Academic journal article Africa

The Cwezi-Kubandwa Debate: Gender, Hegemony and Pre-Colonial Religion in Bunyoro, Western Uganda

Academic journal article Africa

The Cwezi-Kubandwa Debate: Gender, Hegemony and Pre-Colonial Religion in Bunyoro, Western Uganda

Article excerpt


The Cwezi-kubandwa cult was the most prominent form of religious belief in the interlacustrine region of East Africa during the pre-colonial period. It has long been regarded as providing ideological support to monarchical regimes across the region. Recently, though, scholars have contrasted the hegemonic ambitions of the state with evidence that Cwezi-kubandwa also provided opponents of pre-colonial authority structures with both ideological and organizational resources. In particular historians of the cult have hypothesized that Cwezi-kubandwa offered women a refuge from patriarchal political and domestic institutions, and that Cwezi-kubandwa was dominated by women in terms of its leadership, membership and idioms. This article challenges the new orthodoxy by suggesting that both traditional religion's hegemonic and counter-hegemonic roles may have been over-estimated. A re-examination of the Nyoro sources indicates instead that Cwezi-kubandwa was far from homogeneous and dominant, that kubandwa was not obviously oppositional to other, supposedly male-dominated, religious beliefs, and that Cwezi-kubandwa brought female exploitation as well as empowerment. These findings require either a re-evaluation of the nature of Cwezi-kubandwa across the region, or recognition that the cult was much more geographically diverse than has hitherto been believed.


Le culte du kubandwa (cwezi) etait la forme de croyance religieuse la plus proeminente dans la region interlacustre d'Afrique de l'Est au cours de la periode precoloniale. Il est considere depuis longtemps comme un element de soutien ideologique aux regimes monarchiques de la region. Or,, des savants ont recemment mis en contraste les ambitions hegemoniques de l'Etat avec des elements indiquant que le kubandwa (cwezi) a egalement fourni des ressources ideologiques et organisationnelles aux opposants aux structures d'autorite precoloniales. Des historiens du culte ont notamment emis l'hypothese que le kubandwa (cwezi) offrait aux femmes un refuge contre les institutions politiques et domestiques patriarchales, et qu'il etait domine par les femmes en termes de ses dirigeants, de ses membres et de ses idiomes. Cet article remet en question la nouvelle orthodoxie en suggerant la possibilite que les deux roles traditionnels de la religion, hegemonique et contre-hegemonique, aient ete surestimes. Un reexamen des sources nyoro indique au contraire que le kubandwa (cwezi) etait loin d'etre homogene et dominant, que le kubandwa n'etait pas en opposition evidente aux autres croyances religieuses pretendument dominees par les hommes, et que le kubandwa (cwezi) etait porteur d'exploitation des femmes, mais egalement d'habilitation des femmes. Ces observations appellent soit a une reevaluation de la nature du kubandwa (cwezi) dans la region, soit a une prise de conscience que ce culte etait bien plus diversifie sur le plan geographique que l'on avait pu le croire jusqu'a present.


This article aims to challenge current orthodoxies on two aspects of traditional religion in pre-colonial Great Lakes Africa: the relationship between the Cwezi-kubandwa religion (1) and the state, and the role of women within Cwezi-kubandwa.

Writing on indigenous religion in Great Lakes Africa has often chosen to focus on the question of the relationship between religious and political structures. Early European writings noted the political significance of royal ritual as well as the power and wealth of religious practitioners (Schweinfurth et al. 1888: 66; Casati 1891:265). (2) Indigenous writers during the colonial period attempted to increase the antiquity and legitimacy of local dynasties by compiling kinglists which depicted contemporary rulers as the heirs of ancient, divine dynasties, most famously the Cwezi 'dynasty' (see, for example, Nyakatura 1973 [1947]: 17, 27). In the 1960s and 1970s neo-Marxists viewed traditional religion in this region as a tool used by repressive elites to dominate the poor (see, for example, Vidal 1967: 143-57; cf. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.