IMBALU SEASONS IN MASAABALAND.
There is no better record about historical events in Masaabaland than the names of Imbalu Seasons – traditionally called Kamengilo or Bibingilo. Whether you are talking of times of war, harvest, famine, landslides, invasions, colonial times, change of governments, national policies…they are found in Bibingilo.
It is important to note that Imbalu is a bi-annual event which used to take place in odd years. It was not until 1920, when the infamous famine, called “Inzala Ya Khakutya” hit Masaabaland from 1918 – 1919 that the custom was postponed from 1919 to 1920.
We have traced such names from as far back as 1801 – but this doesn’t mean that circumcision started that year.
The chronology of Imbalu seasons is thus as follows:
1801 – Bawiila: This year immigrants from northern Uganda migrated to Masaabland.
1803 – Bamiila: Another another group of immigrants came and settled in Masaabaland.
1805 – Banapera: Unknown very fierce enemies from the north invaded our land.
1807 – Bapokoto: This year, candidate wore wooden rings round their elbows for the first time while dancing. Other names of Tsipokoto are Tsimpogo or Tzinzambaasi.
1809 – Banalume: Lime means dew. It is said that the morning dew lasted for many hours on the day of circumcision, but gradually disappeared at midday.
1811 – Banamarango: Circumcisors smeared blood on the thighs (Kamarango) of the candidates who feared the knife during the peeling.
1813 – Banalyabi: This group of immigrants entered Masaabaland at that time, but their place of origin remains unknown.
1815 – Banamang’uulye: That year, candidates used kamanguulye to treat their wounds. There was abundance of Kamangulye that year. Lingulye (Kamanguulye for plural) is the name of a particular herb.
1817 – Bamaganda: There was famine occasioned by between the nilotics and Bamasaaba. This same year, strangers called Bamaganda attacked Masaabaland.
1819 – Bamumalya: There were strangers who entered Masaabaland but whose origin was not known.
1821 – Banamalaala: The newly circumcised boys slept on mats made from dried banana leaf stalks called Kamalaala.
1823 – Bakosoa, Bamagumba: Bakosoa was the name of a group of strangers who entered Masaabaland from North-Eastern direction. Bamagumba meant that there were plenty of bones – of animals and persons – that could be seen anywhere throughout land. At that time, dead bodies were not buried. Instead, they were exposed and left for hyenas and vultures to eat.
1825 – Barome, Banekoshe: So many people died and there was serious mourning that year. Also many cattle died and were burnt – and heaps of ashes (Likoshe) were seen throughout Masaabaland.
1827 – Bamangala, Banangoma: Immigrants entered Masaabaland that year and introduced a type of beans called Kamangala (which can be found even the present day). This time, Bamasaaba would sound drums (Tsingoma) either as a sign of warning or summoning warriors to go and fight enemies who had invaded the land.
1829 – Batongolo: The fresh circumcised men used fresh potato leaves called “Tongolo” to treat their wounds. However, some elders state that it was the name given to the unknown persons who entered Masaabaland at that time.
1831 – Baliisa: Baliisa were mysterious people who entered Masaabaland and claimed to have powers over carnivorous bears called “Kamang’u” – which were exceedingly rough and seriously threatening human life. These animals can still be found in game parks and zoos of East Africa.
1833 – Bamagombe, Bawuuma: People witnessed many strange things like falling of stars which gave rise to smoke that covered the whole of Masaabaland – causing terrible fear among people. Death was also rampant. Because of the above, the candidates didn’t sing songs aloud as was the custom – instead they just hummed, “Khuwuuma” them.
1835 – Bakhalangaki, Balookha: The word “ingaaki” means up. So only candidates of upper areas of Masaabaland were circumcised because there was famine in the lowlands – plains. This same years, strangers entered Masaabaland shouting and yelling – hence “Khulookha.”
1836 – Basaama, Bakananaki: Some unknown whites passed Masaabaland and went towards the north. Kananaki is Kibukusu word given by Babukusu, a group of Luhya in Kenya and descendants of Masaaba. Kananaki is liquid from the circumcised but not healed penis. Bamasaaba of Uganda call it “Kinanatsi.” This liquid was much among the circumcised boys that year.
1837 – Bakolongoolo, Banamanda: Circumcision had taken place for three consecutive years and so many people emigrated from Mbale and settled in North Nyanza of Kenya. Khukolongookha means to leave a place determinedly with everything. There was also plentiful of charcoal collected from hones of cattle burnt throughout Masaabaland – hence Banamanda.
1839 – Bakikwameti, Bananzukhi: A group of new people entered Masaabaland from Kenya – possibly from among the Kalenjins. During this time, there was plenty of honey throughout the land – hence Bananzukhi.
1841 – Baarome, Baneyombo: So many people died and there was loud noises were made among mourners.
1843 – Basoi, Baneduwa: Candidates were circumcised at the time the Soi immigrants entered Masaabaland. During this period, there were many “Gamaduwa” or cactus plants – hence Baneduwa.
1845 – Bahututu: Hututu is a large black bird which is poisonous. Even their feathers are very poisonous. There were plenty of such birds during that year.
1847 – Bananyeli: This was called so because of Bananyeli immigrants who entered Masaabaland.
1849 – Baranyele: This year strange people called Baranyele entered Masaabaland.
1851 – Basaama: Zisaama is the name of a certain animals which were plentiful at the time. People who ate their flesh perished.
1853 – Babanzaru: This year was called so because of the immigrants that entered the land. They are believed to be Itesots who were moving southwards.
1855 – Banangosya: Zingosya are vultures. There were abundant during that circumcision year.
1857 – Banakhoba: Candidates who could not withstand the pain during peeling that year were tied with ropes from animal skins called Zikhooba.
1859 – Baanasike: There were plenty of swarms of locusts that year called Tsisike which flew throughout Masaabaland.
1861 – Banabusima: There was terrible famine that year. People survived on millet bread called Busima.
1863 – Baarokhi: This year, strangers entered the land from the north.
1865 – Bamatanda, Balookha: There were plenty of locusts called Kamatanda which ate most of the growing millet plants that year. During this circumcision year, strangers entered Masaabaland yelling and disturbed the piece of Bamasaaba.
1867 – Bawalumbe: Many people died of plague and dysentery that year.
1869 – Basalekwa: Another group of strangers entered the land that year.
1871 – Bananyeli: There were strangers who entered the land that circumcision year.
1873 – Bazengweli: A fierce armed people called Bazengweli invaded Masaabaland and drove people from the plains of Muyembe, Mulinde and Tororo to the mountains.
1875 – Bakhalandu: This year, small pox called “Inuundu” killed people in thousands.
1877 – Bakuleebu, Banamekhala: This year, Bamasaaba fought bitter wars against the Itesots over land in the South. Bamasaaba held Itesots at Lwanjusi in Butiru subcounty – and some of these were driven across Malaba River to western Kenya. Kaleebu means uncircumcised – Khulebaleba – hanging.
Because the candidate feared to withstand the pain during peeling, many of them were cut while being firmly held on the ground in the sitting position – hence Banamekhala from the word Khukhwikhala.
1879 – Babanyange: Inyange is a white sea bird. In that year, such a bird was seen flying across Masaabaland from Kenya through Mbale to Lake Kyoga. People who were circumcised that year were very brave and Bamasaaba never lost any battle against Itesots that year.
1881 – Bamaina: Maina is the god of cattle and prosperity. It was during this year that Bamasaaba fought bravely against the Itesots, Karamojongs and Kumam – and drove them northwards so that they were able to extend their boundaries to the present ones.
Asians and Nubians also entered Masaabaland then. All clans established their chieftainships – Mumia became the chief of BaWanga among the Luhya, Wanyera Nakhaima was the chief of Busukuya, Gunigina was the chief of Babutu, Khabusi was the chief of Bawabwala, Mauki was the chief of Bakigai and Masya Nambale was the chief of Bagitimwa… 1881 was a revolutionary year. Bamasaaba thought the god of cattle “Maina” had brought them good luck.
1883 – Banafula, Bamiilye: There was plenty of rain that year. It was also a peaceful year. During the year, there were plenty of birds called Bimiilye across the land.
1885 – Bakhaele: Many people and animals died that year. Khuela means to die in big numbers at the same time.
1887 – Bajuuma: Many people went to Kenya to seek employment on the European farms in order to earn money.
1889 – Bamatsukhu, Bamuduuli, Bakhalikei: Many cattle died because of lung disease that year. Many domesticated animals died of the same disease. This same year, many newly circumcised men lost their penises because they feared to use “Inguwu” because of the immense pain it brings to the wound.
1891 – Basaawa – See 1836
1893 – Bamalyongobi, Banabyuuma: Many cattle died of the disease called Malyongobi. The same year, there were large shining flies called Nabyuuma flying over every dirty smelly place.
1895 – Bamaase: Emase is an Itesot word meaning locusts. That year, there came locusts into the land from northern direction.
1897 – Bamarofu, Bamisiiko: There were plenty of bananas, many of which ripened in plantations that year. Misiiko is a Swahili word meaning luggage. That year, Bamasaaba saw many Africans carrying luggages for Europeans on their expeditions through Masaabaland. G.W.Holdey was the leader of the caravan.
1899 – Banabusima, Banalufumbi: There was serious famine that year – and Bamasaaba ate only millet bread “busima” during that year. There was hardly any other food. There was also plenty of dust occasioned by a long dry spell that year.
1901 – Banamilundu: This was the time Baganda, led by Semei Kakungulu, arrived in Masaabaland. They used guns – Kimilundu – against resistant Bamasaaba.
1903 – Bamatongo, Basilikhale: That year, the candidates draped in beads called Matongo during their dances. These beads were brought by Asians, Indians and other traders. This was the time when modern administration by the British started. Silikhali is a Swahili word meaning government.
1905 – Banamapati, Babitsutse: The rich Bamasaaba started roofing their houses with corrugated iron sheets. This year, wolves, called Bitsutse, killed and ate human beings during that year.
1907 – Banabitiili, Bamayonge: Bitiili are types of iron rings usually worn on wrists. Such rings were very common that year. Manyonge means small iron rings – they were worn by women around their wrists.
1909 – Banamisiinga, Babikeeti: This year, people were urged to keep beehives for honey. This same year, people in Uganda started paying government taxes and were issued with poll tax tickets or bikeeti.
1911 – Banalubya: During this year, telephone lines were constructed from Jinja to Mbale.
1913 – Bakhawooya: Thousands of animals and fowl died because of a rare disease called Khawooya.
1915 – Banalusaafu: Ugandans were forced to work on government programs free of charge. This forced labour took place once a week.
1917 – Bakabiteete: Biteete means grasshoppers. That year grasshoppers were plentiful and ate millet plants and leaves of ordinary plants.
1918 – 1919: There was no circumcision during this period. It was a period of great famine called Itsala Iya Khakutya or The Famine of Kakutiya or The Famine of Sacks. It was also called The Famine of Motor Car. This was the time when a motor car first appeared in Masaabland. It was also the time when Sisal Sacks were introduced in Masaabaland.
1920 – Nandege: The people of Masaabaland saw the aeroplane for the first time.
Because of famine, the order of circumcision changed from odd to even years indefinitely.
1922 – Banamikhinga: This year, government carried out countrywide campaign against plague which was killing people across Uganda. People were forced to catch and kill rats and then take tails to administrative headquarters – presumably as evidence of work.
1924 – Banamirumba, Banaluwalo, Banabitambala: People were forced to plant Mvule trees along government roads. Like in 1915, forced labour was carried out in turns – luwalo. This was the year candidates started wearing bitambala, pieces of clothes on their bodies during dancing. The practice still continues.
1926 – Banefumi, Bawalumbe: There was Total Eclipse of the Sun in January seen all over East Africa. This year, thousands of people died of plague.
1928 – Banabiliba, Bamurutu: This is the year when the railway was constructed from Tororo to Soroti through Mbale.
The construction was characterized by blustering of the rocks “Murutu” wherever they were found in the way of the railway line.
1930 – Banafeeza: This was the year when government tried to look for silver in Bugisu.
1932 – Banabwonya: Locusts spread all-over the country. Government forced people to destroy them so as to save crops.
1934 – Banabisagaati: This was the year boys started being circumcised in enclosures called Bisagaati – made of small poles and dried up banana leaves to conceal the shame and to keep out all females. This was done on government orders.
The famine granaries or “birala” were removed from subcounty headquarters – but people were instructed to preserve millet for themselves at their own homes.
1938 – Banalubawo: The cowardly boys were allowed to circumcise from hospital for the first time in Masaabaland.
1940 – Banabusoolo: This season was called so because many energetic Bamasaaba young men were recruited in the King’s African Rifles of K.A.R to fight in World War II for the British.
1942 – Banaluwenda: This was the year the central government made a demarcation line “luwenda’ separating land for Forest Reserves from occupational land of the people. The forests are still preserved by government upto date.
1944 – Banabikappu: There was serious famine throughout Uganda. People carried mixed posho or Mundang’anyi in their satchels or bikappu. The posho was supplied by government.
1946 – Lyembwa: This year dogs were killed on government orders because they were spreading rabies.
1948 – Bamusambwa: This year, a new religious sect called “Dini Ya Musambwa” was introduced in Masaabaland from Western Kenya. This sect was started by Elijah Masinde of Kimilili. The faith was a mixture of ancestral worship, Christianity and Jewish religion of the Old Testament. It was politically motivated.
1950 – Bamuselebende, Bamasanyalaze: Muselebende means smooth. This was the year the road from Tororo to Mbale was constructed and tarmacked. Also electricity generated from Owen Falls Dam reached Mbale that year.
1952 – Bakoraasi, Bamoolemu: This was the year the tarmacking of Tororo – Mbale road was completed by Mowlem Construction Company.
1954 – Lukholeele, Unioni, Bakwiini: The candidates and their companions from all over Masaabaland gathered, danced and demonstrated in Mbale and then gathered at Malukhu District HQs for the first time.
This year, Bugisu Cooperative Union came into existence. The union was for both coffee and cotton growers, and cooperators.
Queen Elizabeth II of United Kingdom visited Uganda and opened Owen Falls Dam. Formation of Uganda Electricity Board came into existence that year.
1956 – Bakohen, Bamuteesa, Banamboozo: Sir Andrew Cohen, the most progressive Governor of Uganda Protectorate was the first colonial governor to witness circumcision ceremonies and operations taking place in Masaabland.
Sir Edward Muteesa II, the Kabaka of Buganda, visited Masaabaland during this year after his first deportation.
Some people call this circumcision year Namboozo because La Fontaine, a Sociologist stayed in Masaabaland for four years doing social research. She was nicknamed Namboozo. She wrote a book entitled – The Gisu of Uganda.
1958 – Banalukhobo, Bamukhwenda: This year, district councils were given more administrative powers. Africans were appointed District Commissioners for the first time in Uganda. This year, people saw a long line of smoke that was left behind by the first flying jets which were flying at the supersonic speed.
1960 – Balegiko: Bugisu District Council or Lukhobo elected its representative to the Legislative Council of Legco for the first time. The representative was Hon. Yonosani Buyi Mung’oma.
1962 – Banauhuru, Banachachacha: This was the time Uganda attained her political Independence – on October 9, 1962. Uhuru is a Swahili word meaning independence.
This is the time girls and urban women wore short dresses far above their knees called Chachacha. During the same year, a new type of ballroom dance was introduced.
1964 – Bamuyinga: Masaabaland got her own constitutional head called Umuyinga – His Highness Yonasani Buyi Mung’oma. He was the luckiest leader because his palace and home was built at Bukhumwa, Bumbobi Parish in Bungokho Subcounty.
1966 – Bamuambe: The men who feared to be circumcised in their youthful ages were forcefully caught and circumcised all-over Masaabaland. Those included very prominent leaders.
1968 – Banango’ma, Bamwaga: This was the year drums or Tsingoma were introduced in M/land. The initiates would dance to the tunes of Tsingoma/Kadodi. Mwaga was the type of dancing performed by girls and young women wiggling their bottoms at the sound of Kadodi. The word “Kumwaga” is a Swahili word meaning “to pour.”
1970 – Banangururwe, Bakilo, Banamwesi: This year, landslides occurred in upper areas of Masaabaland and buried humans and animals – together with their dwellings and property. They were washed deep down never to be seen upto the present day. Circumcision candidates and their escorts in Bulucheke in Manjiya county were washed and buried downhill by landslides.
Also candidates and escorts who had come from Buboolo in Busulani, Budadiri county to witness circumcision ceremonies in Bulucheke also died and buried in the ramble occasioned by landslides. People’s bodies were never seen again.
This same year, East African countries changed from Imperial Weights and Measures to Metric System Measures – from ounces and pounds to grams and kilograms; and from yards and miles to metres and kilometres.
Also this year, American Apollo Ten landed off the moon carrying three human passengers. This was the very first time for people to land on the moon.
1972 – Banabaindi, Banabufu: British Asians and nationals of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were expelled from Uganda by the government of Idi Amin Dada with the aim of transferring the economy to Ugandans from the hands of foreigners.
This same year had famine across the country. People survived on flour from millet, maize, cassava, sorghum and wheat.
1974 – Bananyilili: During this time, people lined up for anything they wanted to buy from shops or when booking for bus or train services. This was done because of scarcity (for goods) and to ensure orderliness.
1976 – Baweyodela, Banamagendo, Bahudula: This time, obtaining essential commodities meant walking long distances to look for them.
People from Masaabaland had to trek to Kenya – carrying coffee, hides and skins on their heads – that were exchanged to get essential commodities like salt, sugar, cooking oil, blankets…
Infact the whole commercial system involved black-marketeering, hoarding of goods, overcharging thereby cheating the wanainchi by businessmen.
On July 2, 1976, the Isrealites raided Entebbe International Airport at midnight and took away their nationals who had been kept under private custody waiting for death at the orders of President Idi Amin Dada. The plane had been hijacked there earlier by Palestinians.
1978 – Banabusoolo, Sabba-Sabba, Banabidomolo, Baasimaama: There was a liberation war by Tanzania which overthrew Amin in 1979. They used a new type of bomb called Saba-Saba which led to the April 11, 1979 overthrow of Amin government and the capital of Kampala was taken over by liberators. This same year, jerricans were introduced and replaced tins.
Many people suffered from scabies this year. It was so terrible that one could first stand – Swahili word is Kusimaama – for some time scratching the itching part before he continues with the journey.
1980 – Banabisasi, Banabikona: Bananas in the market became very expensive that year. So people resorted to buying clusters – Bisasi – as they could not afford full bunches. This year, people began to drink waragi, inguuli, in banana leaves which were slightly burnt on fire and skillfully folded for that purpose. Glasses had become very expensive and unaffordable.
1982 – Banamakhang’a, Indiikyo, Namwiluulo: Circumcision candidates sang songs of Makhang’a which meant very old women. Young men took more interest in very old women than young ones because the former had wealth and could feed and clothe them comfortably. Young women had become very expensive.
Indiikyo is a Lumasaaba word meaning “So That Is It or Is That So,” People wondered why young men moved in for sugar mummies. Namwiluulo meant that Imbalu ceremonies drugged on for a long time especially from August – December. Many boys were circumcised that year.
1984 – Mutoto: From 1954, Imbalu used to be inaugurated at Mbale District HQs in Malukhu. But in 1984, the inauguration was transferred to Bumutoto clan, the birthplace of Imbalu.
1986 – Bamuseveni: National Resistance Army (NRA), led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni overthrew UNLA government led by Tito Okello Lutwa – who had just overthrown Obote government six months back.
1988 – Balakwena: Alice Lakwena became the first Ugandan woman to lead men fighting movement – Holy Spirit Movement which came from Northern Uganda.
The movement fought furiously against NRA forces through Teso, Mbale, Pallisa and Tororo Districts – only to be defeated in Iganga District.
1990 – Bamusisi: ‘Musisi’ is a Luganda word meaning earthquake. The Lumasaaba word is “Lurendemulo.”
This year, the earthquake became unusually regular in Uganda, and the rest of East African countries. This regular earth-quaking frightened people so much. A lot of damage was occurred in western Uganda.
1992 – Banapotolo: The word “Mapotolo” comes from the English word “patrol.” There were regular patrols searching for graduated tax defaulters. The patrols were carried out even at night by the chiefs of different counties – even during night times.
1994 – Banamileengo: There was serious shortage of food stuffs this year. Consequently, all the food items became expensive and yet indispensible. Traders resorted to selling food items in small measure heaps and clusters – salt, sugar, groundnuts, cassava, rice, potatoes, beans… where measured in small quantities and charged affordable prices to enable more people buy for survival.
1996 – Namakambila: This is was the year the Constituent Assembly promulgated the new constitution of Uganda after 17 months of deliberation.
1998 – Bawalimbwa, Bawangururwe: Government decentralized powers to local councils. The new district councils all-over Uganda were re-elected after three years of term of office. Ambassador Charles Pekke Walimbwa was elected Chairman LC.V, Mbale District. He officially opened Imbalu at Mutoto Cultural Grounds.
This is the year when landslides washed down houses, properties and many people in Manjiya and other parts of Bududa lost their lives. Animals were not spared.