Set in beautifully manicured grounds of what was once a palace of a legendary king in the 17th century, is the Igongo cultural centre.
This centre is a hub of the rich Ankole-Kikiga heritage in a modern-day setting. Located in Biharwe, 12km to Mbarara town, the centre boasts of a museum, restaurant and a book and crafts centre, dealing mainly in historical literature for the region. A country hotel is yet to be opened later this year to make the centre a one-stop point.
Of all the above facilities, however, the main attraction is the museum (Eriijukiro) of South Western Uganda. I had to part with Shs 5,000 to get access to the museum. A gush of cool air welcomed me as I walked in with the Assistant Curator, Bosco Tabaro, who was ready to walk me through the history.
The Eriijukiro, a brainchild of James Tumusiime - he of Fountain Publishers - with its tag line "Obwengye Bugira Emizi", (wisdom has its roots) was developed in collaboration with members of the Margaret Trowell school of Industrial and Fine art, Makerere University as was revealed by Tabaro during my visit.
Standing at the entrance, this particular quote on the wall at the extreme end of the museum caught my attention.
"Otaine nte na rutookye toshwera." This, Tabaro translated to me thus, "Without cows and banana plantation, no wife."
He explained the old Kinyankore saying as one that attached wealth to real manhood, adding that in the past, no one could let their daughter get married to a man without a herd of cattle and a banana plantation, because such a man could not feed his family.
Historical items or their imitations are carefully kept under lock in glass cabins and historical literature and pictures hang on the wall. Several artifacts were logically displayed along with the necessary information.
The Eriijukiro is divided into sections that showcase ancient and modern history of the region and cultures of the people of the south western region. Skills such as the traditional iron smelting, local beer and ghee processing are clearly explained in writing with all the necessary equipment showcased and named.
There is a family and community section which clearly distinguishes the traditional Kiga homestead from the traditional Ankole homestead. The museum features a politics, leadership and military section that highlights how governments were run through the times.
Other areas include entertainment, fashion, traditional medicine, worship and divination and currency through the years. It provides a thoroughly entertaining stay, before visitors retire for the delicious nyama choma served in the cool gardens.
Igongo Cultural Centre was established in 2009 as a civil society initiative to study, preserve and promote the cultural and natural heritage of southwestern Uganda and its surrounding areas. The centre, one of eleven community museums across Uganda, is fast becoming a main tourist attraction in western Uganda.