KUHUUMA: SINGING PRAISES FOR THE PRIZE BULLS
Ku-Huuma [To Sing Praises for Bulls]. A single song in Ku-Huuma is called “Ekyihuumo” [plural: Bihuumo]. “Kuhuuma” is of Songora origin. Kuhuuma is defined as the practice and art of singing in praise of healthy, good-looking bulls, which have produced beautiful cows.
Basongora men mostly practice Kuhuuma during their leisure time and during celebration parties, marriage ceremonies, and cultural galas, and during the coronation of the king. The Basongora believe that owning a beautiful, imposing and powerful bull - Engundu - brings one respect and good health.
Kuhuuma teaches good cattle-breeding practices. Kuhuuma is also used to discourage the killing or slaughter of bulls.
In past times “ebihuumo” for one specific bull would become popular and would be learned by the whole land, and would shame other bull owners into compose their own ebihuumo. Many of the bihuumo currently in circulation were composed in the 1800s or earlier.
Examples of famous Bihuumo include such titles as “Ruhuura”, “Kisaka Yeitu Keshemire”, “Rwakyomusanga Rutatina Mwirima”, and many other others
Ruhuura: This bull named Ruhuura sired good and healthy calves in the owner’s herd as well as in neighbours’ herds. The owner and the neighbours loved the bull very much. During those past times Basongora would not sell their bulls, except those that had failed to sire good and healthy calves. So the bull Ruhura, when it reached old age, it was not supposed to be sold, but rather slaughtered and eaten at home in the kraal by the owner’s family members only. They would not put salt on its meat, and it was supposed to be eaten in only one day.
However, when the day reached for the bull Ruhuura to die, all the people felt sorry for it and were kind to it and no body wanted to slaughter it, on account of its great reputation and because it had done so much good for the owner and the neighbours. Nonetheless, there was a foreigner in that home, who came out and slaughtered Ruhuura. The people, saddened by Ruhuura's death, composed eki-huumo for Ruhura in remembrance of all the good it had done during its lifetime. They also included in the ki-huumo a lament about the strange man who had slaughtered Ruhura. They sang that “Isabarongo you were cursed for killing Ruhuura, and that whoever slaughters or kills a bull is cursed”.
Rwakanengye: It was composed in honour of the bull Rwakanengye, praising it and the place where it was staying. It had sired healthy calves. They sang that “ezaire enkuru no muliisa”, meaning that it had produced grown heifers and even someone to look after them. They sang that “tikikamwa tikihaga, Rwawamara etule nigwa ezaire nicwa ebibanga”, meaning that it had sired so many calves and that there were no longer able to milk all the mother cows, and that the calves would break out of their pens to go suckle their mothers, and that those milking would chase after the calves but would fail and fall down. “Abahuma baitu bekyihyoro baikaliza ogyite, ogyite, gyirekye, gyirekye, kekazara ezaire enkuru nomuliisa”, meaning that pastoralists who didn’t like Rwakanengye would say kill it or sell it, but he - the singer - had told them Rwakanengye had sired the old cows, as well as the young calves and even someone to look after the herd.
The bull Rwakanengye was also praised in the kihuumo for having a noble character that many other bulls lacked. The bull Rwakanengye used to exchange places with another bull named Rubambira Nsaka, and that the two bulls refused to fight each other in competition, but chose rather to make common cause. Whenever Rwakanengye went to Rubambira Nsaka’s herd, Rubambira Nsaka would go to Rwakanengye’s herd. So they sang “bagyira amagundu tigahigangana, Rwakanengye ereire owaitu na Rubambira ereire wawe”, meaning “great bulls do not hunt for each other, Rwakanengye spent the night at our kraal, and Rubambira spent the night at your kraal.
Rwakyomusanga: This was a praise song in honour of the bull Rwakyomusanga, which was renown for its swiftness and quickness, and for siring fast calves which grew to become fast cows. So, whoever had to look after these cattle had to be fast in order to keep up with the cattle, and do things in time. If the herder was lazy, the cattle would run from him and he would not be able to find them.
They sang “onagye gumu irabeho”, meaning that as you removed the first peg to open the kraal’s gate, these cows would start passing. “EzaRwakyomusanga tibyama” - those of Rwakyomusanga don’t sleep. “eza Rwakondo iraara ibandamire” - those of Rwakondo [another name for Rwakyomusanga] are always sleep set and ready to go. “Akairu endagyizi bagamba kakaibinga zakasiga ngu nimbogo zeb=nderema. Tikuhahira runyolya oburungyi bwawe okabwetera”.
Rutatinamwirima: This kihuumo was in honour of a big and healthy bull. It was good at leading the heard. It was fearless, and even when it was dark in the night, it would muster and move the entire herd. Whether there was a herdsman or not, it would not spend the night out in the field but would always come home and bring with it the rest of the herd. So they sang “Rutatinamwirima [that which doesn’t fear the darkness] ngu naitumbi kyenda kutaha” - even at night wants to come home.
THE VIABILITY OF KUHUUMA
While Kuhuuma is still a viable art form, the original kind of cattle - which are the basis of the tradition - are dying out on account of poor breeding practices, and the abandonment of cattle ranching in favour of other economic activities.
The traditional lifestyle of Basongora is notable for its adaptation to dry savanna and scrublands, as well as to mountainous terrain. The archaeological record alone shows that cattle-herding in the region dates back at least to the beginning of the Holocene era 10,000 years ago, and artefacts used by ancient Basongora and unearthed in both Virunga and Queen Elizabeth parks, are thousands of years old.
Busongora’s heartland is hot and the air is generally dry for long parts of the year. There is little moisture in the air, except during the rain seasons. However, Busongora also has lots of both fresh and salt water. There are hundreds of lakes and rivers, and mineral craters. Indigenous cattle thrive under these conditions, and breed rapidly.
Basongora have a culture that is deeply connected to cattle. Even though Busongora had a near monopoly on salt-trade and trade in other metals and products, the community also had a complete dependence on cattle for food, status and self-identity. Cattle raising had many advantages that made the BaSongora powerful and independent in ancient times.
Ancient Basongora were renown as cattle-breeders. The lore of Nkore Kingdom in western Uganda credits Basongora with having bred and introduced the mottled cow [mayenje], a breed of Nkore/Watusi cattle. The Basongora are also credited with having created the Nyambo cows, the most celebrated breed of royal cattle in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. According to the lore of Karagwe and BuSongora, the Nyambo royal cattle were originally bred in BuSongora and were introduced in Karagwe by the queen Nyabugondo of Busongora. Nyabugondo was the wife of king Wamara, the Musongora ruler of the Chwezi Empire [Zenj Empire].
Initially just known as Ensongora, the Nyambo royal cows were large and tall, with tapering horns of unblemished white. They are other notable subspecies of cattle in Busongora, besides the Ensongora, that are loved for other qualities - such as the large-horned “Ngombe” cattle, the small-framed Njoobe, the Miringo, the Nkoromoijo [Zebu from Karamoja] and others.
The Basongora kept several breeds of cattle, some suited to the low lands, and others for the cold highlands. The cattle of pre-colonial Busongora were the perennial target of raids by neighbouring states. The invasions of Busongora by Bunyoro and Nkore in the 1840s and after, were largely about obtaining cattle. It is important to note that there is not a single record of Basongora raiding others for cattle they had not raised themselves. The Basongora were always very discriminating about what cows they owned, and have always preferred to raise their own cows, rather than to steal them from other communities.
One of the reasons why the ancient Basongora didn’t bother to raid cattle born and raised elsewhere, was because foreign-raised cattle cannot handle the environment in Busongora’s feverishly-hot lowlands. Cattle raised in the Busongora lowlands on the other hand, are hardy and will thrive in other regions outside Busongora. This phenomenon is still observable today. Perhaps the dry heat, or a combination of other factors, makes the introduction of adult cattle into Busongora’s heartland a risky investment. Many foreign cows don’t “take”, and die or remain sickly for years after being brought to Busongora’s.
If their cows died, Basongora would trade goods and go buy a few cows for breeding. In ancient times Basongora used cowrie shells and copper ingots [emiringa] as money. There was no need to raid cattle from elsewhere. The cows that BaSongora traded among each other had to be the best cows possible. Each cow was picked for it’s breeding qualities and its health, intelligence, character and appearance. A MuSongora might own hundreds of cows, but will feel shame if one of the cows looks dishevelled, sick or hungry. It is a matter of personal pride to have strong, well-groomed and beautiful cows. There is no shame in having only a few cows. If your few cows look impressive, it is sufficient to make up for the lack of numbers.
The cattle - with which the art of Kuhuuma is concerned - and the resources and systems for their management are still available in Busongora. However, there is still are lot of land-related conflict in Kasese, and frequently cows are frequently killed or stolen by outsiders. Many Basongora herders are under pressure to sell-off their cattle to cover the costs of school fees for their children, and maintaining breeding bulls is hard when there is so much need for money. For several decades now no bulls have inspired new composition of “KuHuuma”. Lately, it is hard to find good bulls in Busongora.