The kingdom of Buganda lay on the shores ofLake Victoria and emerged sometime in the 14th century. Buganda like many otherchiefdom level societies around the world sustained themselves on a mixture ofagriculture, hunting, and animal husbandry. In the case of Buganda, many clanslived off of cereal and tree crops as well as bananas, yams, and cassava.
Thosewho lived near Lak Victoria fished. Women generally speaking tended to thecrops andmen to the cattle. Once again like other tribal or clan-based structures necessityforced Buganda to evolve into a more sophisticated state-level society in orderto compete with the neighboring and expanding Bunyoro kingdom. As Bugandabecame more stratified they too began to expand to the North and West developinga powerful army and fleet. Bugandan Bataka or clan structure was based on abouttwenty matrilineal clans.
Each clan had distinct identities based aroundreligious cults and shrines known as Lubare (Robinson 154). Clan relations inBuganda were often fractious which made it a place where clan struggles werenot uncommon and rapid change in the religious and political landscape waspossible depending on the extent of external and internal pressures. Lateroutside influences such as Islam and Christianity helped to dramaticallyreshape the political face of the country. Bugandapalace politics was a place of intense clan competition, intrigue and schemingmothers attempting to get their children next in line to the throne.
Asmentioned previously Buganda clan structure was matrilineal, but Kabakas camefrom the father’s line. When a new Kabaka gained the throne he was encouraged totake more wives in order to cement his authority. It was this system thatfueled clan rivalry within the ruling class itself. (Robinson 154). Thiscompetition was perpetuated by page schools which saw young boys brought to thepalace to apprentice at court. These pages in addition to performing theirassigned tasks also took in the sights, sounds and intrigues of palace life andlearned to emulate the drive for prestige and power. The Kabaka too was a slaveto many of these clan rivalries and tensions. Though he was the head of stateand had the ultimate authority he often found it difficult to operate smoothlywithin a system fraught with tension.
Even religion and gods were linked tovarious clans as were their priests. Clans constantly offered wives to theKabaka praying that “their” wife would father the next leader of Buganda. Creatingan environment capable of immense and rapid change and violence brought on byintense inter-clan competition. Due to the lack of an official state religion,Islam was able to take root in Buganda virtually unopposed by any native priestlyclass. The coming of Islam and Christianity and their theological componentswould greatly weaken the Bugandan state and open the door to instability,revolution and colonization.
Islamfirst came to Africa in the form of Arab traders from Oman and other countrieson the Arabian Peninsula. Initially, these traders interacted with locals upand down the Swahili coast who for one reason or another quickly began toconvert to Islam. Some cite this rapid conversion as a desire to gain wealthand status. Regardless of reason the Swahili coast soon became heavily Muslimbut the religion did not spread far inland.
Islam was rarely practiced ininterior Africa until the second half of the 19th century. The Omani SultanSeyyid Said moved his capital from the city of Muscat to the island of Zanzibarin the 1840s drawn there by the ivory and slaves, which would enlarge the Arabslave trade significantly. He then extended his control over polities in Kenyaand Tanzania and began organizing caravans to send into the interior of thecontinent.
Ivory would be sold to burgeoning Asian and European markets andslaves would be brought back for use on coastal plantations. It was theseSwahili and Arab traders that would bring Islam to interior kingdoms such asBuganda. The first Muslim caravans arrived in Bugandain the 1840s in search of ivory during the reign of Kabaka Suna. Frequentvisitors to the palace, they developed a close relationship with the rulingelite aswell as lower classes and began reading the Quran and teaching classes in thepalace. Perhaps spurred by the growing presence of Christian missionaries whowere gradually spreading across Africa, Muslims felt an obligation to increasethe spread and scope of their own faith. Similar to coastal Swahili areas Islamhere too, was seen as a vehicle to greater power and influence in the widerworld. Islam gained a greater foothold under KingMutesa in the 1850s.
Mutesa desired to spread Bugandan influence bothmilitarily and commercially and saw Islam as the perfect vehicle to achievethose ends. He began encouraging his people to read the Quran and he observedmajor Muslim holidays (Robinson 158).