The Kabaka’s Palace: Lubiri in Mengo

Lubiri in Mengo: Buganda is the largest and one of the oldest kingdoms and holds the capital city of Uganda. The history of Buganda and the Baganda who are also the largest population is synonymous with the history of Uganda.  The Lubiri as it is commonly known in the local language is a magnificent, historical piece of architectural art that peers out through the normally blue skies on top of Mengo hill and the capital of the reigning king of Buganda. Customary every new king has a right to choose a hill on which to build his palace and rename it. However the reigning King chooses not to live here much because of the much blood that was spilled and his father having been attacked here.

A clear straight road lined with old candle nut trees locally known as “Kabaka Anjagala” literally translating in the king loves me.  The trees which were imported from Indian derive their local name from the local subjects whom Kabaka sir Fredrick Mutesa donated these trees to and they would go home bragging “Kabaka Anjagala Yampadde no mutti” Translated the King loves me he even gave me a tree.   That connects the palace to bulange (Buganda parliament). There were 56 of these trees representing the 52 clans which Kabaka Mutebi increased by dividing the big ones.

The road also derives its name from the trees. Halfway through the road is a roundabout “Lukoma Nantawetwa” (also a title to the king translating into the king doesn’t go round a roundabout)  it is called in Luganda with a towering long drum, halved to create a way in between and a gate locked and guarded. The King is the only one allowed to go through this round about and that’s the only time the gate is opened. This is to avoid making the king dizzy as he drives out of his palace and also because the Kabaka has the authority over all roads that lead to his palace.

The Lubiri is built in such a way that the court house is facing the main entrance to the palace for security purposes. It is believed that spirits move on a straight path and as such, there should be no obstacle between the king and his spirits / Jjajas. The Twekobe as the palace is normally known locally derives its name from the efforts of the subjects in putting up the magnificent center piece. The word means uniting for a cause.

Just before the gate into the palace, is a fireplace, locally known as Kyoto ggombolola whose fire, never goes out. The thrible is lit by the Nakisinge clan and the particular person who lights it is titled Musoloza. He hails from the lineage of Kyeyune, the clan head of Nakisinge cordon blue, of Kyagwe. The fire is a symbol that the king still reigns on the throne and it is lit 2 times a day at 5pm and 5am and the firewood is mostly from the Mutuba ficus Nantalasis tree, also from which bark cloths are made. The fire is only allowed to go off if the king dies

The walled fence enclosure is guarded by two guards and with the help of a guide you will be taken around

Mengo palace covers a very wide area and was constructed by ssekabaka Mwanga ll in 1885. After he took over power in 1884 he put up his palace in Masaja. He later thought of changing to another palace he however had great admiration for Nkaawo hill on which the Nvubu (hippopotamus) clan kept their grinding stones (Emmengo) which they used to grind herbal medicine. He then decided to rebuild his palace here. It is therefore from these grinding stones that the name mengo was adopted.

 Mengo hill is also the administrative capital of the Buganda Kingdom, although the King is also allowed to have palaces for example the one in Bulemeezi known as Bamunanika palace, and the other one in Buddu; known as Nkoni palace both of which were constructed by Kabaka Sir Edward Muteesa II, Kikeera and Salama palaces, both constructed by Sir Daudi Chwa. The Lubiri in Kireka and that one in Banda were works of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II. As we earlier mentioned, Mengo palace is the official palace for Buganda Kingdom and it is hereditary.

It has been and is still the official home of all Buganda kings. It is here that, you will find the Kabaka`s official residence / house known as Twekobe. To the left of the main entrance is the  king’s Collection which has photographs that profile Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s life, from the time he was a child to date.

In there in the Mengo Lubiri, he is seen with his father at a sports gala, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, a number of elders and on his coronation day, among other photographs. The house profiles the whole of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi’s life since he was born to date , the Kasubi tombs before they were gutted by fire, the Kabaka Anjagala road among others profile photos.

A number of regalia and their various ritual are explained too before following through the door step to the military machinery used by fallen presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote when they attacked the palace in 1966. More to that is the dilapidated Rolls-Royce, one of Kabaka Muteesa’s precious possessions. He was the first Ugandan to drive a car.

Next is the King’s main house where no one is allowed. As earlier mentioned it was constructed by king Mwanga 11 and was built similar to the one of Queen Elizabeth the 11 with for gates at different corners with names attached to them- wankaki the main gate, kalaala entrance for one of the Kabaka’s wives, Nnalongo (mother of twins) who performs some norms in the palace and Ssabagabo or Wansaso  the Kabaka’s private gate,” the guide adds.

Lots of scruffy houses are scattered in the compound and these are mostly occupied by guards, although initially they were occupied by ministers of different ministries in the kingdom.

Continue further down to “Empuuku” the dungeon this was amin’s torture chambers built by Amin himself with the help of the Israelites during his reighn of terror and torture between 1971 and 1979. The palace is as disheartening and dark as its stories.  With the blood stained walls and a somber atmosphere the place seems to still mourn and hurt at the pain and blood that was shed behind them, the torture and pain they witnessed.

Behind these walls was the bloodshed by a number of people. The palace has circular roads, thus Amin’s men would blind fold and bundle up people from the palace and stuff them in cars which would drive round in circles then for over hours and would finally stuff them in this grimy dungeon. People would think they’ve been taken to a palace far away yet in actual sense they would still be in the palace.

Long when the five roomed dungeon was still in working order it was locked with a large metal gate that was electrocuted and a long corridor full of electrocuted water of about a feet deep and any attempts to escape led to death by electrocution. Thousands of people were packed into the small rooms until there was barely any turning space, they were then starved many were frustrated and dumped themselves into the electrocuted water to die – and for those who dint the solider would kill them, themselves. Over 20000 people lost their lives here and only of recent because children visit this place as well were the skulls and bones of the deceased removed.

When you are done with both the good and the disheartening history tour of the palace you could proceed to the Buganda parliament for further understanding of Buganda and its culture.

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