Wamala Tombs

Wamala tombs are a resting place for Kabaka Suuna II who was the King of Buganda kingdom between 1836-1856. Buganda Kingdom is the largest of the traditional territories that now make up the nation of Uganda.

The Wamala King’s tombs, including the shrine of Kabaka Suuna II, are one of only two such tomb complexes remaining in Uganda. Wamala remains a very important site for traditional religious practices hosted by the royal family, a place where the Kabaka and his representatives frequently carry out important rituals allowing them to communicate with their ancestors.

Wamala tombs are situated in Nabweru Sub-county, Wakiso district, the tombs are the burial site of Ssekabaka II, the 29th king of Buganda. From the hills on which the Tombs are located, one can see Kagoma Hill atop which Ssuna built a place for his mother. Originally the hill on which the Tombs are located was called Wamunyenye. It got this name because the roads traversing the hill were lined with stones that glitter like stars.

There are two conflicting stories as to how the place came to be called Wamala. It is said that because of the internal strife between the Baganda’s royalty at that time, Ssuna’s mother ran away from Kasengejje. She took her son and laid him near Lake Wamala in Mityana.

However, Ssuna’s father died and he had to be brought back to Kasengejje. He decided to settle in Wamunyenye and he called the place Wamala. This was in keeping with the Kiganda culture in which a King names his place according to the place where he comes from. He chose Wamala for it is where he had sought refuge during his time of trouble.

The other theory is that on his way back from hiding, when he reached Wamunyenye he was so tired and said, “Wano Wamala ( Let us Stop here)” thus the place came to be called Wamala.

Ssekabaka Ssuna acceded to the throne around 1824, was born to Ssekabaka Kamanya and Nnamasole Kanyange, formerly called Nakkazi Nganda. This was in 1812 in Kasengejje, Busiro, Wakiso.

During Kababa Ssuna’s reign in the middle of the 19th century, he became the first king to admit outside traders into Buganda. He had 148 wives that he did not mind giving away one of them and sired 218 children, and when he died, he was the last king to have his jawbone (which was believed to contain his spirit) placed in a royal shrine staffed by his descendants. This is part of Ssekabaka Ssuna’s history that intrigues many a visitor to his Tomb in Wamala Set in a beautiful and spectacular view, the impressive grass thatched tombs are a 30 minutes’ drive from Kampala.

It was during the reign of Kabaka Ssuna that Islam religion was introduced in Uganda. It is said that the first Arabs arrived in Buganda in 1844. Their mission was to seek Ivory. The Arabs are said to have bribed Ssuna with guns and a mirror. The mirror is said to have impressed Ssuna so much especially when he saw his reflection in it. It is said that one of Ssuna’s wives fell in love with the Arab visitors because of their skin texture. “Ssuna gave her to the Arabs after all he had 148 wives and 2000 Concubines.” The woman was pregnant and the Arabs took her to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) where she gave birth. It is rumoured that she gave birth from the Palace of the king of Abyssinia and thus her off spring was born in royalty. To this day, some Baganda believe there is trace of Buganda blood in Ethiopia.

Wamala Tombs
Wamala Tombs

During his reign, Ssuna added the counties of Bugalazi and Buyaga to Buganda. Ssuna loved adventure and he spent his free time hunting. The story is told of how one of his subjects told him that a Tanzanian had built a palace similar to his. Ssuna was outraged and with the encouragement of his advisors planned an expedition to Karagwe to attack the man. His mother tried to dissuade him from doing that but her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Before he set of, his mother tied a rope in her waist as a sign of mourning, for it is said that she had a feeling that her son would not return. Accompanied by a well-armed entourage, Ssuna set off to Karagwe. However, at that time, there was a wide spread chicken pox epidemic. Ssuna contracted the disease and the expedition had to be called off.

Ssuna is remembered for having built Kasubi Tombs. Kasubi was his first Palace after his enthronement, but he decided to go back to Wamala to be close to his mother, for whom he had built a house at nearby Kagoma.

Ssekabaka Ssuna is remembered as the first Kabaka of Buganda to be buried with his law intact. The word Kabaka comes from the phrase: “Kano kaba kani?” (Whose jaw is this?) This is because upon the Kabaka’s death, his jaw would be removed and his widows would be asked whose jaw it was.

Ssuna is also remembered as the first kabaka to wear a kanzu as this type of clothing was brought by the Arabs during his reign.

Upon his death, his Place at Wamala became his Tomb in accordance with Buganda culture, which stipulates that a Kabaka’s palace is his final resting place.

The tomb was given the name Batanda bezaala. They are looked after by a number of care takers led by Nnalinya. The current Nnalinya is called Sarah Nattu and she took charge of the Place in 2005 after the death of the former Nnalinya, Nakibiri who died aged 102.

At the tomb, a house belonging to the royal twins (abalongo abalangira) stands close by while that of the Kabaka’s twins (abalongo bakabaka) stands next to the entrance. These twins died long ago but their umbilical cords were preserved in their respective houses. Outside these houses are fireplaces that are lit at night to keep the twins warm.

Wamala tombs is one of the favourite places in Kampala for both local and foreign while on a Kampala city tour. Ugandans pay about shs 1,000 per visit while foreign tourists pay shs 5,000. Before entering the tombs, a visitor is expected to remove their shoes and as one enters, there is a section of the door-way where one’s feet are not supposed to touch. Once inside, you must put some money in the baskets that sit just in front of Ssuna’s pavilion. A collection of his spears and shields is on display here. It is said that it is the place where he would sit and address his subjects or be entertained. To the left of the pavilion is a fireplace. Nabuunya says that this fireplace is lit to keep Ssuna warm during his journeys in the forest.

According to Buganda culture, a king does not die but gets lost in the forest. Inside the tomb, one is shown the entrance of the forest, though it is a Taboo to look beyond the entrance. Behind the tomb is an over grown bush and the roof is in in dire need of repair as the last renovation took place in 1958 during the reign of Sir Edward Mutesa II.

From Wamala one can see the tombs of Ssuna’s mother from a distance. Originally called Nakazzi Nganda, Ssuna called his mother Kanyange (one who is bright) because she protected him when his life was in danger. The first and second Nnamasole were buried at kanyange tombs.  Kanyange was born to Sambwa Katende of Bukunja of Kyaggwe in Mukono.  The fourth of seven children, Kanyange was taken to the Palace of Ssekabaka Kamanya were she gave birth to Ssuna. Not much is known about her and upon her death; she was succeeded by Magdalene Nnambogo.

The current Nnamasole Christine Nankya was born in 1942. Her Katikiiro is Samwiri kiwombogjjo Wantate. Her marriage to Nathaniel lubega was terminated when she became the fifth Nnamasole in June 1993. This is in keeping with the cultural norm which says that a Nnamasole should be unmarried.

Nankya studied at Gayaza Junior School and Aggrey Memorial School. While at school, she used to commute to and from Lubiri palace where she had been sent to learn royal etiquette. At Kanyange a number of women make mats, baskets and paper. These are sold to the visitors in order to raise money to help maintain the tombs. At the end of history lesson, that is the tour of tombs, one can’t help but appreciate the mother-son bond that existed between kanyange and Ssuna.

How to Get There

Wamala Tombs site is located in Nansana along the Kampala-Hoima Road. It is 13Kilometers from Kampala city centre and takes about 30 minutes.

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