Ever Heard of Koogere the Great Female Ruler and Entrepreneur of Western Uganda's Oral Tradition?

Contributor: Akugizibwe Solomon

Within the Koogere oral tradition there is a popular story describing successes of a reign of a great woman ruler and entrepreneur called Koogere who was a chief of Busongora chiefdom in the ancient Kitara Empire during the Batembuzi dynasty about 1500 years ago.

The Batembuzi Dynasty
  • Batembuzi means harbingers or pioneers.
  • The Batembuzi and their reign are not well documented, and are surrounded by a lot of myth and oral legend. 
  • It is believed that their reign dates back to the height of Africa’s bronze age.
  • The number of individual Batembuzi reigns, as given by different scholars, ranges from nine to twenty one.

Uganda, Source: C Education

Kitara was the biggest African empire south of the Sahara, stretching from Madi and Bukidi present day Eastern Uganda to Karagwe in Northern Tanzania and Ituri and Bulenga both in the present day Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo. The story is told among the communities of former Bunyoro and Tooro Kingdoms and mainly Busongora (Kasese district) where Koogere ruled as a chief and which was the headquarters and epicentre of the empire. Koogere is the only
surviving story covering the ancient times of the communities in the two kingdoms.

The story which has been orally passed on, from generation to generation, is told through a set of episodes, sayings, words of wisdoms, poems and folksongs which describe wisdom and achievement of a heroine-Koogere and the socio-economic prosperity of the chiefdom during her reign.

 Rehema Kobusinge being enthroned as the Koogere in Fort Portal

The story presents Koogere, who was a daughter of King Ngozaaki Bitahinduka as the richest and wisest person in the world.” Koogere got a chance to display her wisdom and enterprise skills when King Isaaza Nyakikoto decided to appoint women to govern the different provinces of the kingdom. She built a lot of wealth for herself and the entire chiefdom as presented in sayings, poems and folksongs which describe the actions and behaviour of massive cows which were a sign of wealth.

Hence popular and very old sayings like “Busongora bwa Koogere mbere ikamwa niboroga” and specialised songs and poems for cows “ebizina byente na enanga” which form a big percentage of the traditional folklore of these communities.

The story describes Koogere’s success in using female servants to interpret numerous riddles and save the kingdom which task had failed all people in the “world” It is from this that the story presents
Koogere as the wisest person in the world.

The Koogere story is often told:
  • When people are resting collectively after a satisfying accomplishment.
  • By herdsmen while resting under a shade looking at their satisfied cows.
  • During a family social evening around a fire place (Hakyoto Mukairirizi).
  • During elders discussion sessions (Isaaza).
  • Presented in celebrations after a social accomplishment told by specialised story tellers and poets.
  • It is perfomed by semi-specialised music groups which present some aspect of the story especially the folklore during social ceremonies.
  •  In the folksongs, men and women act different roles reflecting gender roles in pastoralist communities.

His Majesty King Rukirabasaija Agutamba Solomon Gafabusa Iguru
the First, from the Royal Biito Dynasty is the Forty-ninth Omukama
of Bunyoro-Kitara. He is the twenty-seventh King (Omukama) of
 Bunyoro in pic with Her Majesty Queen
Margaret Karungaof Bunyoro-Kitara

The Koogere oral tradition provides themes for the biggest part of the traditional folklore of the concerned communities. This story gives a basis of value and belief system which survives in
these communities today. For instance, the belief that wisdom is inherited from a mother and not father. All married women are called “Nyina Bwenge” literally translated as “mother of wisdom” women are custodians of the home’s wealth and the man’s blessings and power. Unmarried man can’t make wealth and should not be given public responsibilities, etc.

The Koogere oral tradition therefore, is a vehicle which carries the communities’ beliefs and value systems from generation to generation. The Koogere story facilitates reflection, meditation, relaxation, generation of ideas and intergerational transfer of information. It embodies and propagates the core belief and values of the concerned communities.

Photograph:Western Uganda is bordered by several mountain ranges.
Uganda is bordered by many mountains
Source: Encyclopedia Britanica
The Koogere oral tradition which is about 1500 years old presents the oldest collective philosophy, knowledge, imaginations and memory of the communities concerned. It presents the oldest sayings and language in its original version. Therefore, among the concerned communities, Koogere oral tradition gives a sense of identity and continuity and it is a basis of building confidence, creativity and mutual respect.

Thanks to:
Akugizibwe Solomon
Forgotten Diaries Blogger from Uganda

First Published on Forgotten Diaries


  1. African's can use this story to improve women participation in development and decision making. This story also shows that marginalization of women is not entirely African. Some of the African communities respected women. It is actually foreign religions of Islam and Christianity which made women more marginalised.

    Solomon Akugizibwe


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