Bamasaaba are a people who occupy a place called Masaabaland found at the slopes of Mt. Masaaba, also called Mt. Elgon. Masaabaland is a place that cuts across two nations – Uganda and Kenya.
The grandfather of Bamasaaba is Masaaba, son of Mundu and Seera who lived in Khaukha Cave in Mt. Masaaba. Mundu and Seera is a legendary couple that came to be the birth-root of Bamasaaba.
Masaaba gave birth to three sons, Mwambu, Mubuuya and Wanaale, who in turn gave birth to the 26 clans that form the cultural institution called Inzu ya Masaaba.
Bamasaaba are a population of over seven million people that inhabit the region across Mt. Masaaba; in Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya. They occupy the districts of Mbale, Sironko, Manafwa, Bududa, Bulambuli and Namisindwa in Uganda; and Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties in Kenya. Bamasaaba are commonly known as Bagisu in Uganda and Babukusu in Kenya.
Bagisu is plural, the singular of which is Mugisu. The name is derived from the eldest son of Masaaba called Mwambu.
History has it that Mwambu, while herding his father’s cattle, was attacked by the dreaded Masai herdsmen who raided his cattle. He pursued them until they surrendered all the cattle and included a bull, “Ingisu,” in reward of his bravery. Ingisu is Masai word meaning a fat bull.
When Masaaba heard of Mwambu’s episode and the resultant nickname, he called him Mugisu – a name to be remembered forever for his son’s brave persona.
So, Mugisu is a name associated with Bravery. The courageous character of Bamasaaba/Bagisu is attributed to our association with Mwambu.