David Schoenbrun Northwestern University [

A Mask of Calm: Emotion and Sovereignty in 16th century Bunyoro.
David Schoenbrun
Northwestern University
[email protected]
“Behaviour that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.”
“Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.”
C. P. Kavafy2
“You lost people you have killed your own (child), and now you kill mine, so wherever you go,
when you settle down there you will kill one another.”
The Kings of Bunyoro Kitara3
future Kingdom of Bunyoro, in today’s Uganda, traditions claim that a foreigner called
Rukidi calmly seized a nameless mother’s child and threw it into the river water. Rukidi
acted in this manner to compensate his brother for the loss of his child, who had been
caught up in the sacrificial violence required to pass over bodies of water patrolled by the
spirits of such localities. Both deaths helped Rukidi and his followers enter and dominate
Bunyoro. But they found Bunyoro a collapsed world beset by the aftermath of famine.
Anxious to have a story about what had happened there, Rukidi questioned senior
mediums at an ancient shrine important to the healing networks that had organized
political life before Rukidi’s time. The mediums were reluctant to talk. They offered
Rukidi or his associates precious few words about the recent indignities. Rukidi and his
entourage took advantage of the openings offered by the reticent mediums to reconfigure
Acknowledgments: This essay has benefited from criticisms and cautions by Jan-Georg
Deutsch, Jon Earle, Jonathon Glassman, Emma Hunter, Neil Kodesh, John Lonsdale,
Sheryl McCurdy, Greg Maddox, Henri Médard, Jim Sweet, Megan Vaughan, Andrew
Shryock, Rhiannon Stephens, the participants of the Affect in Africa Workshop, Rice
University, October 9-10, 2010, and the annual Northwestern-University of Wisconsin,
Madison African History Workshop, and three anonymous CSSH reviewers. The
National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the Judd
A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University all
provided funding for research.
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (New York: Farrar, Strauss,
Giroux, 2000), 5, lines 24 and 25.
C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems, Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 18.
John Nyakatura, Abakama ba Bunyoro Kitara (St. Justin, Quebec: W. H. Gagne and
Sons, 1947), 70, my translation.
what had been destroyed by inviting remaining nodes of authority into a project of
sovereign renewal. Some accepted, some negotiated, some refused. His relations to the
ruined networks of Bunyoro clearly drawn, Rukidi established a new sovereignty that
differed radically from what had come before. A fire no longer burned at the shrine where
the mediums worked, having failed to rekindle the natality and virility extinguished by
famine. So, Rukidi covered the cold hearth with a termite mound on which he, and all the
kings who followed him would stand during their accession rites. That act announced a
profound affective shift in political ritual. From Rukidi’s time forward, kings like him
would watch calmly as mediums worked. Whereas their ancestors had been mediums and
politicians all at once, Rukidi and his heirs were politicians only.4
When Rukidi lived is uncertain. But traditions agree that his Biito dynasty
emerged in a world beset by famine, that he was a stranger in that world, and that he
developed a new arrangement of politics and ritual that changed the balance of power in
the region.5 “[T]hree prolonged dry episodes” broke up the otherwise moist and cool
climate that prevailed during a highland east African expression of the ‘Little Ice Age’
(ca. 1270 to 1870). The second one began in the latter half of the 16th century and lasted
This synopsis draws on the George Wilson, Arthur B. Fisher, and King Daudi
Kasagama variants published in Harry H. Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate, Vol. 2
(London: Hutchinson, 1904), 594-600; Ruth Fisher, Twilight Tales of the Black Baganda:
The Traditional History of Bunyoro-Kitara, a Former Ugandan Kingdom 2nd Edition
(London: Frank Cass, 1970 [1911]), 111-27; Heremenzilda K. Karubanga, Bukya
Nibwira [The Sun Rises But Also Sets] (Kampala: Eagle Press, 1949), 6-7; Petero
Bikunya, Ky’Abakama ba Bunyoro [Of the Kings of Bunyoro] (London: Sheldon Press,
1927), 37-45; K. W., “Abakama ba Bunyoro-Kitara,” Uganda Journal 4, 1 (1936), 65-7,
75-7; and John Nyakatura, Abakama ba Bunyoro Kitara: Abatembuzi, Abacwezi, Ababito
(St. Justin, Canada: W.-H. Gagne & Sons, 1947), 66-76.
On climatic turbulence: Peter Robertshaw and David Taylor, “Climate Change and the
Rise of Political Complexity in Western Uganda,” Journal of African History 41, 1
(2000), 19. On stranger-kings: Steven Feierman, The Shambaa Kingdom: A History
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), 40-90; Jan Vansina, The Children of
Woot (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), 59-65; Thomas Q. Reefe, The
Rainbow and the Kings: A History of the Luba Empire to 1891 (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), 24-9; 41-8; Marshall Sahlins, “The
Stranger-King or, Elementary Forms of the Politics of Life,” Indonesia and the Malay
World 36 (2008), 178-85. On a new politics: Edward Steinhart, “From ‘Empire’ to State:
the Emergence of the Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara c. 1350-1890,” in Henry J. M.
Claessen and Peter Skalník (ed.) The Study of the State (The Hague: Mouton Publishers,
1981), 358-66; Renee Louise Tantala, “The Early History of Kitara in Western Uganda:
Process Models of Religious and Political Change,” Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin
at Madison, 1989, 746-75; Jean-Pierre Chrétien, The Great Lakes of Africa: Two
Thousand Years of History, Scott Straus, Translator (Boston: Zone Books, 2003), 139-99;
Peter Robertshaw, “Beyond the Segmentary State: Creative and Instrumental Power in
Western Uganda,” Journal of World Prehistory (2010), 264-6.
until the end of the 17th century.6 Rukidi’s new dynasty probably took shape then,
seeking to close down a period in which the effectiveness of public healing networks was
called into question.7 But the climatic oscillations that strained and sometimes broke local
systems of agricultural abundance did not possess “inherent causal logics” producing the
historical outcome of a new Biito dynasty.8
Historians of radical social change, like Rukidi’s new sovereignty, warn against
letting crisis over-determine outcomes.9 Scholars of the ‘General Crisis’ of the 17th
century, agonizing over this question, generally find it was the time when climatic shocks
and agricultural shifts prompted the mix of epistemological attitudes, property
relationships, and legal structures—that scholars name modernity—that underwrote
political claims about new forms of sovereignty and citizenship.10 Although the precise
nature of a crisis may be unclear, its aftermaths remain fertile ground for studying the
interplay of power politics and affective life. Developing meanings for a crisis—making
sense of it—helped initiate an aftermath.11 Even if those meanings often served the
interests of a favored few, well positioned to take advantage of the “misery of the many,”
Dirk Verschuren, Kathleen R. Laird, and Brian R. Cumming, “Rainfall and Drought in
Equatorial East Africa During the Past 1,100 Years,” Nature 403 (2000), 410, 413;
Robertshaw and Taylor, “Climate Change,” 7-13, 25; Peter Robertshaw, David Taylor,
Shane Doyle, Robert Marchant, “Famine, Climate, and Crisis in Western Uganda,” in R.
W. Batterbee, et al. (eds.) Past Climate Variability through Europe and Africa
(Dordrecht: Springer Verlag, 2004), 542-43, 545-46; John A. Matthews and Keith R.
Briffa, “The ‘Little Ice Age’: Re-evaluation of an Evolving Concept,” Geografiska
Annaler 87 A (2005), 20-1.
Iris Berger, Religion and Resistance: East African Kingdoms in the Precolonial Period
(Tervuren: Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, 1981), 67-87; Tantala, “Early History,”
303-32; David Lee Schoenbrun, A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change,
Gender, and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th Century (Portsmouth:
Heinemann Publishers, 1998), 203-206; Chrétien, Great Lakes, 101-103, 147-9; Jan
Vansina, Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Dynasty (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 2004), 45-6; Neil Kodesh, Beyond the Royal Gaze: Clanship and Public
Healing in Buganda (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), 85, 98-130.
J. B. Shank, “Crisis: A Useful Category of Post-Social Scientific Historical Analysis?,”
American Historical Review 113, 4 (2008), 1098; Theodore K. Rabb, The Struggle for
Stability in Early Modern Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 17-34.
The metaphor of an illness at a turning point, after which a body lives or dies, gave the
term “crisis” its purchase in 16th century Europe; see Randolph Starn, “Historians and
‘Crisis’,” Past and Present 52 (1971), 3-22; Shank, “Crisis,” 1091-3.
Jonathan Dewald, “Crisis, Chronology and the Shape of European Social History,”
American Historical Review 113, 4 (2008), 1037-41; for an expansive take on the
climatic-demographic nexus, see also Geoffrey Parker, “Crisis and Catastrophe: The
Global Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Reconsidered,” American Historical Review
113, 4 (2008), 1053-79.
Charles Rosenberg, “What is an Epidemic? AIDS in Historical Perspective,” in Charles
Rosenberg (ed.) Explaining Epidemics and Other Studies in the History of Medicine
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 278-292.
their contents are revealing.12 Whatever other historical changes might be wrung from the
ruptures that shook lives in Europe’s or Asia’s 17th century, new affective registers of
political power and new forms of historical knowledge marked its aftermaths.13
The focus on aftermaths not only grounds the historical weight of violence, the
aftermath is often the only temporal setting in which violence is represented. The sources
available to scholars of violence may focus on violent events but they take shape in, and
are fundamentally interested in creating aftermaths for those violent events.14 Given these
qualities of the aftermath as a time of coming to terms with legacies of loss it is
unsurprising that narratives about the often violent founding of new political forms take
up themes of emotional memory as well as the pursuit of legitimation.
Paul Connerton argues that attending to a spirit of mourning in historical
narratives, like Rukidi’s, sharpens understandings that a quest to legitimate a
contemporary arrangement of power guides their production.15 People forget, choose
silence or are silenced, and orient their bodies in ways that generate a particular
awareness of a painful past and shape narratives about that past. For example, people
subjected to enslavement, historians and literary critics have long told us, might choose
not to recall their degrading experiences or they might find in their memories of
enslavement sources for respectability in a social context unfriendly to a slave past.16 To
be sure, slaves struggled in ways that “subverted and contested those ideologies” that
judged them.17 But stories of those struggles contain voids, chosen or otherwise.
Michael Marmé, “Locating Linkages or Painting Bull’s Eyes around Bullet Holes? An
East Asian Perspective on the Seventeenth-Century Crisis,” American Historical Review
113, 4 (2008), 1089.
Rabb, Struggle for Stability, 96-9, 147-51; Dewald, “Crisis, Chronology,” 1046-50;
Marmé, “Locating Linkages,” 1083-87; F. Smith Fussner, The Historical Revolution:
English Historical Writing and Thought 1580-1640 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1962), 163-90.
Donald Donham, “Staring at Suffering: Violence as a Subject,” in Edna Bay and
Donald Donham (eds.) States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary
Africa (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 26-9; Jonathon Glassman,
War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 264-81.
Paul Connerton, The Spirit of Mourning: History, Memory and The Body (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3-30.
Martin Klein, Slavery and Colonial Rule in West Africa (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1998), 237-51; Paul Lovejoy, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus
Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the Africa,” Slavery and Abolition 27, 3 (2006), 17-47.
Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 121-9, and Glassman, War of Words, 20-2,
explore the tensions between personal historical memory and the processes by which
people chose ancestral experiences as their own.
Dylan C. Penningroth, “The Claims of Slaves and Ex-Slaves to Family and Property: A
Transatlantic Comparison,” American Historical Review 112, 4 (2007), 1047; Vincent
Brown, “Social Death and Political Life in the Study of Slavery” American Historical
Review 114, 5 (2009), 1232ff.
Whatever else these voids hold, they hold the soil of reinvention and self-fashioning as
well as the weight of inequality and power politics. In Rukidi’s story, such orientations to
aftermaths reveal that violence upended sovereignty’s claims to its legitimate use and
produced burdens of loss that exceeded the capacity of conventional ritual practice to
Legitimation and mourning shape historical narratives about reconfiguring
sovereignty in the aftermaths of its violence because they deftly inflect the problem of
accountability.18 Thomas Bisson has recently argued that the “experience of violence
converged with that of power” to give an opening to accountability in a tradition of
power profoundly rooted in the mix of well-born prestige and fidelity.19 The abrasive
violence of bad lordship in Europe’s 12th century entailed affective ritual change.
Principally through new practices of assembly, song, talk, and expertise lords sought to
hem in the effects of the bodily harm visited on ordinary people by castellans.20 The
suffering of ordinary people prompted an “unsteady adjustment between function and
office.”21 Exhausted by generations of bad lordship, nobles worthy of the title promoted
these new ritual regimes to manage its corrosive effects on people and to legitimate their
efforts to do so.22 New dynastic accounts proliferated, free from references to “the
unpoliticised parochialism of futile outrage” shared by dynastic subjects.23 Narratives
about “the attributes of good rulership” promoted an emotional regime of personal
restraint and decorum for lords. They told of a past, set free from the present, in which
the violence of lordship had grown banal, corroding the shiny surfaces of lordly honor.
Displaced by an emerging array of institutions of power, bad lordship was also sent away
into the past by the very narratives that tried to remember it as something else
The spirits of mourning and legitimation in this complex process were ambiguous.
They were not given to the logic of the trial in which ordinary people were victims of the
violence perpetrated on them by rapacious lordships.25 These transformations in the
experience of power, the prominence of knighthood’s self-consciousness, the “organized
sociability of power” at court, and the play of violence and comportment—evoked, in
part, through stories—helped constitute a distinctive European social hierarchy.26
John Lonsdale, “Political Accountability in African History,” in Patrick Chabal (ed.)
Political Domination in Africa (1986), 126-30, 135.
Thomas N. Bisson, The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the
Origins of European Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 17.
Bisson, Crisis, 430-69.
Bisson, Crisis, 19.
Bisson, Crisis, 429-30; Connerton, Spirit, 17, 19-20.
Bisson, Crisis, 182, 191-2, and passim; Dominique Barthélemy, Chevaliers et
miracles: la violence et la sacré dans le société féodale (Paris: Colin, 2004), 11-38; 26189.
Bisson, Crisis, 13.
Bisson, Crisis, 183; see also, Barthélemy, Chevaliers, 135-53.
David Crouch, The English Aristocracy, 1070-1272: A Social Transformation (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), xvi, 247-50; Bisson, Crisis, 439 (quoted material),
Although scholars disagree on which of these elements to emphasize, they all make the
sensible point that the violence in their workings must be explored on its own historically
specific terms.27 To the Nyoro historians we will shortly encounter, struggles over
accountability marked the newly pluralistic world in which public healing faced a dismal
bottom line that forced it to welcome arrogant rule by kings. To Europeans living near
predatory castellans, those struggles marked the emergence of the arrogance of governing
kings accountable to a public, however limited in scope.
The transformations in lordship Bisson explores in unparalleled historical detail
are likely more familiar to readers than narratives of failed sovereign process in the 13th
and 14th century Pueblo world in which the details of conflict and loss repudiate, not
remake, nobility. During those centuries of climatic turbulence a vast reconfiguring of
settlement and social life unfolded, from central Mexico to southern Colorado. It
represented a failure of political culture on a par with Bisson’s crisis.28 Pueblos
reconfigured ancestral networks around the masked, rain-providing figures of kachinas to
initiate an aftermath to the dislocation and violence of the 13th century. Today, kachinas
impersonate the ancestors of Pueblo people. In the 14th century, rock art, pottery
decoration motifs, and painted murals reveal that they were translations of a bundle of
ideas signified by the ancient Mexican figures of Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc, drawn into the
high desert region through long-standing southerly networks, to rebuild sovereign
influence over rain and fertility.29 In the 14th century, Zuni people began to dance and
sing narratives in the newly established kivas and plazas they had built in the high deserts
west of the Upper Rio Grande valley. They recalled the migrations of clans and other
social groups and the creation of kachinas in the aftermath of catastrophic drought. Dance
and song account explicitly for conflict and suffering. The collective politics of sovereign
power embodied in kachina ceremonialism, in the maintenance of religious societies, like
hunter societies, and in the creation of new corporate sodalities, like war societies, and
the energetic formation of new clans, guided responses to (and were transformed by) the
tremors of the Entrada, after 1539, and the abrasive frictions of Spanish rule before
Popay’s fragile alliance of Rio Grande pueblos rose in revolt against it, in 1680.30
Barthélemy, Chevaliers, 3-4; Bisson, Crisis, 212-88; Crouch, English Aristocracy, 99159; Daniel Lord Smail, “Violence and Predation in Late Medieval Mediterranean
Europe,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 54, 1 (2012), 7-34.
Stephen H. Lekson, A History of the Ancient Southwest (Santa Fe: SAR Press, 2008),
162-66, 196-7.
Polly Schaafsma (ed.), Kachinas in the Pueblo World (Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press, 1994); Polly Schaafsma, “Quetzalcoatl and the Horned and Feathered
Serpent of the Southwest,” in Virginia M. Fields and Victor Zamudio-Taylor, The Road
to Aztlan: Art from a Mythic Homeland (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of
Art, 2001), 144-5; Emory Sekaquaptewa and Dorothy Washburn, “The Go Along
Singing: Reconstructing the Hopi Past from Ritual Metaphors in Song and Image,”
American Antiquity 69, 3 (2004),” 459ff.
Ramon Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage,
Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1991), 3-36, 95-140; Carroll L. Riley, Rio del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande
from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press,
The new media of kachina dances worked with old messages about corn and good
living, making a virtue out of the necessities of dislocation and loss by appealing to
durable bundles of meaning and practice.31 But those durable metaphors of good work
with corn invested the dances with greater collective affective involvement by men, in the
contexts of mixing different groups of people each of which and all of whom had
dislocation and suffering in common. Hopi clan histories about this period of mixing
elaborate frictions between some clans, but not others.32 Oral traditions about
priesthoods, kiva groups, and medicine societies in Zuni speak frankly about tensions
with some groups but not others.33 Despite the proprietary knowledge contained in these
oral histories, the new order of public kachina dances were planned and put on in some
measure by everyone in the towns.34 Blending a spirit of mourning dislocation and
1995), 107-112; Carroll L. Riley, The Kachina and the Cross: Indians and Spaniards in
the Early Southwest (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), 22, 201-34, 297302; Thomas J. Ferguson, “Zuni Traditional History and Cultural Geography,” in David
A. Gregory and David R. Wilcox (eds.) Zuni Origins: Toward a New Synthesis of
Southwestern Archaeology (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 207), 383, 385.
Polly Schaafsma and Curtis F. Schaafsma, “Evidence for the Origins of the Pueblo
Kachina Cult as Suggested by Southwestern Rock Art,” American Antiquity 39 (1974),
543-4; E. Charles Adams, “The Katsina Cult: A Western Pueblos Perspective,” in
Schaafsma, Kachinas, 43-44; Linda S. Cordell, Ancient Pueblo Peoples (Washington,
DC: Smithsonian Books, 1994), 148-9; Stephen H. Lekson and Catherine M. Cameron,
“The Abandonment of Chaco Canyon, the Mesa Verde Migrations, and the
Reorganization of the Pueblo World,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 14, 2
(1995), 185; Riley, Rio del Norte, 112.
Ernest Ingersoll, “A Hopi Story about Castle Rock” in Noble (ed.) Mesa Verde World,
137-8; Peter Whiteley, “Archaeology and Oral Traditions: The Scientific Importance of
Dialogue,” American Antiquity 67, 3 (2002), 410-11; Patrick Lyons, Ancestral Hopi
Migrations (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003), 91; Edmund Nequatewa, Truth
of a Hopi (Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press, 1967 [1936]), 65; Jesse Walter
Fewkes, “Tusayan Migration Traditions,” Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of
American Ethnology for the Years 1897-1898 (1900), 585-609.
Matilda Coxe Stevenson, “The Zuni Indians, Their Mythology, Esoteric Fraternities,
and Ceremonies,” Twenty-Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology for the Years
1901-1902 (1904), 20-62, 73-88, 407-569.
Kachina dancers are men; in some pueblos both men and women paint kiva murals, in
others only men do so; men and women belong to kachina societies in Hopi and Acoma,
some women belong to kachina societies in Zuni, but responsibility for kachina
performances are controlled by “a single organization”; Zuni religious societies since at
least the 19th century, sing in six different languages from the Southwest; men and
women belong to many sodalities, see Stevenson “Zuñi Indians,” 413, 424; Dennis
Tedlock, “Stories of Kachinas and the Dance of Life and Death,” in Schaafsma,
Kachinas, 162; Adams, “Katsina Cult,” 36-7; Sally J. Cole, “Imagery and Tradition:
Murals of the Mesa Verde Area,” in David Noble (ed.) The Mesa Verde World:
Explorations in Ancestral Pueblo Archaeology (Santa Fe: SAR Press, 2006), 97; Fewkes,
“Tusayan,” 630-1.
conflict with an affirmative political legitimation of the prosperity of kachinas, the songstories signaled in a dramatic manner that the future would be won by hard work,
defended by force of arms, and renewed by medicine societies, and not by the patronage
of the priest-kings who had ruled the recently abandoned Chacoan Great Houses.
Like these migration stories, Rukidi’s traditions draw offers of renewal from a
web of silence, silencing, forgetting, and remembering the radical change in sovereignty
that followed a pronounced famine. Saying little about the losses of that time framed
“public understanding…of eternal themes of loss, mourning, sacrifice and redemption,”
as the silence between notes in a piece of music gives them life.35 In these intervals
people found some latitude to conduct the work of mourning and redemption. In an
aftermath of dislocation people could “suspend or truncate open conflict over” its
meanings, deflecting questions about accountability with silence.36 Whether promoting
statecraft in Europe’s 12th century or critiquing it in the Pueblos’ 14th century, mourning
and legitimation run through historical narratives initiating an aftermath to structural
violence, generating the major claim of this essay: that a spirit of mourning shapes
narratives of transformed sovereign authority, revivifying it in the aftermaths of structural
violence. Mourning lends emotional depth and counterpoint to matters of bureaucracy,
economy, gender, and so forth, in crafting satisfying accounts of transformation and
accountability in political life.
By far the most common approach to such dynastic traditions understands their
content, structure, and performance to charter an existing social order.37 Whether
traditions credit that order with the aura of antiquity or strengthen it by excluding social
elements discordant with the new orchestrations of power, they are exercises in
legitimation. Rukidi’s stories simultaneously summoned the ennobling antiquity of public
healing and entertained discomforting resistance to his domination. New stories of
kachinas celebrated the timeless moral benefits of farming and performed the abrasive
tensions among clans and sodalities set adrift in the North American high desert by
drought and bad leadership in the 14th century. Accounts of noble behavior in 12th century
Europe sought to banish the violence of bad lordship by pretending it was a thing of the
past, recollecting its most corrosive legacies from a safer distance down the stream of
time. But, mourning the emotional complexities of loss and suffering brought on by
structural and sovereign violence suffused the spirit of legitimation in these traditions,
enlisting support for a reconfigured political world by capturing the “intimate
contradiction between the unifying claims of legitimacy and the divisive implications of
accountability.”38 Rukidi’s stories use emotional language and ritual innovations with
strong affective charges, in the medium of historical narrative, to initiate a radically new
approach to politics. In order to explore the ways in which traditions about sovereignty in
historical contexts of violent aftermaths can be read in the light of these mixtures and not
Jay Winter, “Thinking about Silence,” in Efrat Ben Ze’ev, Ruth Ginio, and Jay Winter
(eds.) Shadows of War: A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge:
CUP, 2010), 4; Connerton, Spirit, 64, 66-7.
Winter, “Thinking about Silence,” 5.
Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1985), 103-105; Lyons, Hopi Migrations, 94.
Lonsdale, “Political Accountability,” 129; Connerton, Spirit, 4-30.
solely in terms of legitimation, rather more needs saying about emotion as a category of
historical analysis.
WILLIAM REDDY’S CONCEPT OF “EMOTIVE” lends intentional affective life a
cultural and historical specificity. Emotives are speech acts attempting to generate the
affect they represent. When they succeed, Reddy thinks of them as managerial. When
they fail Reddy calls them “exploratory” efforts to generate emotion, leading to results
other than the person intended. Intentional and managerial, emotives reflect the emotional
regime in which a person lives and not the embodied results of unintended emotional
response.39 Emotional regimes pattern emotional communities that emerge from the
cumulative work of people sorting out the consequences brought on by the conflicting
aims in their lives. Barbara Rosenwein has drawn on Reddy’s ideas to write about early
mediaeval Europe’s plural “emotional communities” or “groups in which people adhere
to the same norms of emotional expression and value—or devalue—the same or related
In Reddy’s and Rosenwein’s examples, the logics of composing emotional
communities turn on “perception and appraisal” of “weal or woe” prompted by the
internal stirrings of speech and gesture, image and text.41 Emotive work assisted by
literate productions in fascinatingly complex ways in 18th century France is harder to
recover in older oral worlds where speaking and listening receive their powerful charges
through kinaesthetics and the spatial projection of bodies in the varied settings of
performance.42 Traces of the emotive work generated by speech and bodily orientation, in
literate Nyoro traditions, appear regularly there. Their durable bundling fostered reuse by
performers, discussed below, enlisting the assistance of audiences to adjust their
meanings. Speech activated the affect latent in movement not least because, in oral
worlds, only the physical movement of lips, tongue, and teeth bring speech into
existence. The cognitive and the phenomenological were perhaps very often in play in
composing emotional communities with or without the effects of literacy.43
The prominence of bodily comportment and ritual change in Nyoro traditions
about the Biito highlights shifts in orientations to power. Rukidi modeled these shifts in
several ways. He performed sacrifices behind a mask of calm, his emotionless body
receptive to an audience’s emotional projections. Like Frazer’s beneficent scapegoat
Jan Plamper, “The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara
Rosenswein, and Peter Stearns,” History and Theory 49 (2010), 240-42; Barbara
Rosenwein, “Worrying About Emotions in History,” American Historical Review 107,3
(2002), 824; see also Lynn Thomas and Jennifer Cole, “Introduction: Thinking Through
Love in Africa,” in Jennifer Cole and Lynn Thomas (eds.) Love in Africa (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2009), 3.
Rosenwein, Emotional Communities, 2.
Rosenwein, “Worrying,” 836-7; Reddy, Navigation of Feeling, 103.
Connerton, Spirit, 83-8, 113-124; Rosenwein, “Worrying,” 839.
Alain Corbin, Time, Desire, and Horror: Toward a History of the Senses, Trans. Jean
Birrell (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 181-95; Daniel Wickberg, “What is the History
of Sensibilities? On Cultural Histories, Old and New,” American Historical Review 112,
3 (2007), 661-84; Connerton, Spirit, 114ff.
king, Rukidi’s impassive face sought his people’s hopes and fears, with the aim of
fostering their allegiance.44 Second, he covered the cold medium’s hearth with his termite
mound. This drew the audience’s attention away from independent mediums and toward
those who worked for him. Lastly, Rukidi built termite mounds inside his own capital. He
enclosed mediumship within a royal precinct, placing its affective charges under the
surveillance of a king who was not a healer. Rukidi’s traditions deployed affective
language about bodily displays of emotions that respected calm self-control in the service
of a radical change in ritual practice. Emotional regimes and the emotional communities
they glossed legitimized particular relations to political power.45 In order for Rukidi to
regain his calm and rule, traditions argued that political power and public healing had to
be separated from each other and from the recent history of ruin they had caused Rukidi’s
new subjects. The subjects enlisted through this emotional regime were not autonomous
individuals. Instead, the social event created by performing traditions worked with larger
categories in which a member of an audience might recognize herself: by generation
(adult), by gender (mother), by occupation (herder, trader), by categories of personal
history (the medium, the childless adult), or by geographical home (the stranger). These
were the political communities for whom a sovereign sought, in part through affective
power, to wield a monopoly of force.
IN THE 1890S, BUNYORO EXPERIENCED DEFEAT at the hands of Ganda and
Sudanese forces allied with Imperial British interests.46 Nyoro intellectuals responded
with written histories, analyzed here, that promoted an expansive Imperial past for
Bunyoro, in dramatic contrast to the violent circumstances of an unfolding defeat made
especially painful by the ascendancy of their longtime regional rivals, the kingdom of
Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, (London: Macmillan, 1922), Vol. 4, 9
and passim; René Girard, “Generative Scapegoating,” in Robert Hamerton-Kelly (ed.)
Violent Origins: Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1987), 73-105; Gillian Feeley-Harnik, “Issues in Divine Kingship,” Annual Review
of Anthropology 14 (1985), 273-87, 300; Simon Simonse, Kings of Disaster: Dualism,
Centrism, and the Scapegoat King in Southeastern Sudan (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), 307; Declan Quigley (ed.) The Character of Kingship (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2005),
Wrigley, Kingship and State, Chapters 7 and 8.
Reddy cited in Plamper, “The History of Emotions,” 246; Rosenwein, “Worrying
About Emotions,” 821-45; Edward Muir, Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta & Factions in
Friuli during the Renaissance (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993),
252-63, 278-82; Michael W. Young, “The Divine Kingship of the Jukun: A Reevaluation of Some Theories,” Africa 36 (1966), 135-53; William Arens and Ivan Karp,
“Introduction,” in W. Arens and I. Karp (eds.) Creativity of Power (Washington:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), xi-xxix; Schoenbrun, Green Place, 12-15, 132-33,
195-7, 235-43; Jeffrey Fleisher and Stephanie Wynne-Jones, “Authorisation and the
Process of Power: The View from African Archaeology,” Journal of World Prehistory 23
(2010), 180-83, 186-7; Robertshaw, “Beyond the Segmentary State,” 257-8, 263-6.
Shane Doyle, Crisis & Decline in Bunyoro (Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 2006),
Buganda.47 The strategy of dulling the pain of defeat with the balm of a long history may
be seen in the lengthening of lists of Nyoro kings from their earliest iterations of seven or
eight rulers, as reported by early travelers to Bunyoro,48 to the twenty-two or more
reported by the Nyoro historians whose work this essay engages most carefully.
Historians have found in the lengthening of king lists the marks of “applied research.”49
Understanding these stories as compilations reveals their authors’ astuteness in
highlighting lists of kings to British missionaries and officials who valued the antiquity of
such authority. We must not, however, sever these literary versions from their Nyoro
audiences. Close readings of these traditions—in both their vernacular and translated
forms—reveal that claims of continuity from the Cwezi to Biito eras and the number of
Biito kings are but two of the many themes they take up.50 They were no more important
John Rowe, “Myth, Memoir and Moral Admonition: Luganda Historical Writing,
1893-1969,” Uganda Journal 33 (1969), 17-40, 217-219; Semakula Kiwanuka, A History
of Buganda to 1900 (New York: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1972), 17-22; Benoni
Turyahikayo-Rugyema, “Kagwa and Nyakatura as Historians,” Uganda Journal 41
(1984), 55-67; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama; K. W., “Abakama ba Bunyoro-Kitara,” Uganda
Journal 3, 2 (1935), 149-155; 4, 1 (1936), 65-74; 5, 2 (1937), 70-84; Johnston, Uganda
Protectorate, Vol. 2, 594-600. King Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV, used “K.W.” as a
pseudonym, writing in exile with his father, Kabaleega, in the Seychelles Islands from
1899 to 1923.
Europeans received this information from the two Nyoro kings embroiled in protracted
battles over succession complicated by the presence of slave-raiding Egyptians and
Sudanese. See John Hanning Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile
(Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1863), 498-577; James Augustus
Grant, A Walk Across Africa or Domestic Scenes from my Nile Journal (Edinburgh &
London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1864), 266-7; Samuel White Baker, The Albert
N’yanza: Great Basin of the Nile and Exploration of the Nile Sources, Volume 2
(London: Macmillan, 1866), 394-5; Gaetano Casati, Ten Years in Equatorial Africa and
the Return with Emin Pasha, Vol. 2 (London: F. Warne, 1891), 47, 273; Georg August
Schweinfurth, Friedrich Ratzel, Robert William Felkin, and Gustav Hartlaub, Emin
Pasha in Central Africa: Being a Collection of His Letters and Journals (New York:
Dodd, Mead & Co., 1889), 84, 92.
David Henige, The Chronology of Oral Tradition: Quest for a Chimera (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1974), 114. Genealogies sequence ‘related’ figures into three
‘dynasties’: Tembuzi, Cwezi, and Biito. Episodes unfold inside this temporal order.
During the Biito period, bahanuuzi developed and projected the dynastic idea onto the
two older groups. Scholars have shown that the earlier groups were public healers and
political leaders. See David William Cohen, “The Cwezi Cult,” Journal of African
History 9, 4 (1968), 651-7; Iris Berger and Carole Buchanan, “The Cwezi Cults and the
History of Western Uganda,” in Joseph T. Gallagher (ed.) East African Culture History
(Syracuse, NY: Maxwell School, 1976), 43-78; Tantala, “Early History,” 520-877;
Schoenbrun, Green Place, 236-40; Chrétien, Great Lakes, 101-105.
Bethwell Alan Ogot, “The Great Lakes Region,” in Djibril Tamsir Niane (ed.)
UNESCO General History of Africa IV: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century
(Portsmouth: Heinemann Publishers, 1984), 507-508; Steinhart, “From ‘Empire’ to
to the taletellers and their audiences than charting the limits of early Biito political power,
addressing uncertainties over affective ritual, new and old, and sculpting a forgetting of
the recent past.
[Map 1 Great Lakes Kingdoms at 1800]
In the immediate aftermath of imperial violence in Bunyoro, Ruth Fisher, a CMS
missionary, collaborated with two important kings of the day, Omukama Daudi
Kasagama and Omukama Andereya Duhaga, each of whom had composed manuscripts
State,” 351-69; Renee Tantala, “Verbal and Visual Imagery in Kitara (Western Uganda):
Interpreting the Story of ‘Isimbwa and Nyinamwiru’,” in Robert W. Harms, et al. (eds.)
Paths Toward the Past (Atlanta: African Studies Association Press, 1994), 224-6, 239, fn
(now lost) drawing on their own court historians as primary sources.51 The Africans who
continued writing Nyoro history in the vernacular were important men at the royal court
and in the colonial civil service and at the mission station.52 Their lifelong proximity to
courtly life profoundly influenced their syntheses.53 They mixed oral and written material
so thoroughly as they worked that it is challenging to sift the terse, verbal imagery—
including representations or invocations of emotion—from other narrative elements.54
To do so one must keep in mind two aspects of these traditions, one formal the
other performative. The movements of figures in traditions express symbolic messages.
According to historian Renee Tantala, movements on a vertical axis, between the surface
of the earth, where people lived, and underground, where spirits resided, reflected the
labor and politics of mediumship.55 The Cwezi figures, from the time before the Biito,
often moved in this fashion, between the two worlds. But figures in the traditions about
the establishment of the Biito dynasty moved horizontally, on the surface of the earth.
They moved where audiences lived. The contrast between the two kinds of spatial
movement evoked a profound change in the emotional communities composed by the
Biito. They promoted a new scale of political alliance, rather than older public healing
networks, as the best way to initiate the aftermaths of ecological collapse.
Second, as far as we know, specialists (bahanuuzi, “counselors” and bafumu,
“diviners”) with knowledge of dynastic, lineage, and family history performed stories
about dynastic events, often accompanied by music and dance. They worked at a shrine, a
chief’s enclosure or at the Biito court.56 People’s names, the names of the places they
visited, the names of the things they wore or carried, their styles of coiffure, and the basic
events said to have occurred there—the “core images” of traditions—are broadly similar
in published versions.57 The literal meaning of names (for people, places, and the
materials of dress and ritual), the sequences of the places visited and of the events that
transpired reflect not only moral and aesthetic inclinations that “contributed to continuity
Ruth Fisher, On the Borders of Pigmy Land (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1905),
27-9, 59-65; Fisher, Twilight Tales, xli; Iris Berger, “Deities, Dynasties, and Oral
Traditions,” in Joseph Miller (ed.) The African Past Speaks (Folkestone, Kent: Archon
Publishers, 1980), 71; Tantala, “Early History,” 192-8; Karubanga, Bukya Nibwira, 16,
uses the term “Bahanura” which Katuramu translated as “People.” The term is better
translated as “Counselors.”
M. Louise Pirouet, Black Evangelists: The Spread of Christianity in Uganda, 18911914 (London: Rex Collings, 1978), 95-8 (Bikunya).
Merrick Posnansky, “Introduction” to Fisher, Twilight Tales, xxxvi-xxxvii; Carole
Buchanan, “Of Kings and Traditions: The Case of Bunyoro-Kitara,” International
Journal of African Historical Studies 7, 3 (1974), 523.
Tantala, “Early History,” 187-223.
Tantala, “Early History,” 363-95, 434-5.
John Roscoe, The Bakitara or Banyoro, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1923), 130; Karugire, Kingdom of Nkore, 7; Tantala, “Early History,” 145-82; Neil
Kodesh, “History From the Healer’s Shrine: Genre, Historical Imagination, and Early
Ganda History,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 49, 3 (2007), 530.
Dynastic traditions gloss founding periods with symbolically rich information; see
Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, 23-4, 166-72; Miller, African Past, 17-18.
in transmission” but also dense images eliciting in audiences memories of or knowledge
about those places, figures, and their work.58 The sequences of the places visited and of
the events that transpired at each place served as memory codes for the bahanuuzi and as
prompts for audience members to chose, depending on their past experiences, the
“historical memory” proffered them by the bahanuuzi as if it were their own memory.59
These memory codes were “techniques for connecting the verbal imagery of traditions
with the visual imagery of life experience.”60 And the cognitive and emotional medium
for that connection was the body.
Some of the drama of speech comes through in vernacular versions that bend
away from the grammatical rules of written English to punctuate their texts with commas
and periods that let some clauses in sentences run together or break in unexpected places.
In his text, Petero Bikunya uses the rests and pauses common in speech to emphasize the
affective volume of what preceded or followed.61 The metrical patterns created by
punctuation may also mark these passages as mnemonics, designed to facilitate memory
work, and as rhythmic echoes of the movements of the mouth, hands, arms, legs, and
feet, in the acts of speaking, singing, and dancing that constituted a performance and
implicated an audience.62 If images rely on ocularity, the body’s movements in making
and watching the performance of a tradition evoke and sustain the ocular image.
Movement and visualization sustain one another, in general, but, in transmitting messages
in traditions, their mutual sustenance creates the opportunity to remember those messages
as somehow congruent with one’s own experiences. Scholars have combed these core
visual images—but not the unusual openings to emotion revealed in their textual versions
by close attention to punctuation or its absence—to show the ways in which “tellers of
tradition recollect and re-present their stories” by using “verbal imagery” to evoke scenes
from the ordinary experience of audience members.63
Bundling the verbal imagery that worked in this manner reflects a mutual
influence of performer and audience that unfolded over many generations in a long
process of emotive and ideological reinterpretation of the material.64 The verbal images
Tantala, “Early History,” 137-45, 179-82; Tantala, “Verbal and Visual Imagery,” 22832, 236; similar qualities are attached to “song words” and the layered metaphors they
build, in Hopi kachina songs; see Sekaquaptewa and Washburn, “The Go Along
Singing,” 465-73.
As identified by Cicero in On the Orator, Books I and II, and discussed in Connerton,
Spirit of Mourning, 143; see also, Tantala, “Verbal and Visual Imagery,” 232.
Tantala, “Verbal and Visual Imagery,” 224; Connerton, Spirit of Mourning, 104-22.
Connerton, Spirit of Mourning, 55; Peter Burke, “Notes for a Social History of Silence
in Early Modern Europe,” in The Art of Conversation (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), 123-41.
Connerton, Spirit, 114, following E. A. Havelock, Preface to Plato (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1963), passim; see also John H. M. Beattie, “Spirit
Mediumship as Theatre,” Royal Anthropological Institute News 20 (1977), 1-6.
Tantala, “Early History,” 44-48, 179-82; Tantala, “Verbal and Visual Imagery,” 223;
Kodesh, Beyond, 105-121.
Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, 94-110, 114-25; Ruth Finnegan, The Oral and
Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2007), 96-113; Kodesh, Beyond, 24-6; see also Sekaquaptewa and Washburn, “They Go
in the stories are not the memories of a teller or of an audience member. They are
emotive invitations to take possession of their content by evoking figures, scenes and
events familiar to audiences. The metrical patterns of song and speech, the patterned
movement of musical accompaniment, and the rhythmic structure of dance movements
enlisted audience participation in the performance of recollection.65
Three processes brought the emotives to life. The first involved the sacrifices
Rukidi and his entourage performed in order to cross bodies of water and enter Bunyoro.
Sacrifices focused the political drama of passing from an area of strong networks into a
new region of political weakness, where Rukidi the barbarian could not even speak to
anyone directly. In audiences’ minds, sacrifice elicited images of offering in any number
of settings. For those who had encountered itinerant public healers, traders, or smiths—or
had moved around with such people—the specific challenges of fording rivers would
come to mind. The second involved narrating what had happened in Bunyoro before
Rukidi arrived. Once across the challenging bodies of water, Rukidi and his entourage
sought stories about the past of their new home in order to connect their domination to
indigenous sources of authority, and thereby to reanimate a claim to durability. The
result, argued rhetorically in the incorporation of little histories into the larger story, was
a frank claim that Rukidi’s domination turned on limited but strong political alliances and
not only on public healing’s defense of prosperity. This process evoked the business of
rhetorical skill and bodily comportment required in arguing a case at a court or, perhaps,
in the eliciting of a personal history by a diviner. Audience members who had witnessed
that sort interplay of verbal power with bodily orientation would have had their memories
of it animated. The third process involved ritual change. Capitalizing on the close links
between cognition, kinaesthetics, and emotion, Rukidi brought the bodily practice of
public healing into his new capital but declined to participate in it directly, preferring
instead to watch. Tradition takes up this moment of ritual transformation in a pithy but
dramatic fashion. Rukidi covered the cold hearth in Wamara’s shrine, a last Cwezi figure
of authority, with a termite mound and then built a new capital in a new location. The
affective charge of this act of covering over and building anew was amplified by the
losses and dislocations that audiences had been invited to ponder in the silences of little
histories that had explained why Wamara’s hearth had grown cold and still. Telling those
little histories placed emotional strains on representatives of the groups touched by
Rukidi’s progress toward a new sovereignty. But their unflatteringly realistic portrayals
of Rukidi’s emotional vulnerabilities, even as Rukidi reconfigured royal relations to
affective ritual, announced a clear-headed theory of the limits to sovereign process
generated by the arrogance of its force. For audience members—none more so than men
and women who had worked with ritual experts in spirit possession—familiar with public
healing’s less centralized, more ephemeral qualities of a rally, a beseeching, or an event
of possession, their memories of those actions could not have seemed more distant from
Along Singing,” 458; Margaret Drewal, “The State of Research on Performance in
Africa,” African Studies Review 34 (1991), 38-46.
Connerton, Spirit of Mourning, 114-115; Harold Scheub, “African Oral Tradition and
Literature,” African Studies Review 28, 2/3 (1986), 14-15; Tantala, “Verbal and Visual
Imagery,” 224-26; Schoenbrun, Green Place, 195-206, 234-45; Kodesh, Beyond, 39-55.
the stern but self-restrained new order of sovereignty that claimed to bury such work
under Rukidi’s termite mound.
Historical narratives about Rukidi used affective prompts to reassess the claim
that sovereignty persisted through a crisis, that sovereignty’s legitimating, emotional
roots grew from local soil, and that sovereignty dominated all other forms of authority.
As people confronted a ruined world in which life must go on, the traditions asked them
to take a chance on a barbarian’s political skills—as a king who was not a healer—in
restarting social reproduction. Some people refused, proving that a single sovereignty did
not dominate everyone. Some accepted, proving sovereignty did not only grow from a
genealogy of indigenous, local sources. And others pointed to the failures of the past,
proving that sovereignty’s claim to monopolize legitimate force was not durable.66 The
idea that sovereignty persisted despite these evident failures captured the everyday
experiences of people who knew that sovereigns arrogantly seized power and wielded it.
People knew that monarchs were not really exempt from the consequences of their
violence. So, in key ways, the life of sovereign political power lay in the performance of
stories about its creation. Those stories deployed affective figures of truth—motherhood,
elderhood, clanship, and so forth—to revivify sovereignty by applying people’s emotions
to that project, a project that enlisted support and applied political influence in bridging
violent ruptures.
around the creative arts of a spirit-mediumship that delivered the forms of wealth keeping
social life in motion.67 Called public healing networks by scholars, they met the needs of
their communities by linking shrine sites, different ecological zones for food and
medicines, and artisanal activities. Their wealth attracted luxuries from far outside the
region and nourished local ivory, iron, barkcloth, fish, and food production. When a
network failed to deliver social reproduction and security, other public healers emerged
as social critics.68 They invented new spiritual figures appealing to a broader array of
people. Or they reconfigured existing spiritual figures to travel to new territories. During
this long period, political leaders and public healers in Bunyoro had been the same
But climatic turbulence in the 16th century strained the vitality of these far-flung
networks, stimulating renewed commitments to pastoralism in the dry inland parts of the
Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978), 904; Feierman, Shambaa Kingdom,
Schoenbrun, Green Place, 234-40.
Steven Feierman, “Healing as Social Criticism in the Time of Colonial Conquest,”
African Studies 54, 1 (1995), 80; David Schoenbrun, “Conjuring the Modern in Africa:
Durabilities and Rupture in Histories of Public Healing Between the Great Lakes of East
Africa,” American Historical Review 111, 5 (2006), 1403-39; Kodesh, “Healer’s Shrine,”
531, 533-5, 549-52; James H. Sweet, Domingos Álvares: African Healing and the
Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2011), 9-26, 123-45.
Schoenbrun, Green Place, 195-206; Kodesh, Beyond, 67-130.
region and to banana farming in the parts of the region nearest to Lake Victoria (Map
1).70 In Bunyoro, where cattle and bananas existed but did not thrive, farmers embraced
new crops such as cassava, sweet potato, Phaseolus beans, tobacco, and (to a lesser
extent) maize. They could store Cassava and sweet potato in the ground. American beans
fixed nitrogen in the soil and produced one more crop each year than millet, a staple.
Tobacco joined ivory, salt, barkcloth, and iron as sources of wealth through exchange.71
In the older public healing networks, Cwezi hunter-mediums searched for people
to possess, conquer and raid.72 They organized this violence to secure virility and natality
for their followers, but it raised questions about the moral terms on which public healing
worked, leading some people to relocate.73 Numerous large-scale settlements (Map 2)
dotted the region since the turn of the second millennium. In the 16th century, people
added earthworks to many of the settlements. In the course of the 17th century, their
number shrank to a handful of centers of public healing, Mubende, Kasunga and Masaka
Hills chief among them.74 Rukidi and his entourage were drawn into a land of former
wealth fragmented by a political violence designed to meet the challenges to reproduction
occasioned, in part, by reduced rainfall in the 16th century.
When Rukidi’s traditions created categories for public healing and sovereign
political power, they defined a characteristic division latent in the Cwezi period.75 But,
they were the first in the region to reconfigure political life by drawing prominent public
healers inside a new capital to serve the interests of a sovereign who was not a public
healer. This “moment” in the region’s history—when the outlines of a sovereignty free
from the threats to its stability posed by ritual or judicial failure seem first to emerge—
has drawn enormous scholarly attention. Christopher Wrigley argues that increased scales
of economic life meant that community norms of face-to-face contact in which little
kings managed ritual, economic, and legal affairs for villagers gave way to kings, unseen
Robertshaw and Taylor, “Climate Change,” 11, 17-18, 27; Immaculate Ssemanda, et
al., “Vegetation history in western Uganda during the last 1200 years: a sediment-based
reconstruction from two crater lakes,” The Holocene 15, 1 (2005), 119-32, esp. 129;
Verschuren, et al., “Rainfall and Drought,” 413.
Chrétien, Great Lakes of Africa, 143-44.
Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 21-2; Nyakatura, Abakama, 37-41.
Kodesh, Beyond, 158-73. On social motherhood: Stephens, “Lineage and Society,”
214-20. On fertility: Kodesh, Beyond, Chapter 5. On natality and virility: Feierman,
“Healing as Social Criticism,” 79; Jim Freedman, Nyabingi: The Social History of an
African Divinity (Butare: Institute National de Recherche Scientifique, 1984), 75-6.
Robertshaw and Taylor, “Climate Change,” 18-19, 26; Robertshaw, et al., “Famine,
Climate and Crisis,” 541.
Anonymous, “The Baziba Princely Clan Who Settled into Buganda,” Munno (????), ??, second paragraph, explicitly states the problem: “When his (Kiibi’s) saw that the King
was possessed by the god Wamala, they all gathered, and discussed with the King, and
said to him that it was impossible for him to carry out two work: the work of being
inspired, and as well as the King of the country; and they asked him to give up one of his
work, to one of his sons.” Anonymous is responding to Mr. Y. B. Avawoasigira and
Prince Jeremia Njuba of Nang’oma in Munno (March, 1922), 49; Munno (1914), 172-75;
by many, whom the many nonetheless imagined as their own.76 These larger kingdoms
were composed of multiple clans. Kodesh refined Wrigley’s model by thinking more
creatively about those clans, renaming them “networks of knowledge.” Health concerns,
economic aspirations, and conflict made Kodesh’s clans shifting alliances of dispersed
healers, traders, and warriors and ordinary farmers and herders.77 This supple
[Map 2 Bunyoro and Kitara in Rukidi’s Time, ca. 1550-1650.]
understanding reformulates the struggles of clans with kings over authority and the
control of wealth.
Wrigley, Kingship, 84-9, 166-8.
Kodesh, “Networks of Knowledge,” 199-208.
Many of the region’s historians understand those struggles as the source of
dynastic sovereignty in the region. For them, kings struggled with clans in order to rule
over larger territories.78 In Rwanda, Jan Vansina argues that the ritual entanglements
trapping kings in the life of the court came after kings had grown into powerful raiders.
Turning Frazer on his head, Vansina finds that noble lineages in 18th century Rwanda saw
in ritual a means to tie down their monarchs at court and restrict their ability to maneuver
on the political stage.79 Each of these sensible approaches to monarchy explains
something quite valuable about a particular case. But they do not account for the context
of collapse in chartering kingship. In Bunyoro, that charter both mourned catastrophic
loss and legitimated a transformed kingship promising renewed prosperity, by figuring its
founding sovereign in motion from calm strength through vulnerable negotiations over
alliance and onward to the calm strength of the new arrangement these scholars have dug
into explaining.
The emotional cycle presented in these traditions created public moments for
people to weigh past violence, before putting some burdens down and recasting others as
valued traces of the past. To paraphrase Ernest Renan, sovereignty, like nationhood,
required its subjects to share things in common, especially those they had already
forgotten.80 By remembering that public healers taught Rukidi the ways of a Nyoro king,
traditions made clear that the barbarian had been domesticated. But, by getting the past
wrong together—by forgetting the losses people suffered in the violent collapse of the
mid-16th century—traditions about Rukidi also guaranteed that unfinished business
awaited future sovereignties.81 The divide between public healing and political power
became a durable engine of later expansions and contractions of political scale. But that
divide came into existence during Rukidi’s time and the ‘moment’ of its creation may be
tracked and analyzed using the variants of ‘tradition’.
standing on the right bank of the powerful Nile facing Bunyoro (Map 2). The water
passage required a decision to sacrifice that expressed a sovereign’s special relationship
to violence and met the obligation to offer something to the patron spirit of the local
public healing network. It required, among other things, a child’s life. The significance of
that sacrificed life emerges by comparing different versions of the story.
Chrétien, Great Lakes, 88-94; Henri Médard, Royaume du Buganda, 428-31; Shane
Doyle, Crisis and Decline, 15-16.
Vansina, Antecedents, 90-95, 45-6; James George Frazer, The Golden Bough (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1994), 134-41; Luc de Heusch, “The Symbolic Mechanisms of
Sacred Kingship: Rediscovering Frazer,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
3, 2 (1997), 213-32; James Sheehan, “The Problem of Sovereignty in European History,”
American Historical Review 111, 1 (2006), 2.
Ernest Renan, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?,” in Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. I (Paris:
Calmann-Lévy, 1947), 887-906, esp. 892.
Richard Reid, War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa (Oxford: James Currey Publishers,
2007), 29-33, 231-5.
In 1879, Emin Pasha reported that “people with a white skin came from the far
north-east, and crossed the river (Somerset Nile).”82 Twenty years on, others expanded on
Emin’s bare bones narrative. The colonial official George Wilson reported that Lukedi
(Rukidi) crossed to Chiope “ostensibly to hunt” but visited the compound of the local
(Siita) clan leader and found that famine had driven the men away to hunt. Wilson’s
version depicted Lukedi as a healer—he “cured the invalid” post-parturient mother of the
senior house, won over the rest of the women, and secured “the royal drum, that was in
their keeping.” With this material expression of healing and political authority in his
possession Lukedi “assumed such an attitude” with the returned Siita men that they
accepted him.83 The missionary Arthur B. Fisher reported “Lukedi was a great hunter of
supernatural powers” feared by all who “crossed the river, coming south into a stranger’s
country.” There he and Kilemera produced a son, Lukedi Lwamgalaki.84 The Wilson and
Fisher variants depict Lukedi as a foreign spirit searching for women to possess. Hunting,
marriage, and offspring evoked descriptions of the experiences of Isimbwa and
Nyinamwiru, founding figures in the preceding Cwezi period. These earliest glosses on
”Lukedi” likely emerged in the context of a public healing shrine.85
King Daudi Kasagama of Tooro claimed that Lukedi (Rukidi) had to make an
offering in order to cross the body of water separating his home from his future
kingdom.86 In Kasagama’s version, Lukedi faced an unnamed lake to cross with “a goat
and a fowl and a child, who was decked out with numerous beads on his neck, arms, and
legs.” Lukedi had prepared for this particular challenge. Kasagama evoked an enigmatic
“they” who “put a crown of nine beads on his [the child’s] head, and a large band of nine
beads on either leg; they then threw him into the lake as an offering to the gods.” After
that, Lukedi “crossed the lake into the country of Kanyadwoli.”87 Mrs. Fisher and
Nyakatura reported that the Biito princes crossed the Nile, not a lake. Kasagama’s
version implies that Lukedi had help in sacrificing the child. The scene evoked the
widespread obligation to make offerings to territorial spirits resident in particular features
of the landscape, such as fords. It raised questions for the audience about the future
promised by the newcomers’ sacrificial violence.
Schweinfurth, et al., Emin Pasha in Central Africa, 92.
Wilson variant, cited in Johnston, Uganda Protectorate, Vol. 2, 596. For connections
with Ganda tradition, see Apolo Kagwa, The Kings of Buganda, Translated and Edited by
M. Semakula M. Kiwanuka (Kampala: East African Publishing House, 1971 [1901]), 1011; Kodesh, Beyond, 109-111.
Fisher variant, in Johnston, Uganda Protectorate, Vol. 2, 598.
Multiple manifestations identify him as a patron of public healing networks; see
Feierman, “Healing as Social Criticism,” 73-88; and Schoenbrun, “Conjuring,” 1433-6.
Nyakatura, Anatomy, 52-3; Roscoe, Bakitara, 42-4; and Roscoe, Baganda, 336;
Tantala, “Early History,” 477, 511 fn 37.
Kasagama variant, in Johnston, Uganda Protectorate, Vol. 2, 599; James B. Purvis, A
Manual of Lumasaba Grammar (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1907), 5, a
missionary to Mt. Elgon from 1903 to 1907, reports that Lukidi “crossed Lake Kyoga and
took possession of Unyoro”; J.K.T. Ggomotoka Kajerero repeats Kasagama’s version
very closely—but does not include names and clan affiliations of the principals, in “The
Tale About the King Lukidi Mpuga ‘Omubito’,” Munno (Year?), pg. #s?.
A diviner named Nyakoka chose the child to be sacrificed, not Rukidi.88 Fisher
said only a child was given to the river and Nyakoka acted alone. However, Nyakatura
reported Nyakoka and Karongo (another diviner) named a basket of things the river
required of “the Babiito”: (“a baby, money, beads, and a cow”).89 The sacrifices activated
the loyalties, hierarchies, and prosperity of their network. “The Biito” responded
collectively with a compensatory logic that evoked the justice of a legal decision in a tort.
In Nyakatura’s version responsibility for the child’s sacrifice blends idioms of fertility
and natality: “It happened, however, that as the beads were being thrown into the lake as
part of the sacrifice, Nyarwa’s baby, who was starting to walk, swallowed one of them.”90
‘The Biito’ decided to kill the child of Rukidi’s elder brother, Nyarwa, in order to recover
this bead, intended for the water spirit, that the child had inadvertently swallowed. In
Nyakatura’s version Rukidi played no part in this decision. “The Babiito” decided the
costs of the crossing. Their decision alienated the elder brother Nyarwa and claimed that
the value of exchange and adornment, embodied in beads, exceeded the value of children,
brotherhood, and motherhood.
Rukidi entered the drama in order to compensate his brother’s loss. He took a
peasant woman’s child and threw it into the Nile (or a lake). Dispossessed of her child,
the woman cursed them. Her loss embodied the arrogance of royal power and the
arbitrariness of justice. Her curse refused silence in the aftermath of a sovereign’s
exception from the consequences of his violence. She said: “Lost people you have killed
your child, so you kill mine, therefore wherever you go now to settle down you will kill
one another.”91 Or, in Nyoro: “Nyabura inywe mwisire owanyu, ngunu mwaita
n’owange, nukwo muti na ha murukugya, nukwo murakaikaraga nimwitangana.”92 She
glossed the fiction that sovereigns bore none of the moral burdens of their violence by
recalling that sovereignty’s arrogant use of force generated fertility and natality only for
those closest to him, and only by taking it from others. Her sentences and her child’s
death raised the specter of vengeance as an effect of sovereignty. She called into question
both the ability of domination—and the effectiveness of silence—to still the turbulence of
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 113; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 52-3. K.W., “Abakama,” 154,
announces that Rukidi “obuyabahikize omunsi ya Kitara” (“he brought them into the land
of Kitara”).
Nyakatura, Abakama, 70; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 53; Joseph Nicolet, “Essai historique
de l’ancien royaume du Kitara de l’Uganda,” Annali del Pontificio Museo Missionario
Etnologico 34-6 (1970-1972), 197, repeats this episode in almost every detail.
Nyakatura, Anatomy, 53; Nyakatura, Abakama, 70. The Nyoro texts have Nyarwa’s
child wrapped in red barkcloths before being dropped into the lake. Red barkcloths
indicate high status and associations with mediumship.
My translation; see also Nicolet, “Essai historique,” 197; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 53;
Nyakatura, Abakama ba Bunyoro Kitara, Trans. John Rowe, (Makerere: Typescript,
1965), 46-47, mentions the number of beads (ninety, based on the symbolically positive
base number nine), characterizes the death of Nyarwa’s child as “the first omuragwa
ngoma of Rukidi I, and gives the gender and paternity of the peasant child Rukidi
sacrificed: “son of bakurabyo”.
Only Nyakatura gives her speech in Nyoro, Abakama, 70.
Nyakatura’s choice of words reveals the emotives intended to manage a liminal
moment in Rukidi’s effort to dominate generated by the repercussions of killing a child.
He glosses Nyarwa’s emotional state with a phrase: “akabihirwa” (“having been given
bad or evil things”). The passive construction underscored his weakness. The mother of
the child Rukidi sacrificed to balance Nyarwa’s loss used emotives glossed in Nyoro with
the phrase “akaija narama bingi muno” (“and she came and swore out very many
things”). The stunned silence into which Rukidi’s Biito followers fell after her curse is
described in Nyoro as “bagwamu akahuno.”93 Nyakoka, the healer-diviner, then delivered
a brief speech designed to shake them loose from the spell of the mother’s sentence. He
exhorted them not to have certain emotions: “tibatina, kandi tibatuntura, kandi
tibahunirra.”94 The mother’s and the healer’s, not the elder brother’s, emotives deployed
affective dimensions of power to close down a moment of crisis.
A simple verb root, -rama, describes the mother’s emotional state. The oldest
English glosses we have for the term mean “to cry out for mercy, plead; speak magic
words, say an incantation; swear after making blood-brotherhood.”95 These glosses share
a common ground of meaning represented by the English notion of the vow or the oath, a
conditional promise with a moral core of accountability that puts social ties into motion.
The bereft mother’s curse offered audiences that sovereign domination generated unique
emotional costs for women.
Nyakatura expressed the emotional state of ‘the Biito’ with the phrase “bagwamu
akahuno.” The second verb in the phrase, kuhùúna (“to be silent, speechless”) is
intransitive, conveying the force of the mother’s emotive by rendering the future royals
mute. The first verb, kugwa (“to fall”) is modified by the locative suffix, -mu (“inside,
into”), emphasizing the encompassing quality of this silence. The term “tibahunirra” is a
negative prepositional of the same verb. But the other verb stems –tina and –tuntura
appear for the first time in the passage. The first term’s most widespread field of meaning
is “fear.” Throughout the region and not just in the Nyoro language, people have long
used this stem to signify “honor”.96 The second term, -tuntura, is also intransitive. The
CMS missionary and linguist, Harry Maddox could gloss it as “to be troubled.”97 Silence
helped them remain witnesses to sacrificial violence but it exposed them to the future
promised by the nameless mother’s weighty words. Overwhelmed with emotion, Rukidi’s
entourage grew passive, a dangerous swerving from the tasks of establishing sovereignty.
All quotes from Nyakatura, Abakama, 70.
Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 39; Nyakatura, Abakama, 71.
Margaret B. Davis, Lunyoro-Lunyankole-English, English-Lunyoro-Lunyankole
Dictionary (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1938), 144; see
also Root 321 in David Schoenbrun, The Historical Reconstruction of Great Lakes
Cultural Vocabulary (Cologne: Ruediger Koeppe Press, 1997), 209-210; the verb
signifies speech that activates medicines and social ties.
David Schoenbrun, “Violence, Marginality, Scorn & Honour: Language Evidence of
Slavery to the Eighteenth Century,” in Henri Médard & Shane Doyle (eds.) Slavery in the
Great Lakes Region (Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 2007), 47-9.
Harry E. Maddox, An Elementary Lunyoro Grammar (London: Society for the
Propagation of Christian Knowledge, 1938 [1901]), 121.
Nyakoka, the healer-diviner, dispersed the “despondency and fear” that had
“come upon” them by commanding them “not to fear and worry about an enraged
woman’s words but to continue their journey.”98 His exhortation perhaps reminded
audiences of the verbal combat each side in a dispute used to sway a chief’s or a noble’s
“cutting” of a case. In this case, the issue in question was nothing less than the scope of
Biito sovereignty. On the border between home and a new kingdom, Biito sovereignty
was provisional, with a dismissively patriarchal core to its justice. While the journey into
the new land unfolded, Nyakoka offered, there was no room for angst about natality and
motherhood. Nyakoka the healer-diviner decided to sacrifice at the banks of the Nile, not
the future king Rukidi.99 Echoing older Cwezi figures, Nyakoka took on the mantle of a
public healer who stilled the potential for vendetta with a decision about compensation.
Safely across the Nile, Rukidi faced a flooding Kafu River that took the lives of a
few foolish men who tested the strength of the rushing waters without having offered
anything to the spirit of the ford. This time, faced with a harrowing passage, Rukidi
assumed the burden of deciding a sacrifice. “Mpuga (Rukidi) chose out a little girl, also
two black beads and two black fowls, and threw them into the swollen stream.” 100 This
had the desired effect. Two ferrymen and their boat appeared and carried everyone across
the Kafu and into the heart of Bunyoro.101 This sacrifice did not compensate a loss
sustained by one of Rukidi’s close kin. Instead, Rukidi’s sacrificial act served the need
for his entire entourage to pass safely into Bunyoro to rule. Between the Nile and Kafu,
the traditions argue, Rukidi had freed himself from the bonds of reciprocity and
competition shaped by idioms of kinship.
In both cases, however, stories of Rukidi’s sacrifices excused him from paying for
his violence, a violence that served the gendered corporation of Biito men. Rukidi—and
not a member of a local public healing network—decided the sacrifice. His following was
a group of Biito men—and not the villages and settlements of a particular territory served
by the spirit of a particular ford across a river. These aspects of the story evoke scenes
from court ritual bombast, in which local networks subordinated themselves to a royal
Nyakatura, Anatomy, 53. After this, in the Nyoro texts, Nyakoka says nothing further
about the mother’s speech or her emotional state; Teopista Muganwa, Nyakatura’s
translator in Anatomy, takes liberty here.
Nyakatura, Abakama, 70, presents the sacrifice of Nyarwa’s child as a variation on the
story of Gipir (or Tifool), his brother Labongo, and a bead swallowed by a child, widely
known across south Sudan, northern Uganda, and Western Kenya. The tale explores the
risks of breaching obligations to share, especially during conflict, by explaining Rukidi’s
break from his brother, Nyarwa, a dynastic rival. Nyakatura’s use of the tale shows he
was aware of his diverse audience. For interpretation and a guide to variants, see R.
Godfrey Lienhardt, “Getting Your Own Back: Themes in Nilotic Myth,” in John H. M.
Beattie and R. Godfrey Lienhardt (eds.) Studies in Social Anthropology (Oxford: The
Clarendon Press, 1975), 213-37, especially 218-219, 221-229; Christopher Wrigley, “The
Problem of the Luo,” History in Africa 8 (1981), 224-6; Simonse, Kings of Disaster, 302306.
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 113-114.
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 113, 114; Karubanga, Bukya Nibwira, 6; Nicolet, “Essai
historique,” 197; K.W. “Abakama,” 65; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 53.
center. They blend Rukidi into a familiar setting and performance of sacrifice while at the
same time retaining his standing as an outsider. Rukidi’s domination, the episodes
promised, was familiar in some respects and novel in others. The spirit of mourning
enunciated by the bereft mother now echoed in the background of a claim for the
legitimacy of Rukidi’s Biito domination that rested on his absorbing the burdens of
Rukidi masked any emotional response the powerful words of a mother bereft of a
child might have elicited from an ordinary person. His emotionless body offered
audiences an ambiguous figure. Could they see in his calm a leader who would act for
their benefit, not his, in return for their excepting him from the moral weight or jural
consequences of deciding to kill a child? Or, could they see in that calm an arrogant
leader who presented his own family’s need for justice as a metonym for theirs, in return
for accepting his domination, like a father dominated his children? In either case, the
stories claim, a ruler should stand behind a mask of calm. That was the admirable
behavior of a person on the path to power. It fell to Nyakoka to shake his crestfallen
followers free from the nameless mother’s paralyzing curse. Rukidi calmly shouldered
the burdens of spite and vengeance created by the sacrifice and enunciated by the
nameless mother. He behaved like a sovereign in full control at the edges of the home
ground of the Suuli clan network, between the two Niles.102
The figure of Rukidi and his Suuli clan network claimed responsibility for
revivifying the promises of virility and natality. Sacrificed children measured the costs of
establishing sovereignty in terms of natality. Beads and cattle, important currencies in the
social payments of marriage, evoked the contingencies of virility. Restoring the flow of
these currencies promised to renew prosperity at the ambiguous cost of domination. But
what was easily delivered with home networks was much harder in a new land. After the
water passages, Rukidi and his Biito followers faced entirely new challenges.
Rukidi’s traditions mix these threads dramatically in accounts of his involvement
with sacrifice. Emblematic of a leader’s admirable behavior and a mark of his
domination, Rukidi sought to still the strife of loss by taking responsibility for it through
the act of sacrifice. Did audiences understand his sacrifice to silence debate over who
should bear the burdens in an aftermath of violence? Or did audiences understand them to
represent a collective agreement to remain silent on such difficult matters? The bereft
mother refused silence with her cursed warning of the tragedy of retribution. Delivered at
a scene of sacrifice, she sustained a practice of social criticism associated with public
healing’s deep roots in the region.103 Her curse promised that the dense trauma of loss
visited by famine exceeded the capacities of sacrificial ritual to disperse.
The mother’s words shattered the chosen silence of Rukidi’s followers, opening
up an historical debate about accountability in his new form of rule. As Rukidi gathered a
history of what happened before his arrival, other chosen silences appeared, revealing
limits to his rule. As we will see below, some responded to his querying, proud of having
conserved the regalia of past figures of authority and anxious to pass them along in
remaking a durable sovereignty. Others kept their mouths closed, testifying to the limits
of sovereign domination. Still others struggled for words as they weighed their fidelity to
Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 30; Nyakatura, Abakama, 18.
Schoenbrun, “Conjuring the Modern,” 1427-36.
what had collapsed against allegiance to the statecraft Rukidi and his entourage promised
for their future. These moments in the story make powerful statements about standing and
privilege in political accountability, about “who has the right to speak about the violent
past.”104 The partialities of such speech—what one teller included reveals something
about what another left out in answering Rukidi’s questions about the past—drew a map
for Rukidi of remembering and forgetting what had happened in particular communities
before his time. They also reveal Rukidi’s ability to forge political progress, transforming
the curse of endless vengeance into the promise that political pluralism would renew
social reproduction.
Rukidi’s calm sought to assuage doubts over the future. But, his reserve hid the
anxieties of a stranger in a strange land. Rukidi and Nyakoka tried to convince people
they could deliver on the promise of renewed natality and virility in the course of the
careful negotiations they undertook with the heirs of the departed figure of Wamara, the
last “King of the Cwezi.” Traditions often rename Rukidi as Isingoma Mpuga105 or
Mpuga, to mark the new challenges he faced in narrating Bunyoro’s historical burdens.
After succeeding, Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi regained his calm and assumed a third
personality, as Omukama Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi Winyi I Okali Rubagira, king of
Bunyoro.106 But, before that person and the Biito could realize their promises of
prosperity in the wake of the hard equation of violence and healing, they had to work on
braiding the spirit of mourning generated by a failed past with the spirit of legitimation
that promised a renewed sovereign process. That project proved stressful, and it showed.
The drama of establishing the Biito dynasty in Bunyoro explained that pushing
the tensions of ritual away from the political costs of rule promised renewal. At the
borders of Bunyoro, the figure of Rukidi was burdened by the tensions of sacrificial
ritual. After shouldering them, he could pay the costs of rule and enter a new domain.
Once in Bunyoro, that dignified calm turned into the anxious worry of an outsider.
Collecting a scarce history—both silent and silenced—of indigenous authority in the
ruined land of Bunyoro he constituted his political dominance, the prerequisite for his
return to calm. His fluctuating emotional state marked a three-stage process that bound
mourning and legitimacy tightly together. He began by overcoming existing public
healing networks. Next, he reassembled them under a new center. Finally, he ruled over
the new whole as a sovereign who was not a healer.
Winter, “Thinking about Silence,” 6.
Literally “Black-White Father of the Drum”; The black and white pattern on a cow’s
hide, called mpuuga in the Nyoro and Nkore languages, linked Rukidi to spirit possession
color symbolisms, fertility and prosperity, and to cattle. Today ‘mpuuga’ refers to a cow
that is dark all over except for the udder, which is white; Mark Infield with Patrick
Rubagyema and Charles Muchunguzi, The Names of Ankole Cows (Kampala: Fountain
Publishers, 2003), 44; Davis, Lunyoro, 97.
The narrative’s structure and the three different names exemplify a common process
for making kingship in the region. The terms obusinge (“overcoming”), kulema (“to order
things, put together”), and Obukama (“the quality of rulership” [literally: “squeezing; as
in milking cattle”] represent the three stages. The royal titles are collated from numerous
sources; different combinations were possible and others no doubt existed.
ONCE ACROSS THE RIVERS, Mpuga Rukidi, a few diviners and their entourage
traveled widely. Nyakoka (the Suuli healer) is the only diviner all the earliest variants
mention. Karongo—another Suuli diviner—appears in some versions.107 As Mpuga
Rukidi and his networks moved across Bunyoro to Wamara’s “capital,” (Map 2) the
places they passed marked the core zone of the young Biito’s future sovereignty. These
episodes telescoped what no doubt took several generations, perhaps the better part of the
century after 1550, to accomplish in an era of political fragmentation when
environmental control had slipped from the grasp of many public healing networks.
Traditions like Rukidi’s lump the events and attitudes of those different time frames into
a single bundle of episodes, ostensibly unfolding in the course of his single life. Yet, the
fact that Rukidi received two additional names, as his story unfolds, tells us, just like it
signaled to audiences in the past, that he lived more than one life. With his established
Suuli and Bukedi networks, the Mpuga Rukidi began what the vernacular sources call his
journey of “overcoming,” or obusinge. Overcoming existing nodes of power preceded the
challenge of incorporating (kulema) these fragments and establishing the new sovereignty
(obukama) of the Biito in Bunyoro.
Tradition describes the labor of “overcoming” as a series of attempts to separate
older leaders into three categories. Leaders reluctant to accept domination refused to
relinquish the regalia under their control. Leaders interested in setting the terms of their
subordination, in order to be part of the new order (kulema), paid tribute to Mpuga
Rukidi. Leaders who accepted Mpuga Rukidi’s domination handed over their regalia. As
a result, the state of domination was graded by degrees. Sorting out the independent
people from the tributary people from the full supporters delimited Mpuga Rukidi’s
sovereign standing. Tradition underscores the stressful character of this work, revealing
the weak points in the new sovereignty. The prominence of emotional vulnerability in the
traditions paid respect to the older networks by putting the contingencies of domination
on display.
When they arrived in Bwera, part of Kitara (Map 2), Mpuga Rukidi’s people
undertook oral interviews, negotiating the moral terms on which the ruins of existing
networks would fold their sovereignty into his. They negotiated over historical ritual
knowledge held by the influential women mediums, Iremera and Bunono, who managed
the Cwezi figure Wamara’s shrine, and by Kasoira. Mpuga Rukidi used an intermediary,
Kabahita, to negotiate with Mubimba (a member of the Siita clan) for the drums, spears,
crowns, and other regalia in his care. Bargaining over the past produced a coherent body
of regalia—the ebikwato—that Mpuga Rukidi distributed to his followers during the
installation ceremonies that marked the conclusion (obukama) of his progress toward
By agreeing on what to forget, these negotiations created a historical narrative in
which Mpuga Rukidi took possession of old regalia and overcame the earlier
constellations of force and moral standing ruined by famine in part by silencing talk of
that.108 Mpuga’s interview of Kasoira Mutwairwe exemplifies this process.109 Fisher
Fisher mentions only Nyakoka (Twilight Tales, 106-122); Nyakatura, Anatomy, 51,
and Karubanga, Bukya Nibwira, 5, mention both Nyakoka and Karongo as Suuli diviners.
Kanyabugoma appears as a “the messenger of the Bachwezi” in Nyakatura, Anatomy,
51; James K. Babiiha, “The Bayaga Clan of Western Uganda,” Uganda Journal 22, 2
reported an exchange between Mpuga Rukidi and Kasoira designed to alleviate Mpuga’s
fear of a plot against him. Asked by Mpuga where the kings of the country have gone,
Kasoira says that they abdicated, implying rebellion drove them east to Lake Victoria.110
But Kasoira also says that Nyakoka “saw other reasons” for the former kings’ flight.
Mpuga Rukidi warned Kasoira not to make Nyakoka remember that past.111
Mentioning Nyakoka reminded audiences of his roles earlier in the region’s
history, during the time just before Mpuga Rukidi. In an episode referring to the last days
of the Cwezi, Wamara had requested that the visiting Nyakoka locate the entrails of his
sacrificed calf. Nyakoka found them in the animal’s skull and hooves and interpreted
their odd location as presaging the Cwezi’s imminent departure. When Kasoira
mentioned Nyakoka, it reminded Mpuga that the contingencies of ritual—such as those
that had required Wamara to sacrifice his calf—could fray relations between diviner and
king because interpreting the meaning of such a sacrifice opened up the sovereign’s rule
to public criticism. Incendiary tensions lay between ritual and politics.
Mpuga Rukidi responded to Kasoira’s pointed reminder of these complexities by
inviting him to compose a new narrative, without Nyakoka’s testimony, that explained
the Wamara’s departure. Mpuga Rukidi promised Kasoira a reward for a story that
omitted the tensions of ritual and rule. He wanted tobacco, so Mpuga Rukidi filled a pipe,
lit it, and gave it to him.112 By preparing Kasoira’s pipe and handing it to him to smoke,
Mpuga Rukidi behaved like a subordinate. Forgetting exacted a high price in standing.
But, Mpuga Rukidi’s subordination also paid respect to particular centers of sovereignty
that persisted through the devastating famine. The future ruler, assuming a position of
deference, evoked a complex mixture of mourning and legitimation in the aftermath of
collapse. The new sovereign’s subordination to older forms was a condition for mourning
the indignities of their failure. But, it was also a clear attempt by Mpuga Rukidi to
legitimate his unfolding domination by joining it to past modes of sovereignty like
Kasoira’s public healing.
Mpuga Rukidi promised Kasoira better rewards in return for a story of the Cwezi
departure to his liking. Rejecting them all, Kasoira’s final version pushed a timeless
moral imagination. He told Mpuga Rukidi that Kantu, “the spirit of evil” had led the
Cwezi astray.113 This bland history of failure freed Mpuga Rukidi from the burdens of
(1958), 125, calls him “Kanyabugoma ka Nsinga,” a name linked to Ndahura’s (Cwezi)
period of appointing his own chiefs; Karubanga, Bukya Nibwira, 3, mentions “Kahuka ka
Misinga” of Bugahya who had a “residence at Bugoma”.
109 In recent Nyoro accession rites, a Mutwairwe man playing the figure of Kasoira,
smokes the pipe called “Kyoma” in the presence of a new king. This “commemorates the
power and dignity” that Mpuga gave to the original Kasoira in return for his having
“explained to Rukidi the reason why the” Cwezi disappeared; K. W. “Accession to the
Throne,” 296.
110 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 115.
111 Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41.
112 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 115; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41.
113 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 116; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41; Nyakatura, Abakama, 72;
Nyakatura, Anatomy, 54. One of four sons of one of two creator figures, Kantu’s envy
and jealousy bring death to people; see Fisher, Twilight Tales, 72-6.
rebellion that naming names would have generated. It freed Kasoira, as well, from similar
responsibilities. As a result, Rukidi turned from narrating the past to narrating the future.
He pushed Kasoira to foretell the return of the Cwezi.114 Fearful of the future, Kasoira’s
banal history of kings losing the respect of their subjects only heightened Mpuga
Rukidi’s anxieties.115
In the moment of uncertainty about a possible Cwezi return, Nyakoka suggested
Rukidi approach the mediums Bunono and Iremera, who managed Wamara’s shrine, as
alternative sources. But, Mpuga Rukidi’s questions made the women nervous—“each
looked to the other to reply.”116 “You tell him,” they said to each other.117 Pained silences
anticipated Bunono’s halting answers (“at last Bunono jerked out”) that repeated
Kasoira’s. She said that “Kantu and contempt” sent the old leaders away and she
promised that the old Cwezi would not return for a long time.118 The women’s historical
knowledge of proper court etiquette, rather than their explanations of the consequences of
misrule, and their promises not to bring back Cwezi spirits through possession, induced
the reluctant Mpuga Rukidi to “beat the drum” and rule.119 Their knowledge converted
the cultural neophyte into a proper sovereign, comfortable with the finer points of
Bunono is a figure encrusted with associations of public healing and political
leadership. She belonged to the Baitira, a clan with many branches that represented a
network of knowledge, in Kodesh’s felicitous phrase, reaching far to the south of
Bwera.120 In Fisher’s and Nyakatura’s versions Bunono suggests that a visit to the Siita,
Nyakatura (Abakama, 72) and Bikunya (Ky’Abakama, 41) both convey this anxiety by
having Mpuga Rukidi say: “Baitu tibaligaruka?” to Kasoira. The negative copula
(‘tibali’) implies an urgent immediacy to the action (‘-garuka’) it modifies, giving
“Aren’t they coming back soon?” Mpuga Rukidi feels Wamara and his supporters are just
around the corner.
115 Nyakatura, Anatomy, 54-5; Nyakatura, Abakama, 72; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41.
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 116, reports insomnia was the result. Perhaps reading
Shakespeare’s plays in school—Macbeth and Richard II come to mind—shaped
emphasis in the published traditions. Reader’s guides appeared in Nigeria; see Eddy C. C.
Uzodinma, Macbeth: Questions and Answers with Summaries and Critical Appreciation
(Onitsha: Etudo Limited, 1962). “The King Makes Himself” claimed a Nyoro aphorism
(Godfrey N. Uzoigwe, “Succession and Civil War in Bunyoro-Kitara,” International
Journal of African Historical Studies 6, 1 (1973), 56, 59), implying the opposite, as
Shakespeare’s Richard II does in front of his mirror; see Richard II, Act IV, Scene I, lines
116 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 116; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41-2, only has Mpuga call them,
“Bakaikuru bange” or “My Senior Wives” mixing a proprietary air with respect.
117 Nyakatura, Abakama, 73 and Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 42, have both women answer
Mpuga simultaneously.
118 Nyakatura, Anatomy, 55; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 41; Fisher, Twilight Tales, 116.
119 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 117.
120 Nono or Bunono indexes a form of authority in existence when first kings, like Rukidi,
emerged in the region. The title derives from a noun *-nono “finger nail, claw” sharing
semantic ground in Nyoro and Nkore with enono yebigamba “the point of an argument”
“guardians of the drums,” will produce the drum Mpuga Rukidi needed to strike in order
to complete his accession.121 All three figures—Bunono, Iremera, and Kasoira—were
keys to ‘overcoming’ because they possessed ritual knowledge, the regalia of rule and
intelligence about its ruined networks.122 But their terse responses to Mpuga Rukidi’s
interrogations suggested they preferred their independence.123 Their silence before
responding opened a space for audiences to reflect on the emotional weight of the losses
their independence sought to recover.124
Mpuga Rukidi’s interviews had not yet produced substantive results. The
narrative he could construct about the past was suitably vague, allowing each of his
constituencies to find themselves represented in the narrative without shame and with
admirable respect for their standing. But Mpuga Rukidi desired some hard facts to revive
the fictions of sovereignty in palatable local terms. As Kasoira and Bunono had told him,
these hard facts were the drums held by figures belonging to the Siita clan network. To
hunt them down, Mpuga Rukidi sent his messenger Kabahita to a hill called Mujungu
where the messenger found one Mulimba or Mubimba. Kabahita picked up the threads of
the research project by cutting to the chase.125
Kabahita said he had been sent to Mujungu to collect the drums left in the care of
Mubimba by the departing Cwezi. But, his words fell on deaf ears. Mubimba, the
caretaker of the drums, was depressed and withdrawn. He refused hospitality to the
and in Nkore kunona (tr.) “to hit sharply, knock.” See John Hanning Speke, Journal of
the Discovery of the Source of the Nile (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868 [1863]),
244; John Ford and Richard de Z. Hall, “The History of Karagwe (Bukoba District),”
Tanganyika Notes and Records 24 (1947), 1-23, Appendix 1; Israel Katoke, The
Karagwe Kingdom (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1975), 23-24; Emile
Mworoha, Peuples et rois de l’Afrique des lacs (Dakar: Les Nouvelles Editions
Africaines, 1977) 73-4; Apolo Kagwa, Ekitabo kye Mpisa za Baganda (Kampala: Uganda
Printing and Publishing 1918), 1-4; Kagwa, Kings, 6; Wrigley, Kingship and State, 117,
122; Kodesh, Beyond, 38; Hanson, Landed Obligation, 40.
121 Fisher, Twilight Tales, 117; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 55; Nicolet, “Essai,” 198-9.
122 For example, Kasoira identified himself to Rukidi with his clan’s patron Cwezi spirit
(“Owanyamumara”)—“Nyinowe nyamumara” or “It is I, nyamumara”; see Bikunya,
Ky’Abakama, 40, 32. See also, Nyakatura, Abakama, 14-27, 54-6, 62-3; Nyakatura,
Anatomy, 6-16; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 7-15; Fisher, Twilight Tales, 76-83, 117.
123 Nyakatura, Abakama, 72, characterizes the women as “tibaharuka kubaza” or “not
quick to talk” a circumspection that forced Mpuga Rukidi to address them first
deferentially (“abêsengereza” or “with deference”) and then with affinal formality as
“bagole bange” or “my brides”. K.W., “Abakama,” 154, 160, gives Iremera two different
clan affiliations (Banywagi and Baliisa) while Bunono’s (Baitira) clanship does not
change; Nyakatura, Abakama, 72, uses “abago” (lit. “those with an enclosure and its
property”) and emphasizes the women’s links to pastoralist groups through marriage. The
name became a female royal honorific, recalling the importance of Baliisa clan networks
between Nkore and Bunyoro; Karugire, Kingdom of Nkore, 153.
Connerton, Spirit of Mourning, 55.
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 117, uses “Mulimba” but Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 43, and
Nyakatura, Abakama, 73, have “Mubimba.”
visitor, a serious rebuff. His wife had just given birth but a famine over the land meant
neither mother nor child had food to eat. Kabahita returned to Mpuga Rukidi, told him of
the famine afflicting Mujungu, and Mpuga Rukidi sent food to relieve the suffering.
Mubimba’s depression lifted and he relinquished Nyalebe, the smaller of the two drums
Mpuga Rukidi desired. He brought the larger one, Kajumba, to Wamara’s shrine in
Bwera. Fisher says Kajumba “rolled itself” to Mpuga Rukidi.126
In this episode the Siita clan withheld a portion of their loyalties from Mpuga
Rukidi.127 Mubimba’s depression reflected a diminished capacity of his clan to feed
children and support women’s achievement of motherhood in a time of famine. Mpuga
Rukidi’s gift of food showed he was up to the task. But something made the Siita refrain
from fully relinquishing the independence represented by the two important drums the
last generation of Cwezi figures had left in their care. He brought Nyalebe, the lesser of
the two tokens of that power, to Mpuga Rukidi and showed his happiness to do so. The
larger drum he simply returned to its original home at Wamara’s shrine. Mpuga Rukidi
accepted the compromise because it brought an important material result: the historical
weight of a drum of rule.
The labor of ‘overcoming’ produced the forgetting at the heart of the pleasingly
vague testimony of older public healers that allowed the concreteness of regalia to
receive new life in Mpuga Rukidi’s capital. That concreteness took a dramatic turn in an
episode from slightly later in the story. He is said to have “covered with earth until it
stood out like an anthill” the “royal Bachwezi fireplace” which stood in front of Mpuga
Rukidi’s palace and, thereafter, in front of every Biito king’s palace.128 Termite mounds
and public healing had long been joined. The massive hills—some grow to well over
three meters high—conduct movement from below ground, where spirits reside, to above
ground, where people live. The white ants or termites that inhabit the earthen passages
can move under and on top of the ground. When they grow wings, toward the end of the
agricultural year, they move above the ground. The hills and their denizens index the
work of mediums in bringing spirits and people together through possession. When
Mpuga Rukidi converted the cold hearth of the ruined Cwezi into an anthill, he
metonymically joined his future to their past in an idiom of public healing. Unlike the
mounds at prominent Cwezi shrines, this one stood within the new palace precincts,
under the watchful eye of kings who were not healers.129
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 117; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 56.
Babiiha, “Bayaga Clan,” 127; Berger, Religion and Resistance, 49; Tantala, “Early
History,” 222.
K.W. mentions “the mound” in the palace on which a Siita man beats “the drum” to
mark the completion of a new king’s oaths of office; K.W., “The Procedure in Accession
to the Throne of a Nominated King in the Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara,” Uganda Journal
4, 4 (1937), 292; Tantala, “Early History,” 434-5.
Cyprian Lwekula, “The Story of Mount Mubende,” Cooper trans. in “Historical
Remains at Mubende,” Uganda Protectorate Secretariat Minute Paper 603/09, cited in
Berger and Buchanan, “Cwezi Cults,” 54; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 52. In a personal
communication, Andrew Reid reports that earth from termite hills was used in
constructing prominent mounds at the center of Bweyorere, a royal capital site associated
with the Kingdom of Karagwe, to the south of and younger than Bunyoro. The mounds
In a stroke the traditions brought a critical technology for gaining access to
Ghostland into the domain of royal ritual. Specialists in spirit possession, whom Mpuga
Rukidi’s historians represented literally as working in front of the king, operated these
technologies of access. As we saw, many versions refer to the younger Rukidi or Lukedi,
as an accomplished hunter, blending the figure of the medium with the figure of a
provider of material wealth.130 Having converted a fireplace into an anthill, the older
Mpuga Rukidi could be installed in his capital and the historians could complete their
transformation of him from a stranger into a king who dominates others. Later kings were
not represented as mediums or priests of shrines, but shrines continued to operate beyond
the royal gaze, as Kodesh puts it. Kings now watched while healers worked. When kings
stood on the anthill as part of their accession ceremonial, they momentarily embodied the
affect of the possessed healer but theirs was an emotionless gaze. When they beat a drum
of rule, they used an instrument that invited a shrine’s patron spirit to possess a medium
but theirs was a different rhythm.131
The signs of past power embodied in drums, spears, copper bangles, beads, and
crowns gave weight to words about the past.132 The durability of regalia was a
counterpoint or a prompt to the vagaries of historical narrative. Representing his clan’s
patron Cwezi figure (see note 125), Kasoira offered Mpuga Rukidi a narrative mixing
evil and rebellion to explain the departure of the Cwezi. He joined the moral failings of
unnamed public healers to the collective suffering and action of followers to retain the
fictions of political claims to moral authority—that Mpuga Rukidi would reinvest in a
regalia possessed by a ruler who was not a healer—and the sharp rebukes of social
rebellion in a time of structural violence. Rukidi’s interviews helped forgetting about the
shortcomings of particular leaders—even in the overwhelming circumstance of conflict
generated by famine—so that leadership’s claims to power could be renewed. Controlling
regalia was always a question of domination or competition, but the figure of truth
represented in the durability of regalia sustained the reconfiguration of sovereignty
achieved by Mpuga Rukidi. Kasoira avowed that followers could desert or drive away a
failed leader. Kasoira’s history gave life to the fictions of the sovereign exception and the
fictional continuities of sovereignty in regalia. The vague histories public healers told
Mpuga Rukidi were fictions for what they left out, allowing Mpuga Rukidi to invest old
regalia in a new capital to charter his new sovereignty.133
The novelty in Biito rule lay in joining barbarian origins to renewal. Mpuga
Rukidi rested the promise of renewal, in part, on having restored Wamara Mucwezi’s
were rendered by John Hanning Speke painted the mounds at Bweranyange which he
visited in 1856; see Speke’s Watercolors.
Kodesh, Beyond, 125-6, who follows Feierman, Shambaa Kingdom, 40-69.
Victor Turner, The Drums of Affliction: A Study of Religious Processes among the
Ndembu of Zambia (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968); John Janzen, Lemba, 16501930: A Drum of Affliction in Africa and the New World (New York: Garland Publishers,
Nyakatura, Anatomy, 56-7; Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 51-7.
Traditions bluntly addressed sovereign trickery: “Lukedi cured the invalid and won
the women over, and by a trick secured the royal drum”; see Johnston, Uganda
Protectorate, Vol. 2, 596; Feierman, Shambaa Kingdom, 60-4.
shrine at Masaka Hill. By doing this as Mpuga Rukidi he reconfigured the older
authorities into a new network, aligned along a north-south axis that created conduits for
investments in life at court. Those investments took the form of increased labor dedicated
to salt production.134 The northern axis drew people to the rich salt gardens of Kibiro,
well within the sphere of Nyakoka the healer’s Suuli clan network, where the salt they
produced moved through the center of Bunyoro. The southern axis drew cattle from
Nkore and salt from Katwe, 200 kilometers south of Kibiro, into Bunyoro’s exchange
networks.135 Nyoro people saw Rukidi as a barbarian but they knew he was a wellconnected one.
The journey from overcoming, through ordering, to ruling, transformed Mpuga
Rukidi from a barbarian to a new kind of sovereign through an agglutinative process. In
front of his public, and by their participation in his installation, he ceased being Isingoma
Mpuga Rukidi and became Winyi Mpuga Okali. The common term in the titles is telling.
Mpuga’s two-toned identity kept the relations with public healing alive for debate. It also
marked him as a strange person. As the figure Winyi Mpuga Okali he refused Nyakoka’s
request to share power, instead offering the doctor the lands of Isaza, the last of the
ancient Tembuzi figures. However, Nyakoka wanted a dual kingship and rejected that
counter-offer. In the end, Nyakoka “was given” Bugahya by Winyi the King.136 The
bargaining assumed a formal distinction between diviners and kings in the new
sovereignty. But, it also implied a radically new vision of the future in which the divide
served the interests of the new sovereignty in vital ways by subordinating diviner-doctors
to kings. The vision court traditions offered to audiences claimed that Biito kings
replaced the unstable compound of public healing and political leadership with the
prerogatives of sovereign power to act, by pushing diviners into the role of scapegoat
they ended a time of crisis.
As king in his capital, Winyi’s masked affect established the fiction of
sovereignty in a new land. As Mpuga Rukidi, his emotives explored the potentialities of
sovereignty from a position of political weakness: a stranger in a strange land. His
networks of support were largely outsiders to Nyoro history. That weakness exposed
Mpuga Rukidi’s inner state to the manipulation by many of those with whom he sought
to build alliances. Several among them—Bunono and Iremera, at Wamara’s shrine,
Mubimba, and Mugungu—used it to refuse Mpuga Rukidi’s offers of alliance. Winyi’s
limited success was clear. Not all polities—represented by their figureheads, in the
traditions—joined his new sovereignty.137 Some refused his serene countenance. They
retained the right to see through, to critique, to remember. The realities of their
Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, “Katwe Salt in the African Great Lakes Regional Economy,
1750s-1950s,” Unpublished Ph.D. diss, Stanford University, 2001, 52-61.
Godfrey N. Uzoigwe, “Precolonial Markets in Bunyoro-Kitara,” Comparative Studies
in Society and History 14 (1972), 422-55; Ephraim Kamuhangire, “The Pre-Colonial
Economic and Social History of East Africa,” Hadith 5 (1976), 67-91; Graham Connah,
Kibiro: The Salt of Bunyoro (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1996), 214-216;
Fisher, Twilight Tales, 121-22; but Bikunya, Ky’Abakama, 48-9, and Nyakatura,
Abakama, 86 have Mpuga Rukidi give Nyakoka “Kikonda and Sweswe.”
Berger, “Deities, Dynasties, and Oral Traditions,” 73.
independence lay behind the new king’s emotionless mask. The amazing thing is that
these dynastic traditions highlight that fact.
Mpuga Rukidi’s emotional vulnerabilities while revising a history of that unstable
compound revealed the limits to his overcoming its existing legacies and composing a
following in support of a new sovereignty. Once the parties to these histories had agreed
on what to forget, audiences could assess the degrees of support he could expect from his
following, and they could see him having tried to displace (not replace) public healers.
That is when the emotionless gaze of rule descended again over the anxious countenance
of Rukidi, the foreigner, inviting audiences to be confident in his domination.
His face again closed, Winyi I built a capital that was not a shrine.138 That act
opened a long period, beyond the scope of this essay, of mobile surveillance, intelligence
gathering, and local renegotiation of the terms of incorporation.139 During this time
capitals and royals moved over the countryside together. Although shrine centers stayed
put, networks of public healers moved over the countryside, as well. Those movements
drew webs of power over the land, their centers never coinciding. The disjunctive
patterns bore shifting tensions between ritual and rule, between the evanescent social
criticism of public healing and the stabilities statecraft claimed to produce through the
violence of domination. Their shapes were shot through with burdens of loss.
THE LOGIC DRIVING THE SEQUENCE OF EPISODES in the Nyoro example studied here
should be comprehensible and familiar to non-specialists. In many ways, they are
susceptible to analysis privileging a quest for legitimation. But the stories’ frank
foregrounding of the risks and affective strains of sovereign renewal, between moments
of confident, calm reserve, contrast with other historical examples sharing a family
resemblance with the aftermaths of persistent violence, in the 12th century, or of drought,
famine, and widespread social dislocations in the Greater Peubloan world after the 14th
century climatic oscillations from wetter to drier. The Nyoro case raises questions about
why, in these other examples, their ordering and substance produce cases of a revivified,
indivisible sovereignty—or its replacement with plural forms of sovereignty. In the
aftermaths of violent collapse that scholars understand with depth and nuance, the frank
revealing of the affective dimensions of their contingent, transformative renewals, shows
that legitimate force exacts an emotional cost that redistributes political energies across
seemingly distinct categories of authority. Despite claims to the contrary, that sovereign
violence pushes politics away from other forms of authority—expressed most clearly in
Sheehan’s and Weber’s formulations—the specifics of that relationship are historically
contingent on managing the spirit of mourning. A mixture of silence, forgetting, and
decorum displayed by the Nyoro figures guided, sometimes arrogantly, a process of
renewal that argued that dividing politics from other forms of authority was the key to
renewing fertility and virility. The Ancestral Puebloan case reminds us that sovereign
renewal does not always move in one direction, toward statecraft, but could grind off the
sharp points of an indivisible sovereign.
This essay argues that violent collapse generated a pervasive uncertainty in which
some people developed and promoted a new mode of sovereign process. Political
Nyakatura, Abakama, 82-5; Nyakatura, Anatomy, 61-4.
Fisher, Twilight Tales,121-4; Nyakatura, Abakama, 85-6.
alliances crafted by leaders who were not healers entered a statecraft that had hitherto
worked through networks of people who were both political leaders and public healers.
The new sovereignty generated a new body of historical knowledge that turned on
affective appeals and new ritual forms to foster selective forgetting of the indignities and
failures brought by famine, in the spirit of mourning. Surprisingly, the tasks of
legitimation that such stories should be expected to accomplish, in the course of
revivifying that sovereign process, do not impose silences around Rukidi’s outsider
standing, his fluctuating affective self control, and the limited quality of his
domination.140 Indeed, Rukidi’s standing as the founder of a new dynasty of kings is
legitimated in these stories by a frank presentation of the costs of sovereign violence,
sacrificial and military, borne by ordinary people. Indignity and failure, respectful silence
and stifling, expressed by variations in narrative content and emphasis, impose a rhythm
on these stories about a new sovereignty. After Rukidi, the country of Bunyoro sustained
a dual imaginary of mobile royal capitals and fixed public healing shrines. After Rukidi,
“historical memory” contained (marked off from other elements) a variety of unfinished
business between public healing networks and royal nodes of authority.
In Bisson’s Twelfth century, a crisis of lordship exemplified a slow revolution in
which violence was a banal but transformative force in debates over “how and why the
experience of power became that of government in medieval Europe.”141 The droughts
and dislocations of 14th century Southwest fostered the creation of kachinas, a
reconfiguration of Mesoamerican affective ritual practice aimed at prosperity in a manner
that integrated fertility, virility, and rain. It was matched by investments in new
“societies” for hunting, warmaking, and healing. All of this drew on older patterns of
affective political life and on already far-flung networks of exchange and mobility but
rejected the centralized hierarchies that had failed them so miserably. The frank retelling
of strife and loss, in clan and sodality histories, amounted to an indictment of that older
political form. Unlike much of the European narrative, Pueblo traditions argued that the
world was a better place without the state.142 The founding of a new dynasty in Bunyoro
in the aftermath of famine, discussed here, shares with these examples the creation of
new forms of affective ritual and historical knowledge designed to jumpstart the
aftermath, to mark time and move on. A spirit of mourning, as much as spirit of
legitimation, shaped what people did with catastrophe when they began to address it in
historical narrative or affective ritual or both. What was recalled and what was left out
about the past depended in large measure on how the societies whose stories took shape
in that aftermath tried to resolve conundrums of sovereign violence.
Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence
Ranger (eds.) The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1983), 9; David Gordon, “The Cultural Politics of a Traditional Ceremony: Mutomboko
and the Performance of History on the Luapula (Zambia),” Comparative Studies in
Society and History 46, 1 (2004), 65-66.
Bisson, Crisis, 17, 20; Crouch, English Aristocracy, 183-9, 193-207, and passim.
Smail, “Violence and Predation,” 8.