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Chwezi Vanish into the Earth

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The pantheon of Chwezi (Cwezi) spirits constitutes the traditional religion of Bunyoro. The Chwezi, a mystical people who came to Bunyoro many years ago, ruled the country for some generations, then strangely disappeared. They possessed marvelous skills and miraculous powers. The Chwezi constitute a pantheon of contemporary effective spirits, each identified with one of the long-dead if not mythical Chwezi, and each possessing its own individuality and special competence. These spirits are not thought of as the ghosts of real men who died long ago, but rather as unchanging, timeless powers. Before the Chwezi came, there was an earlier dynasty of kings, the last king being Isaza. During his reign, this mysterious people came with cattle from the north and north-east. It is said that they were red and had long straight hair, and by superior magic and ability they obtained supreme power. They set up the empire of Bunyoro-Kitara, and moved with their cattle in search of grazing. The Chwezi built forts and knew the use of bronze.

Ndahura was the son of a Chwezi, Isimbwa, by the daughter of Buchunku, King Isaza's gatekeeper. Ndahura grew up a proud and arrogant young man. When he inherited the kingdom, he extended its boundaries and divided it up among the Chwezi. In the time of his son, Wamara, there was a series of plagues, cattle died, people no longer rendered obedience, and above all there was a plague of smallpox. In disgust, the Chwezi departed. Some say they disappeared in the lakes. When they had gone, people concluded that they were gods who had vanished into the earth, and their spirits were believed to live in large trees and rocks. Ndahura became the god of smallpox. When the Chwezi vanished from the country they left behind them a cult of spirit mediumship of which they themselves were the objects; they thereby bequeathed to the Nyoro people a permanent means of access to the magical wisdom and power that they represented. See also: Ndahura, Ruhanga, Wamara.

Subjects: Religion

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