During the celebrations of his 29th
Coronation anniversary on Sunday last week, Kabaka Mutebi II unveiled paintings of 31 former Kings of Buganda from
Kabaka Kintu to Ssuuna II. These portraits depict the Kings of Buganda who existed between
1200 and 1856 at a time when there were no cameras or paintings, which means there were no pictures showing what they looked like.
It took seven years for Wasswa Lumu and Simon Peter Bwanika to come up with these portraits. URN spoke to Bwanika to fund out how they were able to come up with the portraits with
clear features of the kings. Bwanika, 32, is an artist with a bachelor's degree in Industrial arts and design from Kyambogo university and a resident of
For the past 11 years, he has painted portraits and pictures from his workshop SPM Arts Uganda, which he operates with Wasswa Lumu. He
speaks with a smile beaming across his cheeks and sits with the pose of one who
has some achievements to his name.
There are several paintings of individuals and animals carefully arranged in his workshop.
Bwanika says that to be chosen for the task, his colleague
Lumu had taken a mosaic portrait of the Kabaka made of banana fibers to the Kingdom
Minister of Research, Sylvia Mazzi. When Katikkiro Mayiga saw the portrait, appreciated
it and called Lumu informing him of the kingdom’s idea to paint portraits of
the kings whose pictures didn’t exist.
Lumu agreed to do the work and he and Bwanika embarked on the task. To start the work, the artists had to do research on the
descriptions of the former kings. Bwanika says they had to read books that talked about the physical appearances of the kings of Buganda. They were advised to read the book titled "Abateregga Ku Namulondo ye Buganda written by J.S. Kasirye.
The book offered details on the face of Kabaka Kyabaggu and little information
about the countenances of the other kings. After painting Kabaka Kyabaggu they
took the work to a committee at Bulange Mengo, which appreciated their work. Now, there seemed no way forward as there were no books
detailing the appearances of the other kings.
They were stuck on what to do until Minister Mazzi advised them to visit different royal tombs of the former
kings. Here they met the custodians of the tombs descended from the King's lineages.
These gave the artists the information they knew about the looks of the kings, which they added to the information from the books and drawn sketches.
According to Bwanika, they were able to clear descriptions of the faces of some of the kings from their descendants at their tombs for example at Kaliiti where Kabaka Kikulwe’s tombs were.
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It is these sketches that they then took to 3 different
committees at Bulange Mengo who approved them and thus the artists added color
to the sketches and took the portraits to the committees for approval. Each sketch was
presented for approval to all the 3 committees starting with that led by Mr.
Nsubuga who is a researcher for the kingdom, then that led by Mr. Kyewalabye
Male, who took over the Ministry of Research from Sylvia Mazzi, and the final one
chaired by the Katikkiro, Charles Peter Mayiga.
The painting was done from the workshop at Banda with utmost secrecy as the kingdom didn’t want the project to be known to the
public before being unveiled by the Kabaka Mutebi. Due to the secrecy of the work,
once paintings were done they were hidden and captions were put later away from the workshop.
The work took 7 years due to research with a single
portrait taking between 4 to 5 months. Bwanika explains that they would get a single
feature of a king described and draw it then research for more features until a
clear sketch was drawn.
He says with Kabaka Kintu no one knew anything about what he
looked like and no book had a description of his facial features. All that was
written about Kintu was that he was a fierce warrior so the artists had to construct
a portrait of what a warrior looked like in the 1200s and that’s how they came up
with his sketch.
When it comes to Kabaka Mutebi I whose portrait clearly
looks like the reigning Kabaka, Bwanika says that the custodians of the tomb of
Mutebi I described what they knew of him and the result is the portrait that
depicts him closely resembling his reigning descendant.
After all the portraits were completed and approved by the
Katikkiro, then the painters and the portraits were presented before Kabaka
Mutebi at his palace in Banda. Bwanika says when they took the portraits to the Kabaka, he offered technical advice on form and anatomy and ordered them to change
some aspects of the looks of the kings by drawing marks on the pictures
indicating what should be changed.
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On how he feels after completing the task, Bwanika says he felt
so excited, elated, and different having done work that was supervised by the
Kabaka himself. On showcasing the paintings at the palace, he says the Kabaka
sent him a messenger with an appreciation that the work is good and was what
he, Kabaka Mutebi expected.
He says that the entire project was done without payment but
facilitation in terms of transport to do research at the tombs. He says
they did not work for money but for a legacy that will go down in history.
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Bwanika adds that he has received positive feedback from the
public and has got over 78 new clients who want him to paint their portraits
after seeing the work he did on the kings. He says descendants from some of
these kings have confirmed to him that the portraits are a clear representation
of the exact looks of their forefathers.
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Katikkiro Mayiga said the idea to paint the former Kings was conceived in 2015 and presented to the King and who approved it. The painting
kicked off the following year and was completed in July 2022. The Katikkiro
said that once the work was completed, it was presented to the Kabaka's Cabinet
and then presented to the Kabaka who approved it before unveiling it on his 29th