Konjo people

Last updated
Konjo people
Total population
1,464,000 [1]
Regions with significant populations
Rwenzori Mountains of southwest Uganda
Flag of Uganda.svg  Uganda 1,118,000
Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.svg  DRC 346,000
Konjo, English
Related ethnic groups
Nande people and other Bantu peoples

The Konjo, BaKonzo (pl. Bakonzo, sing. Mukonzo), or Konzo, are a Bantu ethnic group located in the Rwenzori region of Southwest Uganda in districts that include; Kasese, Bundibugyo, Bunyangabu and Ntoroko districts. [2]


The Bankonzo are also known as the Bayiira or Banande or Abanyarwenzururu and they are composed of 14 Clans and different totems. (Ebihanda 14 ebyaba’yiira n’emitsiro). [2] [3] [4]

They speak the Konjo language and practice traditional religions, Islam and Christianity. Konzo speakers also live on the Western slopes of the Rwenzori range in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [5] [2] [6]

Numbering 850,646 in the 2014 census, they live on the plains, hills and mountain sloping up to an altitude of 2,200 meters in the Rwenzori Mountains. [7] Traditionally agriculturalists [8] and animal husbanders, they farm yams, beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, soy beans, potatoes, rice, wheat, cassava, coffee, bananas, Cocoa and cotton, while keeping goats, sheep, and poultry. [9] [2] [10] [8] [6] [11]


The Konzo were part of the armed Rwenzururu movement against the Toro Kingdom and central government that reached heights in the mid-1960s and early 1980s. [12] In 2008, the government recognized the Rwenzururu Kingdom, formed by the Konjo and Amba peoples, as Uganda's first kingdom shared by two tribes. [13]

Since July 2014, secessionist ambitions have led to armed clashes in which dozens have died. [14] Rwenzururu kingdom has witnessed episodes of bloodshed the recent notable one being that of November 2016; a conflict between the government of the repulic of Uganda and the Rwenzururu kingdom. This conflict saw the death of hundreds of people and others arrested including the king His Majesty Charles Mumbere and his then prime minister Thembo Kistumbire.Houses of both the Bankonzo and Bamba/Babwisi were burnt. [3] [15] [10]

Notable Bakonjo include Amon Bazira, a political figure instrumental in the negotiations that ended the 1980s conflict, and Charles Mumbere, named the Omusinga (king), of the Rwenzururu Kingdom. [7] [16] A very known Mukonzo is also Musa Baluku the leader of the ISCAP (Islamic State - Central Africa Province).


Legend has it that the Bakonzo once lived on Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda and that during the Kintu migrations, the Bakonzo came with Kintu to Buganda. [7] However, rather than settle in Buganda, the Bakonzo are said to have decided to continue until they finally settled on the western highlands of Mt. Rwenzori which had a similar climate to that of Mt. Elgon where they had originally lived. This is said to have been around A.D. 1300. [7]

Another tradition asserts that the Bakonzi have lived on Mount Rwenzori from time immemorial and that they have no foreign place of origin. [3] This tradition asserts that the ancestor of the Bakonzo emerged from one of the caves of Mount Rwenxori and produced the rest of the Bakonzo. [17]

Writing system

Konjo alphabet of Kambale (2007) [18]
Konjo alphabet of minister of Education of Uganda [19]

Children Naming

The Bakonzo name their children according to the precedence of birth where by each surname indicates someone's birth rank or birth order that is whether the child is the first born, second born up to the last born. The boys have eight names whereas the girls have eight names. [2] [20] [21]

Male given names

  1. A first born is named Baluku or Mutoha, and Nzeruku when some of the grandparents on either side of the parents are dead. [20] [21] However, if both the paternal and maternal grandparents are still alive by the time a boy child is born, he is named Mumbere or Kambere or Kasoke. [2] [20] [21]
  2. A second born is named Bwambale or Mbaju or Kambasu or Kambale [2] [20] [21]
  3. A third born is named Masereka or Marahi or Maate or Kabuhyahya are the short forms. [2] [20] [21]
  4. A fourth born is named Kuule also missplessed as Kule. [2] [20] [21]
  5. A fifth born is named Thembo or Kathembo. [2] [20] [21]
  6. A sixth born is named Mbusa or Kabusa. [2] [20] [21]
  7. A seventh born is named Tsongo. [20] [21]
  8. An eighth born is named Ndungu, and he is also expected to be the last boy. [2] [21]
  9. However, any child born after Ndungu, he is given any other name of choice.

Female given names

  1. The first born baby girl is named Masika. However, the first-born baby girl may be named Musoki if both the paternal and maternal grandparents are still alive by the time a child is born. [2] [20] [21]
  2. The second born girl named is Biira or Kabiira (where the "ka" stands for small, meaning Kabiira stands for "small Biira") [2] [20] [21]
  3. The third born girl is named Kabugho or Kaswera. [2] [20] [21]
  4. The fourth born girl is named Mbambu or Kahambu (where the "ka" stands for small). or Kapambu [2] [20] [21]
  5. The fifth born is named Ithungu or Kathungu [2] [20] [21]
  6. The sixth born is named Kyakimwa. [2] [20] [21]
  7. The seventh born is named Nziabake also misspelled as Nzyabake [2] [20] [21]
  8. The eighth born is named Bulubasa also misspelled Balhubasa as and is expected to be the last born girl. [2] [20] [21] The eight female child can also be named Kalibanda or Kathya. [20]

Abahasa(Twins) given names

  1. The elder twin is named Nguru while the other is Ndobya regardless of the sex. [2] [20] [21]
  2. If both twins are male, the elder twin can be named Isingoma and the young one can be named Kato. [2]
  3. If both twins are female, the elder twin can be Nyangoma and the young twin is name Nyakato. [2]
  4. Children born after twins are named Kitsa (also written as Kiiza), followed by Kamalha then followed by Karumba or Kibaba then followed by Nzangura regardless of the sex. [2] [20] [21]
  5. If a mother gives birth to both male and female, the elder twin if a male is named either Nguru or Isingoma and the female is name Nyakato or Ndobya. [2]
  6. If a mother gives birth to both male and female and the first twin is a female, she is named either Nguru or Nyangoma and the male is name either Ndobya or Kato. [2]
  7. Nyabahasa is the name given to the mother of twins. [20]
  8. Isebahasa is the name given to the father of twins. [20]

Other Bakonzo names

  1. Muhindo or Kahindo is a name given to a male or female child when the parents have produced a different gender for the first time say from male(s) to female(s) or female(s) to male(s). [2] [20] [21]
  2. Mbindule is given to a baby girl when parents give birth to their first female child after giving birth to a male(s) first. [2] [20]
  3. Kanyere is a name given to a female produced if both parents were virgins when they married. [2] [20]
  4. Nzanzu is a name given to a male produced if both parents were virgins when they married. [2] [20]
  5. Bethubanji is a name given to a first born child regardless of sex if both its grandparents alive at the same time their parents are also living. [2]
  6. Akatsukulhu is a name given to a child who has two generational grandparents. [2]
  7. Kibaya, Kyithi, Bisogho, Kamabu, Bityabitya or Bisiika/Kyirere are names given to a male child(ren) who have been born after the death of an elder child(ren). [2] [20]
  8. Mutsuba, Bisiika, Bighasaki (loosely translated as "you are useless compared to the dead one") and Kyabu (loosely translated as "dustbin") are names that may be given to a baby girl born after the death of an elder child(ren). [2] [21]
  9. Muthende is a name given to a child when boys had gone for a circumcision initiation ceremony. [2]
  10. Byerire is a name for child born during time of great harvest. [2]
  11. Other names translated from other languages such as Runyankole include; Lwanzu from Rukundo (a Runyankole word meaning Love), Athwanzire from Natukunda (a Runyankole word meaning "He loves Us") and Apipawe from Ahimbisibwe (a Runyankole word meaning "He should be praised") [2]
  12. Sibendire which is translated as ‘they don’t want him’”. [20]
  13. Baswekire which is translated as ‘people mock you
  14. Balinandi which is translated as ‘on whose side are they’ a name that is given to children whose mothers had been mocked for infertility

More about Bankonzo naming

  1. The names Musoki and Mumbere are given to children when their parents are officially married. [21]
  2. If you give to birth boys first and then give birth to a girl, her name will be Muhindo and the girl after her (Muhindo) will be called Biira because she is the girl to be born in that family.
  3. Events such as locust attacks, massacres and death also attract some names. For the Bakonzo, the completeness of life is embodied in the acceptance of death. [2] [21] The Bakonzo take the dead as more superior than the living, thus a child born after a deceased child is viewed as inferior. [21]
  4. Nzyabake and Balhubasa are now very uncommon names because these days there are not many women who give birth to six or seven daughters. [21]
  5. Whereas all ordinal names are prescriptive (root words with no explanation), Nzyabake, Balhubasa and Kithawithelina are descriptive adjectives. Nzyabake loosely means "I have few left" while Balhubasa means "in plenty". [21]
  6. There is likelihood of having two Baluku(s) or Bwambale(s) in a polygamous families because every mother has a first born or second born. [21]
  7. Male children can be given female children names. [21]

Clans and their totems

The Bankonzo are also known as the Bayiira or Banande or Abanyarwenzururu and they have 14 Clans and different totems. (Ebihanda 14 ebyaba’yiira n’emitsiro). [2] [3]

The clans have to protect their totems as in they are not allowed to harm, kill or eat their totems. [22]

Each of the Bakonzo clan has another Bankonzo clan which they regard as their "fake enemy". For example, the Bakira's "fake enemy" are the Bahira clan. [2]

The "Abasu Banyangalba" is the royal clan. [23] If someone is not born from the royal clan, he shall never become Omusinga of Rwenzururu. [23]

Konjo Clans and totems [2] [3] [4]
NumberClanTotem in LhukonzoTotem in English
1AbahiraEntajumba / EngangaCrested Guinea fowl
2Abasu (males) / Abasukali (Females)Engabi & EkisukaliBushbuck & Brown sparrow bird
6Abasongora (not the cattle keepers’ tribe)OmusheneneGrasshopper
7AbathanjiEkibandu & EndeghethegheChimpanzee & domestic dog
9AbaleghaEngeyaMonkey-like ape
13AbalumbaEmbuli mulime

Bakonzo ceremonies/rituals

Erabania (Circumcision)

A Mukonzo male is not considered a man if is not circumcised and he may not marry because Bakonzo women are not usually attracted to uncircumcised men and also no family would give out their daughter to a man who is not circumcised. [16] [24] Most the male children are circumcised when they were between the ages of eight (08) and eighteen(18). [16] [24] [6]

The Bankozo had an annual mass circumcision ceremony/ritual called "Olhusumba" but it was last held in 1973 after it was challenged by the Christianity that was growing in the Rwenzori region back then but it is being revived. And this made parents to start taking their boys to hospitals or inviting people who can circumcise to their homes. [24] [16] [25] [26] The same ritual is held by the Nandi community of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Bamba/Babwisi tribes. The ritual took a period of one to two months. [16] [24] [25]

The Abathende alias Bathende (candidates to be circumcised) were grouped together and made Olhuthende (match/pilgrimage to the Olhusumba ceremonial venue). [24] [25]

When a mukonzo circumicised man died, a special tradition dance called “Omukumu” was performed among his final funeral rights. The dance was only performed by circumcised men where allowed to dance with women and also do the drumming. [24] A cleansing ceremony had to first be done for those men who did not do Olhuthende as his penis was not designed with dots around it. [24]

Among the Bankonzo, erabania is not only practiced for health reasons but it also believed that it improves the sexual performance of a male. Erabania is also believed to turn boys into brave and fearless men do the fact they bare the pain circumcision and also treat the wound with only herbs and water. [24]

Olhusumba was not for babies but boys between the age of eight (8) and eighteen(18). [24] [6] [25]

Olhusumba site contained one hut called "Omupinda" which is located near or at a river and it would be purposely constructed for that ceremony and dismantle it after the ceremony. [24] The river was used as a treatment place. Twice a day that is every morning and evening, the Bathande had to sit in cold river water as part of their healing process and they had to go back home after they have completely healed. The healing process took one to two months. [24]

There were taboos connected with the Olhusumba such as;

  • The parents of the Abathende were not to have sexual intercourse until their boys returned home [24]
  • No quarrels were allowed with in the home as this would make the Abathende wounds not to heal. [24]
  • After circumcision, no woman was allowed to see any of the Abathende as they would prolonged their healing process. [24]
  • A mukonzo man would not be allowed to be circumcised by a fellow Mukonzo. [26]

Women would only be allowed at the Olhusumba site only at the beginning of the ceremony to participate in the traditional dance called "Omukumu" and also on the last day of ceremony when the "new men" (the Abathende who had completely healed) are ushered out of the Omupinda. Only the wowen who danced the Omukumu where allowed to dismantled the Omupinda. [24]

And after the dance the circumcised men were allowed to go home. The parents of the child who has shown no healing progress or any signs of scabies would be fined as a purnishment for invading culture. [24]

some of the factors that lead to the ending of the ritual included;

  • Religious beliefs and traditions. Most people did not wait for the ritual as Muslims also practiced circumcision as a sign of their faith. [24]
  • Circumcising babies at birth in hospitals. [24]
  • Spreading of Christianity. [9] [24] The missionaries called some rituals such as Olhusumba unbiblical and also satanic. [24]
  • Banning of the circumcision rituals in 1975 among non-Muslims by Idi Amin Dada because he thought the rituals covered up military operations and trainings. [25]
  • The coming of the colonialists. [9]

Erithahya (Marriage)

The Bakonzo still carry out traditional marriages. [27] The marriage among the Bakonzo required a man to be circumcised. [24] And all unmarried girls where required to be virgins. [6] Girls who become pregnant before marriage would be executed. [6] Early child marriages and also cross generational marriage exist among the Bakonzo that is someone of 50+ years marrying someone in their early 20s. [28] [29] Premarital sex was prohibited among the Bakonzo. [9]

Booking of the spouses at an early age was carried out between two families. [6] In the old days, parents had to choose the girl for their son after doing more research about the girls family. The boy had no choice in choosing his bride/wife to be. And it was the responsibility of the girl's family to also do research about the boy's family. [26]

But these days, the girl (bride to be) informs her mother about the man she has chosen to be her husband. The mother later informs her husband about her daughters marriage issue. [30] A man (groom to be) is required to write a letter to the woman's family to announce and request to meet with them about his interest in their daughter and it is delivered by the girl's aunt. A feedback letter is sent with the dates agreed upon. After receiving a feedback from the wife to be's family, the father of the boy (groom to be) and one or two friends of the groom to be have to visit the girl's family on the agreed upon date an event or meeting known as "Erisunga" (Introduction ceremony) and the Dowry. [30] This meeting usually includes discussions about Omukagha(Dowry or bride price), getting to know more information about the man wanting to take their daughter. [31] [30]

The marriage is only recognised after the Omukagha (Dowry or bride price) that was agreed upon has been paid to the girl's family on the day of Erithahya (Wedding day). [26] [6]

After paying the Omukagha, the man (groom to be) does not go with his wife to be. A girl's giveaway ceremony is held on a different day where the wife is officially given to her newly wed husband. The man's family brings appreciation gifts which include; a dresses for the mother or aunts, a suit for the father of bride, sugar, paraffin, match boxes, seats (sofa sets or dinning chairs), bars of soap, salt, mattress, water tanks among other things. The appreciation gifts are optional. [30]

The Omukagha includes; ekongotha (door opening fee), fumura kigambo (ice breaker for the dowry conversation), twelve (12) goats (which can be all physical goats or some as physical and others in form of money that is agreed upon), a hoe, bed sheets wrapped in a blanket, a matress, Obwabu (local brew). [30] And if a divorce happens between a husband and wife, the wife's family has to return the goats paid in Omukagha back to the man's family. [6] The goats are always passed through the house where the dowry meeting was held and if the goats urinate in the process of passing through the house, it is a sign of good omen. If goats hesitated passing thorough the house, water would be poured on them as they passed through the house.

Among the Bakonzo, it is the duty of a Nyamwana (mother of the bride) and Abasongali (aunts, sing. Songali) to educate the bride to be about the marriage and what is expected of her. [31]

Names and purposes of the 12 goats in Omukagha (Dowry/bride price)
NumberName of the goatFor who / purpose
1Embaya (one big male goat)olhughanda (clan)
2Eya'Nyamwana (female goat)Mother of the bride/girl
3Eya NyinyalhumeUncle of the girl
4Eya SokulhuThe grand father from the father's side
5Eya-songaliThe aunt of the girl
6KithangaDiscourages a wife/girl from divorcing
7Kibogho (must be black in color)To motivating the girl/wife
8IrembaErilemba lemba the girl during marriage
9KighondoTo keep softening the heart of the girl/wife in her marriage
10NgaboRemind the wife to keep giving (erighaba) to her in-laws
11EyerisabaTo ask for the lady from her family
12EyeribhingaTo accompany all the other goats

After birth rituals

The Bakonzo rewarded a woman who gave birth to a girl child with gifts. [26]

Before the after birth bleeding stopped, the mother was not allowed to sleep on her matrimonial bed as she was considered to be unclean for that bed. [26]

If a woman gave birth to abahasa(twins) and she would be given a title of Nyabahasa, she had to sleep with one of her husband's nephews when she announced that she was ready to go back to her husband's bed at a ceremony that was known as Olhuhasa. The Olhuhasa ceremony had to be announced by the husband (Isebahasa) of the Nyabahasa in his social circles and friends from the time the Nyabahasa heals or stops bleeding to the time the Olhuhasa takes place in hut the was built in the compound of Isebahasa. It was believed that the abahasa would die if the Olhuhasa ceremony was not performed. The oldest nephew was always chosen and if the oldest nephew failed to perform the sexual intercourse with the Nyabahasa another nephew would be chosen. If the twins cried a lot, then the spouse (Isebahasa) is believed to have committed adultery and has to explain himself to the Nyabahasa. [26]

Funeral rights

When a husband died. A clan meeting would be held to determine the distribution of the deceased's property. Unfortunately, a wife was not among the people to receive any of the inheritance. [32]

Clan cleansing ritual

This was a ritual done after every 3 to 5 years and it was headed by the clan head/leader. The clan head who was always required to have two sheep or two goats set aside for the cleansing ceremony, invited the other clan members to a joint worship fellowship and requested all of them to carry sacrifices depending on their capabilities. The sacrifices included animals such as goats, sheep, and hens. [9]

On a chosen day, all the clan members come together and repented their sins and also sacrificed their animals they carried. The blood from all the animals of other clan members was collected and then mixed with the blood from one of the two animals that were prepared by the clan head. All the clan members had to step into the combined blood for cleansing and also attonement. [9]

The second animal that was prepared by the clan head would not be sacrificed but was taken deep in the mountains to die by itself or be killed by other animals. It was meant to carry away all the sins and misfortunes of the clan. [9]

The ritual always ended with eating food and also sweeping the compound where the ritual happened and all the roads and pathways of the village. The sweeping symbolised that the sin, evil and all misfortunes of the villages have been sweeped away. [9]

Bakonzo gods and religious beliefs

The Bakonzo have many gods and spirits.They always prayed to them through shrines and offered them sacrifices. [6] [33] These gods include;

Bakonzo music and their dance types

Abasinga (kings) ba Bakonzo

  1. 1963–1966: Isaya Mukirania (Kibanzanga I)
  2. 2009–present: Charles Mumbere (Irema-Ngoma I) [16]

See also

  1. Rwenzururu
  2. Buganda Kingdom
  3. Baganda

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