5 Historical and Cultural Curiosities of Lake Mutanda

Article from the series: Attractions of Rwanda, western Uganda and eastern DR Congo

Lying in between Uganda’s Mgahinga and Bwindi National Parks, Lake Mutanda is a handy spot to relax after your gorilla tracking. There is much more on offer here, however, than its awesome views of the Virunga volcanoes and many water sports …

1. Island of the Dead, Kyangushu

The island was traditionally used as a burial site by clan heads to avoid bringing bad luck to the mainland. They believed that death was abnormal, so they would take their deceased beloved ones to the island to make sure they remained there. Another explanation is that keeping corpses on the island stopped wild animals from feasting on the dead. You can still see their bones in a small cave on the side of the island (see the upper left corner of the photo).

2. Island of Pregnant Girls’ Punishment, Gahiza

The ancient folks of the Gorilla Highlands region could not tolerate anybody getting pregnant without being married first. To only list one Ugandan and one Rwandan example: we have already shared an interview with the survivor of Lake Bunyonyi’s punishment island and we mentioned young ladies being thrown down the falls at Lake Burera. Gahiza is the Lake Mutanda equivalent, and the only punishment place in the region where you can spend a night — we have covered its remarkable story recently.

3. Hippo Misadventures

Lake Mutanda used to be filled with hippos, and local chiefs would base themselves on Buhigiro Island and hunt them. The hippopotamus population was eradicated, together with bush pigs, in the middle of the 20th century. And then, in 2013, three hippos reappeared! Some major floods allowed hippos to find their way from the neighbouring Congo, but then they made the mistake of continuing past Bwindi to Lake Bunyonyi — where locals quickly got tired of hippos eating their crops and ate them instead.

4. Local Paddling Styles

Used for fishing and to transport farmers to island plots of land, dugout canoes are the olden way of transport in our region. They are still made today, from eucalyptus and fig trees, but lack of big tree trunks is making them increasingly rare. On the other hand, there is something unique about Lake Mutanda rowers! A paddle has a flat and a curved side. If you touch the water with the latter, it takes much less energy to row and it’s easier to keep direction. “That’s for the ladies,” say the men of Mutanda and insist on paddling with the flat side!

5. Name “Mutanda” Itself

Amatanda are the palm trees found in the swamp along the lake, the core material for making winnowing trays. Please do explain that to any Italian friends you bring to Lake Mutanda, because in their language mutanda is the singular for underpants!

photos by Blasio Byekwaso, Miha Logar and Georg Schaumberger