The Toro People

Cultural Safaris and Tours in Uganda

The Toro people or Batooro are a Bantu ethnic group, native to the Toro kingdom. Toro Kingdom is one of the four traditional kingdoms in Uganda. The kingdom was part of the large powerful Kitara empire which was under the reign of the Bito dynasty back in the 16th century. The kingdom constitutes the districts of Kabarole, Kamwenge, Kyegegwa and Kyenjojo. According to oral history, the prince of Bunyoro-Kitara, Prince Olimi Kaboyo kasunsunkwanzi, seized the southern province of Bunyoro kingdom and declared himself king of the land. Thus, the Toro kingdom. He was warmly welcomed and accepted by the Batooro as their king and he became Rukirabasaija Omukama Kaboyo Olimi I. The new kingdom grew and expanded as a peaceful and prosperous kingdom.

However, Toro’s monarchy was later abolished in 1967 by the Ugandan government. It was restored in 1993 and it is currently under the reign of Omukama Rukirabasaija Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV. The “Omukama of Toro” is the t9tle given to the rulers of the kingdom of Toro.

History of Toro Kingdom

Earlier before, the first kings of the kingdom were the Batembuzi or Bachwezi. The term Batembuzi refers to pioneers. These are however surrounded by a lot of myth and oral legends. The Batembuzi are well known for founding the ancient empire of Kitara. The empire consisted of the present-day areas of central, western and southern Uganda, western Kenya, northern Tanzania and eastern Congo. The Bachwezi are legendary mythical individuals who were believed to be demi-gods and were worshipped by several clans. various traditional gods in Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda have typical kichwezi names such as Mulindwa, Ndahura, Wamala, to mention but a few.

The Bachwezi dynasty was later succeeded by the Babiito dynasty and Toro kingdom is under this dynasty. Based on modern day history, the Babiito dynasty emerged during the time of the Luo invasion to Bunyoro kingdom. The first Mubiito king was Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi I, whose reign was around the 14th century. And since then, the Babiito dynasty has had 33 kings including 7 princes are were never referred to as Omukama.

The People of Toro and Their Culture

The people of Toro are known as the Batooro (plural), Mutooro (singular), kitoro (adjective). The Batooro speak rutooro which is their native language. They are an honored tribe of over one million. The Batooro have a rich culture of spoken tradition, tribal customs, native handicrafts, patriotism and high self-esteem. Pride in being a mutooro is an important value that is taught to every mutooro child right from birth. Among many things, Batooro children are taught to respect and value their elders, love and show pride in their tribe and country.

However, there are particular manners of for instance speech and conduct that are considered to be beneath a self-respecting mutooro. For instance, traditionally, a mutooro is not supposed to speak words that misrepresent one’s mouth and strip the person of one’s dignity. Unfortunately, because of this norm, the Batooro have found it difficult to pronounce certain foreign words well. Batooro have to make mindful efforts to break with tradition before they can utter certain expressions that may end in an open mouth or inaccurate facial expression.

Furthermore, traditional eating habits among the Batooro exposed them to malnutrition as their choice of acceptable food was limited. Most of the nutritious foods that flourished in their kingdom were seen as taboo. Batooro did not eat birds or their eggs. Batooro did not eat frogs (an insulting name that generalized everything from the water, including fish). Batooro did not eat the meat of any aminol that had upper teeth as such an animal was seen to be like a dog. Additionally, based on tradition, Batooro women were and still are expected to be more dignified than their men. Therefore, whatever the taboo was, it went double for the women. However, as modern times slowly caught up with the traditions, the taboos have slowly been broken despite a few Batooro who will still not eat chicken, fish or pork.

Empako (names of endearment)

The people of Toro have a special name of endearment, praise, respect, etc. known as “empaako”. Empaako is given to each mutooro child and there are about 10 empaako names in the Tooro tradition. These include Abwooli, Acaali, Akiiki, Amooti, Araali, Abbala, Abbooki, Ateenyi, Atwooki, Adyeeri. However, there is one more name, Okaali which is reserved specifically for the Omukama (king). The name is very special and it is often used in cases where the tradition upraises the king to the rank of their gods. When the Batooro worship the king, they address him as Okaali. Additionally, the Omukama is the only person with two empaako names; upon becoming the king, he takes on the empaako, “Amooti” along with his birth empaako name. This is the name he is addressed by on a daily basis.

However, empaako names do not have a specific meaning in Rutooro because they are not really kitooro names by origin. The names were introduced to Bunyoro by the Luo after they had invaded from the north. The names have been integrated into the language and attached with special meanings. For example, Akiiki portrays the tag “Rukiikura mahaanga” which means savior of nations; Abwooli means a cat, Ateenyi is the legendary serpent of the River Muziizi, to mention but a few. More to that, empaako is used to show respect, praise and love. Batooro children never address their parents by their real names as addressing one’s parents by their real name is regarded as a sign of disrespect in their society.

When greeting each other, the Batooro use the empaako, for instance, “Oraire ota, Abwooli?” which means “good morning, Abwooli?”. In often cases, you will hear Batooro say, “Empaako yaawe?” when exchanging greetings. This expression simply means, “what’s your empaako?” the expression is often accompanied by a reply, “Adyeeri, kandi eyaawe?” (Adyeeri, what’s yours?).

Visiting the People of Toro 

Besides learning about its diverse traditions and customs, visiting the Batooro people can be a quite interesting cultural encounter. Kabarole district is home to Fort-portal town – the tourism capital of Uganda. The town has and is surrounded by several cultural sites, attractive landscapes, rolling hills, a variety of crater lakes, water falls, etc. More so, Fort-portal is at the center of Uganda’s famous safari destinations including Kibale Forest National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semiliki National Park and the Rwenzori Mountain ranges.

 

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