Kasubi Royal Tombs (1)
Kasubi tombs are an important historical, cultural, and spiritual centre not just for the Baganda people but for the entire continent of Africa.

The Kasubi tombs were built in the 13th century. They were among 31 royal tombs scattered throughout Buganda.

The Kasubi Tombs are located on Kasubi Hill, 5 kilometres from the city centre of Kampala. It is the burial ground/cemetery of four of Buganda’s most recent Kabakas (Kings). 

All princes and princesses are buried at the back of the main shrine, along with their direct descendants. 

The Kasubi tombs, constructed in the 13th century, are one of 31 royal tombs scattered throughout the Buganda Kingdom. Other smaller tombs have been discovered in locations such as Kyaggwe, Singo, and Busiro. 

The Kasubi tombs are a significant historical, cultural, and spiritual centre not only for the Baganda people but for the entire continent of Africa. 

It is one of Uganda’s most significant heritage sites

Due to their cultural and national significance, Ugandan law designated the tombs as a protected site in 1972, though they remain registered as Buganda Kingdom property. 

The Kasubi tombs were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001 and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Uganda during a safari.

Its main tomb (Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga) is an incredible piece of indigenous architecture and the world’s largest grass-thatched structure. 

The main tomb structure is constructed of bamboo and wood, with a grass-thatched roof. It was built uniquely, with great care taken to set it apart from similar structures.

The main grass-thatched structure was originally Kabaka Mutesa 1’s (35th King) palace before being converted into a tomb following his death in 1884. 

The three succeeding kings chose not to follow the tradition of being buried in their palace and were buried at the Kasubi tombs. Three major sections divide the tombs. 

The first section is the area surrounding the main structure (on the western side), which contains the tombs of the four Kings. 

The second section, located behind the main structure, contains graveyards. The third section comprises undeveloped farmland.

Visitors to the Kasubi tombs are greeted by a wooden gate (Bujjabukula) with a grass-thatched roof and woven reeds. 

At the entrance and toward the Olugya (courtyard), which is adjacent to the Ndoga-Obukaba (a roundhouse where traditional drums are kept), traditional guards are stationed. 

As one approaches the main courtyard, one will notice the smaller houses built for the king’s wives, other royal family members, the spiritual guardian (Nalinya), and her deputies. 

The main structure/walls of the tomb are adorned with bark cloth and several mats for visitors to sit on. 

Visitors to the main building can also view photographs of all the Kings and a stuffed leopard skin. Mutesa 1 kept a Leopard as a pet. 

Following Mutesa’s demise, the Leopard became uncontrollable and killed several people. It was eventually killed and its skin was filled with material to keep it alive. 

Among the other notable items are spear rings that hold the roof together, each representing one of Buganda’s 52 clans. Each clan is assigned a specific task at the tomb. 

The Ngeye (Colobus Monkey) clan is responsible for the upkeep of the tombs’ thatch roofs. As clan members age, they pass their skills on to younger members who take on the responsibility of maintaining the tombs.

Certain sections of the main tomb are inaccessible to the public. The Kibira (sacred forest) is a sacred area of the main structure believed to be home to the Kings’ spirits. 

The location is restricted to the widows of Kings, the Katikkiro, and certain members of the royal family. 

Even the reigning Kabaka is not permitted to visit. Close to the Kibira, four rooms are constructed to house the four wives of the deceased kings. 

Each deceased Kabaka is survived by a loving wife. Their mission is to look after the king who has died. The wives are chosen from the departed Queens’ clans.

Kasubi Royal Tombs in Uganda (1)
A stuffed leopard skin and photographs of all the Kings can also be seen in the main building. FILE PHOTO

The Kasubi tombs contain the remains of four kings

  • Mutesa 1 (1835 to 1884). Muteesa 1 was born in 1835 and ascended to the throne in 1856. He was Buganda’s 35th Kabaka and the first to be interred in the Kasubi tombs. 
  • Basamula Mwanga II (1867 –1903): Mutesa’s son Mwanga succeeded him following his death in 1884. He was the last King to reign over a truly autonomous Buganda. Mwanga was assassinated on an island in 1903. 
  • Kabaka Daudi Chwa II (1896 – 1939): When Mwanga died in 1897, his one-year-old son Daudi Chwa took over as Kabaka. Until he reached the age of 18, Chwa was assisted by Christian regents. His reign was low-key, and he lacked the power of preceding Kings. When Daudi Chwa died in 1939, he was also buried at the Kasubi tombs, enhancing the tombs’ cultural and spiritual significance.
  • Muteesa II, Fredrick Walugembe (1924 – 1969): He succeeded his father Daudi Chwa who died in 1939.

Paying a visit to the Kasubi Tombs

The Kasubi tombs are one of Kampala’s most popular tourist attractions. The journey to the Kasubi Tombs site from Kampala’s city centre takes approximately 15 minutes if there is no traffic. 

To reach the tombs, proceed through the main gate of Makerere University and then join the road to Nakulabye. After the Nakulabye roundabout, continue straight onto the Hoima road for approximately one kilometre. 

Take a left and begin climbing Kasubi Hill. After reaching the summit of the hill, bear left onto Masiro Road and you will come to the tombs’ gate/entrance. 

Visitors are issued a ticket after being inspected by royal guides and filling out their information. The entrance fee to Kasubi’s royal tombs is approximately five dollars. 

The fee is used to maintain the tombs and compensate site employees. Additionally, after paying the entrance fee, you are assigned a guide who will show you around.

current Kabaka of Buganda Mutebi (1)
Kabaka of Buganda visits the tombs only when he needs the blessings of his ancestors while travelling outside the country. FILE PHOTO

Facts about The Kasubi tombs in Uganda

The Kasubi tomb is Kampala’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Apart from the burial ceremonies of royal members of the family, several traditional ceremonies are held throughout the year. 

Among the ceremonies is one for the new moon’s arrival. Certain more spiritual ceremonies, such as consulting mediums, are conducted in secret (away from the presence of visitors). 

The shrine is frequently visited by traditional medicine women and men from all over Buganda seeking blessings from the Kings’ spirits for their work. 

The current Kabaka of Buganda visits the tombs only when he is travelling outside the country and requires the blessings of his ancestors.

Kabaka Mutesa II renovated the tombs in 1938, incorporating modern materials such as steel, concrete, and brick structures while maintaining a strong emphasis on traditional materials.

The Kasubi tombs are also a must-see for those interested in traditional Ngo clan bark cloth and Ngeye clan grass thatching skills.

kasubi tombs were destroyed by fire (1)
The main tomb and the smaller huts that surrounded it were completely destroyed in March 2010 by a devastating fire. PHOTO/CNN

The difficulties, conservation efforts, and recent fires

As previously stated, the Kasubi tomb faces funding constraints, but this may be entirely due to the way it is managed. The Buganda Kingdom desires complete control over tombs and their contents. 

Within Buganda, there is strife over who should have control of the tombs. Traditionalists want to preserve ancient rituals, while more progressive royals want to modernize them. 

To encourage organizations and governments to increase funding for the site, they must be held accountable for administrative activities and closely monitor them.

To keep the Kasubi tombs in good condition, proper management, monitoring, and continued replacement of decaying grass are required. 

Fortunately, skilled local artisans and grass continue to exist. 

However, replacing the grass and compensating artisans and other tomb staff requires significant financial resources.

The materials used in the tombs were always flammable. The tombs were destroyed by a devastating fire in March 2010, which destroyed the main tomb and the smaller huts that surrounded it. 

The main tombs’ royal regalia and other symbolic mediums were destroyed. However, some structures, such as the one housing the royal drums, were spared destruction. The cause of the fires is unknown at this time. 

The Commission established to investigate the cause of the fires completed their work, but their report was never made public. This has led to much speculation and finger-pointing. 

Some suspect arson, while others believe it was caused by a lightning strike or simple negligence on the part of an individual.

As a result of this unfortunate occurrence, the Kasubi tombs were added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2010.

The reconstruction of the tombs has been slow, despite the government of Uganda’s significant investment of over 2 billion Ugandan shillings. 

The sluggish pace is attributed to the numerous ceremonies and rituals that must be observed. 

In 2014, the Japanese government committed additional funding to rebuild the tombs while incorporating modern safety measures. 

The Japanese have dispatched a team of experts in cultural property restoration to work closely with the indigenous people and ensure the tombs’ restoration.

If you are looking for a complete Uganda travel experience, we also recommend checking out our guide to Mount MuhaburaMount GahingaKidepo Valley National ParkKibale National ParkLake Mburo National Park and Semuliki National Park.