The Bachwezi people, who are also known as the Ancient Cwezi or Chwezi, were a group of people who legends say ruled the Empire of Kitara (Empire of t
The Bachwezi people, who are also known as the Ancient Cwezi or Chwezi, were a group of people who legends say ruled the Empire of Kitara (Empire of the Sun), which encompassed a vast area including modern day Uganda, Sudan, northern Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and Malawi from 10,000 BC to 1,500 AD. The empire began to fragment into various autonomous states in the 1300s, as a result of people believing in a prophesy that stated the death of a sacred cow , Bihogo, would mark the end of the empire.
They were an extraordinary people for a number of reasons. They had a number of distinctive physical features; they were unusually tall, and their heads were a distinctly unhuman shape. This has resulted in some people attributing their unusual appearance to evidence they were demigods. Others have argued they were a race of ancient extraterrestrials. In addition to their physical appearance, they are said to have had supernatural skills, beyond any human abilities.
They were even worshiped by the Ugandans, who called on them to intervene in times of crisis. The Rwandans and Burandi people, who still worship the Cwezi, call them Ibimanuka, which means ‘people who landed as gods’.
They are worshipped by tribes in Ankole, Toro, East Congo, Buganda, and Tanzania. With so many people still convinced they were supernatural or extraterrestrial beings, could there be any truth to the claims they had some special abilities?
The Potential Origins and Descendants of the Cwezi
The most commonly cited source of information about the Cwezi that remains is the oral tradition of the Tutsi, an ethnic group in the African Great Lakes region – though their origins are still a hotly contested subject. While some people believe they came from Egypt, the Tutsi describe the mystical Ancient Cwezi as the direct ancestors of the Kush, Nubian, and Khamitian royalty. They have also been described as relatives of, or the same cultural group as the Kamitic and Sudanic gods.
Today, there is much more reliance on physical evidence to prove the existence and behaviors of ancient cultures. The presence of ancient relics is used to try and ascertain the presence and potential origins of this mysterious and controversial ancient race.
Many modern scholars believe the Cwezi first arrived in Western Uganda around 500 AD. They migrated from north of the river Nile and brought with them more organized social structures and established kingdoms in eastern Africa. Gakondo, an eccentric and rather controversial African writer, believes this theory is incorrect and feels strongly that is was conceived of during the colonial era at a time where Western influence was prevalent in the region.
He offers an alternative version of events – that the Cwezi people were not restricted to the regions around Lake George and Lake Albert as Western scholars have argued, but were actually the rulers of the ancient Kitara Empire which spanned a vast region covering modern day Rwanda, Burundi, Karagwe, Eastern Congo, some parts of Uganda, and the Kano plains of Kenya.
He goes even further, arguing the Cwezi are the ancestors of a vast number of modern African kingdoms – Toro, Ankole, Buganda, Rwanda, and Burundi – and even some lost kingdoms like the Kongo and Zanj.
Extraterrestrials or Demigods?
The geographical origins and spread of the Cwezi people are already a contested subject, but the argument is complicated further by the fact that they are not like other known ancient cultures. The Cwezi are universally described as extraordinary in both appearance and behavior, which has led to speculation that they were visitors from another planet with ‘one foot on earth and another foot astral’. Others believe their unusual traits are because they were a race of half humans and half gods.
It was said that the Cwezi had one foot on earth and another foot astral. ( Korionov / Adobe Stock)
Traditional descriptions of the Cwezi are of a race who were remarkably tall, with dark brown skin (with the notable exception of one folktale recounted by C.C Wrigley which describes them as white.) This does not sound too exceptional for a race in Africa, but these physical descriptions are coupled with tales of their supernatural abilities including the ability to teleport and the power of telekinesis.
Evidence of Superpowers
One of the things that has been cited as evidence the Cwezi possessed superhuman abilities is the construction of the pyramids. They were constructed from 30 ton blocks of rock, which were transported a tremendous distance from their territory in South Sudan to Cairo.
More traditional explanations for this are the use of slave labor (either by Israelite captives or locals) or a workforce of thousands. But proponents of the theory that the Cwezi were supernatural beings believe the blocks were not dragged to their location over hundreds of miles by men but moved into place telekinetically. They also believe the blocks were not quarried and then chiseled with basic tools but were easily cut into their precise shapes using some kind of advanced or magic technology available to the Cwezi that is no longer known. If this theory is true, it may be evidence that the theory the Cwezi originated in Egypt is true.
Some believe the Cwezi possessed superhuman abilities and used those powers for the construction of the pyramids. ( Dudarev Mikhail / Adobe Stock)
Gakondo, the African writer who is a staunch believer that the Cwezi were supernatural, believes more traditional theories about the construction of the pyramids are the result of bias. He argues that the archaeologists who believe the pyramids were made with primitive tools are simply unwilling to think of ancient people as intelligent or advanced technologically . He believes they attribute the extraordinary feat to manual labor because it validates their idea that earlier civilizations were primitive and that our ancestors were less intelligent than we are today.
If this was not enough potential evidence that the Cwezi were supernatural, oral legends also claim they possessed the powers of clairvoyance, telepathy, and at least some ability to teleport. These powers meant they were able to read thoughts, but perhaps more significantly the legends all claim the Cwezi were able to see into the future.
This meant the Cwezi could not only see any potential dangers but alert one another. They were also able to teleport in an instant if they needed to move out of harm’s way, or in order to travel long distances to avoid or resolve conflict.
Long Reaching Influences
The issue of Cwezi teleportation is also a potential explanation for the existence of similar people in the folktales of cultures across the continent – from the Ife people in Western Africa to the San in the Kalahari or the Mali in southern Africa. If they were able to teleport, they could easily have been known across a wide area and their sudden appearances and extraordinary skills would not have gone unnoticed.
Despite the Ife people’s great distance, they had knowledge of the Cwezi. (Zykasaa / Public Domain )
Along with teleportation, many folk tales describe the Cwezi as traveling through the air by levitating. They are said to have passed on the knowledge of this mystical skill and the Gisaka people in Rwanda and Karagwe claim to have held and used this secret skill until as recently as the 1980s.
They say the knowledge was lost when evangelical Christianity reached the region and the skill was labeled as witchcraft and the people who had any knowledge or used it were persecuted. They claim the last people who could practice the sacred skill, passed on for generations since it was taught to them by the Cwezi, were killed in 1994 in the Rwandan genocide and the ancient and mystical talent died with them.
Cwezi Culture and the Cult of Cwezi
Whether they possessed supernatural skills or not, the Cwezi were an incredible society and they would have been advanced for the time. The long horned Ankole cows, which are native to the region at the source of the river Nile, are said to have been introduced to the area by the Cwezi and as a society they were skilled at keeping cattle.
They enjoyed partaking in a wide range of sporting activities such as archery, javelin, and wrestling. They introduced and played a board game called Omweeso (also known as ekisoro, or igisoro), which is still popular in Africa today.
The Cwezi created the complicated board game – Omweeso. (Moongateclimber / Public Domain )
Although they raised cattle, they were largely vegetarian and would mainly have used the cows for their milk. Along with cattle, they also cultivated plants and they were considered very proficient as farmers.
They were skilled in combat, but they were mainly pacifists and either retreated or teleported to neutral ground during conflict – traditionalists assert that when the Cwezi returned after a battle was over they remained invisible to other people in the region. Legends within the Ankole culture state the Cwezi who disappeared can still be heard today, as they live their everyday lives out of the sight of mortal beings.
They disappeared from the historical record in the 16th Century and even the reasons for this are a matter of debate. Some people – like the Ankole – have argued they are still there but cannot be seen. A more pragmatic explanation is that they were overrun by a group indigenous to the Nile valley called the Luo people as they had been weakened by both famine and disease.
But with so many extraordinary claims and legends surrounding the Cwezi, and their mysterious and sudden disappearance from the record, it is not surprising they have attracted a rather zealous group of followers. The Cwezi Cult is known both as a ‘cult of affliction’ and a ‘spirit society’. They have been largely overlooked by most sources, but they are known locally for their unusual beliefs and an association with dark magic and witchcraft.
The Sukuma people from the African Great Lakes region describe followers of the Cwezi Cult as ‘balogi’ which translates to ‘witches’ and they are surrounded by rumor and speculation. They are associated with strong use of black magic, extreme secrecy, unusual sexual acts as a part of initiation ceremonies, and cursed items and symbols. It is believed that any thief who finds the shishingo diadem, a Cwezi Cult emblem, in their loot will fall victim to its powers and be killed.
The Sukuma people from the African Great Lakes region describe followers of the Cwezi Cult as ‘balogi’. (Andrea kwana / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
But despite these nefarious and shady associations, the cult is not entirely shunned – they are highly respected for their skills as healers. The ceremonies and initiations they hold for healing are largely performed at night, which further strengthens their associations with witchcraft – and although their healing abilities are respected, they are still feared and not completely trusted by those who call upon their services.
There are many traditional cults similar to the Cwezi Cult in Africa, but unlike most of the others, the practitioners of the Cwezi Cult do not try to placate the dead with offerings and sacrifices. Instead, they attempt to communicate with them.
As they walk to events at night, they sing an anthem which serves to reassure the public that they are benevolent and are working as healers. They explain the symptoms the sick person is experiencing are a manifestation of an angry spirit, and that by recognizing the spirit, they will be healed. Within this same reassuring anthem, they name other cults.
The anthem describes what the Cwezi Cult does differently, and why it makes a difference to the effectiveness of their ceremonies. They are proud of the fact they do not just leave things as offerings to the dead, but actually communicate with them, and they believe this is what makes their magic so effective.
For the Cwezi to heal, they need the person they are treating to become possessed by the spirit causing them problems, so they can communicate directly with the spirit. They ask the name of the entity, and for it to express what it wants – the answer is usually given in tongues or incomprehensible growls which are interpreted by cult members.
During the Cwezi healing ceremonies the afflicted person must become possessed so they can communicate directly with the spirit. ( @nt / Adobe Stock)
The Cwezi Cult’s healing ceremonies last for five grueling days, during which the cult members perform songs and dance. But it is not just the afflicted person who is possessed by a spirit during this time – members can become possessed too.
They call this being ‘reached by the ancestor’, and at its heart this is what the Cwezi Cult is about. They revere the ancestors who formed the great Cwezi empire and they believe their ancestors are either still present physically but invisibly or are watching them as gods from another realm.
Although the real nature of the original Cwezi people is a mystery, the impact they had on folklore across Africa is extensive. It seems that everyone they contacted believed they had supernatural powers and they were revered for their unique talents. But for the people who still believe they were superhuman – whether gods, aliens, or spirits – being ‘reached by an ancestor’ must be a privilege which inspires devotion to a cult with a dark reputation.
Top image: The Cwezi were believed to be ancient extraterrestrials or demigods. Source: Stanislav / Adobe Stock.