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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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