Major Ethnic Groups of Uganda and population – The top 10 tribes

Major Ethnic Groups of Uganda and population – The top 10 tribes

Tribes in Uganda and their population can be classified into wide linguistic ethnic groups. In the central, southern and western parts of the country are occupied by the Bantu speaking majority and the eastern, northern and northwestern part of the country is occupied by the non-bantu speaking groups.

Belonging to many ethnic groups, Ugandans speak over 30 different African languages, English and Swahili are the countries official languages. The largest group is the Baganda and they speak Luganda.

The main dance they practice here is Tamenhaibunga which expresses the importance of love and friendship. The name means, ‘good friends drink together and don’t fight in case they break the gourd holding the drink’. The different people in different tribes of Uganda have different dances. The widely recognized dance is Kiganda,

Kiganda dance

where people move their lower body to drumbeat.

Most people produce their own food and eat two meals a day, lunch and supper. Breakfast is often a cup of tea and porridge. Meals are prepared by women and girls. Men and boys above age 12 do not sit in the kitchen.

Here is the list of the top 10 tribes of Uganda:

Baganda

Baganda tribes

Baganda tribes are called as Kings Men because of the significant role of their king-the Kabaka in their political, social and cultural institution. The Kabaka ruled over a hierarchy of chiefs who collected taxes in the form of food and livestock. All of the portions received are distributed through the hierarchy, eventually reaching the Kabaka’s palace in the form of taxes.

  • The Baganda are located along the north and western shores of Lake Victoria in the east of the African nation of Uganda.
  • The former capital of Buganda is now occupied by Baganda. It is south to the Bunyoro Kingdom and west to Nile River.
  • Baganda is the largest tribe in Uganda. It comprises more than one-fourth of Uganda’s total landmass.
  • The Baganda speak a Bantu language called Luganda. Like other African languages, Luganda is tonal, meaning that some words are differentiated by pitch.
  • The Baganda is the most dominant tribes in Uganda and their population is around 35 million.
  • The majority of people present in Baganda are Christians where some follow catholic and some follow protestant, about 15-20% are Muslims who follow Islam.
  • The main food of Baganda is matooke, a plantain which is boiled, steamed and served with groundnut. Other few foods include; eggs, fish, beans, groundnuts, beef, chicken, and goats, as well as termites and grasshoppers in season.

Banyankole:

Banyankole tribe

The Banyankole is located in south-western Uganda. The Mugabe [king] was an absolute ruler. He claimed all the cattle throughout the country as his own. Chiefs were ranked by the number of cattle they possessed.

  • Banyankole is divided into a high-ranked caste of pastoralists and lower-ranked caste of farmers.
  • The Bahima are cattle herders and Bairu are farmers who also care for goat and sheep.
  • The Banyankole speak Bantu language called Runyankole. In this language, nouns are composed of modifiers known as prefixes, infixes and suffixes.
  • Legends and Tales teach proper moral behaviour to the young. Both men and women excel in a verbal art form with emphasizing riddles and proverbs.
  • Folktales draw on themes such as royalty, cattle, hunting and other concerns of Banyankole.
  • The majority of Banyankole are Christians and celebrate Christian holidays including Christmas and Easter.
  • The dressing style differentiates Banyankole by rank and gender. Chiefs traditionally wore long robes of cowskins. Ordinary citizens wear a small portion of cowskin over their shoulders. Today, Banyankole wear modern western-style clothing.
  • The Bahima herders consume milk and butter and drink fresh blood from their cattle. Beef is also a very important food. Buttermilk is drunk by women and children only. Children can eat rabbit but men eat only the meat of cow and buffalo.

    you can get all Ugandan tribes list from here

Basoga:

basoga people

The Basoga are the eastern neighbours of the Baganda. They are located between the lake Victoria and Lake Kioga which is the present district of Kamuli, jinja and Iganga.

  • The Basoga were disunited people. They could not unite even in the face of a common enemy. This explains when they incessantly prone to foreign influence first from Bunyoro and later form Buganda.
  • The language of Busoga is Lusoga which is approximately closer to Luganda.
  • The Basoga is one of the tribes in Uganda and their population is 8 per cent of total Uganda population
  • The Basoga believed in the existence of the spirit world. They called the Supreme Being lubaale.
  • In Busoga, each clan had land and the clan head was responsible for the clans land. The land cannot pass ownership from one clan to another clan.

Bakiga

Bakiga people

The Bakiga people are located in northern Rwanda and Southern Uganda. They are sometimes called as Kiga or Chiga. The Bakiga people are a great example for a tribe that follows and still practices many of their old traditions today. The Bakiga lived in clans, which has a chief who is not supposed to marry outside his clan.

  • The Bakiga speak a Bantu language called Rukiga.
  • The Bakiga are very hospitable and enjoy the privilege of having a mixed language.
  • They believed in Ruhanga, the creator of all things.
  • The important cults were Nyabindi – the spirit of a much-respected rain-maker.
  • Bakiga was mainly agriculturalist and kept less livestock than other pastoralist groups.
  • They grew sorghum, peas, millets, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and beans.
  • It is still considered good manners for visitors to join a family eating a meal without an invitation.
  • The Bakiga were producing beer from sorghum and still do the same.
  • The main instruments they use are;
    • Omukuli [Flute]
    • Amakondere [trumpets]
    • Endingidi [Fiddle]
    • Enanga [trough zither]
    • Engoma [Drums]

Iteso:

Iteso tradition

Iteso tradition relates that they originated in Sudan and moved to the south over the period of centuries. They presently live in the Teso-sub region, in the present district of Amurai, Soroti, Kumi, Tororo and Busia district. Feel the tradition of Ugandan people by visiting Uganda

  • The major food crops are Sorghum and finger millet.
  • Womens grow vegetables in the garden and gather various wild foods, mushrooms and flying ants, as a delicacy.
  • Men herd cattle and grazing of animals was regarded as a commonly held right until the late 1960s.
  • The age graders known as Aturio provided the basis of military organization.
  • The war leaders were called Aruwok and the army was called the Ajore.
  • They have 3 types of birth among the Iteso; Single child, twins and spiritual birth. The spiritual birth was said to be in the form of Air or Water.
  • The newborn baby would be initiated into the clan by conducting a ritual ceremony called etale.
  • The Iteso did not regard death as normal consequences. Death was attributed to ancestral spirits and witchcrafts.

Langi:

Langi peoples

Langi people live in Lango sub-region, north of Lake Kyoga. The Lango is one of the tribes in Uganda and their population is 1.5 million according to 2002 census.

  • The language of Langi is Luo.
  • The tribal symbol of Langi is Rhino.
  • Lango people had a government before British rule.
  • The Lango government was elected through clan chiefs with the authority of people over their clans.
  • Pre-colonial education was both formal and informal.
  • Children were taught by their mother or siblings morality and how to address their relatives and respect other people.
  • Boys were taught by their father or male relatives.
  • The girls were taught by their mother or female relatives.
  • Games, folk stories, myths, proverbs, and riddles played an important role in Lango education.
  • Chiefs were heredity in some clans.  

Acholi

Acholi people

Acholi people are the ethnic group from the districts of Agago, Amuru, Gulu and Magwe from south Sudan. The Acholi are the Lua people who are said to have come to northern Uganda from the area now known as Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan.

  • The Acholi language is a Western Nilotic language, classified as Luo and is mutually intelligible with Lango and other Luo languages.
  • Acholi is one of the largest tribes in Uganda and their population is over 2.0million
  • The traditional dwelling places were circular huts with a high peak, furnished with a mud sleeping-platform.
  • They were skilled hunters, using nuts and spears.
  • They kept goats, sheep and cattle.
  • The Acholi recognized two distinct birth customs namely the normal birth and the Jok Anywala [Godly] birth.
  • Acholi believed in a Supreme Being called jok. The shrine for jok was called as Abila.
  • The Acholi sing about every incident but some of their songs refer to well-known incidents in the past.

Bagisu:

Bagisu  tribe uganda

The Bagisu lives mainly in Mbale district of Uganda on the slopes of Mount Elhon. They have no tradition of an early migration from anywhere. They assert that their ancestors were called Mundu and Sera.

  • The main and unique social custom of Bagisu is Male circumcision.
  • The Bagisu are known for the fearsome and aggressive and strength by their neighbours.
  • The person who is uncircumcised is not allowed to marry a Bagisu woman.
  • The language they speak is Massaba.
  • The Bagisu is one of the tribes in Uganda and their population is around 9,53,936.
  • The tribe was divided into clans – two or three around Mbale.

Lugbara:

The Lugbara tribe are the ethnic group who mainly live in the West Nile region of Uganda and in the area of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are settled agriculturalist, subsisting primarily by shifting hoe cultivation.

  • Marriage entails a substantial bride-price in livestock or ion implements.
  • Polygyny is the rule.
  • The majority of Lugbara still practice ancestor worship, they believe in a creator god, Adroa.
  • They are people least affected by the modern changes in Uganda and maintaining a strong sense of their own identity.
  • The cultural symbol of Lugbara is Leopard.
  • They are the predominant keepers of guinea in Uganda.
  • There are settled subsistence farmers.
  • Cassava is now the traditional staple.
  • They grow Millet, Sorghum, Legumes, Pigeon peas and variety of root crops.
  • Marriage is forbidden between members of the same clan or with man’s or woman’s mother close kin.
  • Polygyn is a male ideal, about a third of a man having more than one wife.

Uganda is a home for many tribes that speak different languages. Uganda has 54 tribes and about 9 indigenous communities that formally came to recognition. English is the official language of Uganda. Luganda and Swahili are widely spoken in most part of the country. Uganda is also home for Mountain gorillas and other primates.

23 Comments

  1. Robert Waliaula says:

    Thanks l have learned alot, and now the great
    Culture, history and tribes of Uganda.
    I am interested in knowing more about Uganda, because Iam told that ancestors came from there. So I strongly believe that Uganda is my motherland.
    One day when I will get to know my roots , I will move back to my beloved Country.
    My names; Robert Waliaula ( Keyan Ciitzen, but Ungandan by blod)

  2. Robert Waliaula says:

    Thanks I have learned alot and now I know the great
    Culture, history and tribes of Uganda. Iam interested
    in knowing more about Uganda, because Iam told
    That my ancestors come from there. So I strongly believe that Uganda is my Motherland. One day when I will get to know my roots. I will go back to my beloved Country.
    I also ask the Government of Uganda to help me, come back to my ancestral land.
    My Names: Robert Waliaula (Kenya)

  3. Tony says:

    Iam interested in knowing about the Sebeis / Sabaot of Mt. Elgon Kapchorwa, their history , related tribes in uganda and else where & their way of living and the Origin…

  4. Rratsheko Mashilo Nthtie says:

    Based in South Africa, I have learned a lot from the information with few cultural similarities practices.

  5. Mike Lukundo says:

    I thank the author for this wonderful compilation about some tribes in Uganda. However, I have noted a few pieces of misinformation. One, the landmass occupied by the Baganda cannot be one-quarter of Uganda’s surface area. Two, they (Baganda) cannot add up to 35million people: that was the total population of Uganda according to 2002 census. Three, that name of some kind of dance (kamenhaibuga) is not a Luganda word. Four, the supreme spiritual being of the Basoga is Kibumba: Lubaale refers to any other spirit that assists the supreme deity (Kibumba among the Basoga or Katonda among the Baganda). The ba-lubaale (plural) could be the equivalent of the angels in the biblical/quranic myths of the Jews and Arabs.

    • Mirmir says:

      Yes Bwana Lukondo. Thank you very much for corrections. The site is run by a tour operator so dont expect too much accuracy. I like your equivalency example of the biblical /quaranic myths. Thats where they should belong in an African context.

      May I add 2 corrections 1. Acholi believed in a Supreme Being called jok. Shouldnt caps be to given here? Grammar 101 says a name should be in caps anyhow. I noticed the constant reference of African tribal deities in lower case as gods but putting christian in caps. Sends the wrong message.
      2) Lugbara – Polygyny is the rule. I think that should be polygamy. It is not a rule btw. No African tribe forces a man/woman to marry more than 1 wife….it is up to the individuals.

    • Peter Simiyu Namasaka says:

      is it true that Bukusu and bagisu are same

    • ETATAI PAUL says:

      I conquer with you my brother Mike Lukundo, there’s a bit of misinformation there

  6. Okello Eugenio says:

    Why do you represent the langis with the karamojong.

    Please be serious.

  7. Barasa Robert Masaya says:

    I have learned a great deal of my ancestral origin. My father used to tell me that our clan Bakiise pronounced bachiise isn’t bagisu. He whispered to me that we’re masaai but never let anyone know or else we shall be chased by the bagisu. I’m told bakiise got a name from bakiise who let them rest here on their movement. But they settled among the bakomolo clan. Today if you go bukiise sub county sironko you find a river called suguta which is purely Masai name. My grandfather was called Masaya which I letter found out it’s corruption of Masyaya a masaai name. I still have a photo of my grandfathers in a masaai attire. Majority of bakiise don’t know about this history I have just unearthed it from this wonderful piece of information. God bless you. Barasa Robert Masaya

  8. Linda says:

    I am from tge Shona speaking people of Zimbabwe and i believe our people originated from the Great lakes region.
    Can someone comfirm any similarities between our languages for example in Shona we call a
    girl – Musikana
    Boy -Mukomana
    Mother- Amai
    Father- Baba
    Cow – Mombe
    Lion – Shumba
    Body – Muviri
    Sun – Zuva
    Milk – Mukaka

    • Jonan NZALAMBA says:

      Yes, its true. Your language is similar to the languages in Uganda, words like father (baba) many Ugandans call their fathers baba. Uganda has 52 tribes with different languages so I don’t know if the other words are used here. The other words like girl (musikana), cow (mombe) are used in kiswahili, only that the spellings differ but not that much.

    • Isaac wataker says:

      Girl -msichana
      Boy-mvulana
      Mother- mama
      Father- baba
      Cow – n’gombe
      Body – mwili
      Sun – jua
      Milk – maziwa
      Isaac from kenya those are swahili comparisons….very similar

    • Arnold says:

      Among the examples you have used very few words resemble some tribes in the great eastern region but the one that am sure of is the Zulu language is bit more common with some tribal languages in Uganda mostly lu

  9. Ayebare says:

    More to know abt Bakiga. Each clan had sub clans which subclans had different taboos(muziro) but similar munywani w’ Oruganda (friend of clan). And these subclans can marry from each other however have the common taboo.
    Also were militarily led by war- lords to war. War lords were soldiers who had led many battles and wars without losing any.
    Pregnancy before marriage among Bakiga was prohibited and any girl that got pregnant was taken to the punishment island on lake Bunyonyi and left there to starve and die.
    Polygamy was a very normal thing among Bakiga men .

  10. ETATAI PAUL says:

    IAM Etesot from Tororo… Mudakori village, just want to thank you for the information but i disagree with the population of baganda being 35million.

  11. Karen Ann Davidson says:

    Am glad to realize there is no Tribe called
    Banyarwanda
    Since Rwanda is a country of it’s own & as the Tutsi, Twah & Hutu
    Uganda is like Buganda just in Swahili
    This is Comfidential !!!.

  12. Namumbya says:

    I agree with some facts about BASOGA but the point of being disunited to the extent even in front of their enemies thats a big lie we had a centralised organisation from day one forestance we had chiefs who headed different villages and so many things so if we were disunited as you have stated then you would not even know anything about us and Busoga kindgom would not be existing.

  13. Farouk Musana says:

    Mr Author, the next time you make a compilation about Ugandan tribes, do research throughly other than misinforming and lying the world. Tamenhaibuga has never been a Baganda dance and the way of dressing shown for Basoga is not theirs. Baganda make 16.2% of Uganda’s population of about 40 million people. Either you are misinformed or you were biased when you made your compilation. Kindly correct your information you are giving the world.

  14. KIWEWA INNOCENT Ateenyi says:

    Thanks for the information, though it’s full of bias because you can’t skip Banyoro and their language, their dance( kinyege, ntogoro) their dressing code (omwenagiro for ladies and Kanzu with coats for men).
    Their pate names, name them. Bunyoro’s history if we’ll traced forms basis of Ugandan history though it was masked by Baganda during colonial rule, that led even to Banyoro being assimilated by Baganda even in nomenclature you find Some Banyoro are named Kiganda names just because Baganda were empowered to fight Banyoro during colonial rule, since then it has kept trending but some of Baganda names/people who inhabit some areas neighboring Bunyoro their origin has roots of Bunyoro.
    I believe I wud have been one of the top most three tribes.
    Then you need to give us your source you based on to give the above facts.

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