Kasubi tombs is a world heritage centre in the Buganda kingdom situated on the Kasubi hill within Kampala, Uganda. The Kasubi Tombs site is located on Kasubi Hill, five kilometers from the city center, along the Kampala-Hoima road. This is a few miles from the country’s renowned Makerere University.
The Kasubi Tombs site is an active religious place in the Buganda Kingdom. To the Baganda the Kabaka is the unquestioned symbol of spiritual, political, and social state of the Buganda nation. As the burial ground for the previous four Kabakas, therefore, the Kasubi Tombs is a place where the Kabaka and others in Buganda’s complex cultural hierarchy frequently carry out important and special rituals.
The Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi hills constitute a site embracing almost 30 ha of hillside within Kampala district. Most of the site is agricultural, farmed by traditional methods. Four royal tombs now lie within the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the main building, which is circular and surmounted by a dome. It is a major example of an architectural achievement in organic materials, principally wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub. The site’s main significance lies, however, in its intangible values of belief, spirituality, continuity and identity.
The entrance to the site is a beautifully built gatehouse called Bujjabukula. According to Ganda tradition, the guards who control access to the site hide behind a see-through woven reed screen, to keep watch round the clock in order to control access. This gatehouse was constructed using wooden columns supporting a thatched roof, with walls made of woven reeds. The Bujjabukula leads to a small courtyard which contains a circular house in which the royal drums are kept, the Ndoga-Obukaba.
Historically, in Baganda, the Kabakas have always built their palaces on strategic hills to control the major roads to the palace, and ﬁnd easy ways to escape in case of an invasion or a rebellion. When they died, the traditional practice was to bury each Kabaka at a separate site and to establish a royal shrine to house his jawbone which was believed to contain his spirit at another site. These shrines were started by descendants of the Kabaka’s leading chiefs, his wives, his ritual half-sister, and by a spirit medium through which the dead Kabaka communicated with his successors. Many of these shrines are still maintained today.
To the Baganda the Kabaka is the unquestioned symbol of spiritual, political, and social state of the Buganda nation. As the burial ground for the previous four Kabakas, therefore, the Kasubi Tombs is a place where the Kabaka and others in Buganda’s complex cultural hierarchy frequently carry out important centuries-old Ganda rituals. The entrance into this courtyard is a striking experience as one immediately faces the main tomb building known as Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga, which is the architectural masterpiece of this ensemble.
The drum was played to announce the death of a member of the royal family.
The Kasubi site bears eloquent witness to the living cultural traditions of the Baganda. The spatial organization of the Tombs represents the best extant example of a Baganda palace/architectural ensemble. Built in the finest traditions of Ganda architecture and palace design, it reflects technical achievements developed over many centuries. The built and natural elements of the tombs are charged with historical, traditional, and spiritual values. It is a major spiritual centre for the Baganda and is the most active religious place in the kingdom.
The Baganda belong to the Bantu speaking people and date their political civilization back to the 13th century AD. According to oral traditions, the ﬁrst Kabaka of Buganda was Kintu. He is said to have come with his wife Nambi, whose hand he won by performing heroic deeds at the command of her father Ggulu, the god of the sky. Kabaka Kintu is said not to have died but to have disappeared into a forest at Magonga.
The main royal house was destroyed by fire in 2010, describing it as the second biggest trajedy.
Since 1938 the site has suffered several processes of restoration and modification, primarily to meet threats of structural failure. It was completely reconstructed in 1938-40, when modern materials were introduced, such as some concrete columns. During the 1990s, changes incurred by most of the buildings have slightly changed the architectural value of the site; which suffers badly from rain, drainage problems, and termites, with a constant threat of fire.
Most of the smaller buildings show deficiencies. One building burnt down in 1998 has been rebuilt but is without a thatch roof for lack of funds. The original reed fence around the whole site has long since disappeared; the living fence of bark-cloth trees around the site has suffered quite badly as an obvious target in the endless search for firewood. The site has, nevertheless, to an extent been preserved out of fear and respect for its sacred and religious nature.
Photography:: Joe Lukhovi
Host:: Prince Mulondo Joseph