Bakonjo people


Bakonjo / Konjo / Bakonzo / Konzo

The BaKonzo (pl. Bakonzo, sing. Mukonzo), or Konzo, are a Bantu ethnic group located in the Rwenzori region of Southwest Uganda. 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. Traditionally agriculturalists and animal husbanders, they farm yams, beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, soy beans, potatoes, rice, wheat, cassava, coffee, bananas, and cotton, while keeping goats, sheep, and poultry.

Bakonjo people

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.

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. In 2008, the government recognized the Rwenzururu Kingdom, formed by the Konjo and Amba peoples, as Uganda's first kingdom shared by two tribes.

Since July 2014, secessionist ambitions have led to armed clashes in which dozens have died. 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.

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. 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. 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.

Another tradition asserts that the Bakonzi have lived on Mount Rwenzori from time immemorial and that they have no foreign place of origin. 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.



The Bakonjo-Bamba (Bakonzo-Bantu) are small people, short and dark skinned. They form the original population of the mountainous areas and forests. Their natural surrounding gave them a rich variation in small percussion instruments, wooden horns and other small portable instruments and simple dances. The musical point of view of the bushmen had a significant influence on the general population of Uganda.
The Bakonjo-bamba who are rather dark-skinned (negroid) believe in super-human powers; their gods are called Kalisa and Nyabarika. Kalisa was shown as a monster, with only one arm, one eye, one leg, and one ear, the half of a nose and only the half of a body. One half of his body was like a man.
Nyabarika was the strongest spiritual power, the ruler over life and death and a companion during the hunt etc. Shrines in form of little huts were erected for these gods, and were given sacrifices in form of food.
These mountain people were excellent hunters, so, they hunted alone as trappers or in groups. They also used dogs for hunting. The hunters played an important role within the community. The people communicated while hunting or within the family by means of quiet whistling (a form of signal).
These are the people who inhabit the villages and farms immediately along the Uganda Rwenzori front hills.



Bakonjo are commonly shortened to Konzo. In Uganda the Bakonzo are an ¡mportant ethnic group of about 30,000 people yet in Congo the number is much more and are known as 'Banande'. They all belong to the Bayira, a Bantu speaking group.
Like mountain people all around the world, they are industrious and self-reliant, able to pulí back into the fastness of their hills in times of turmoil in the plains, which has rewarded them with a rare social stability in both Uganda and Congo, over the last decades.
The Bakonzo bear themselves with great dignity, are conscientious about education and that wonderful core spirit of conservative African valúes and modest manners. They are relaxed and open. Humour is plentiful, and a good joke can last for weeks. The Bakonjo-Bamba homestead usually consists of only one or two rectangular houses and a few small store huts, widely scattered and patched on the ridges of the foothills.
The houses are made of a double layer of plaited bamboo, which is filled with clay and roofed with grass or banana thatch. Although currently, more frequently roofed with the ubiquitous African corrugated iron roof. Coffee, has been the main cash crop in the foothills, but more recently some people grow cocoa. On the plains, it is cotton.
With an expanding population, recent economic policies favoring stability have taken hold, so farms are being pushed further and higher into the mountain foothills. Because of this, there is an increasing potential for soil erosion and environmental damage caused by people's pressure on the land.
The Bakonjo-Bamba usually marry early, with girls at about 13 or 14 years of age.


Circumcision among the bakonzo

You are not a man among the Bakonzo if you are not circumcised. The Bakonzo like the Bagisu, have circumcision as one of their most entrenched cultural practices. But unlike the Bagisu who hold an annual circumcision ceremony (Imbalu), the Bakozo's circumcision is done without pomp and celebration.

For the Bakonzo, circumcision is a way of life. The culture of circumcision is deeply rooted in the Bakonjo's way of life and although they don't mobilize people for circumcision like the Bagisu do, almost every Mukonzo male is circumcised. Many Bakonzo have grown up knowing only too well that society will not let a man grow up comfortably in their midst while uncircumcised.

When circumcision was still a ritual practice, all the Bakonzo were required to go to Bundibugyo to be circumcised until 1964 when the last ritual circumcision was held. Bamba tribesmen did the circumcision.

Today however, anyone with the expertise can circumcise, be it at the hospital or one of your parents since the age at which circumcision is done does not even matter.


Marriage among the bakonjo

Marriage among the Bakonjo and Bamba was a matter of great social concern. It was usual for families to book spouses early in life. Often the booking would be done on the day the boy was initiated. No marriage could be socially recognized unless bride wealth obligations had been settled. The bride wealth was normally paid in form of goats. The number of goats was determined by the economic status of the families concerned. In addition to the number of goats, a digging stick and an animal skin had to be included. The digging stick would replace the girl’s lost labor and the skin would replace one used by the girl when young. In modern times, a hoe and a blanket have replaced the digging stick and the skin.

Divorce was rare but in the event of it, all the goats given as bride wealth would be given back. All unmarried girls were supposed to be virgins. If a girl conceived before marriage, she would be executed.

Before the influence of education and modernization on most African traditions, when a woman gave birth to a girl child among the Bakonzo, the fathers with sons came with gifts for the parents. The parents of the girl child paid special attention to the gifts being brought. Reason: It is from these gifts that the parents decided which family would take their daughter for marriage.

In other words, the gifts were a symbol of interest in the newborn by the different fathers in a given locality on behalf for their sons. The parents of the girl based on the gifts to choose their future in-laws. The gifts brought to the girl's parents would determine a financially potential family, with a background of a good reputation in the community.

Better still, the girl's parents' choice was made easy where they were friends with another family with a young un booked son. Marriage of these children would be used to strengthen the friendship bond between these two families.

The girl's parents only accepted gifts from the chosen family. Everyone else in the community started to consider the girl child a daughter-in-law for the accepted family. About seven years of age, the girl was taken to stay with her parents-in-laws-to-be and the bride price, Omukagha, was paid in return at a small ceremony attended by a few elders from the boy's family.

This did not mean that the girl was being married off at the age of 7. The couple began to get in contact when the girl was about 12 years old. Around that time, the mother-in-law would take the girl to sleep in her husband-to-be's hut until she conceived. It was believed that by that age, the children are old enough to know that they are meant to be married.


After birth rituals

When a woman gave birth, she did not sleep on her marital bed until the bleeding stopped.

Things are more complicated however when she gives birth to twins. The birth ofAbahasa, the twins, meant that their mother, the Nyabahasa would have to sleep with one of her husband's nephews when she announced that she was ready to go back to her husband's bed. The public looked forward to this ceremony, which is referred Olhuhasa.

The Salongo or Isebahasa, would begin to pass on news in his socializing and drinking groups of the upcoming Olhuhasa from the time his wife says she is healed. At the same time, a hut was built in the middle of the man's compound where the event is to occur.

With a big congregation amidst jubilation, the Isebahasa's oldest nephew was taken to the hut to have sexual intercourse with the Nyabahasa.

Otherwise, it was believed that the twins would die. If one nephew completely failed, another one was brought to do the ritual and the failure of many nephews became a laughing stock. Finally when the Nyabahasa appeared from the hut with her successful nephew in law, there was jubilation and lots of feasting.

This is as far as the nephew and his aunt went concerning their sexual intimacy. In fact a spouse had a lot of explaining to do if the Bahasa cried a lot. This was believed to mean that one of their parents had committed adultery.

This cultural belief was to signify that the twins' parents could get away with anything. It is for such traditions, that we are grateful to education and modernization. Bisika explains that because the possibility HIV infection, alongside education and modernization, traditions like Olhuhasa have died out. But like all cultures, not every thing dies out at once, especially among the Bakonzo famous for clinging to their cultures and traditions.



The Bakonjo share some elements of culture with the Bamba. One such element was the initiation. The purpose of initiation was to transform the initiates from childhood to adulthood. Therefore all the male children, before or after reaching puberty, had to undergo circumcision. This was conducted jointly by the Bakonjo and the Bamba. The ceremony would normally begin in Bwamba and then end in Bukonjo. The initiation ceremony was conducted after long intervals, often fifteen to seventeen years. It involved all male children from the age of three years.



The Bakonjo believed in two supreme beings; Kalisa and Nyabarika. Kalisa was viewed as a monster with one arm, one eye, one leg, one ear, half nose and half for the rest of the body. Kalisa was a half man. The exact structure of Nyabarika is not known. He is believed to be the most powerful spiritual being. He had the power to heal, kill, haunt, provide fertility or cause barrenness and, indeed, make hunting expeditions successful or otherwise. Therefore, Nyabarika had to be pleased. Kalisa was regarded as being very important mainly with respect to hunting. Since hunting was a cherished occupation among the Bakonjo, one can tell the power and importance of Kalisa too.

On the southern and eastern slopes of Rwenzori Mountain, the Bakonjo used to construct shrines dedicated to Kalisa and Nyabarika. Such shrines would be made of Bamboo sheaths. They were too small for a man to enter.

They are said to have been numerous in the Bamboo zones of the Nyamagasani and Nyamwamba rivers. They were rare in Mubuku and Bujuku valleys. The shrines were huts built in pairs. The larger huts were slightly over one meter high. A food offering of matooke or chicken, was placed on the stakes between the two huts.



Hunting was a very important activity among the Bakonjo. Although it was enjoyed as sport, more importantly, it was a source of food. Skilled hunters occupied a place of importance in the society. The main instruments of hunting included spears, hunting nets, bows and arrows and ropes. The Bakonjo also kept dogs.

Hunting was done on a small as well as large scale. Hunters included trappers who operated as individuals; occasional hunters in groups of two or as individuals; but the most interesting and well-organized hunters formed hunting troops. The troops could consist of as many as thirty to sixty people. There were rules and regulations concerning the conduct of the hunting expedition and the sharing of the meat.

Before setting off on a hunting trip, supplications and sacrifices were offered to Kalisa and Nyabalika for the success of the hunting expedition. If the expedition was successful, some pieces of meat were left at the slaughtering place. A small fence of bamboo stakes was constructed across the hunting path to bar any angry spirits from following the hunting party. Should a person use the path, he would cast a handful of green leaves over Bamboo stakes so that the said spirits would not follow him.


Secret communication

The Bakonjo had a system of secret communication used within families. This art was strictly a father to son affair. The conversation was done through whistling. The whistling was of a peculiar quality, not loud but deeply penetrating. This method of communication was used during hunting to convey messages like “The animals are trying to turn buck”; “The dogs have been sent for”; “The monkeys have come to the ground on the other side of the river”; Messages could go as far as one kilometer away. This type of communication is said to have been so peculiar to the Bakonjo that their immediate neighbors, the Bamba and the Batooro could not understand it.



The Bakonjo are agriculturalists. They grow mainly matoke, yams, potatoes, cassava and beans. At a later time, they took up coffee and cotton growing. In addition, they rear goats, sheep and fowls. Production was initially subsistence and they supplemented their produce by hunting and fishing on Lakes Edward and George