of a military leader (Omutwe), and this would allow him to own cattle and marry a Muhima wife. The offspring of these or what we may call half castes were known as Abambari.

The Kings lived in palaces at the headquarters of the Kingdom. The sites of the palaces (endembo) were not permanent. This was because the kings were cattle owners and used to change places in search of fresh pasture or to go to relatively cattle diseases free areas. However, the king kept within the boundaries or near boundaries for there were no king's clearly demarcated areas of jurisdiction. At the kings court were found courtiers although in the districts the chiefs also had courts and courtiers. The whole arrangement is aptly put by Karugire:

His residence (omukungu) was a miniature court, at which many guests and hangers on were entertained each day. It was like the court of the Omugable itself, the military, the administrative, and the cultural activities of the region converged and were directed at the court of the Omutwe leader.25

The Bairu and Bahima alike paid tribute to the Mugabe and his Bakungu chiefs but most of the burden of tribute paying was shouldered by the Bairu. Moreover, the Bahima would pay occasional visits to the chiefs and stay there partaking in beer drinking paid by the Bairu. Also in times of distress the King would give to the distressed Bahima some cows and, as Oberg also noted,

From the purely economic stand point, cattle received through Okutoizha formed a savings fund, a surplus upon which herdsmen in distress could draw.26

This tribute-client relationship was the order of the day in Ankole, and tribute payment was regular and failure to pay it meant insecurity to the individual. "For a person not attached to a chief or to the Mugabe, security against such hazards was minimal since anyone could wrong him in any manner save that of his life and redress would not be readily available. On the other hand a person who kept in touch with the authorities was relatively immune from internal depredation by his neighbours and enemies..."27 Alongside this exploitation through tribute payment was another system called Okunyaga. If a Mwiru happened to own many heads of cattle, a Muhima aristocrat would organise, come and take the cows. This information corroborates with Oberg's finding:

If a Mwiru did have productive cows in his possession any Muhima could take them away from him.28

One more important point however, needs to be clarified. Despite all this tribute payment, Bairu were not serfs in the classical European usage although this is not to say that they were free men; they were not the individual property of the Bahima. The Bairu had control over their own lives, and civil matters such as marriage, residence even the land where to cultivate were entirely in their hands. If a Mwiru felt aggrieved by a Muhima aristocrat he was free to migrate to another district, ekyanga. It should also be noted that the ekyanga was not a private estate of the Muhima aristocrat but a political division. The tribute paid was not on account of using the land but a form of tax to demonstrate allegiance to the political ruler. Doonbos succinctly describes the relationships when he says:

While some of the Bairu were directly subservient to Bahima, and while Bairu generally enjoyed some fewer rights and privileges than did Bahima in the contact between the two groups, a major part of the Bairu definitely lived a fairly autonomous existence.29

Thus the Ankole social formation is an example of appropriation without expropriation.

In this exploitative system the Bairu were not just on lookers. There was non-violent, silent and ineffective opposition but opposition all the same. If a Muhima was paid grain millet, the wife would take it to a Mwiru who would give back to the Muhima the same measure of the prepared millet bread (Ugali). In normal circumstance after grinding and mingling, one basketful of grain millet, the yield (Ugali) is supposed to be twice or even more the original measure. In this case the extra basketful of Ugali would be kept and consumed by the Mwiru.30

All in all however, the Bairu suffered without bitterness. Why was this so? In supplying the answer to this question, we look at the state and its ideological weapon in mitigating the opposition of the exploited. Besides using economic and extra economic means to exact tribute, the state had an ideology to pacify or rather rationalise its existence and hence its right of appropriation. Rulers of pre-colonial Ankole claimed descent from baCwezi, the demi-gods, who are said to have originated from heaven. The baCwezi were and are literally worshipped even to date.

Another ideological justification and rationalisation of the existing social order is to be found in the story of the three sons. Then the creator, Ruhanga, descended from heaven. Ruhanga was the first inhabitant. Three sons were then born to him whose names were Kakama, Kairu and Kahima. Wishing to discover which of his sons would be a worthy heir, he set them a test. A potful of milk was given to each and they were instructed to keep guard of the pots throughout the night. The milk pots were supposed to be as full as they were given to each the following morning. During the night Kakama dosed and spilt some of his milk but his two brothers filled up his pot from theirs out of sympathy. Then, just before dawn, Kairu fell asleep and his pot upset and all his milk got spilt. In the morning Ruhanga called his sons to find out how they had fared. Finding that Kakama's pot was full, Kahima's half empty and Kairu's empty he decreed as follows: Kakama (Lit. meaning the Chief) was to be the ruler, Kahima to be the herdsman and Kairu (lit. - meaning the servant) was to be a servant of his brothers.31

The interpretation that can be given to this story is that the rulers invented the story to rationalize the three social stratifications of Ankole namely Bahima, Bairu, Bahinda/Bashambo, the last two mentioned were ruling clans. After giving the structure the rationalization, the status was not to be challenged since it was God (Ruhanga) given, and hence, the Bairu suffering without bitterness. The state also staved off any kind of revolt that would arise by seemingly intervening on behalf of the Bairu, seemingly because the state, like everywhere else in the world when it intervenes on behalf of the exploited is actually saving the exploiting class. The state deems this necessary for, if solely neglected, the antagonism is heightened and the exploited class conspires and overthrows the whole system. During his research in Ankole Oberg observed the following:

Unauthorized tribute collection was considered robbery and was punished by the Mugabe... In other words although the Bairu system of rights was narrower and more restricted than the fuller status of the Bahima, this system was still protected by the Bahima state.32

In concluding this section, we can convincingly assert that the state emerged (inter-alia), to organise, supervise and collect tribute, as the following quotation substantiates:

As tribute collection was exercised by the chiefs, there was of necessity a division of the country into areas. Every Muhima chief had while in a given locality the right to collect tribute but part of his collection must be sent to the Mugabe.33

Pre-colonial Ankole Trade:

When the feudal mode of production is absent or embryonic and there are no simple commodity relations within a given society, the formation,thus reduced to the combination of an undeveloped communal or tribute-paying mode of production with long-distance trade relations, is of the "African" type.34

On the eve of colonial rule there were two types of trade in Ankole. There was intra-"tribal" trade, that is, trade between the iron-smith and the agriculturalists on the other. There was also regional trade. Regional here means trade between the states of the interluctrine region. These were Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole (that is, states which came to constitute Ankole), Buganda, Karagwe (north western Tanzania), Rwanda and Burundi. Intra-"tribal" trade took the form of bartering. In this natural economy both production and exchange were of use values, and it was the surplus of these use values which were exchanged. There was need for exchanging goods because of specialisation and, as we have already pointed out, one class of Banyankole had specialized in arable farming while another one specialized in cattle rearing.

Also we have seen how specialization emerged. While some clans had specialized in iron-smithing others specialized in making different kinds of wooden articles. Furthermore, there was surplus which needed to be accumulated in form of animals, and informant explained how they used to exchange their iron implements for goats from Rwanda.35

Ecological differences also meant production of different goods which needed to be exchanged for goods not produced in one's ecological zone. For example, although there were many places where iron could be mined, the quality of iron and, subsequently, the quality of the products varied and, as such, people had to travel some distances to exchange for better quality articles.

The regional trade revolved around two articles, namely salt and iron products. The former article was found at Katwe and Kasenyi in Toro Kingdom which was until 1830 part of Bunyoro, and also at Kibiro in Bunyoro Kingdom. At the three spots a market system developed. Since the area supplied far distant regions, there developed market centres elsewhere to which middlemen took salt to exchange it or where traders made stop-overs. By the mid nineteenth century the market system had developed at Ishaka and Ibanda in Ankole. The most important and best quality iron areas were Kayonza and Buhweju as we pointed out earlier. So important was the iron trade that the rulers sought to monopolize it. It should be noted that iron ore locations in Kayonza and elsewhere in south-western Uganda belonged to the rulers of the states in the region. Whenever the ruler wanted iron implements such as spears and arrow heads he would order the smiths to make them but when the normal circumstances prevailed, however, they would make iron products for their own benefit without the rulers interfering with them.

In this regional trade, geographical differences had led to regional specialisation. Each region took advantage of its natural resources and exchanged with other regions the products in which she was resource deficient. In classical economics this is called comparative advantage, and this is what was distorted by the external colonial influence. In inter-regional trade, Toro supplied salt, Ankole millet, iron implements, Kigezi sorghum, peas and honey, Bwamba copper wires and Buganda backcloth.


In this essay we have tried to establish the characteristics of the society that came to be dominated by capitalist exploitation. We have shown contrary to popular belief among some circles which hold or held the view that pre-colonial societies were classless, stateless stagnating and, at worst, had no history until the European invaders appeared on the scene36, Ankole was a microcosm of many pre-colonial third world formations in that was developing and not static. There had developed division of labour based not only on age and sex but specialized clans and classes.

The pre-colonial Ankole mode of production was dominated by tribute payment. There had developed clans specializing in iron smithing, lineages in carpentry others in skin cloth - fittings and yet others as specialized clans in the art of administration. We have seen how two distinct groups of people, the pastoralists and the agriculturalist, had developed and co-existed with the Bahinda and Bashambo clan members emerging from the former group as rulers to keep the antagonistic classes/castes together. There were also seeds of private ownership of land, watering places and, of course, near total private ownership of cattle germinating. All these are indicators of a society evolving to a complex form of economic organisation, production, exchange relations and, above all, of one class appropriating the surplus produced by the majority.

The natural development trend of the Ankole social formation was then arrested when British colonialism set on the scene at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then capitalism has dominated though not prevailed.


1. J. Roscoe, The Banyankole (London: Cup, 1923), p.1. Ankole was until 1967 a kingdom which together with other four kingdoms of Buganda,Bunyoro, Busoga and Toro were abolished by the Obote regime.Since 1967 it was called a district until recently when it has been divided into two districts of Mbarara and Bushenyi. Ankole is a corruption of the name Nkole. The latter was a pre-colonial kingdom, the nucleus around which a larger Ankole kingdom was curved out. The inhabitants are called Banyankole, the language Runyakole and Kinyankole.

2. M. Posnansky, "Kinship, Archaeology and Myth" the Uganda Journal Vol. 30/1966. /pp.1-12.

3. S. Karugire, A Political History of Uganda (Nairobi and London: Heinemann, 1980), p.15.

4. G.T. Mishambi, "The Original State in Pre-colonial South West Uganda", Mimeo University of Dar es Salaam, p.9. Kitara Empire should be distinguished from Bunyoro. The latter was the central province of a larger Kitara Empire. There has been misunderstanding and subsequently mistitling of the larger Empire as Bunyoro - Kitara. Bunyoro is as old as any other kingdom say, Buganda which assumed its autonomous status in the 16th century after the disintegration of Kitara Empire. Bunyoro retained the name Kitara hence Bunyoro-Kitara just because it was the central province of the larger Kitara Empire.

5. M. Posnansky, op.cit., p.6.

6. C. Bougle, Essais sur le regime des castes, 3rd e., quoted in O.C. Cox, Caste Class and Race (New York and London: Modern Reader paperbacks, 1970), p.4.

7. A.L. Kroebler, "Castes", Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, quoted in O.C. Cox,

op.cit., p.5.

8. S. Karugire, A History of Nkore (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p.52.

9. O.C. Cox, op.cit., p.8.

10. G. Ghunye, Caste and Race in India, quoted in Cox, op.cit., p.8.

11. O.C. Cox, Ibid., p.10.

12. S. Amin, Unequal Development (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1977), p.16.

13. A Brewer, Marxist Theories of Imperialism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), p.1.

13b. P. Schmidt, "An Investigation of Early and Late Iron Age Cultures Through Oral Tradition and Archaeology: An Interdisciplinary Case study in Buhaya, Tanzania", Ph.D. Thesis, 1974. Possim.

14. M. Godelier, Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology (London, Cup, 1973), p.110.

15. Magundu - Interviewed at Rukoni on 29/6/86. The informant aged 82 was a traditional carpenter.

16. M.R. Doonbos, Regalia Galore: The Decline and Eclipse of Ankole kingship (Nairobi: E.A.L.B.: 1975); p.36.

17. E. Ruhebyaho of Ngoma Ruhama Mbarara district, in a conversation about the past and present systems of inheritance in Ankole interviewed in 1986.

18. S. Amin, "Modes of Production and Social Formations", Ufahamu Vol. IV No. 3, (Winter, 1974), p.58.

19. E. Rutabaajuke - Interviewed at Kigarma village, Rukoni, on 28/6/86.

20. M. Kamaruka - Interviewed at Ngoma village Ruhama, on 30/6/86. the informant participated and still participates to a limited extent in bartering her agricultural products with ghee.

21. Historical and Political notes by West in confidential file, S.M.P. No. C. 53 of 1914, National Archives, Entebbe.

22. K. Oberg, "The kingdom of Ankole in Uganda", in M. Fortes and E.E. Evans Pritchard (Eds), African Political Systems (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1940), p.130.

23. S. Amin, Ufahamu, op.cit., p.59.

24. K Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968) p.579.

25. Karugire, A History, op.cit., p.148.

26. K. Oberg, op.cit., p.148.

27. S. Karugire, A History, op.cit., p.65.

28. Oberg; op.cit., p.130.

29. Doonbos, op.cit., p.27.

30. Kamaruka, op.cit., Other forms of resistance were cited earlier.

31. H.F. Morris, A History of Ankole (Kampala: A.E.L.B., 1962), p.7.

32. Oberg, op.cit., p.132.

33. Ibid., p.147.

34. S. Amin, Unequal Development, op.cit., p.17.

35. Rutabajika, op.cit.

36. Coupland, E. Africa and Its Invaders (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), p.14.

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