Buganda's clan system is central to its culture. A clan represents a group of people who can trace their lineage to a common ancestor in some distant past. In the customs of Buganda, lineage is passed down along patrilineal lines. The clan essentially forms a large extended family and all members of a given clan regard each other as brothers and sisters regardless of how far removed from one another in terms of actual blood ties. The Baganda took great care to trace their ancestry through this clan structure. A formal introduction of a muganda includes his own names, the names of his father and paternal grandfather, as well as a description of the family's lineage within the clan that it belongs to. The clan has a hierarchical structure with the clan leader at the top (owakasolya), followed by successive subdivisions called the ssiga, mutuba, lunyiriri and finally at the bottom the individual family unit (enju). Every Muganda was required to know where he falls within each of these subdivisions and anyone who could not relate his ancestry fully was suspect of not being a true Muganda.
After the coronation of Kabaka Mutebi II in 1993, a survey of the clans was carried out to establish definitively the number of clans, corresponding clan heads, and all other positions of authority within each clan. The following list shows 46 clans which are officially recognised by His Majesty's government as constituting the clans of Buganda, as of August 1996. Oral history has always maintained that there are 52 clans in Buganda. This anomaly may be because some clans have not been able to establish their claims legitimately, or possibly that some clans may have died out, with no heirs to carry on the clan heritage.
It is a curious fact that the clans are not known by the names of the respective clan founders. Instead, totems were adopted by the clans, and the names of those totems came to be synonymous with the clans themselves. Each clan has a main totem (omuziro) and a secondary totem (akabbiro). The clans are usually known by the main totem and they are listed above by that totem. The royal clan (Abalangira) is a unique exception in that it has no totems whatsoever. For a proper understanding of the culture however, it is important to distinguish between the totem and the clan. The clan is a matter of genealogy and it is through the clan that the baganda trace their ancestry. A totem on the other hand, is just a symbol to represent the clan. Although the two are intimately associated with one another, they are in fact different. In the west, a totem would be similar to a court of arms.
The table below gives the list of the clans of Buganda. A hot link on a specific clan indicates that background information about the clan is available which can be accessed by following the link. Note: I am still looking for detailed information about each of the clans. If you can provide any information not given here, for any of the clans, please forward it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Clan/Totem||Secondary Totem||Clan Head||Seat|
|2||Babiito-Kooki||Mazzi ga Kisasi||Ssaababiito||Rakai, Kkooki|
|14||Mazzi ga Kisasi||Ggongolo||Wooyo||Kasaka, Buddu|
|15||Mbogo||Ndeerwe||Kayiira Gaajuule||Mugulu, Ssingo|
|16||Mbwa||Kyuma kya Mbwa||Mutasingwa||Kiggwa, Busujju|
|26||Ngabi||Jjerengesa||Nsamba Lukonge||Buwanda, Mawokota|
|27||Ng'aali||Kasanke akeeru||Mawesano||Buzooba, Buddu|
|34||Nkejje||Nkejje Kiyemba||Kikwata||Namukuma, Kyaggwe|
|39||Nnyonyi Nnyange||Kkunguvvu||Kakoto-Mbaziira||Bulimu, Kyaggwe|
|The following clans completing the list of 52 did not appear on the official roster of August 1996.|
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Because the clan was a big extended family unit, the success of any member of the clan was considered success for the whole clan. Conversely, disgrace for any clan member reflected negatively on the whole clan. This reality was often tragically demonstrated when a high official fell out of favor with the king. If the king considered the transgressions serious, he would sometimes take out his vengeance on all members of the culprit's clan regardless of their personal involvement. In some cases, this led to whole clans trying to "disappear" from society. (This was done by the victims disavowing their clans and claiming to be members of other clans. Usually they would return to their real clans once the fury of the king was assuaged or after the king's passing). Strict knowledge of one's lineage was thus important to ensure that one's ancestry did not get lost in this clan shuffle. Follow this link for a discussion of some peculiarities of the royal clan.
Given the fact that the fortunes of individual clan members were so linked to the fortunes of the whole clan, the clan used to provide support and sustenance to all its members regardless of their status in society. If an individual transgressed some serious societal taboo, one of the most severe punishments he would face is expulsion from the clan. A person without a clan was considered a non-entity! This clan system should not be confused with a communal system. Individual clan members had individual property rights and they achieved success as individuals. However it was understood and accepted that the fruits of success would be shared just as tribulations would also be shared.
One of the strongest manifestations of the clan spirit was in the traditional naming conventions. Remembering that Buganda was a patrilineal society, everyone automatically took on their father's clan at birth. However, the new born child was considered to be a child of the whole clan and not just the individual father. Thus the child did not assume the father's name. Instead, each clan had a pool of names from which a name would be selected and given to the child. Since the clan names were well known, a person's clan could be readily identified from their name but not necessarily the person's parents. Although each family retained its autonomy as a unit, it was nonetheless considered part of the bigger clan family.
According to the customs of the Baganda, one is not supposed to marry into one's clan or that of one's mother. This type of system is referred to as being exogamous. Similarly, one is not supposed to eat the totem of one's clan. Also, one is not supposed to eat the totem of the mother's clan.
When Buganda's system of governance was agreed upon following Kintu's ascent to the throne, roles and responsibilities were assigned according to clans. Although the clan leaders conceded sovereignty to the king, they retained their role as leaders of the clans. They had authority to mediate disputes within their clans. They would also second candidates to the king for appointment to various offices of state. There evolved a practice whereby young boys were sent to the king's palace to serve as pages. These pages often grew to become prominent citizens with positions of responsibility in the running of the kingdom.