Royal Tombs at Kasubi




Royal Tombs at Kasubi

Site Information

Country: Uganda
State: Kampala
Location: 0° 19' 44" N - 32° 33' 11" E
Field Documentation Date(s): February 1st, 2009
Project Release Date(s): August 13th, 2009
Time Range: 1882 CE - Present
Era: Buganda
Culture: Buganda
Site Authority: Kabaka Foundation
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
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3D point cloud of Bujjabukula

Site Description

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The Kasubi Tombs, located on 30 hectares of traditionally-farmed agricultural hillside in the modern African nation-state of Uganda, are the final resting places of the last four Kabakas (kings) of the 700-year old Buganda Kingdom. As the Kabaka is considered to be the spiritual, social, and political heart for the Ganda people, this sacred burial ground thus holds a vitally important place in the national psyche as the most active place of religious activity in the Kingdom.

Three main areas define the Kasubi hillside: The main tomb area on the site's western end, agricultural land to the eastern end of the site, and additional buildings and graveyards clustered behind the tombs. The entrance to the site is through Bujjabukula, the gatehouse, which is constructed of wooden columns supporting a thatch roof; both the walls and gate itself are of woven reeds. This leads to a small courtyard, where the circular Ndoga-Obukaba (royal drum house) is located. The small courtyard is connected to the Olugya (main courtyard), which is enclosed by a reed fence, houses built for the widows of the Kabakas, and the great tomb Muzibu Azaala Mpanga.

Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the primary building of the complex, is circular in plan with a domelike overall shape. Massive in size, its interior extends to a height of 7.5 meters, while the external diameter is 31 meters. Architecturally, the tomb is a powerful manifestation of Ganda cultural identity and spiritual belief systems, with a low, wide arch entranceway, regionally-unique and durable thatch work on the massive roofs (extending all the way to the ground), and interior funereal chambers separated by partitions of bark cloth. These features were designed to create a strong impression of power and harmoniousness. Four of the Kabakas are interred in these limited-access funereal chambers, designed to symbolize a sacred forest (the Kibira). Lemon grass and palm leaf mats cover the floor, while spears, drums, shields, medals, and photos of the Kabakas cover the walls and other surfaces. Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, as with all of the buildings onsite, is constructed of entirely organic materials such as wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub; this is firmly in keeping with Ganda tradition and sacred architecture.
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History

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The Bantu-speaking people known as Baganda (or just Ganda) have been a powerful political force in the Uganda region since the 13th century CE. According to oral traditions, the first Kabaka (king) of the Baganda was Kintu Kato, who conquered the five main tribes in the area and united the Ganda people; this began a political legacy that has continued to last for over 700 years. The hilltop of Kasubi Hill, in the heart of Uganda's Kampala District, was the site of the former palace of the Kabakas of Buganda in the early 19th century. The first palace on the site was built in 1820 by Kabaka Suuna II; this palace was dismantled and rebuilt in 1882 by his son Kabaka Mutesa I, who had taken the crown in 1856 as the 35th Kabaka of Buganda.

The new palace, Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, was converted into a royal tomb soon after. Mutesa I died in 1884 and was buried within the palace. Mwanga II (1867-1903) succeeded his father Mutesa I in 1884. Mwanga II fought an unsuccessful war of independence against the British colonial forces, and was ultimately exiled to the Seychelles Islands in 1899. He died there in 1903 but his remains were exhumed and returned to Buganda in 1910 to be buried in the tombs at Kasubi with his father. This broke tradition by having more than one Kabaka buried in the same place, creating a concentration of ancestral heritage that established Kasubi as the most important Kabaka burial site in Buganda.

Mwanga II's son, Kabaka Daudi Chwa II, was later buried in the tomb in 1939, as was his son, Mutesa II. Mutesa II was named the constitutional president of Uganda upon independence in 1962, and he swiftly entered into conflict with Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote and army commander Idi Amin's national government. The Kabaka was overthrown and sent into exile in London, where he died in 1969; his remains were returned in 1971 after the overthrow of Obote by Idi Amin and interred with his father and grandfathers in Muzibu Azaala Mpanga. More recent descendants of these Kabakas are also buried at the Kasubi Tombs, behind the main shrine.

A fire destroyed many of the structures at Kasubi on March 17, 2010, just over a year after the laser scan data for this project was collected.
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Transition image of Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, showing photographic and laser scan data

Project Narrative

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In February 2009, a volunteer partner with donated equipment from Plowman Craven (PCA) traveled to Kampala, Uganda, to visit the Tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. While on site, a Leica HDS 4500 was used to digitally document the courtyard and other structures of the Royal Kasubi Tombs. The project work was done in conjunction with Prince James, descendant of the Buganda kings who are interred in the tombs, and the Rev. William Ssentumbwe.

The project lasted one day and documented the core areas of the site: Bujjabukula, the historic gatehouse at the entrance to the site; Olugya, the main courtyard; and the interior and fa├žade of Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the former palace and current royal tomb which enshrines the last four Buganda kings. Music for the introductory video was contributed by Albert Bisaso Ssempeke, and is a piece that was composed by his father, Dr. Albert Ssempeke. Albert (Junior) is an acclaimed Bugandan musician, following in his father's foot steps. Dr. Ssempeke (Senior) was a Royal Flutist and composer to the Kabaka. The song is titled Akawologoma, which means "The Small Lion". The lion represents Royal Power within Bugandan tradition. Akawologoma is considered to be of royal importance, as it is about a small lion that was reared within the royal enclosures by the Kabaka and is interred within the tomb.

The efforts of a volunteer partner and Plowman Craven are but a start of the exciting work to be done at this site, with hopes of returning for more documentation in the future. The Kasubi Tombs site is the first sub-Saharan site to be documented and contributed to CyArk's archive, and it provides a gateway to many more significant and culturally-rich heritage sites in the heart of Africa.
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Transition image of Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, showing photographic and laser scan data

Preservation

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Though the Kasubi Tombs are of all-organic construction and thus theoretically more vulnerable to the elements than inorganic buildings, their continued use as an active religious and World Heritage site has contributed to their good state of preservation. A high level of maintenance has been bestowed upon them by two different tribes charged with the architectural ensemble's upkeep. The Ngeye (Colobus Monkey) clan, for example, are the only people allowed to work on the intricate thatching work on-site. Knowledge of this thatching process is passed down from generation to generation, and is of a distinct character. Nonetheless, as the buildings of the Kasubi Tombs are made of primarily wood and thatch combined with wattle and daub mortaring, they are potentially more vulnerable to fire than are important structures built of stone or brick. Digital documentation is very important to increase worldwide public awareness of these cultural treasures of the Buganda people. The HD data also creates a highly accurate model of the site which could be used for rebuilding and recovery in the event of a disaster. CyArk is committed to making all this important structural information available to those who manage the site, as well as providing an educational overview for the general public on the internet.
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Area Descriptions

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Bujjabukula
Ndoga Obukaba
Olugya
Muzibu Azaala Mpanga

Bujjabukula

Bujjabukula Description:

The Bujjabukula, gatehouse to the Kasubi Tombs area, is built of wooden columns with walls made of woven reeds, and is topped by a thatched roof. Finely woven reeds are also used for a screen that obscures the interior of the house from the outside but can be seen through from the inside. Behind this screen are guards who control access to the tombs and their associated buildings.


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Ndoga Obukaba

Ndoga Obukaba Description:

This circular house lies in a courtyard just within the Bujjabukula; it contains the royal drums and is known as Ndoga-Obukaba. Similar to the Bujjabukula, Ndoga-Obukaba is constructed of thatch, woven reed, and wooden columns. It contains three drums of great importance to the Ganda: the Mujjaguzo, only played when the Kabaka is crowned; Bantadde, played when a member of the Kabaka's family arrives or departs; and Kanaba, only played when a member of the Kabaka's family dies.


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Olugya

Olugya Description:

The Olugya is the main courtyard of the Kasubi Tombs complex. It is surrounded by a fence of woven reeds enclosing a number of constructions built for various ritual purposes, as well as to house the widows of the Kabaka. The Olugya is dominated by the Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga at its center.


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Muzibu Azaala Mpanga

Muzibu Azaala Mpanga Description:

Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the primary building of the Kasubi complex, is circular in plan with a domelike overall shape. Massive in size, its interior extends to a height of 7.5 meters while the external diameter is 31 meters. Architecturally, the tomb is a powerful manifestation of Ganda cultural identity and spiritual belief systems. It is structurally defined by a low, wide arch entranceway, regionally-unique and durable thatch work on the massive roofs (extending all the way to the ground), and interior funereal chambers separated by partitions of bark cloth; all of these features are designed to create a strong impression of power and harmoniousness. Four of the Kabakas are interred in these limited-access funereal chambers, which are designed to represent a sacred forest (the Kibira). Lemon grass and palm leaf mats cover the floor, while spears, drums, shields, medals, and photos of the Kabakas cover the walls and other surfaces. Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, as with all of the buildings on-site, is constructed of entirely organic materials such as wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub; this is firmly in keeping with Ganda traditional sacred architecture.


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References:

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  1. Joffroy, Thierry & Moriset, Sebatian. Kasubi Tombs. Greboble, France : CRATerre-ENSAG, 2006.
  2. Ray, Benjamin C. Myth, ritual, and kingship in Buganda. New York : Oxford University Press, 1991
  3. Wavamunno, Gordon B. K. Nnabulagala/Kasubi, Naggalabi/Buddo and Kabaale/Kkungu : the traditional places in Buganda. Kampala, Uganda : Wavah Books Ltd., 2004.

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Credits:

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CyArk
     - Justin Barton
            Technical Services Manager

     - Erika Blecha
            Content Creator

     - Hannah Bowers
            Content Creator

     - John Mink
            Lead Researcher

     - Dan Walsh
            Graphic and Marketing Lead