By Edward Nimusima
The Moonlight Festival is the core of any kingdom in Uganda. To many, basing on its name, they might think it’s a festival held under a bright African moon. No. The Moonlight Festival is a traditional ritual. And, this time round, Bunyoro Kingdom is having its celebrations. It’s as prestigious as it is traditional and deeply rooted in the Bunyoro Kingdom rich culture. Bunyoro Kingdom is the oldest kingdom in Uganda. The kingdom covers 5 districts (Masindi, Buriisa, Hoima, Kibale and Kiryandongo).
As Byenkya Joy Catherine Abwooli, the Minister for Health-Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, explains, “The Moonlight Festival is performed for 9 days, every month.” This is held during what is deemed the moon time.
Throughout the festival, the Omukama of Bunyoro Kingdom sits on his royal throne for the celebratory 9 days. During this period, he treats his guests to sumptuous dinner. People drink tonto (banana brew). They have specific kinds of food they are supposed to eat. These include; millet, cow meet, matooke and goat’s meat. They also take a lot of milk and eshabwe. It’s a period of celebrations and performing different rituals. Bunyoro Kingdom boosts of 57 clans and each clan has a specific duty it does in the kingdom during the Moonlight Festival.
The royal trumpeters, who are called Amakondere, blow their trumpets beautifully throughout the 9 days, from the palace. Every hour that ticks by, the royal drummers thump and play the royal drums. These, and more rituals, are performed to keep the kingdom in high esteem. Bunyoro Kingdom has traditional special spirits who perform different rituals during the Moonlight Festival.
There is a special spirit called Musaija Mukulu. The kingdom, too, has a royal kraal where, throughout the 9-day festival, they milk for the king. The king performs different special functions throughout the festival. For example: he takes a royal walk and performs royal duties. People chant joyously with astronomical fervor. This time, they are at their best behavior. Bunyoro Kingdom has people, who are called Abaramansi or Diviners. These people have unique and special powers in the kingdom. They are so powerful and, throughout the Moonlight Festival, they play a big role. These Diviners have to appease ancestral spirits throughout the festival. So, they perform different rituals in order to appease the spirits.
Things that are prohibited during the Moonlight Festival
The Moonlight Festival is the core of Bunyoro Kingdom. It’s taken in high esteem and given the respect it deserves. And throughout the festival, jubilations and whatnot, people in the kingdom have to be at their best behavior. During the festival, men are not supposed to sleep with their wives. Conjugal duties are forgotten for 9 days till the festival ends. People have to exude the best discipline. For people who drink alcohol, during this Moonlight Festival, they are not supposed to touch a bottle of any brew. They are not supposed to drink alcohol. But if they are tempted to drink, they shouldn’t drink a lot of it. And as the festival winds up with the Empango celebrations, at 3:00pm, all women are not supposed to move. They should remain static and motionless. It’s a kingdom rule.
People who are allowed to be in the palace
During the Moonlight Festival, the palace is always out of bounds except for a certain section of people. Other people remain in their respective places of residences. People who are allowed to be in the palace include;
. The Abebikwato: These people are the ones that clean the ritual regalia. They clean the regalia with only herbs and cow ghee. During the festival, Abebikwato are allowed to be in the palace and take care of the regalia.
. Abarusala: These are the royal guards. They are allowed to stay in the palace during the Moonlight Festival to provide peace, order and protect the palace.
. Ababogola: These are special people chosen to carry the king’s luggage. Their role is to simply carry the luggage of the king which gives them access to the palace during the festival.
. Abalanga: These are women who perform for the king. They are entertainers of the kingdom. Their role is to perform for the king during the Moonlight Festival.
. Traditional herbalists are also allowed to be in the palace during the Moonlight Festival.
The climax of the Moonlight Festival
The Moonlight Festival is culminated with the prestigious Empango celebrations after 9 days. Empango is an annual event to mark the ascension of the king to the throne. It’s big. There are ululations and excitement envelopes the kingdom during the Empango celebrations. On the day, different rituals are performed. This time, everyone is invited for the ceremony in the palace. The palace is opened for everyone. This time round, the Empango celebrations will take place on June 11.