Semei Kakungulu enjoyed at least nine lives in the area of the Uganda Protectorate immediately before, during, and after the imposition of British protectorate rule there at the close of last century, in his successive roles as elephant hunter, guerrilla leader, Ganda chief, border warlord, British ally in military campaigns, “native collector,” colonial client-king, President of the Busoga Lukiko, and leader of the anti-medicine Bamalaki and Bayudaya separatist sects. The purpose of these notes, however, is not to provide more details about these successive phases in Kakungulu's extraordinary career, but rather to comment briefly on the nine major surviving vernacular accounts of his very full life.
John Rowe remarks that “it was natural that biographies, particularly of men of heroic proportions, should also [have been] mobilized in the struggle against moral decline” after the First World War by Ganda vernacular authors, along with works of moral admonition and military memoir once uncritical admiration for British Christianity gave way to a more guarded and wary respect for things British with the increased penetration of Buganda by both British rule and mercantile capitalism. Rowe may also be right in saying that the many biographies of Kakungulu in Luganda “may have reflected the particular attraction of a non-conforming heroic figure who turned his back on the ‘establishment,’ carved a kingdom for himself in the east and virtually thumbed his nose at Apolo Kagwa and the British.” Certainly, this is a major attraction as regards my biographical interest in the man! But, as I hope the following notes on his nine principal vernacular lives may indicate, there are also other explanations.