Bagalayaze is hidden in Sekati, along the Namere-Kiteezi route, at Mpererwe: located in Kawempe Division , in northern Kampala. This location lies approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), by road, north of Kampala’s central business district. It is this forgotten yet richly historical cultural ground, the Bagalayaze Heritage Site. It dates back to as early as 1816, when the palace was constructed. Originally occupying about 640 acres of land, the palace now sits on only three acres, as much of the land has been donated to churches, mosques, schools and a local hospital, by the queen mothers (Namasoles).
Bagalayaze is the name that the then Namasole Abisagi Nakatya, the mother of one of Buganda’s greatest kings, Ssekabaka Basamula Ekere Mwanga II, who ordered the massacre of the Uganda Martyrs, acquired after she helped her husband, Kabaka Mutesa I, to write the letter inviting the missionaries to Buganda, according to Ritah Nalubula, the palace caretaker.
At this place, one can be treated to cultural Buganda dances like Nankasa, Bakisiimba and Muwogola on request. Traditional foods are also prepared including luwombo and interested visitors can be taught how to prepare them, as well as make crafts out of banana fiber and bark cloth.
Accessing the main house of Bagalayaze
There are two entrances to the palace grounds. The main entrance, buja bukula, is neatly designed with a dome-shaped, grass thatched roof, supported by reeds and wooden posts. It is used by the Namasole (queen mother) and others living in the area.
According to Ritah Nalubula, the palace caretaker, the entrance cannot be used by women and girls who are on their periods. These, instead, use the other entrance called kiryango kibi, which looks more of a gaping hole in the fence, as they are considered unclean to use the main entrance. Kiryango kibi is also the entrance through which the dead are brought into the palace.
Fact file of Bagalayaze
Who is Namasole? In Buganda, the widow of a deceased King (Kabaka) who gives birth to the throne’s successor is called a Namasole. The current is Namasole, Manjeri Lunkuse Bagalayaze, who is 88 years old. Namasole does not share a palace with the prevailing king, because both have the same powers.
According to Buganda tradition, a Namasole is addressed as ‘Ssebo’ (sir) and its her who marries, but is not married.
The palace compound
The palace compound is kept neat by Mzee Jim Baker Lubowa, who is also the in charge of the medicinal tree species which include the moringa tree, the fig tree (omutuba), whose bark is used to make bark cloth and other tree species like the kinuula ngombe, mulilira and amalwa g’empungu’, which are used to make dyes and treat diseases like diabetes. The herbal garden nearby also has a range of herbs like the “male and female” aloe vera species, the famous kitafeeli(soursop), bombo (mormudia foetida), mululuza (vermonia amygdacina), as well as other medicinal plants like the kiwankulata, for dysentery.
The compound also has an open hut-like structure with a dilapidated roof, a sign of neglect, which Ritah Nalubula, the palace caretaker, says used to be the “conference centre” of the Namasole, where she held meetings with her subjects.
The house was originally a mud and wattle structure, but was renovated to a brick structure because termites had started to destroy it. It contains four rooms; three bedrooms and a living room. Still women and girls who are in their periods, are also forbidden from entering into this house as well as those wearing trousers and short skirts.
Inside the main house
The floor is covered with mats, a welcome sign in Kiganda culture and two baskets lie in the centre, where visitors may put their offerings in form of money as a sign of respect for the deceased Namasoles. On one of the walls, all of which are covered in bark cloth, is a framed photograph of Kabaka Daudi Chwa, Mwanga’s son, with his grandmother, Namasole Abisagi.
Behind the bark cloth-covered walls is the ekibira (forest), where the three bedrooms, with the first two rooms having the tombs of Namasole Abisagi, Mwanga’s mother, who passed on in 1886, and her successor, Namasole Tezitendwa Juliana Bagalayaze, who passed on in 1932.
The third room is were Namasole, Manjeri Lunkuse Bagalayaze, who passed on in 2015 was buried.
No visitor or male worker is allowed into the ekibira.