Buganda kings known as Kabakas within the Baganda ethnic group not only make up the heads of the royal family but are an integral part of religious practices in the Buganda culture, thus serving as political and religious figureheads. (Note: Buganda is the region within Uganda, Baganda is the ethnic group making up 46 tribes living within Buganda)(Uganda Travel Guide). The tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi serves as the final resting place of four important Kabakas of the 19th and 20th century. The tombs are located within the sacred Muzibu Azaala Mpanga. This building served as the palace of the past Kabakas and now serves as a religious burial site and the center of the site which was classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2001.
Cultural and Spirtual Value
The tombs represent the most well known spiritual center within the Baganda Kingdom, having both cultural and spiritual value. Located outside of each tomb are multiple cultural artifacts important to each Kabaka including, drums, war spears, shields and medals. Additionally, multiple photographs of the later Kabakas marked each individuals tomb (Kasubi Tombs). It is within these tombs that successors to the Kabakas are able to perform secret rituals to contact the spirits of the past Kabakas for guidance (Uganda Travel Guide). As it is now culturally important as the cemetery of the royalty of the Buganda Kingdom, the common burial ground is a quite important site for the practice of these spiritual rituals.
Inscription As a World Heritage Site
The site was inscribed as a world heritage site upon numerous criterion. Muzibu Azaala Mpanga is vast in its complexity, representing a conglomeration of technologies developed by the Baganda people over the course of several centuries. Although the palace was built in 1882 by the Kabaka Mutesa I, it is a replacement of previous palaces, the previous one built in 1820, that have continued to be built and replaced since the 13th century, using the same traditional Buganda architecture (UNESCO). For this reason it is specifically noted by UNESCO as “a masterpiece of human creativity both in its conception and its execution”. Further, the site was inscribed as it is one of the most eloquent visual representation of the living cultural traditions of the Baganda. The intricacies of its design are an excellent example of traditional Ganda architecture and it of course holds great traditional and spiritual values. (WHC Nomination Documentation). Given this value it was only fitting that it be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Heritage Site In Danger
The largest threat to this sacred site has already reeked havoc on both the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga and the Gandan culture rooted in its cultural importance. In 2010 the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga was all but destroyed by fire.
The remaining base that wasn’t destroyed has allowed a starting point for the rebuilding efforts. Despite significant investment from the Ugandan government, international aid provided by UNESCO and foreign aid from the government of Japan, the site remains endangered by the potential for future fires, and the lack of a reservoir and a fire fighting system as requested by UNESCO (Kasubi Evaluation Report). The site is also suffering from an increase in construction of restaurants as well as public roads and infrastructure for the purpose of tourism (Kasubi Evaluation Report). with the proper institution of a high powered fire fighting system, the site will be on track for removal from the In-Danger list. News following the fire reported two separate investigations occurring by the government of Uganda as well as the Buganda Kingdom. Unfortunately, the cause of the fire was never determined as a result of these investigations. With no known likelihood of a future fire, no method of prevention can be put into place, but rather just a system to prevent complete destruction in case of a future fire.
Rebuilding Project and Management
In the years since burning down, management teams have constructed plans for the rebuild, along with help from UNESCO. The largest advocate for the rebuilding project has been the Katikiro (Prime Minister) of Buganda, who has ran multiple fundraising campaigns known as “etoffali” (Cliff Lule 2013). The Katikiro has told news sources that the reconstruction work will be completed by the end of December 2016 (Jeff Lule 2016). Despite this, an evaluation mission on the reconstruction by UNESCO documents the reconstruction plan and progress, while also laying current strengths and weaknesses of the project. Further, the report shows a plan for completion by the end of 2017 rather than 2016.
Insight Into Global Issues
Through archaeological research, a more fundamental understanding of a culture and people, and its change across time can be obtained. In a case such as The tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi in which the site was destroyed by fire, it may be difficult to initially see the use of archaeological research. However, if one considers just how strong the cultural and spiritual beliefs are tied with the tombs, one can understand that in their recreation great consideration must be taken for cultural details. Archaeological research of other Buganda shrines, palaces, and burial centers can provide great information for the reconstruction project. In a way, the reconstruction of this site is similar to an experimental archaeology project. The reoncstruction needs to account for the cultural and spiritual details that are crucial to the Buganda people.