Batooro and their culture

Who are the Batooro and what are their Norms?

Batooro and their culture : The Toro Kingdom is ruled by the Babiito dynasty whose origins date 14th century. According to Charles Muhanga, one of the custodians of the Toro kingdom history, Prince Kaboyo Olimi I Kasunsunkwanzi of Bunyoro Kingdom in 1822 took charge of the southern part of his father’s kingdom and founded what is known as Toro today.

By the time Uganda got independence from Britain, Toro was one of the four kingdoms recognised in the constitution. However, in 1967 President Apollo Milton Obote abolished kingdoms and stripped the kings of their powers. Matters were made worse by civil wars, political turmoil and civil unrest of the 1970s and early 1980s. During this period, Omukama Patrick Kaboyo Olimi III was forced into exile.

In 1993, President Yoweri Museveni amended the Constitution and reinstated kingdoms and Kaboyo regained his status. Like other kings, he did not regain all the authority he had before 1966. Kings became cultural figureheads without political authority, but were to be instrumental in mobilising the country towards social, economic and cultural recovery. He was also prohibited from participating in politics.

As of December 2014 the following administrative districts constitute the Tooro Kingdom: (a) Kabarole District (b) Kamwenge District (c) Kyegegwa District and (d) Kyenjojo District. Those four districts had a combined total population of about 1 million people, according to the 2002 national population census.

Social Makeup of Batooro people

The Batooro society has traditionally been demarcated along “economic activity” lines, rather than caste. Two classes could be identified, the Bahuma and the Bairu. The bahuma were the cattle keepers, the Bairu the land tillers. The two classes lived symbiotically as one provided the needed milk, meat and butter; and the other provided the needed food products.

Today, the line of demarcation is growing very faint. Since the old days, the Batooro have always considered themselves as one people, under the unifying leadership of the Omukama (king) who was, until 1967, their ruler. Under the Uganda constitution, the kings are recognized as cultural heads of their tribe.

Family ties and genealogy of Batooro people

Every Mutooro child born is automatically a member of the Batooro tribe. Apart from the standard naming ceremonies, which take place at a very early age, there are no strict rites of passage, as found in some of the other Uganda tribes. The system of naming Batooro children is rather unique and needs some explanation for the sake of our Western friends.

Every Mutooro child has his or her own “last name”! The reason for this is very simple. Kitooro names must have a meaning; they must say something about the prevailing conditions or circumstances surrounding the birth of the child being named.

Batooro and their culture
Batooro and their culture

A name may reflect a significant event that was taking place at the time of the child’s birth. There are standard names for twins and the children following those twins. The names are chosen by the family elders who sit around a good meal, sipping some local brew, and informally choose a name for the new baby.

This takes place when the baby is four days old in the case of males, and at three days old, in the case of females. With the coming of Islam and Christianity, in the late 19th century, the tradition of giving the child a religious name on top of the traditional name started.

While the tribal name is always in the tribal language, the religious name may be an Arabic name for Muslims, an English or French name for Christians. Bible names are very popular with Christians. Since circumstances and events are ever changing and not the same for every child, it would be erroneous to give an umbrella “family” name to all the children born into a family.

Our Western friends may ask, “How does one know one’s blood relations?” The answer is simple; through one’s clan. The clan system is what lays out our lineage and establishes our blood relationships. This is very important and taken very seriously to avoid inbreeding. It is taboo for a mutooro to marry someone from his/her clan or that of his/her mother’s clan.

This taboo applies even to distant cousins several times removed. An exception to this taboo has traditionally been granted to our royal family, who, in an effort to maintain their true blue blood lines, have been known to break with tradition and marry within their own or their mother’s clans. Every mutooro child born takes his/her father’s clan. When “girl meets boy”, they must disclose their clans and those of their mothers at the very outset, to avoid violating a taboo.

Pet names/ Empaako of Batooro and Banyoro People

Unique to the people of Toro, Bunyoro and one or two tribes in Tanzania and Congo is a special name of endearment, respect, praise, etc., known as empaako. In addition to the name the world will know the child by, each mutooro child is given one of the ten “empaako” names. The empaako names are: Abbala, Abbooki, Abwooli, Acaali, Adyeeri, Akiiki, Amooti, Apuuli, Araali, Ateenyi, Atwooki.

There is a twelfth one, Okaali, reserved only for the Omukama (king). Okaali is very special in that it is not for everyday use to greet the Omukama. It is used on occasions when our tradition elevates the Omukama to the rank of our gods.

When we “worship” our king, we address him as Okaali. The Omukama is the only mutooro with two empaako names. Upon becoming the Omukama, no matter what his empaako was before, he takes the empaako Amooti. This is the one we use to greet him on an everyday basis. On special, traditional ceremonies and rituals, we greet him as Okaali.

Contrary to the norm that kitooro names have a kitooro meaning and say something, the empaako names do not mean anything in rutooro; because they really are not kitooro names in origin. They were brought to Bunyoro by the Luo who invaded Bunyoro from the North. They have been assimilated into the language and tagged with special meanings; for instance, Akiiki bears the tag “Rukiikura mahaanga” (savior of Nations).

Abwooli is the cat; Ateenyi is the legendary serpent of River Muziizi, etc. The empaako is used for respect, praise and love. Children never call their parents by their real name; they use the empaako. Calling one’s parents by their “real” names is considered a sign of disrespect, even poor upbringing. When batooro greet each other, they use the empaako, e.g. “Oraire ota, Amooti?” (Good morning, Amooti?). Amooti is the empaako in this example. Very often one will hear an exchange like this:

Empaako yaawe?” “What’s your empaako?”
Adyeeri, kandi eyaawe?” “Adyeeri, and what’s yours?”

Having established each other’s empaako, they proceed to exchange greetings. Our relatives, close friends, and sometimes important members of the community, expect us to know their empaako. It is impolite not to know it! Sometimes one tries to ask other people while the relative, friend, important person, etc. is not hearing, so one can greet them without having to ask them their empaako. Grown-ups can generically apply the empaako Apuuli to young male children whose empaako they do not know. The empaako Abwooli may be equally applied to young female children.
The untimely death of King Kaboyo in 1995 meant the Crown Prince had to ascend to the throne when he was a child.

On September 12, 1995, a week after his father burial, the ritual to hand over the reins of power to Oyo began, at midnight. They included a mock battle at the palace entrance (Mugabante), fought between enemy forces of a rebel prince and the royal army. It was a test of Oyo right to the throne. The prince responsible for the enthronement of the king, referred to as Nyarwa, called on the gods to strike Oyo dead if he was not of royal blood. On passing the test, Oyo was permitted to sound Nyalebe and Kajumba, the Bachwezi royal drums.

Oyo was then blessed using the blood of a white bull, Rutale, and a white cock. Thereafter he was crowned new ruler of Toro amid a jubilant crowd. He was served milk and millet bread (oburo) as his first meal as king. He took the meal sitting on a virgin lap. After the meal, he sat on a leopard skin spread on the floor and swore allegiance to the crown.

The rituals were to be repeated the weekend because at that time Oyo was too young to understand them. To help the young king to perform his duties and to groom him for leadership, three regents were appointed. They were John Katuramu, then prime minister of Toro; Rev. Mgr. Thomas Kisembo and Rev. Can. James Rabwoni. Their task was to handle the affairs of the kingdom until Oyo turned 18.

At the time of King Oyo coronation, his mother Best Kemigisa, his aunt Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda were also named guardians.

Libya’s President Muamar Gaddafi has had close ties with the royal family. In 2001, King Oyo, appointed him a special advisor. Later that year, Gaddafi attended Oyo sixth anniversary celebrations, during which he was declared a defender of the kingdom.

The royals made many trips to Tripoli and Gaddafi was generous to the royal family. He funded the renovation of the palace at cost of $200,000.

Marriage was important to the Batooro and a man was not regarded complete before he got married.

Traditionally marriage was arranged by the parents of a couple.

Marriage arrangements involved a middleman called kirangabuko, who is deployed by the boy family. He did research on the girl and her family. Of great interest is the girls’s ability to do domestic chores. If he found out that the chosen girl was lazy or had bad manners, he would advise the boy’s parents against her.

If she passed the test, he would initiate negotiations with her parents. He would say to the father of the girl: Sir, I come for you to build a home for me. I would like you to be part of my clan. I have come to ask for a wife, the builder of the house. The girl’s father would reply: I don’t have any child.

The kirangabuko would insist that a girl existed in the homestead. This would prompt the girl’s     father to ask him to name the girl. If the father consented, the kirangabuko would kneel down to show his gratitude. The boy’s family would then visit the girl’s parents to negotiate bride price. They carried local brew.

The bride price was worked out in terms of cows. It varied between the Bahuma and the Bairu. For the Bahuma, it ranged from six to 20 cows. For the Bairu, the ceiling was eight cows. Another ceremony called enjugano/omukaaga was held to receive the bride price. It involved partying. The boy’s family would then send bark cloth and skins for the bride’s wedding outfit.

This was followed by the wedding ceremony, which was a three-day feast. Strong, young men from the groom’s home would carry the girl from her parent’s home at 6:00pm. Before leaving, she would first perform a ritual of sitting on her parent’s laps. This ritual was known as okubukara. She would then be carried all the way to the boy’s hut.

On arrival, she would first be carried on the laps of the boy’s parents. They then gave her a maiden name and sprinkled her with a herbal concoction mixed with water (endembeezi), to bless and welcome her into her new family.

Before the feasting started, the groom would go to bed with the bride, to perform another ritual known as okucwa amagita. If the girl was a virgin, a gift of a cow or a goat would be sent to her aunt (Isenkati) to congratulate her for raising her daughter well. If she was not a virgin, her aunt was given a sheep with a piece of bark cloth with a hole in it.

Guests were then served with coffee beans, smoking pipes, beer and food. On the third day, the bride’s friends and relatives would come to see her new abode and also present her with gifts from home. The bride would spend some days in confinement and this was referred to as harusiika. Finally, an elaborate ceremony would be held to bring the girl out and to initiate her into the art of cooking and housekeeping.
In the event of a divorce, bride price would be refunded. However, part of the bride wealth would be retained if the woman had children.

Economy of the Batooro
The Bairu cultivated crops like millet, sorghum, bananas, sweat potatoes, peas and vegetables. The Bahuma kept cattle to provide milk, meat and hides. These were supplemented with economic activities like blacksmithing. The blacksmiths produced spears, hoes, axes, knives and arrowheads.

Besides, they also had potters who produced household utensils such as water, beer and sauce pots. The women were skilled at weaving and produced an assortment of basketry such as winnowing trays, plate baskets, bags, harvesting baskets and other baskets for household chores.
The men constructed houses, cleared bushes and hunted wild animals. Activities like hunting, and house construction were done communally. The Batooro built circular huts with grass-thatched roofs.

Political set-up
Kingship was hereditary and the king had to come from the Babiito dynasty, the ruling clan in Bunyoro. He was assisted by a hierarchy of chiefs and an army. However, in times of war, all able-bodied men were called upon to fight for Toro.

The chiefly regalia included drums, spears, wooden spoons, chairs, crowns, beads, axes and knives.
The county of Mwenge contained a school of political education when Toro was still part of Bunyoro. The sons of the kings went to Mwenge to learn the art of government. There were special tutors for the king’s daughters and sons.

When Toro broke away from Bunyoro, Mwenge maintained its function.

The Batooro had the practice of exchanging blood to cement friendship in a ceremony called omukago. The main ingredients of the ceremony included coffee berries, a new bark-cloth, a knife, two branches of a fig tree and grass called ejubwa.

At the climax of the ceremony, one person cuts his skin under the navel, scoops his blood with a coffee bean and gives it to his friend to eat. The friend does the same. The two blood brothers would take an oath to behave as real brothers.

They say to each other: brothers fight and shave each other. They beat and help each other. If you are dishonest with me your stomach will swell. When I come to you when I am sick, you will not send me away. When I come naked you will not forsake me. When I come to your home, I will not go hungry. We shall not do evil to each other, nor shall our children and clans.

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