Reprinting chapter 9 of Speke’s book has reignited Bahima and Bairu (master-slave) controversy in South West Uganda

John Hanning Speke a Bitish explorer wrote a book “The Discovery of the Source of the Nile” published in 1863. It was reprinted in 2006. The book is now available in all institutions of learning around the globe.

In chapter 9 titled “History of the Wahuma [Bahima]” and sub-titled “The Abyssinians and Gallas – Theory of Conquest of Inferior by Superior Races – The Wahuma and the Kingdom of Kitara – Legendary History of the Kingdom of Uganda – Its Constitution, and the Ceremonials of the Court” (Speke 1863).

Speke described Bahima collectively as Abyssinians or Gallas. Speke added “It appears impossible to believe, judging from the physical appearance of the Wahuma, that they can be of any other race than the semi-Shem-Hamitic of Ethiopia” noting that Abyssinians in Abyssinia are more commonly agriculturalists, the Gallas are chiefly a pastoral people co-existing with each other just as he found the Wahuma kings and Wahuma herdsmen co-existing with the agricultural Wazinza of Uzinza, the Wanyambo of Karague, Waganda of Uganda, and the Wanyoro of Unyoro (Speke 1863).

Speke goes on “In these countries the government is in the hands of foreigners who had invaded and taken possession of them, leaving the agricultural aborigines to till the ground, whilst the junior members of the usurping clans herded cattle.

Let us make one correction before proceeding. There is overwhelming evidence that the Bantu or Wiru Speke refers to as aborigines were not only agriculturalists in the sense of cultivating crops but also herded cattle of the short-horn type, goats and sheep and engaged in the production of a wide range of manufactured products using local materials such as iron ore (Eric Kashambuzi 2009). The specialization of pastoralists and agriculturalists was imposed by Bahima who did not want to till the land because it was below their dignity. So they chose to specialize in cattle herding leaving crop cultivation to Bairu or slaves.

For various reasons including instability including conflicts with Arabs the Abyssinians or Gallas “were repulsed, were lost sight of in the interior of the continent, and, crossing the Nile close to its source [Blue Nile?] , discovered the rich pasture-lands in Unyoro, and founded the kingdom of Kittara where they lost their religion, forgot their language, extracted their lower incisors like the natives, changed their national name to Wahuma, and no longer remembered the names of Hubshi or Galla – though even the present reigning kings retain a singular traditional account of their having once been half white and half black, with hair on the white side straight, and on the black side frizzly. It was a curious indication of the prevailing idea still entertained by them of their foreign extraction, that it was surmised in Unyoro that the approach of us white men into their country from both sides at once, augured an intention on our part to take back the country from them. Believing, as they do, that Africa formerly belonged to Europeans, from whom it was taken by negroes with whom they had allied themselves, the Wahuma make themselves a small residue of the original European stock driven from the land…” (Speke 1863, 2006). What have we learned so far from the story Bahima told to Speke?

  1. Wahuma changed their name from either Abyssinian or Galla to Wahuma. This is not surprising because whenever they move to a new place they change the name. In former Ankole they are Bahima, in Rwanda and Burundi they are Batutsi, in Rukungiri they are Bahororo and in DRC they are Banyamulenge.
  2. They forgot everything even their language and religion except the color of their skin. They are white people! This is amazing.
  3. That Wahuma must regain the land they once occupied and lost to the Negroes. This may explain why they took land from Bahutu in Rwanda and all grazing land in Rujumbura from Bairu. In Rujumbura Bahororo did not take cultivation land because cultivation is below their dignity but they forced Bairu to produce food for them in exchange for protection.
  4. This may explain why some Bahima and their cousins claim that although they speak Bantu languages they are culturally and racially different from Negroes or Bantu. But scientific evidence has shown that Bahima and their cousins are not only black people but are darker than Bantu and have thicker lips (Jean Hiernaux 1975 & J. D. Fage 1996). I know some readers who do not agree with this finding are going to jump to the conclusion that the author is a racist or sectarian and tribal hater. You just take a closer look and investigate before you scream – please.

Let us return to Speke’s story as he heard it from Wahuma. “In the earliest of times the Wahuma of Unyoro regarded all their lands bordering on the Victoria Lake as their garden, owing to its exceeding fertility, and imposed the epiteth [term of abuse] of Wiru or slaves, upon its people, because they had to supply food and clothing” (Speke 2006) of bark cloth from the plentiful fig-trees.

Because of extensive intermarriage between Bahima and Bantu in Bunyoro, Buganda, Toro and Karagwe new communities were formed practicing mixed agriculture and iron works (A. Turden & L. Plotnicov 1970).

In South West Uganda (former Ankole district and Rujumbura of Rukungiri district), Bahima decided they wanted to restore their domination of Bantu (K. Shillington, 1989).

To achieve this goal they introduced two rigid restrictions – intermarriage with Bantu was prohibited and Bantu or Bairu were denied ownership of productive cattle.

However, Bahima men including their chiefs had sex regularly with Bairu women but when they produced children dubbed Abambari or half castes Bahima men disowned them. In Rwanda Batutsi women are to remain virgin until they get married. Therefore in order for Batutsi boys to enjoy sex before they got married to their Batutsi women they were given Bahutu girls as concubines. Married Batutsi men also did the same but would not marry Bahutu women (R. Mukherjee 1985 & N. J. Kressel 2002). Look at this abuse of human rights!

Bairu produced food and drinks and supplied free labor to the chiefs, their relatives and hangers on in return for protection (not clear against what). When they received a cow from a Muhima, it was either infertile or a bull calf. That way Bairu would never accumulate wealth, would remain poor and marginalized and therefore easy to exploit with impunity. Bairu carried Bahima men and women in litters, cooked food for them but Bahima and Bairu would never eat together because Bairu are inferior. Bahima would spit in the mouth of Bairu and still do as in Buliisa.

For details read Eric Kashambuzi “Uganda’s Development Agenda in the 21st Century and Related Regional Issues” published in 2009 and available at More information is also available at

Through the psychological myth and stories of Kakama, Kahima and Kairu, Bairu and their future generations were conditioned to remain slaves in perpetuity. So when Bahima argue that they want to crown the king (Omugabe) and restore the culture, it is not clear what culture they are talking about that will confer benefits to Bairu.

Given what has been outlined above the only culture we know is the culture of returning Bairu to a status of inferiority and slavery which are actually being practiced albeit in subtle ways. Have you not heard some people in Ntugamo boasting that one Muhororo or Muhima is worth 1000 Bairu!

When you go begging for a job even when you are well qualified and experienced, does not that confer on you the inferior status?

In Rujumbura key positions are in the hands of Bahororo. They claim they have a comparative advantage. But look at their education and relate it to the positions some of them have held.

The purpose of this article is to provide information to assist readers in arriving at informed decision. Nothing more and nothing less.

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