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Types of Art

The most famous works of art from the Karagwe kingdom are iron objects. Some are utilitarian, while others are thought to be symbolic "cows" and hammers, which were used symbolically to link the king with iron production.


The Karagwe kingdom reached its apex during the 19th century. Archaeological evidence suggests that growth occurred during the early part of the 1800s. King Ndagara came to power around 1820 and ruled until 1853, at which time he was replaced by Rumanyika. The area has strong linguistic and historical ties to the Bugandan states to the north and to central African symbolic forms.


During the height of the Karagwe kingdom agriculture played an important role in local economics. Many Karagwe were cattle herders, and so cows were a measure of wealth and power. Iron production also played a key part in the economic balances within the kingdom. The location of Karagwe land in what is today northwestern Tanzania allowed them to participate in regional trade routes that connected the Ugandan states to the coast and the rest of eastern Africa.

Political Systems

Maintaining a power balance between agriculturalists, herders, and iron smelters was necessary if the king hoped to maintain stability within the kingdom. Although Karagwe are exonomous, marrying people outside their immediate clan, they are patrilineal and maintained divisions of labor based on clan membership. Individual villages usually centered around an extended family and were controlled by royally appointed governors, some of whom were women. Women were associated with fertility and seen as a threat to the success of iron smelting. Their appointment as governors by the king may indicate an attempt by him to assert power over iron producing centers.


Karagwe religious ideas are closely tied to the king. Karagwe cosmology recognizes a diadic view of the world, most significantly represented by a division of male and female gender roles. Women are associated with fertility and fecundity. The cow, not the bull, was celebrated for its ability to produce offspring and milk. Common among many iron smelting societies throughout Africa is the conception of iron smelting as a procreative act between "female" furnaces and "male" bellows and smelters. The King of Karagwe is symbolically connected to iron work, and the most famous Karagwe king, Ndagara, is believed to be responsible for the secret production of many of the iron objects, which survive in contemporary art collections. The king, like the smelter, is responsible for maintaining a productive and fertile kingdom. The process of enthronement was accompanied by the beating of Nyambatama drums, mimicking the sound of a hammer striking an iron worker's anvil.

Facts about Karagwe




Kikaragwe, Kiswahili



Neighboring Peoples

Buganda, Nkore, Bunyoro, Rwanda