By Jeff Andrew Lule
Though it bears great significance for Buganda and is on the list of the key tourist sites in the region, nothing about Nagalabi coronation site shows it. The site is near Kings College Budo, about 14km from Kampala, off Masaka Road.
A mini-forest fans the place with a cool breeze and the hilly setting affords a panoramic view of parts of Kampala, Mpigi and Wakiso districts and Lake Victoria. It is hard to believe that a major crowning ceremony ever took place here.
There is a small dilapidated hut without a roof, windows and doors. Physical signs on the hut show that it was destroyed by fire. A dilapidated concrete podium to the right is surrounded by bushes and rusty iron poles.
The caretaker, William Mugambwa, 67, has been in charge since 1967.
“They do not give me anything to look after this place. Not even a machete, hoe or slasher to clean up this place,” he laments. Mugambwa says he worked in the Lubiri palace during Kabaka Edward Mutesa II’s reign before the 1966 attack.
Mugambwa points out the exact spot where the coronation was done. It is a small anthill surrounded by rocks and flowers, which he says he planted to easily identify the spot.
“Everything got messed up. We cannot return it to its glory because we lack funds,” he says.
The main coronation site was once fenced with reeds, but it was destroyed by heavy rains and wind in 2005. Even the two trees that formed the coronation seat are no more.
History and significance
Mugambwa refers me to Lawrence Mukalazi Kimbowa, who is Semanobe’s (the one responsible for the crowning rituals) prime minister.
Kimbowa says no one can become King of Buganda without going through the rituals at Nagalabi coronation site.
Thirty-six kings have since been crowned here, starting with Kabaka Chwa Nabaka. Kimbowa says it started after two princes, Kintu and Bemba, fought for the kingship in the 14th Century on this hilltop.
“Bemba first attacked Kintu whom he ousted, but later Kintu re-organised his army, attacked and killed Bemba,” he narrates. Bemba’s head was cut off and buried at the spot of the anthill, where the king sits during his crowning.
“This meant that Kintu had won the battle and that it was his triumph. After this battle, Kintu declared that every king of Buganda had to be crowned at Nagalabi,” Kimbowa explains. He says the trees that formed the extraordinary seat at the site fell during a heavy storm and termites weakened them.
At coronation, the prince uses shortcuts with his people through Mutundwe, Bunamwaya and Katale, where other rituals are done before arriving at Nagalabi for the main event.
The prince then goes through a demo fight with the Semanobe using sugarcane suckers, a fight he must win.
He then heads to the Bwanika House, about half a kilometre away, for secret rituals to make him king.
The rituals are conducted by the daughter of Semanobe.
After this ritual, the prince goes to the anthill to be crowned. It is covered by animal skins and the prince is dressed with a bark cloth and given a spear called “Kanuuna” signifying the sucker which Buddo used to kill Bemba, and a knife, among other items.
After being confirmed, Kimbowa says the king is given a white cow which he spears to death as a symbol that he is ready to fight for his people.
After coronation the new king proceeds to Buganda House, also about half a kilometre away. Kimbowa says when Kintu became king, he constructed his palace at Nagalabi and it was named Buganda.
Today, it is a circular house with an iron roof, built with modern materials. Inside, it is partly covered with bark cloth and plywood and the floor is carpeted with dry grass. The whole building stands on one centre pole wrapped in bark cloth.
The house was once a traditional structure of grass and reeds, but later changed to protect it from destruction towards the coronation day for Kabaka Mutebi.
“Every crowned king spends nine days in this house. Nobody in the area is to touch a woman until the king completes the nine days. This period is known as “Enaku ezobwerinde” (days of tension),” he adds.
The kabaka uses the nine days to select his cabinet and strategise on how to run the affairs of the kingdom.
This tree is believed to be one of the oldest trees in the the country.
It is said that during his reign, Kabaka Kintu used it as his court.
It is large, with long branches bending to the ground from the top in an umbrella-like shape.
During court sessions, people pleaded for mercy saying ‘“Mbonelede,” meaning “I have learnt a lesson,” thus giving the tree its name.
For over 500 years, subsequent kings used the same tree as their court.