Lake Nkugute, situated in the Rubirizi district of the Kitara Region, is often likened to the shape of the African map, earning it the affectionate moniker “Lake Africa.”
A crater lake with an estimated terrain elevation of 4645 feet above sea level, Lake Nkugute is believed to have originated from volcanic activity that formed a crater gradually filled with rainwater over thousands of years.
Local lore surrounds Nkugute with tales of blessing and curse, captivating nearby residents who share mysterious stories dating back decades. Positioned en route to Queen Elizabeth National Park via the Mbarara-Kasese road, the lake has become a place of intrigue for the surrounding villages.
Geological Genesis of Lake Nkugute
Formed within the Bunyaruguru volcanic field over 12,000 years ago, Nkugute stands as a testament to ancient eruptions, evidenced by nearby hot springs like Kitagata. Its name, meaning “swallow” in Runyaruguru, stems from tales of the lake allegedly swallowing two children annually.
Local narratives depict annual incidents where the lake would supposedly “swallow” a male and female child without warning. Children enjoying swimming near the shore would be engulfed, and attempts at rescue often resulted in similar fates. The lake’s boundaries, resembling the map of Africa when viewed from a nearby hill, add to its mystique.
Once surrounded by a dense forest, Lake Nkugute underwent transformations during the construction of the Mbarara-Kasese highway. The forest gave way to banana plantations, cultivated land, and the presence of pine and mahogany trees. The lake’s visibility increased with the addition of marram on its shores.
The lake was said to be home to the Bachwezi, and tales from older citizens recall mysterious encounters. After 10 pm, individuals walking past the lake would reportedly be accosted by tall, dark-skinned figures, believed to be Bachwezi, accusing locals of stealing their cattle. These encounters occurred predominantly to those walking alone.
Rituals and Caretakers
Lake Nkugute had a caretaker named Omuzumira Komurusozi, responsible for performing rituals to appease the lake’s gods. Delayed rituals would allegedly lead to the lake turning violent. Reports of drownings under unclear circumstances prompted interventions involving the sacrifice of a goat and a sheep, whose heads were placed in the lake.
Current Status and Conservation
Serving as a vital water source for domestic use in Bunyaruguru, a dam was constructed at the lake’s boundary, resembling the horn of Africa. Local authorities have implemented measures to maintain water cleanliness, including prohibiting washing clothes and cars in the lake. Fishing is not popular, possibly due to the perceived lack of fish.
Despite being a popular tourist destination, the local community has seen limited benefits from tourism. Visitors often capture photos but depart without contributing significantly to the local economy. The absence of hotels or accommodations around the lake is identified as a limiting factor.
Local Inhabitants: Banyaruguru and Batagwenda
Lake Nkugute is situated in Bunyaruguru County, inhabited by the Banyaruguru tribe, emigrants from Buganda. Fluent in Luganda, Runyankole, and other languages, the Banyaruguru maintain strong family bonds and adhere to Baganda customs. The Batagwenda, originally hunters, reside in two segments: Banyantara and those around the hills of Kikondo and Kinyamugara.
The Banyaruguru’s migration traces back over 200 years to conflicts between Baganda kings, leading to their settlement in present-day Kitagwenda and later in Rubirizi District.
Lifestyle and Culture
The Banyaruguru, numbering about 200,000, are known for their close-knit community, strong family bonds, and agricultural practices. They cultivate matoke, cassava, beans, maize, and Arabica coffee on family land. The Batagwenda’s staple food is millet, complemented by matoke, cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes.
Locals believe Lake Nkugute could benefit more from tourism with the establishment of hotels or a beach in its vicinity. By fostering sustainable tourism practices and respecting the lake’s cultural and ecological significance, Lake Nkugute has the potential to thrive as a unique destination, offering a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness.