The Canarium tree fell down during the Monday night heavy downpour. Photo / Kyambogo University

By Emmanuel Onyango

A majestic tree whose life marked the early days of the arrival of British missionaries in Uganda was blown over on Monday night following a heavy downpour in the East African country.

The Canarium tree, commonly known as Omuwafu, was thought to be more than 150 years old. It was part of the palace of the 30th king of the Buganda kingdom, Kabaka Muteesa I whose reign lasted from 1856 until 1884.

It was under its branches that English explorer John Hanning Speke and Scottish explorer James Augustus Grant sat in 1862 as they waited to meet the king. They later met the Kabaka inside his palace.

The meeting between Kabaka Mutesa I and explorers John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant in 1862. Photo / Kyambogo University

It was also under the Omuwafu tree that the king hosted American explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 1875 and wrote a letter to the Queen of England inviting British missionaries.

The missionaries established schools in the kingdom, but Stanley proceeded to be heavily criticised for his role in the European colonisation of eastern Africa because of his collaboration with King Leopold II of Belgium to establish a brutal colonial regime in the Congo region.

The Buganda king's palace was expansive covering space including the current location of Kyambogo University in the capital, Kampala.

The Omuwafu tree held a huge cultural value for the Buganda people. In the past, plans by the university to build an education complex where it stands were scrapped over concerns it could antagonise the local community.

The Omuwafu tree at Kyambogo University. Photo / Kyambogo University

"After getting to know the story about this tree, we requested the (university) management to spare the tree because it has history that tells us where we are coming from and where we are heading to," Prof Elizabeth Kyazike, an archaeologist at the university, is quoted as saying by Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper.

In its last days, the Omuwafu tree provided shade to students during discussions and cultural meetings, the university said.

The presence of the tree was a constant reminder of the history of the Buganda kingdom and the current monarch has urged the university to plant a new tree to replace the Omuwafu, according to a post by the kingdom on X, formerly Twitter.

The falling of the Omuwafu tree marked the end of a chapter in Uganda's history.

Ugandans have expressed shock and nostalgia as pictures of the tree circulated online. Many have called for the preservation of the tree's remains.

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TRT Afrika