People & Culture

The different peoples of Uganda...

Children's stories

Children's storiesIn this video… children from the SOS Children’s Village tell made-up stories about life in Uganda and they seem to have a reccurring theme.

Belonging to many ethnic groups, Ugandans speak over 30 different African languages. English and Swahili are the country’s official languages.

Swahili is a useful communication link with the country’s Eastern neighbours of Kenya and Tanzania, where it's also spoken.

The largest group in Uganda (around a fifth of the population) are the Baganda, who live in the Kampala region and speak Luganda.

Other Bantu-speaking groups include the Ankole, Toro, Banyoro and Basoga. To the east and north are groups of Nilotic/Cushitic origin, including the Teso, Karimojong, Acholi and Lango.

The common pre-fixes of ‘Mu-’, ‘Ba-’ and ‘Bu-’ are used for ‘a member of’, ‘a people’ and ‘the land they occupy’. So for example, a Muganda is a member of the Baganda, who live in Buganda. The name of the country comes from the fact that in Swahili, the prefix ‘U-’ is used instead of ‘Bu-'.

...and their dances

Ugandan dance

Ugandan danceIn this video… young Ugandans perform some traditional dancing to a slow persistent beat.

As in many African countries, dance is an important part of ceremonies and special occasions. Uganda’s different peoples have their own special dances.

For example, in the eastern region, the Basoga practice a dance known as Tamenhaibunga which expresses the importance of love and friendship. Its name literally means ‘good friends drink together and don’t fight in case they break the gourd holding the drink’.

Probably the most widely recognised Ugandan dance is the Kiganda, where the performers move their lower body to a drum-beat. It’s a tricky dance, requiring great skill to keep the upper torso controlled and rotate to the music from the waist down. The dance has many variations for different occasions, but the version often seen is the one performed in honour of the Baganda king.

Mixing old and new beliefs

Religion plays an important part of daily life in Uganda. Over four-fifths of Ugandans are Christian, either Protestant or Catholic. Around 10% are Muslims, a legacy of the Arab traders who came here in the 19th century.

Ugandans are strong in their faith and see no conflict in holding to some traditional beliefs. In times of trouble, as well as praying to the Christian or Muslim God, people may also consult a local oracle or healer. Many shrines to the spirits are still in active use.