According to Wikipedia:

“The chain of islands known as Buvuma Islands, consists of more than fifty islands and is located a few kilometres off the northern shores of Lake Victoria, Uganda in the Napoleon Gulf. Buvuma lies approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi), by water, south of the major city of Jinja, and around 90 kilometres (56 mi), southeast of the national capital, Kampala. It is part of the wider Buganda kingdom region, and …was recently made into a government district of its own by the Government of the Republic of Uganda.

“The main island is Buvuma, with a land area of around 200 square-miles (517 km²), and a population of around 20,000. It is forested, and is a destination for intrepid bird-watching tourists. The forest is being cut and burned to provide three boats a day full of charcoal for the nearby city of Jinja. There are twenty-six gazetted Forest Reserves in Buvuma.” (

Here is the story of how Buvuma Island and the District of Buvuma got their name, according to the Ugandan residents.

In the late 1800’s the king of Buganda ruled one of the most powerful and influential kingdoms in Uganda. In fact, Kampala, the current Ugandan capital, is located in this kingdom. It is said of Buganda’s historical influence that even today in 2015, when a Baganda person refers to an individual from another kingdom, i.e., “You are a Basoga” (a person from the neighboring kingdom of Busoga), it is considered by the recipient to be an insult, and he hangs his head in shame, saying something like, “Please don’t say that.” Even Alfred, my assistant and a loyal Basoga, says this is culturally true, though he personally rejects it as a proud member of the Busoga Kingdom.

The king, Ssekabaka Mwanga II (Most High King Mwanga II), annexed the islands in 1893 apparently by military might and influence. When he visited the large island now referred to as Buvuma Island to establish his new rule there, the people, who were not particularly interested in being annexed or conquered, had no means of resistance.

No means, that is, except their sense of humor. They noticed that this king had

Ssekabaka Mwanga II, circa 1893

Ssekabaka Mwanga II, circa 1893

large and crooked teeth and an equally over-prominent nose (the various stories mention one or the other of these traits, or both together). When the king would hold his councils in the slightly different Luganda language of the Buganda kingdom, they also noticed that he had a loud and obnoxious laugh.

The islanders observed this laughing, horse-faced king, and the only campaign of resistance they could mount was one of mockery. They said, “Is this man the king?” Apparently this seemingly innocent question comes off as very rude and mocking in the local tribal language of Lusoga, a close relative of Luganda, and may translate to something like, “Is this horse-faced, braying donkey the king who is conquering us?” And so this question seems to have become a political/cultural proverb of the day. When someone would point to the king’s party and say, “Is this man the king?” everyone from the islands would burst into laughter and point at him, mocking his expressions and his laugh.

Burial place of Baganda Kabakas (kings)

Burial place of Baganda Kabakas (kings)

There is no record that I’ve uncovered as to how violently the king may have reacted to this kind of reception as he travelled from island to island forcing them officially into his kingdom one by one. He was capable of considerable violence, according to this passage:

“Mwanga II… never developed a personal affection for the Christian faith…. Shortly after assuming the throne, Mwanga launched a countrywide search for the Christians and dissuaded the[m]…to reconsider their commitment and instead, probably, renounce the Christian faith. During this period of trial, many people heeded the Kings’ edict and renounced the new faith. Those who stuck to their guns were brutally tortured, maimed, amputated and burned alive – accused of committing the unforgivable crime of disobeying the King’s orders.”  (

Whatever his physical reaction to the insults heaped on him by the islanders, we know this new street proverb was eventually repeated to him and his advisors. Forever afterward, the newly conquered islands became known as “the place where they abused him” or “buvuma.” So now, this entire Lake Victoria district of over 50 islands is known by the Luganda word Buvuma, or Abused.