The mission in Rwanda is discussed at three levels. Firstly as part of

Rwandan society as a whole and therefore reflecting its structure and divisions. Secondly as a unit in its own right, a discrete institution with its own history, structure, channels of authority and ideology, with a degree of programmed development irrespective of context. Thirdly the Church as a collection of individuals with shared beliefs and goals, but nonetheless with differing secular experience, choice of means to achieve goals, and conclusions drawn from the belief system of the institution, itself having certain contradictions.

The central unit of study in the book is therefore the Church, a multi-class, multi-racial institution. It is the operation of this body as a source of ideology and political force that is studied in the Rwandan setting, both as an organised totality and from the viewpoint of its disparate individual members.

The ideology and political power of the Church are considered primarily in terms of three major points of conflict within Rwandan society: the struggle between king and nobles, between the different economies and societies of the northern clanlands and central Rwanda, and between the ruling class and the governed. Since these points of conflict, and, of course, the Church’s political power and ideology, were strongly influenced by the policies of colonial rue, that of the Germans and Belgians, these interactions are discussed fully in the context of colonialism. Each chapter attempts to encompass the three points of conflict, their development through time, and their dynamic interaction with the Church. Finally, I have kept to the old orthography used by the White Fathers, i.e. Musinga instead of Musiinga.


S’ils ne changent ni n’augmentent les choses pour les rendre plus dignes d’être lues, les historiens en omettent presque toujours les plus basses et les moins illustres, d’où vient que le reste ne paraît pas ce qu’il est.[Descartes’ Discours de la méthode, quoted by Father Pagès.]

The encounter between Roman Catholicism and Rwandan society apparently provides an ideal topic for a ‘culture contact’ study. Yet the model of one culture meeting another to generate within it far-reaching changes seems incongruous in the case of Rwanda; there were only a handful of colonial officers and some dispersed missionaries set in a large State and ranged against an ancient monarchy. The subject of study will rather be the Catholic Church and Rwanda’s changing political system in the colonial period, and this system included administrators, Fathers, anthropologists and the few business concerns. This is not to say that the few Europeans brought nothing new to change the material conditions and ideology of Rwandan society, simply that the changes they wrought are dealt with here within the framework of dialectical development and homeostasis in a complex and enduring political system.

The ideology of colonial rule came not from the high scientific culture of rectory and university, from Darwin, Lyell and Hooker, but was mediated through a host of minor evolutionary sociologists and physical anthropologists. The subservience of man to eternal, immutable laws, the survive of the fittest, craniology, caucasoid versus negroid divisions were not ideas debated as abstractions in the Boma but were the received wisdom of an age informing policy decisions. It was an ideology which sanctioned as natural and necessary a polarisation of the rulers and the ruled, the bearers and receivers of culture, the ideology of imperial adventure.

The attraction of the Hamitic hypothesis for colonial administrators was the physical attributes were linked to mental capabilities; Hamites were seen to be ‘born rulers’ and were granted, at least in theory, a right to a history and future almost as noble as their European ‘cousins’.In the tinkering post-military phase of Indirect Rule it was common sense to assess the ‘direction’ and internal dynamics of pre-colonial ‘Hamitic’ States, even to worry about sources of conflict and dysfunction within them. So the historian who tries to analyse missionary activity within the framework of the internal evolution of an African State, whether Fulanior Tutsi, is doing nothing essentially new. He is perhaps more aware of the pitfalls: firstly the ever-present danger of a facile reduction of a complex history to a linear, evolutionary sequence; secondly the difficulty of getting behind the historiographical premises in an orally transmittecl history.

Rwanda’s oral traditions are a prime example of the subservience of history to political ends. René Lemarehand poses the problem succinctly: ‘All cultures are myth sustained in that they derive their legitimacy from a body of values and beliefs which tend to embellish or falsify historicai truth. But, some more so than others’. If this introduction is obliged to dwell on Rwanda’s historiography, it is not just that the country’s oral and written history provides a preeminent example of the effects of ideological restraints in a feudal society, but also that a particular account of the past, shaped in the Tutsi court and promulgated by the Catholic clergy, influenced the political consciousness of Rwandans and Europeans alike.

The Europeans who came to Rwanda brought with them the preconceptions of late nineteenth century Europe; they saw rulers and ruled, slaves and masters, and directed their sympathies according to their personality or social class.The White Fathers were the most important group in the sense that not only did they outlive two colonial regimes, but their presence had a far more immediate impact on the lives of individual Rwandans than the few colonial administrators. Rwandan autobiographies testify eloquently to this fact.Further-more the Catholic Church in Rwanda grew into a type of ‘First Estate’ which both nobles and Belgians had to accommodate.

From the outset, the stratification of Rwandan society accentuated the inherent contradictions in Catholicism, between the egalitarian ideology of Christian goodwill and the centrality to salvation of a hierarchically organized institution through which Grace flowed from the top downwards. The problem facing the Fathers was that not a single member of the ruling class was willing to convert before the mid-1920s, while a flourishing and largely theocratic peasant Church grew up around the isolated mission stations. Cardinal Lavigerie had

insisted that the White Fathers should evangelize through the chiefs, so the vicariate was put under considerable strain as mission practice increasingly conflicted with official policy — both that of the Mission Society and that of the Germans, who had, inevitably, decided to rule through the ‘Hamites’, the Tutsi nobles.

German rule, never in reality more than a handful of soldiers and administrators, did not change the nature of the Rwandan State; it remained the coercive instrument of Tutsi rule. Although freelance raiding was stopped. Tutsi regiments fought in a number of campaigns, including the First World War and German askari worked largely in the interests of the ruling class, extending the court’s control to the formerly uncolonised northern clanlands. Martial virtues still had a raison d’être, and ruling class behaviour and ideology, particularly the religious aspects of the Rwandan kingship, made the Tutsi refractory to the intrusive religions system, with its new ritual and ethical norms. The king and nobles had resolved the problem posed by the religious demands of the missionaries by limiting their evangelisation to the peasantry, but the rise of the Hutu Church with an educated clergy and a separate clientship network brought this strategy into question.

After some initial vacillation the Belgians attempted to impose a uniform policy on Rwanda, to rule through a reformed nobility, and to educate a bureaucracy. As educational attainment became the key to political office under Belgian patronage the Tutsi strategy of keeping the missionaries at arm’s length was abandoned: the missionaries ran the schools. The deposition of the king, Musinga, in 1931 came as the climax to a process of assimilating Catholicism which he opposed in the face of Tutsi ‘progressives’ to the end. The message of his reign was not lost on the court, and the new mwami, Rudahigwa, became a Christian king; the ruling class turned to Catholicism to legitimate their role as inheritors of Rwanda’s wealth, custodians of its culture, and occupants of the country’s political offices.

But, although the ruling class wrested from the European presence every last advantage, they were fighting a rearguard action. Rapid and major political changes and slower economic developments began to alter the texture of society. While the old feudal system apparently survived intact through the 1930s, within it new types of relationships grew up with employment opportunities afforded by the Church and Belgian administration. Educated Hutu took to teaching, cash cropping, truck driving and a host of part-time jobs as carpenters, masons,

Seasonal plantation laboror they emigrated for periods to Uganda. Most dramatic for the nobles in the 1930s was the virtual scrapping of the complex interlocking system of chieftaincies and feudal ties, which had grown up in the nineteenth century, for a pyramid-shaped hierarchy organised increasingly as a chiefly bureaucracy for the Belgians. Ascriptive began to give way to achievement criteria; minor Tutsi families were able to scramble up the educational ladder to Belgian patronage and political power. On the other hand, after a few failed experiments at introducing Hutu chiefs, which foundered on the entrenched opposition of the Tutsi, the Belgians insisted on drawing their bureaueracy from the ruling class, the ‘Hamites’.

The successful conversion of the Tutsi in the 1930s meant that myths of Christian brotherhood temporarily gave way before the triumphalism of a Tutsi-dominated Church. The Mission fitted in with the administration’s wishes, schools were streamed, with segregated classes of Hutu, and the missionaries were required to put up with the chiefs’ failures to comply with ethical norms for the sake of the Christian kingdom. This segregation was explained largely in Thomist terms as a necessary and natural difference of function in an organic society. In reality what had once been a fluid ethnic boundary between two socio-economic groups hardened under Belgian rule into an unchangeable barrier between Hutu and Tutsi defining access to the political class.

Yet, while the ethnic qualification for political office reinforced the ruling class’s sense of superiority and tribal exclusiveness, the other changes of the colonial period sapped Tutsi “ethnicity”; the martial virtues and much ruling class behaviour were inappropriate in the context of a Belgian bureaucracy, but, what was more important, the Tutsi no longer owned the means of coercion. With military force the prerogative of the Belgians, they had to rely on manipulation of the political and judicial system, with the increasing risk that educated Hutu might appeal higher. It is perhaps in this context that the cultural renaissance of the 1940s and the historiography of colonial Rwanda should be seen, not so much the discovery of a national heritage as the quest of a weakened ruling class for new sources of solidarity and unity. It was the Roman Catholic Church, Rwanda’s First Estate, which wiped away the nobles’ tears and eased them into their new role as Rwanda’s guardians.

Father Pages’ Un Royaume hamite au centre de l’Afrique,first published in 1933, the earliest of the Catholic ‘Hamitic’ histories, was certainly not consciously the propaganda of a court historian. Just as the colonial administrator found among ‘the sullen peoples’aristocratic collaborator, so the Fathers found a lapsed Catholic, or at least a lapsed Monophysite; Pagès thought the Tutsi had come from Christian stock on the borders of Ethiopia, and he wanted to begin again where Coptic Christianity had left off. He drew heavily on Tutsi informants and court traditions, ibitekerezo, to provide an account of the expansion of the Rwandan State in the form of a dynastic history.

The second mainstay of Catholic orthodoxy in the colonial period was an equally fascinating book by Chanoine de Lacger, Le Ruanda.He elaborated on Pages’ work to present Rwanda’s pre-colonial history as the type of an African Old Testament. Stimulated by the massive influx of Tutsi into the Church, he was disinclined to subject colonial society to deep criticism, and his assessment of the past was colored by a romantic projection of feudalism into early Rwandan society. The historical superiority of the Tutsi and their divine right to rule was, however, balanced by panegyrics to the Hutu peasant, whose function in society was no less glorious.

C’est le cultivateur qui s’empare de la terre, la transforme, lui imprime un cachet d’humanité, crée le paysage historique. . . Au Ruanda ce conquerant, ce transformateur ce fût le paysan bantu, le muhutu. C’est lui qui a fait reculer la forêt, a tracé le premier réseau de sentes durables, a parsemé la campagne d’enclos verts et de foyers; lui, qui, se multipliant comme les étoiles du ciel et le sable des mers, a rempli de sa présence les soixante mille kilomêtres carrés où se parle sa langue.

The Rwandan court found its first talented propagandist when Abbé Alexis Kagame began publishing in 1938. Coming from a family of abiru, court historians, he had unique access to the royal esoteric codes. In his work the cultural riches of the court are presented from the viewpoint of a Tutsi nationalist historian. If Pagès is obeying the directives of his Society and dipping into local culture, and de Lacger writing the edifying story of the first Christian State after Ethiopia, Kagame is skilfully setting out the cultural and historical justification for the future independence of Church and State under Tutsi control.

To quote Vansina’s harsh verdict, these three clerics produced ‘une déformation systematique’ of Rwanda’s history. On the authority of Kagame the Tutsi Nyiginya dynasty was given a spurious longevity and continuity. By using an île-de-France model of the nuclear Rwandan State, projecting the clientship relationship of cattle vassalage into the past, and ignoring the important question of

the ancient clan system, Kagame presented Rwanda’s history as a progressive domination of other. Tutsi States and minor Hutu kingdoms through conquest and the institution of cattle vassalage. The direction of this process was expansion, consolidation by client-ship and centralisation of power in the person of the Nyiginya mwami. Like Africans in old colonial histories, the Hutu’ role in this saga was that of passive recipients of more or less good Tutsi government. Obviously a gross oversimplification, this was essentially the story gleaned by missionaries and Residents from the Catholic – court orthodoxy.

Vansina’s seminal essayL’Évolution du royaume rwanda des origines à 1900,researched before 1961 in a period of mounting political consciousness among educated Hutu, went a long way towards a demythologisation of ‘Hamitic’ history. He demonstrated convincingly the devices used in traditions to disguise defeats and foreign conquests which overthrew dynasties. By laying bare the stereotypes and disposing of many early abamias mythical he reduced Kagame’s chronology by some four hundred years and lent weight to the hypothesis that the supposedly Nyiginya hero king, Ruganzu Ndori, was a usurper from Karagwe.

D’Hertefelt took the process further, accusing Vansina of  ‘pantuutsisme’ for his uncritical acceptance of Tutsi clans whose class distribution, d’Hertefelt demonstrated, indicated a Hutu origin. D’Hertefelt was the first author to address himself to the issue of the multi-class character of Rwandan clans, the problem that Hutu, Tutsi and Twa belonged to the same clan. Using numerical data from election returns, he put the social structure of the pre-colonial State in a new perspective. His analysis of class distribution demonstrated that marriage between Hutu and Tutsi was not the rarity that had formerly been supposed. In the past Hutu became ennobled while Tutsi slipped into the agriculturalist stratum of society through poverty or misfortune. In contrast to Maquet’s picture of a closed caste system in which impoverished Tutsi were supported by their peers, d’Hertefelt, like de Lacger,emphasized the importance of social mobility and rejected Maquet’s idea of ‘récupération fonctionelle’.The development of a distinctly ethnic rather than social boundarybetween Tutsi and Hutu seems to have been the product of the nineteenth century and increasing stratification of society.

This was by no means simply an academic debate. The arrival of social democrat priests from Europe after the Second World War, the pressure put on the Belgians by the United Nations to instigate reforms, and visas by Hutu leaders to syndicalist circles in Belgium increased demands for fundarnental changes in Rwandan society. The Hutu, educated in Catholic institutions where they came face to face with Tutsi in situations of expected equality, especially in the seminaries, where there was no ‘overt’ discrimination, developed a new consciousness of themselves as Hutu. When they left the seminaries they met an ethnic ‘ceiling’ on their ambitions, the only positions left for them were in schoolteaching or small businesses. When they read about their country they were confronted by the crushing weight of ‘Hamitic’ culture and history. The debate about development within the Church that had been conducted in the supra-ethniC idiom of évolué began to break down as the Hutu spokesmen increasingly identified themselves as a competitive ethnic ‘counter-elite’.

Confronted by the dichotomous analysis of Rwandan societythat appeared in the Catholic Press, and particularly in the Bahutu manifesto of 1957, the Tutsi elite were torn. The Church-sponsored cultural renaissance with its Hamitic overtones gave weight to their rejection of the European presence and fuelled the elite’s anti-colonialist rhetoric; however, an outdated traditionalist stance and feudal idiom were becoming a liabifity in the face of the Hutu’s divisive yet democratic propaganda. Thus it became essential for the ruling class to stress themes of unity, exaggerate past social mobility and deny ethnic distinctions. The mwami, as transcendental source of unity for the kingdom, and the new ideology of nationalism, provided myths of unity for both the ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ sectors of society.

The Church could now no longer provide an integrative religious ideology to buttress the State. Each member of the clergy had to organise his experience of the political crisis in the late 1950s to make it comprehensible; the models chosen were essentially secular and drawn from European history. The unity of the fatherhood of God and the communion of saints was objectively negated even in the pews, where the Tutsi had privileged positions. The Christian king was clearly the partisan of the Tutsi minority. The formation of political parties in 1959 split the Church even further. The polarisation of society on either side of an ethnic boundary, largely created by the Belgians, divided Tutsi from Hutu Abbés and their White Father advisers. The Tutsi laity, finding they ‘could not live on Catholicism’, the social Catholicism of the new missionaries, turned on the Mission Church.After the explosion of racial feeling in the Jacquerie of November 1959 the Church as a ‘first estate’ had effectively disintegrated.

In the period before the PARMEHUTU take-over of January 1961, the Hutu leaders shook themselves free from the restricting framework of Catholic social teaching to follow their ethnic critique to its logical conclusion. Seizing on the Hamitic histories, the Hutu spokesmen upbraided the Tutsi as invaders ; the language of anti-colonialism, used to such effect by the Tutsi in Rwanda and at the United Nations, was turned against them. The Hutu were now able to equate nation-hood with the solidarity of the Bantu Hutu people; the Tutsi were foreigners in their own land. For many of the Tutsi the Catholic Church had become the agent of Belgian imperialism and the advocate of Hutu tribalism; for the Tutsi Abbés the religious problem remained. How were they to justify their rejection of their religious Superiors? The answer was to see the White Fathers as an aberrant offshoot of the Universal Church, and to see Rome as uncontaminated by the social heresy.

In Rwanda the two great currents in Catholicism, the unifying force of Christian equality and the hierarchical principle of order, were never in equilibrium. The stratification of Rwanda’s society produced the extraordinary phenomenon of first a Hutu and then a Tutsi Church driving a wedge into the Mission Society of White Fathers, until finally, in the crisis of 1959, the Church as a unified institution existed only on paper. It is this story of the growth of Catholicism in a stratified society that the following chapters set out to describe. and RevolutionThe mission in Rwanda is discussed at three levels. Firstly as part of Rwandan society as a whole and therefore reflecting its structure and divisions. Secondly as a unit in its own right, a discrete institution with its own history, structure, channels of authority and ideology, with a degree of...AMATEKA