Buganda revels in anachronistic customs 3

Afrogay is a Muganda by tribe. That means that he comes from the tribe in Uganda called the Baganda. Our kingdom is Buganda and our king, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi (for ease let’s call him King Ronnie), has just unveiled a prospective heir to his throne. Buganda is in jubilation that, at last, the question of succession might have been settled.Thus far so humdrum. Even in the United Kingdom  of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s subjects were in a gossipy tizzy until Diana gave birth to Prince William, currently Duke of Cambridge and second in line to the British throne. Succession tattle is thus serious business wherever hereditary kingdoms reign.

Photo leaked; King Ronnie with Prince Richard

Why does any of this matter? It does because the birth of this new prince, named Richard Ssemakokiro, has cast a spotlight on a quaint, some might even say antiquated, way of securing the succession to Buganda’s throne.

First of all, the birth of the prince was kept a secret for almost six months until a picture of him with King Ronnie in a beautifully manicured garden leaked onto the internet. Then the palace scrambled and put out a press release about his birth. Everyone knew Prince Richard couldn’t have been produced by King Ronnie’s official wife, Queen Sylvia Nagginda, the woman he married in 1999. Nagginda bore only a daughter and hasn’t been seen to be pregnant recently.

Even before the ululations subsided, some very modern questions were being asked. Who was the mother? What did the official wife think about this latest development? Would the baby mama become an official wife with a title and her own palace? AfroGay is calling them modern questions because, in feudal times, it was unthinkable to ask about the mother of a prince; you just accepted the birth and apologized in song (Gunsinze musota, gusinze bbaffe) if a question about a royal birth crossed your mind.

No male child: Queen Sylvia Nagginda

How did we get this new prince?

In Buganda, only male children born to Baganda women can succeed to the throne. King Ronnie has other male children but most are ruled out of succeeding him because of various factors, mostly due to the pedigree of their mothers. Nagginda is a Muganda and was well placed to give Buganda the male heir they so badly craved. But Nagginda only had one child, a girl at that. So, as Nagginda’s biological clock ticked away (she will be 50 in November 2012), it became apparent to the palace officials that they would have to look elsewhere. Thus far, still rather mundane stuff that most royal watchers expected.

Titanic’s Rose De Witt

It is, however, how they went about finding a vessel to give birth to the future king that has raised the eyebrows of modern observers. Apparently, the palace lined up a retinue  of potential surrogates. They had to be youthful (fecund), from a background of confirmed royalists, subservient and with limited exposure or sophistication. Sophisticated (well educated) girls would demand this and that right, thereby frustrating the royal court’s scheme. That was also why it was important to restrict the search to the villages where there was fertile ground to find illiterate or semi-literate girls who would do as they were told and keep their mouths shut thereafter.

Once the girls were lined up, King Ronnie went to work on them. No, it was probably not a sex orgy with King Ronnie – that would be too modern. Decorum prevents AfroGay from speculating on the ins and outs of what happened (this is a family blog) but you get the idea of the girls waiting patiently for their turn and the king doing the rounds whenever he was up to it. Someone asked the other day why they didn’t go for the IVF option. Simple; that would be too modern.

The girl who finally conceived the male heir is called Rose Nansikombi. Details about her are coming in dribs and drabs. To add to the mystery, red herrings have been thrown to national newspapers, two of which ended up with egg on their face when they splashed pictures of the wrong girl (Barbara Kirabo) on their front pages. In any case, the vessel that produced Prince Richard is definitely a poor shadow to James Cameron’s feisty and sophisticated Rose of Titanic fame. This suits the Palace officials just fine. 

“I am not Rose Nansikombi!” Barbara Patience Kirabo

What might seem odd to dispassionate onlookers is that the latest vessel claimed to be the mother of Prince Richard was married before, and might indeed still be married since no one has suggested that her marriage has ever been annulled. But that isn’t odd at all if you look into Buganda’s history. You see, every female subject of the king, young or old, is indeed his wife. King Ronnie can thus, in theory, have sex with any Muganda woman that he chooses. In the olden days, once a king took fancy to your wife as he passed through your village, you prostrated yourself immediately before him, thanked him for noticing that you had a beautiful wife, and then let her go do whatever the king wanted of her. That partly explains how a lot of families have children born to past kings. One of King Ronnie’s titles is ‘bbaffe’ which literary means “our husband.” He is thus a husband to both the women and men of Buganda.

Another red herring? Rose Nansikombi

So, there we have it. 55-year-old King Ronnie, had his way with a 23-year-old village bumpkin and the union produced a son called Prince Richard. What is to become of the Prince we all know – he is going to be raised to carry the torch after his father goes away (the kings of Buganda don’t die; they go away on a journey). As to what will happen to the vessel that carried the prince, the jury is still out on that but if everything goes according to royal plan, she will be put up in a decent house and be allowed to sink back into oblivion, now that her job has been done.

The Palace is finding out, however, that, in these very modern times, the best laid plans gang aft agley as the leaked internet photo and subsequent watering hole speculation about the state of the official royal marriage have proved. There might yet be more pages to this saga that haven’t yet been written.