Uganda is a country with many diverse but rich, unique cultures. In pre-colonial times the country was divided into kingdoms and chiefdoms stemming from 4 Ethnic groups. Bantu which is the largest group originated from the Cameroon highlands, the Nilo-Hamites from the Ethiopia, the Luo from southern Sudan and the group from West Nile sometimes referred to as the sudanic group.
The Bantu covering most of southern Uganda are mostly organized in kingdoms. They are largely agriculturalists as well as pastoralists. The Bantu Include; the Baganda, Basoga, Banyankole, Bagisu, Batooro, Bamba, Batwa, Bakonjo, Banyole, Bakiga, Bagwere, Basamia-bagwe, Bagwere, Banyoro and Bafumbira.
The Nilo-hamites include the Karimojong, the Itesots, the Langi and the Kumam while the Luo comprises of the Acholi, Alur, Japhadhola and the Jonam. The Luo are mainly organized in chiefdoms.
The West Nilotes comprise of the Madi, Ikebu, the Lugbara, Bari, Metu and Kakwa. All these different tribes have features that vary like the traditional names, ceremonies, dances, staple foods, economic activities, languages, the dressing, art and crafts, just to mention but a few.
In the 21st Century one may argue that people have abandoned their cultures because of religion and western civilization. However in Uganda the traditions of each tribe have been carefully passed on to the children, such that their cultures continue to thrive.
The Marriage ceremony is always a highly anticipated occasion filled with celebration. The Baganda forexample have a traditional marriage, currently known widely as an introduction ceremony ‘kwanjula’ where the girl introduces her suitor to her parents. There is also the kasiki which is the party held at the girls home and at the boys home on the night before the wedding.
These vary by Tribe as well as occasion. They include celebrations during birth, harvest periods, circumcision or initiation ceremonies, Marriage and some cultures death. Some of these dances include Entogoro by the Batooro for wedding ceremonies, Imbalu by the Bagisu for circumcision, Amagunjju by the Baganda for coronation or ceremonies where the king must attend. When dancing the dancers wear beads, earings, backcloth, feathers, papyrus reed, ankle bells, cow horns and they use spears, fishnets, pots, milk items, jars to bring out the message in the dance. Drums, a xylophone, shakers, bow lyre, harp are also used to accompany the dance.
The gomesi is the most common traditional wear mainly worn by the women in the central region. Named after a Goan tailor called Gomez who was the first person to come up with the design. It is a very decent and elegant floor length dress with puffy sleeves worn with a sash that tied around the waist. The dress was later adopted by the Baganda who first made it using back cloth and later moved on to other materials when the Asians started trading at the coast. The gomesi is worn on various occasions like wedding ceremonies, funerals, state functions and traditional festivals. During funerals, the women are not supposed to show the sash.
For the men it is the kanzu that is most popular. Its origin is traced from the Arab traders who came to the mainland and got into contact with the local people. The local chiefs then adopted it as a special dreesing. The kanzu has two different types in Uganda which are the Muslim kanzu and then the Buganda kanzu which has embroidery (muleera) on the front side in the middle. The King wears kanzu that has all the clans on it to signify that he is the head of all the clans. The king and his officials wear a special cap over the kanzus to set them apart from the rest of the members of the kingdom. The Chinese also have their own version of a kanzu which has button holes and cuffs on the sleeves.
Although one should note that in rural areas the elderly people wear kanzus and gomesi almost all the time because they are perceived as a decent dress.
These are quite scattered around the country representing the unique cultural heritage like the Kasubi Tombs (still under construction after being burnt in 2010) where the Kings of Buganda are buried, we have the Nyero rock paintings in Kumi district, Mparo tombs in Hoima where Bunyoro King, Omukama Kabalega was buried and the ruins of Fort Baker at Patiko in Northern Uganda.