For the most part, the history of pre-colonial Rukiga is shrouded in a mist of unwritten accounts that have been passed down through oral stories. However, there is enough known to form an impression of the period before 1900.
It is not clear who the first settlers in Rukiga were. However, it appears that the ancestors of present day Bakiga may have come from Karagwe. The first known settlers are thought to have been the Baheesi, Bacucu, Bakoko, Basingo and Bagahe.
A large part of present-day Rukiga was called Bushengyera. (A small part of Ndorwa was also in Bushengyera.) Kamuheesi (Kamwezi) sub-county used to be part of the Kingdom of Butaye, also known as Bugahe. This kingdom’s territory extended into Mpororo and Rwanda.
The name Bushengyera was given to the area by the Bashengyera, a branch of the Bagahe. According to Kigyezi historian Fr. Geraud of the White Fathers, some of the villages that were in Bushengyera include Mparo, Kikuba, Kashizi, Nyamaango, Shooko, Katungu, Keehiibo, Kavu, Kitoohwa, Karorwa, Buraambira, Maziba, Bukinda and Kikungiri.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the area was part of the Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by King Bigyeyo bya Mureire until 1880.
The Bashengyera seem to have lived in the area until the last decades of the nineteenth century. Some of their most prominent leaders were Mutana wa Ndangizi, Ruhama rwa Ndyamagyengye and Mutimbo wa Kihorezo.
It was King Bigyeyo bya Mureire who changed the name of Bushengyera to “Rukiga”, a Kinyarwanda word that meant “mountains.” There is an area in northeastern Rwanda that is called “Rukiga.”
Just as the Bashengyera disappeared from what we know as Kigyezi, the name Bushengyera disappeared before the area became part of Uganda. There is speculation that they were either wiped out by an epidemic (smallpox?) or war. The only reference to the name is a place called Rwabashengyera that is found near Mparo.
The rest of the history of pre-colonial Rukiga is essentially the same as that of Kigyezi that is found here.
Next: will be the history of Colonial Rukiga in the Uganda Protectorate.