History of Murchison Falls & the ParkTuesday, August 23rd, 2011
“The fall of the water was white as snow, a superb effect which contrasted with the dark cliffs that acted as walls to the river, With palms of the tropics and wild plantains giving the Murchison falls a more beautiful view”, This was indeed the greatest waterfall of the River Nile and in honor of the distinguished President of the Royal Geographical society, Sir Samuel Baker named it the “Murchison Falls”.
The source of the River Nile had for many years plagued the minds of Great empires, near and distant sailors who had previously searched and failed to find the exact source. However, in 1863 Explorer Samuel Baker and his wife Florence Baker set off from Khartoum with over 96 men, camels and horses in search of the unknown “Source of the Nile”
The Bakers journey along the Nile was not an easy one and any modern day tour guide with a phone and 4-by-4 safari car would wonder how Samuel Baker, his wife and the caravan moved and discovered the falls. The Nile was dominated by Ivory traders who were always in conflict with any one they met across the their trade route but this never deterred the Bakers who finally came across one of the most beautiful views , the Murchison falls as they were later named by Baker were just right in front of their very own eyes. “Beautiful, Sensational, Magnificent, Extra terrestrial, breath taking”, must have been some of the words they used as they are still being used by most tourists who visit the falls for the first time.
Although Baker is credited with discovering Murchison Falls , he paved way to migrations of some local tribes which were not in good terms with the whites that increased in numbers as the falls got more exposure to the whole world and in 1952 the Murchison falls national park was named.
Migrations and Local People
The Luo (also called Lwo, ) ethnic group was the largest decentralized society to occupy the north western part of Murchison falls but around the 1500s, the group had some internal conflicts that led to a war between the three brothers Gypir, Labongo and Teffil who were all chiefs(leader of a clan) leading to the separation of the group at a famous place known as Pubungu or Puvungu. The followers of Gypir stayed north of the water falls as Labongo and his followers migrated to the east and the Teffil followers migarated to the west.
These areas are still occupied by the local luo speaking tribes and the southern part of the park is occupied by the present day Banyoro tribe which has its origins attached to the famous Abachwezi, Ababito, Abatembuzi dynasties. These dynasties had their roots attached to the Bantu ethnic group which was the largest ethnic group to enter Uganda and they formed the Bunyoro kitara kingdom. The bachwezi were mainly farmers and blacksmiths but the whereabouts of this ancient kingdom are still unknown.
Ivory Trade & Elephants
Ivory trade was the biggest and most prosperous trade business after Slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. Traders from all corners of Africa would travel long distances to harvest Elephant horns, rhino horns and slaves from the targeted regions which included Murchison falls which had the largest population of elephants than any part of Africa and although the British empire tried to stop Slave trade, ivory trade still continued to prosper since the British imperialists needed ivory revenue to administer the newly colonized regions in Uganda.
The Elephant Control Department came to the rescue in 1925 but its first aim was to allow controlled and restricted hunting and removal of the very large populations that had inhabited the Budongo forest. At that time, the populations of the elephants were massively increasing that the department decided to carry out culling (process of selectively slaughtering a population of wild animals with an aim of reducing the number of the particular specie targeted) and in 1965 around April, a team slaughtered up to 2000 elephants from the over 14000 elephants which had inhabited the park but there were still many in number that they were beginning to destroy their very own inhabitants and other animals inhabitants.
With time, civil conflicts devastated the wildlife of Murchison falls national park. Idi Amin closed the gates of Murchison falls national park and renamed Kabalega Falls National park after the King of Bunyoro, Omukama Kabalega I and with the park under control of Idi Amin , His troops started to poach the wild animals most especially the elephants for both meat , horns and skins but this was just the beginning as all hell broke lose after the fall of Idi as the troops decided to return back to their homeland in west nile north of the park and as they moved through the park, the exploited all kinds of resources including the wild animals and trees and to worsen things the Tanzanian troops were after the Idi troops and they also poached the wildlife using all kinds of heavy and modern artillery like AK 47 guns, bombs among other war weapons which left Murchison falls park in total devastation and by the end of these conflicts and poaching, they were only 200 Elephants remaining in Murchison falls national park.
Presently, communities that were formally displaced by the wars are returning to settle along the northern boundary of the park, more tourist and travelers are visiting the park yearly and as the elephant’s population is increasing every year, it’s safe to say that Murchison falls has regained its popularity and stability socially and economically. They are currently seven ethnic groups within the current six districts bordering the Murchison falls conservation area and one very notable district is Buliisa where our very own Ugandan based non governmental organization Soft Power Education SPE is help build the district by constructing schools with the help of the Leeds University Students who fly in Uganda annually to help promote this cause.
Note: As elephants regain their numbers in the park, it’s important not to underestimate the role that humans play in the stability of wildlife.