Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi

The tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi are located just outside of the Ugandan capital of Uganda.  It is the only cultural heritage site designated by UNESCO in Uganda, although there are 2 natural heritage sites in Uganda.  The Buganda tombs were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001, meeting criteria (i, iii, iv, and vi).  That is, the Buganda tombs were agreed (i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius, (iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, (iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history, and (vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Source: http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/thumbs/site_1022_0002-700-525-20100729045023.jpg

The Tombs at Kasubi encompass a 27 hectare area and are relatively young compared to most World Heritage sites; the tombs were built in 1882 and were first used as tombs in 1884.  However, the Buganda kingdom dates back to the 13th century.  The tombs are used as a burial site for the four most recent Kabakas (kings) of the Buganda kingdom of Uganda.  The Baganda people comprise the largest Kingdom, or subnation, of Uganda.  During the period of British colonial rule the Baganda people were able to prosper because their lighter skin tone (relative to most other Ugandans) was looked upon favorably by British colonists.

The greatest “claim to fame” of the Buganda tombs was that they contained the world’s largest grass-thatched structure.  This main structure, Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, was built on top of the former palace of the Buganda kings.  Housed in this structure are the bodies of the four most recently deceased Kabakas: Muteesa I, Basamula Mwanga II, Daudi Chwa II, and Fredrick Walugembe Muteesa II.

The significance of the style of the grass-thatched roof is an importance cultural aspect of the Kasubi tombs.  In this style of grass-thatched roofing, the bulk of the support is provided by the supporting rings throughout the roof.  In the main structure, each of the supporting grass rings was made by a designated person within each of the 52 clans of the Buganda kingdom and was transported to Kasubi by that designated person.  The top three rings of the roof were made by the Kabakas himself at the time of the tombs building.  This gives great significant to each of the rings and even greater significance to the t0p three.

Unfortunately, on March 16th of this year a fire broke out in the night and the main structure of Muzibu Azaala Mpanga burned to the ground.  Due to this, Kasubi Tombs are now listed as a threatened world heritage site.  There are many theories as to who caused the fire, most of them political, but it is very clear that the fire was a case of arson.  Although the fire was a great tragedy for the Baganda people, all was not lost.  While, the structure of the tomb was entirely destroyed, the burial sites of the four kings was protected from the fire.  As a part of the re-building process, each clan is now working on a new ring to be used in the replacement structure.  Although the three rings made by the Kabaka are forever lost, they can be replaced by using the top three rings of another, less important structure within the tombs.

Source: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2010/03/18/world/18ugandaspan-cnd/18ugandaspan-cnd-articleLarge.jpg 

Sources:

UNESCO World Heritage Information: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1022/

Kasubi Tombs Website: http://www.kasubitombs.org/en/general/index.php

New York Times Article on Kasubi Tombs Fire: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/world/africa/18uganda.html?_r=1

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