For people conversant with Uganda’s history, the magnitude of power the Kingdom of Buganda amassed is detailed in very many forms. The King of Buganda is called the ‘Kabaka’ and his official residence is referred to as ‘Lubiri’ to mean Palace. The architectural design of the Lubiri is a spectacular site to many local and international tourists. The Palace at Mengo holds a lot of history and an air of royalty living a bit of either among its visitors.
The road to the Lubiri is locally known as ‘Kabaka Anjagala’ meaning The King Loves Me. Until recently, candle-nut trees (Kabaka Anjagala) lined both its sides. These trees were named so because it is the King who gave his subjects the seeds to the trees. The seedlings were given to whoever visited the palace during Sir Edward Mutesa I days.
The Lubiri is a truly relaxing expanse, with fresh air that blows across the hill. But Kabaka Ronald Mutebi chose not to stay here much. Our guide denotes that he decided so because many people were killed here, and his father Kabaka Muteesa was attacked from here. Constructed in 1922, the Lubiri was modelled around Queen Elizabeth II’s palace in England – only it is smaller. Tourists are allowed into the palace, but not in the King’s main house. At the time Uganda’s kingdoms were abolished, the Lubiri was fully converted to an army barracks, while an adjacent site became a notorious underground prison (safe house) and torture chamber.
The aforesaid happened in Amin’s tyrannical regime. One cannot visit the palace and fail to catch a glimpse of the terrifying site: a dark concrete tunnel with numerous dark, damp cells. At the palace gate is a traditional fireplace that never burns out. It is locally known as ‘ekyotto ggombolola’ believed to have been lit by members of the Nakisinge Clan, in particular Musoloza hailing from the lineage of Kyeyune the Clan head.
I asked why the fireplace never burns out and the guide said it symbolizes that the Kabaka stays in the palace and still sits on the throne. To keep the fire lit, the keepers of the place simply add Mutuba (tree from which bark cloth is made) sticks. There are four gates at different points of the Palace and they have different names: ‘Wankaki’ the main gate; ‘Kalaala’ the gate where one of the Kabaka’s wives pass; ‘Nnalongo’ (mother of twins) who performs some norms in the palace; and ‘Ssabagabo’ which is Kabaka’s private gate.
A mile away but directly positioned gate-to-gate is the ‘Bulange’ the parliament of Buganda where the Kabaka and his ministers meet to deliberate matters pertaining the kingdom. Halfway between the palace and Bulange stands an eye catching roundabout with a shield and spears symbolizing the heavy protection the Kabaka has. Nabatanzi Yudaaya the guide at the palace denoted that initially this road was only used by the Kabaka. She said the King was not supposed to go pass through any traffic, and because of this the Kabaka gets the title ‘Lukoma Nantawetwa’.
We were then led to a house which she called Kabaka’s Collection. This house has photographs that profile Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s life, from the time he was a child to date. We saw pictures of young Mutebi and his father at a sports gala, photos of many other Kabakas, and the original structure of Kasubi tombs also stands on one of the house walls, the Kabaka Anjagala road among others. The house also keeps some regalia as the caretaker explained what each represents and what it were used for in the past. From the house’s doorstep, we saw some of the military machinery used when the palace was attacked in 1966.
The Kabaka has more private palaces in Banda, Mituba-Musanvu (Bamunanika) among others.
Editors’ Note: Purple M. Kisakye contributed to this article.