Baganda Myth

The following is the myth of Kintu as told my a friend and member of the Baganda of Uganda.

“So, ok, this is the story of Kintu…it’s one of the…it’s…everyone who is Baganda knows it. There are some changes, but most of it is the same. We just tell it now to remember our story, but most people don’t believe it is true anymore. It just means tradition now and remembering where we came from. Ok, long ago, there were no people in the country of Uganda except one man. His name was Kintu. He had one cow, and even though this cow was his good friend, Kintu was still very lonely all by himself on the Earth.

In the sky there was a lovely kingdom called Cloud Land, and the king was called Ggulu. He had many sons and daughters, and these children used to wait for a rainbow to touch the Earth so they would slide down on it and stay a little while below, and they…they would play among the trees. Since rainbows do not last for very long, they had to make sure they left to go back home before the rainbow disa…you know, went away.

One day, two of Ggulu’s sons saw a rainbow touching the Earth, and they called to their sister, Nambi, to come with them. Nambi was a very beautiful girl, and Ggulu loved her very much. She went quickly with her brothers and slid down to the Earth, and the area where they landed was what is now Uganda. As they looked around to see what fun they could have, they saw Kintu walking his cow in a field. This was the first time they had ever seen a man, and they were afraid. But they soon made friends with Kintu, and they stayed a long time talking with him. He told them how lonely he was and Nambi, who had a soft heart, felt sorry for Kintu.

‘I will come back again and marry you, and then you won’t be lonely any more in this beautiful country,’ she said. When they were on their way home, the brothers scolded Nambi.

‘Why did you say that? You know our father Ggulu will never allow you to go away and marry Kintu,’ they told her. Nambi replied, ‘I will go. I promised Kintu, and father would never wish for me to break a promise. I will go home now and tell father, and then pack up all my things and go to the Earth to live there forever.’
When they arrived back in Cloud Land they told Ggulu all they had done, and Nambi told him that she had promised to marry Kintu and go live on the Earth. At first Ggulu was angry, but at last he gave his consent. However, it was  on the condition that Kintu could do many tasks, showing he was worthy enough to marry Nambi. She happily returned to Earth to give the message to Kintu.

Kintu was given a small house to live in where Ggulu’s servants could keep a close watch. On the first day, Kintu had to eat all of the food that was given to him. He was able to eat it all at first, but then as he was about to give up, he thought, No – this is my destiny, and I cannot be given a task I cannot handle because of my, uh, my strong faith. Because of this, Kintu was able to work magic of his own, and he noticed a hole had suddenly appeared in the floor. He dumped the rest of the food into the hole, and Ggulu was impressed to see that Kintu has completed the first task. But he was not done testing Kintu.

On the second day, Kintu woke up to find Ggulu’s servants handing him a basket. His task was to fetch water from a well far away and fill up an empty tank next to his house. Kintu set off for the well, but did not know how he was going to retrieve the water from that deep in the ground. A spider crawled over to him and spun a strong web around the basket, letting Kintu to lower the basket into the well and get the water. By sunset, he had filled the empty tank. Again, Ggulu was pleased, but was not ready to let him take his daughter.

On the third day, Kintu was asked to use Ggulu’s axe to chop pieces of rock, which Ggulu used as firewood, and not chip the axe. He was told to then bundle the rock pieces and carry them to Ggulu. Kintu used his magic for this task, and he soon came running up to Ggulu with bundles of chopped rocks under his arms. Ggulu was very pleased, and he told Kintu to meet him the next morning for breakfast.

Kintu said yes and ate with Ggulu on the morning of the fourth day after a good night’s rest. ‘I have one more task for you,’ said Ggulu. ‘You have to find your cow among my herd of cows in the field. If you can do this, then you can marry Nambi.’

As soon as Ggulu finished these words, a wasp, only visible to Kintu, took him straight to his cow in the middle of the field. Ggulu gave him permission to marry his daughter. He allowed for Kintu to go back home to prepare and called for Nambi to tell her of his decision.

‘I must warn you, if you want to be happy on the Earth you must go secretly and never return to Cloud Land. Pack your things very carefully, and the two brothers who know Kintu will go with you and see that you arrive safely. No matter what, it is very important that you do not tell any of the others that you are going. If your brother Death, Walumbe, hears of it, he will want to go with you. This would ruin beautiful Earth.”’

Nambi agreed, and her and the two brothers packed all her things in bundles. She said good-bye to her father, and they waited for a rainbow to slide back down to Earth. Her brothers talked for a little bit with Kintu, told him of their father’s warning, and then went back to Cloud Land. Nambi and Kintu began to make their new life together, and they got along and loved each other very much. Then, one day, Nambi realized that she did not have millet for her chicken.

‘I have forgotten the millet seed!’ she shouted. ‘I have to go back and get some bags of millet seed so my chickens will not starve to death.’ Kintu tried to hold her back, but could not. Nambi went back quickly and found some bags of seed. Just as she has found a rainbow to return to Earth, she saw her brother Walumbe.

‘Where are you going?’ he asked. Nambi was very frightened, and though she tried to hide what she was doing, Walumbe knew she was hiding something from him.
‘I know you are not telling me something,’ he said.

‘You cannot come with me,’ cried Nambi. ‘I am going to the Earth, and our father said you were not to go with me.’
‘So you were trying to keep a secret from me! Go ahead and leave, but I shall come and visit the two of you very shortly,’ said Walumbe. Nambi began to cry as she slid down the rainbow with her bags of millet seed, but her fears quickly left as she saw Kintu again.

As Nimbi began to forget about what had happened, Walumbe came down to see them. She told Kintu all about her brother and said, ‘We must get rid of him – whatever it takes…we just have to get rid of him. My father told me he would ruin Earth.’ All of their ways to get rid of Walumbe weren’t working, but, so Kintu made a deal with him…with Walumbe. He offered their first child to Walumbe upon only ift he left them alone on Earth. Walumbe agreed, and left.

Kintu and Nambi lived happily for a long time and had many children. As they were about to completely forget their deal, Walumbe came back to take their first child. Kintu was very angry and tried to get rid of him, but this time Walumbe would not leave.

‘Since you did not keep your promise and give me your first child, now I will stay on the Earth always, and I will take what I want’…this is what Walumbe said. So…uh, Kintu and Nambi had so many children that Uganda was full of people, still every now and then bad Walumbe comes to take one away, sometimes an old man, sometimes a young one, and sometimes even a little baby. Uganda still has people who have beautiful banana gardens, many cows and chickens. Even the rainbows still come down from the Cloud Land and touch the Earth, as they did in the days when Nambi played with her brothers.

The analysis of the myth of Kintu could perhaps be an entire paper or book unto itself. It has been described as the “yolk” of the Baganda people and provides an account of their first ancestral parents, who birthed the Baganda population. As such, the oral tradition of Kintu serves as the history of their origin to the Baganda people and provides “the nature of their human existence, the creation of their universe, the essence of their supreme, and why they have to die.” (1). In short, this myth is arguably the most important narrative or article of folklore within the Baganda community, and an essential element of the myth could perhaps explain the willingness of the Baganda to practice Christianity today, as roughly 85% of the population is Christian (2).

The choice of Nambi to denounce her father’s forbiddance to return to Cloud Land can be interpreted as a parallel to the Book of Genesis’ story of Adam and Eve. As Nambi disobeyed her father, so too was Eve urged to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit. This lack of obedience in both stories results in the ruination of Earth and allowance of death among its inhabitants. Moreover, this narrative contains the Baganda’s reasoning for implementing various gender roles, as it bears the authority that females are the weaker sex and should not be given the responsibility of important societal aspects, such as playing the drums (3). Moreover, it is interesting that the three-task model appears, again showing Western influence on the Baganda culture. The similarities contribute to the fascination of the myth, if not provide an argument for the Baganda’s embracing of Christianity.

Withholding the intricacies of the conversion history and integration of Christianity into the culture, the hybrid cosmology that exists today is fairly straightforward. Due to international media and the British foundation laid while Uganda was a protectorate, the Baganda accept the Bible and its western world interpretations, including the apple as being the fruit of which Eve partook. The Holy Book has even been printed in their native dialect. However, a well- rooted aspect of Baganda religion and superstition is that of witchcraft. Sick children are still sometimes viewed as being victims of witchcraft, though the Baganda see the evildoers as satanic followers of the Devil. In a way, Christianity provides an explanation for the behavior of those whom the Baganda view as witches or sorcerers.
1 Kizza Immaculate N., The Oral Tradition of the Baganda of Uganda, pp. 37 Another version of the myth can be found here.
2 Otiso Kefa, Cultures and Customs of Uganda, pp. 22
3 Nannyonga-Tamusuza Sylvia Antonia. Baakisimba: Gender in the Music and Dance of the Baganda People of Uganda, pp.1-5