The palace was built in the 1930s
By Solomon Oleny
At the heart of Acutanena village in Kamdini sub-county, Oyam district in northern Uganda is an ancient royal residence constructed at the beginning of the 20th century.
It is also Lango region’s first permanent residential structure. It belongs to Lango’s early paramount chief, Rwot Owiny Akullu, who lived between 1845 and 1947. He was a mighty warrior whose military legacy is respected to date.
Joshua Okello, 86, is Owiny’s son. He tells the story of the man, Owiny Akullu, the first born son of Akullo and Ogwang Akota, a humble family in Acutanena.
One day, Akullo, heavily pregnant, went to fetch water at a distant spring alone. On her way back, she went into labour, with nobody around to help her. She gave up hope of getting help and said her last prayers, expecting the worst.
Suddenly, she heard a mysterious voice tell her: “Do not give up, mother. Get up. I will help you make it through.” It was her unborn baby talking to her.
Before she knew it, she was on her feet going home. Shortly after, she gave birth to a baby boy, without feeling any labour pains.
“It is from this mystery that Owiny got his second name, Akullo, because he miraculously saved his mother from pain,” Okello says.
It is said Owiny grew up to be a man of military might, winning one battle after another. By 1870, Owiny’s military glory had earned him so much popularity that his enemies trembled at the mention of his name.
In his book: Lango Ikara Con (Lango before colonialism), Rev. Father Angella Tarantino, who was Owiny’s friend writes that: “Owiny was able to win over 150 troops into his private battalion with which he conquered all corners of Lango. For this reason, the locals enthroned him as Lango’s paramount chief and christened him Tongololo, which means “the sharpest spear in the land.”
It is said that Owiny particularly did not like the way the British colonialists treated Africans and consequently, made it a point to frustrate their efforts in Lango.
Joshua Okello (left) and his father Owiny Akullo (right).
Link with Kabalega
It was not long before Kabalega, the Omukama of Bunyoro, heard about Owiny’s attitude towards the colonialists, who by 1895 had become the chief oppressors of his kingdom. He feared that he was on the verge of losing his kingdom.
Kabalega then sought Owiny’s military intervention and the two managed to weed out the colonialists and their collaborators like Semei Kakungulu from Bunyoro.
Rewarded with a palace
As a gesture of his appreciation, Kabalega generously showered Owiny with gifts and pledges. He got over 30 slaves, three beautiful women from Bunyoro and guns.
“He was also given sacks of potato vines, which he distributed all over Lango, making him the first person to introduce potatoes in Lango region.
“On the ugly side, the Langi later pointed fingers at Owiny for ferrying jiggers to their land, because among the many gifts Owiny got were pigs, over 100 in number,” Okello jokes before bursting into exaggerated laughter.
As a toast to their friendship, it is said Kabelega named his son, Tito Owiny, after Owiny Akullo. He also pledged to fund the construction of a six-room palace for Owiny using modern materials of the time.
Just as Kabalega had requested before his death in 1923, the construction materials for the house such as iron sheets, timber and cement were delivered to Owiny. The palace was built in 1935. The bricks were red rocks dug up from the soils around Kabalega’s palace and trimmed into big cubes, three times the size of the usual bricks.
Cooperation with the British
Around 1899, the British opted to use indirect rule, through Owiny, to colonise Lango. They had realised that using force against the warrior was not going to work.
They offered Owiny irresistible gifts such as guns, after which he was made the administrator of Lango. His administrative unit was established in Loro.
As the tradition was then, Owiny married as many wives as he could to match his influential status.
“By the time he succumbed to a heart disease that eventually led to his death at the age of 102 in 1947, the number of his children and grandchildren was over 100. So they formed a clan of their own called Arak. Before this, there were only two clans in Lango, Atek and Okaruwok,” Okello says.
“We were so many that when his vast wealth was distributed among us, some siblings missed out, especially the girls. This fuelled the fight for his property, which included cars, land and the palace,” Okello adds.
He says having failed to come to a consensus on who was the rightful heir to the throne, since Owiny did not leave behind a written will, one of his disgruntled children set the house ablaze, burning to ash the property inside, its windows and doors. But the floor, walls and roof have stood the test of time.
Okello and his wife, Justine, have lived in the house for over 20 years now. His wife says spending their nights inside the house used to give great satisfaction, but not anymore.
“The roof has developed multiple holes, so when it shines, the scorching rays strike us directly and when it rains, the house leaks,” she says.
Lango''s first palace