One . Religion, king, clan and clientship in pre-colonial Rwanda
The first observers in Rwanda noted a division in society between the cattle-owning Tutsi, the farming Hutu, and the Twa, who either lived in the forests or worked as potters around homesteads. The three groups had distinctive physical characteristics, occupations, behavior and culture, and it was often assumed that they represented three different stages in the colonization of the country. But the Hutu certainly owned cattle before the arrival of the Tutsi,’ so the hunter-gatherer, agriculturalist and pastoralist modes of life offer no evolutionary sequence. Nonetheless, since much of Rwanda was once forested, its earliest inhabitants must have relied heavily on hunting and gathering, supplemented perhaps by a few crops planted in clearings and along the edge of swamps. Rwanda’s agriculturalists are known to have made iron hoes and ‘roulette’ decorated pottery, planted sorghum and made inroads on the primeval forest. This process of clearing land, kwica ishyamba, continued until the nineteenth century, a period when many Hutu date their ownership of a particular plot to the toil of an ancestor who cut into the woodland.
The smallest Hutu social unit is today the miner patrilineage, inzu, of up to six generations in depth, but in the north the major patrilineage, umuryango, is functionally more important. Hutu lineages together make up a clan, ubwoko, which may be subdivided into sub-clans. Land is held communally by an inzuhead and his descendants, though uncultivated land may be allotted to strangers by the lineage head. It seems likely that this form of kinship-based economy and lineage leadership is ancient and perhaps typical of the pre-Tutsi period.
As long as there remained forest to be cleared, population increase could be accommodated and new arrivals settled. In the northern province of Bugoyi, land could be given out for usufruct for a year in exchange for a hoe and part of the pea harvest. True patron client relationships grew up in the system of ubukondein which land was alienated and marked out. The client was allowed two years in which to cultivate, sending the occasional calabash to the patron then had to provide the landowner with two days laborin the sowing season, October toNovember, and during the May sorghum harvest. Often the umukondeformed a blood pact with the client or a marriage alliance with his inzu.This development of the kinship-based economy was typical of the rich volcanic plain to the north-west and extended into Uganda.
Social structure was defined by ownership and exchange of the means of production. Relationships within the patrilineage involved the provision of land and labor and were characterized by mutual help and protection. Relationships across lineage fines were created by the exchange of land, women, animals or hoes, and implied some degree of subordination. Vendettas could be ended by the provision of a woman to give birth to a substitute for the dead member of the inzu, and the payment of eight cows or goats.
Lineage religion was centered on the veneration and appeasement of ancestors, whose invisible presence was felt to be important for the well-being of the inzu. Deceased lineage members were offered symbolic sacrifices of small pieces or food, and sometimes ‘married’ to young girls who attended their spirit houses. The ancestral spirits, abazimu,were generally thought to be malevolent in their activity, and personal misforturtes were attributed to them after divination by an umupfumu.The lineage head was in charge of the spiritual well-being of the inzu, with the same communal responsibility as he exercised over the (conceptually related) land.
The link between the local umulyango and the scattered, widespread clan was of a purely ritual kind, a common totem and annual sacrifice at the Erythrina or sycamore tree. Several of the northern Hutu clans appear to have kept such ritual objects as blocks of hyaline quartz and ivory horns as clan fetishes. An essential element in such supra-lineage religion was the provision of powerful spiritual protection for clan members.
It seems likely that lineages from the Singa, Sindi, Zigaba, Gesera, Banda, Cyaba and Ungura clans, through a combination of land ownership and ritual expertise, managed to impose themselves on settlers from diverse clans to form small priest-led kingdoms. The kingdoms that survived into the twentieth century revolved around the religious powers of the Hutu priest-king, called umwamiin the south-west and umuhinzaelsewhere. Such kingdoms seem t0 have been privileged remnants, isolated by forests and unsuitable for cattlegrazing, of a more extensive type of political organisation found throughout Rwanda.
The umuhinzaof Busozo in south-west Rwanda lived in complete seclusion until a male heir reached seven years of age. He
wore only barkcloth and always conferred with his elders from behind a partition. All food given him had to be carefully washed, covered by banana baves, and tasted only by pre-pubertal children. No person with sores or deformities was allowed to approach the royal enclosure, and the king himself was not permitted to cross a near-by river. He ruled in conjunction with a Queen Mother, herself constantly attended by two applauding women; all visitors were required to leave her presence bent double, with hands touching the ground. A future umuhinza was believed to be born clasping a calabash of milk in one hand and seeds in the other; after the age of seven he had to be secluded in the royal enclosure.
People in the Hutu kingdoms who alienated land, in exchange for two or three hoes or a goat per hectare, paid one hoe to the umuhinza. Delimitation of cleared land also required the presence of the local Twa chief, who received a goat for the right to “open up the forest”; families moving on to this land paid a further sickle to the umuhinza. The first fruits of the harvest were sent by all landowners to the Hutu king.” Land was thus not reified property; rather, different groups claimed spiritual jurisdiction over different aspects of its productive potential. The umuhinza’s spiritual authority rested on the belief that he controlled the key to agricultural production, rainfall; he was mwami w’imvura. Ndagano, the priest-king of Bukunzi, for example, was said to live sometimes in the clouds.”
The divinised persons of the Hutu kings had a simiIar role to that of the eponymous ancestors; they were symbols of inter-lineage unity and watched over that part of life which fell outside the narrow confines of the inzu and the lineage spirits. This structural position as guarantor of the reproduction of the entire socio-economic system had the necessary corollary that the spirit of the umuhinza would pass through a number of transformations before becoming umuzimu. The body of a deceased king was smoked and dried, the spirit being thought to pass first into a worm and then into a leopard.
The dating of the Tutsi’s arrival is largely conjecture; the thirteenth century, from south-west Ethiopia as a dispersal point, has been suggested, and their language may have been Cushitic. More solid is De Heusch’s brilliant analysis of myths associated with the Cwezi cult, which suggests an immigration route through Karagwe and Uzinza via Gisaka. The cattle-herding Tutsi would have settled along the valleys of south-east Rwanda, where they perhaps traded milk, skins and meat for local grains.
Probabiy for reasons of defence, a number of Tutsi lineages around Lake Mohasi in Buganza had developed a major chieftancy by the beginning of the fifteenth century. Ndahiro Ruyange, the first mwami, was doubtless little more than primus inter paresof a number of cattle-rich and nomadic chiefs. The cohesion of the nascent Rwandan State was doubtless no greater than that of the Hutu kingdoms, with their ritually powerful abahinza, a congeries of warlords gathered together for raids and protection of their herds.
The rise of Rwandan kingship and the expansion of the State cannot be dated accurately, though some of the important processes involved may be tentatively reconstructed. The assimilation of neighbouring kingdoms would have involved a number of related events: colonization by pastoralists, formation secondary vassal kingdoms, and the incorporation of religious specialists into the entourage of the Rwandan mwami. Cattle, used to recruit followers and reward military service, were clearly basic to the king’s power; his weakness lay in only tenuous daims to rights over land and hence ritual authority. Hutu specialists incorporated as ritual experts around the mwami would have partially answered both these needs. Vansina suggests that Tsobe lineages were incorporated as abiruat court because of Mwami Mukobanya’s conquests in the sixteenth century. The ideology of pre-existing Hutu kingship assimilated by the Rwandan king would have strengthened the mwamiship.
Nonetheless, the invasion of warlike clans from the Nyoro region of Uganda pushed the Banyarwanda into retreat and inflicted a serious defeat on them. When the Rwandans fell back into the neighbouring Hutu kingdom of Nduga its umuhinza, Mashira, was put to death.Vansina has suggested that these defeats were a spur to the development of what was to be the key to Rwandan expansion and the development of the State, a well-organized army.Each regiment, ngabo, was placed under an army chief, umutware, who gathered around him an elite corps of troops known as ntore. The ntorewere given long periods of training as young men in the itorero, where they were taught the martial virtues and turned into competent soldiers and athletes. Whole Hutu limages were recruited en bloc for major raids to perform behind the vanguard of ntore.
The willingness of lineage heads to join an ngabo may have been dictated by the need for protection and support in interfamilial and inter-clan disputes; there was no effective way of enforcing verdicts given by an umuhinza, and disruptive vendettas were common in the north. The social significance of the army was that it provided scattered lineages with a new corporate identity and source of strength, the ngabo. Each regiment had its title and recruited from a wide area; its exploits were built into a body of traditions familiar to its members. By raiding, an umutware could add to his stock of cattle; distribution of booty, plus judgement of disputes between lineages and kinsmen, allowed him to become a territorial chief in his own right. On coming to power a new mwami could reduce the power of rival regiments by summoning their elite troops into a new regiment formed on his accession.
The proliferation of the ngabo system and the successful raiding of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may have provided conditions conducive to the growth of cults above the level of lineage and clan religion. In this sense, the spread of the cult of Lyangombe and the success of Mithraism in the lower ranks of the Roman army were perhaps comparable developments. The mandwaspirits of the Lyangombe cult were thought to be of a higher order than lineage spirits, against whose malevolent designs they were said to provide protection. They related the initiate to a spiritual world more extensive than that of the inzu and hill settlement, just as the ingabo united the peasant to lineages scattered throughout the Rwandan State. A sacrificial warrior hero, Lyangombe, headed the spirit order.
It is possible that under the influence of ngabo service the type of protective ceremonies formerly associated with clan heads became more popular, incorporated warrior heroes, and came to encompass members of different clans. From traditions that link Lyangombe to a conflict with the usurper mwami, Ruganzu Ndori, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the cult hero may be identified as an umuhinza from the marches of either Ndorwa or Burundi, whose defeat and death in a Rwandan conquest is disguised in cuit mythology. The Nduga umuhinza, Mashira, for example, also turns up as a mandwa spirit in the cult. The model of a progressive assimilation of foreign religious sources of power is consistent with the idea that a cult of deceased heroes would be tolerated in the Rwandan State.
Cult membership was controlled by diviners who diagnosed the need for mandwa protection. In his first initiation, the neophyte underwent the usual humiliations of transition rites; he was dragged along naked, accused of being a rebel, umugome, and covered in cow dung. The neophyte then had the right to attend cult sacrifices without being chased away; he had entered a new ‘family’ in which a second grade might be taken elevating him to the rank of one of the thirty or so spirit mediums who represented the mandwa spirits.
Initiation guaranteed not only protection from dangerous lineage spirits but eternal bliss with the mandwa in an afterlife on Muhavura volcano. The lobelia growing round the crater of this volcano, in the north-west of modern Rwanda, were said to be tobacco plantations guarded by Lyangombe’s sacred sheep and cow. The future paradise was a mundane utopia with a liberal supply of beer, meat and tobacco. The uninitiated were condemned to perdition inside the crater of a second, active, volcano called Nyiragongo, where Lyangombe’s warriors would imprison them. The salvific theme recurred in traditions that presented Lyangornbe as a sacrificial saviour, also find a stereotype associated with some Nyiginya abami, the abatabazi, kings who died to save their people.Since these volcanoes remained outside the Rwandan State until the nineteenth century, the mandwa may only have been moulded into a culte de salut during the traumatic upheavals of Rwabugiri’s reign, just before the Europeans’ arrival.
According to Kagame, initiation was first prescribed for everyone to the court diviners during an epidemic in the mid-seventeenth century. This may have been retained in tradition to explain the first movement of noble lineages into the cult. Vansina dates the first arrival of mandwa mediums at court a century later; from this time onwards there was a permanent group of court mediums, the mpara, headed by a delegate of the king, the mwami w’imandwa. Cult Organization was not centralized, however: the mpara exerted no more control over mediums on the hills than was exercised by the royal diviners over local abapfumu. The king himself was ineligible for initiation, and convoked the mpara for two to three months’ court service, when they guarded his residence in groups of six to ten. They were a spiritual shield for the mwami in the same way, as a peasant would seek mandwa protection from troublesome lineage spirits. Similarly, they were in charge of the ritual purity of the realm.
As the Lyangombe cult reached the court, Rwandan kingship was reinforced by the accretion of religious mystique; royal votive huts to
deceased members of the mwami’s lineage were set up, and the mwami may at this time have been associated with Imana, the creative power of the spirit world. A royal ideology developed which emphasized the eternal and cyclical nature of the mwamiship; abami followed each other in a cycle of four rulers: Kigeri following a Mutara or Cyilima, Mibambwe after Kigeri and Yuhi after Mibamwe, the reign of each exemplifying a particular value like conquest or peace. To reduce the power of individual Tsobe lineages who controlled the succession the number of abiru was increased, and to limit inter-clan jealousies and fratricidal strife the Queen Mother, at least in theory, was chosen successively from four different lineages and clans. As more lineages came to have access to power at court so the mwami became progressively ‘divinised’ and ‘detached’ as a transcendent source of unity.
A major expansion of the Rwandan State began at the end of the eighteenth century. Mwami Cyilima Rujigira (c. 1740-65) pushed out frontier posts into Bugoyi and the north; Ndorwa was subdued and a royal residence built there. As the large independent States of Gisaka and Bugesera were defeated many men and rich tracts of land were brought under at least nominal Rwandan jurisdiction; but in most regions this expansion was not followed up by effective colonisation. Collection of tribute, ikoro, was erratic in the north, and when Yuhi Gahindiro put an ennobled Twa over the province of Buhoma its umuhinza led a major revolt. Bushiru was
never effectively colonised until Belgian times.
Raids from Burundi, Ndorwa and Gisaka were sufficiently intense at the beginning of the nineteenth century for a number of frontier posts to be set up, controlled by resident abatware.These army chiefs became landowners in their own right, and before 1830 Yuhi Gahindiro had instituted a new type of chieftancy, the abanyamukenke, with rights in pasture land, to break their power. He and the next mwami, Rwogera, also increased their own land holdings by granting ibikingi, one to several hills, as pastoral fiefs to their personal agents and retainers. By such land grains dotted throughout the kingdom and by the extensive use of Twa spies the Rwandan kings were able to keep the pretensions of powerful landowners under control. The mwami surrounded himself with a host of ritual officials and increased the number of abiru again; many of them were Hutu.
The increased size of the Rwandan court did not alter its essentially nomadic character. The abami circulated round the royal residences, placing a wife and retainers in each; the land was controlled by permanent province chiefs, abanyabutaka, often kinsmen who provisioned the residences from the peasants’ fields. By usurping the position of local lineage heads by sheer force, or by interfering in land disputes and litigation, the chiefs came to control more and more land, exacting crop dues and labour from the unprotected serfs. Although cattle wealth symbolised the richness of the nobility, in reality it was control of land that was linked to political power. Bananas, possibly introduced in the wake of the invasions from Bunyoro, increased the value of fiefs and, despite the lack of agricultural technology, a rich soil manured by the Tutsi herds was the basis of the Rwandan feudal order.
The expansion of the Rwandan State, the coercive instrument of Tutsi hegemony, in the nineteenth century increased the division in society between an oppressed peasantry and a cattle-owning ruling class. Individuals began to seek the protection of powerful nobles in whose patronage they might avoid the onerous uburetwa imposed by the province chiefs. Such commendation, though, was rarely the result of a considered alliance between peasant and pastoralist, rather the product of a power struggle between a nuclear feudal cluster gathered round a Tutsi homestead, and a local Hutu lineage, in which the latter was worsted.The client was obliged to pay court, often for a considerable time, before the patron accepted him in ubuhake. Commendation took the form of the Hutu presenting his shebuja with a symbolic sheaf of grass; in exchange, he was given usufruct rights over a cow. The bonded man, umugaragu, was obliged to render his lord dues and customary service, the most important duty being the repair of his enclosure; if a garagu failed to perforrn this duty annually, all ubuhake cattle were forfeit and the relationship terminated.
The institution of ubuhake seems to have begun as a relationship between army chiefs and their warriors as a type of noble vassalage negotiated by the spoils of war, cattle. Its spread amongst the Hutu weakened them, since individuals increasingly sought protection with rich patrons rather than in the solidarity of their lineage as of old. Despite the defiant taunt that to be without a lineage was to be ‘like a dog’the imiryango began to break down as some of their members communally fulfilled obligations to abatware and abanyabutaka while others sought individual immunity in the patronage of a powerful noble.With their social supports undermined, the Hutu were ruthlessly exploited;by the end of the nineteenth centurythe imposition of Tutsi rule had reduced many peasants to the level of destitute journeymen, wandering in search of food, work and protection.
The breakdown of the Hutu lineages within the Rwandan State was correlated with the transformation of the Tutsi nobility into a well defined social class whose eating habits, deportment, culture and ideology were designed to instill, in Maquet’s celebrated phrase, ‘a premise of inequality’, which was a charter for their monopoly of the surplus wealth created by Hutu labour.” Ruling class behaviour was learnt in the itorero, the training school for ntore, the elite troops; there they were schooled in the three principal virtues: ubutware, military prowess, ubugabo, manliness and fidelity, and itondo, self-mastery.” Articulateness and self-control were the virtues of the Tutsi home.Hutu were invariably segregated for military training.Ownership of cattle defined broad class lines that were reinforced by a training that gave even minor families a sense that they had a right to rule.
Court traditions and oral history extolled the glories of the Nyiginya dynasty and the valour of the Rwandan regiments. The stratification of society was explained and justified by a Tutsi Genesis myth: Kigwa descended from heaven and had three sons, Gatwa, Gahutu and Gatutsi. A calabash of milk was entrusted to each for one night. In the morning, it was discovered that Gatwa had drunk the milk. Gahutu had spilt it, while only Gatutsi had carried out his commission. Therefore only Gatutsi was qualified to command. Gatwa personified the stereotype of the Twa glutton, and Gahutu that of the clumsy peasant.
Perhaps more important in the mystique of the ruling class was their elevation of the pastoral way of life from a particular socio-economic niche to a source of values, almost aesthetics. The cow hung like a great ikon over Rwandan society, for it no praise was too great and for it a man would alienate both self and family. The king owned uniquely beautiful herds, nyambo, and court poetry abounded with pastoral imagery.For the poor Tutsi the cow was a seal on an
ennobling relationship with a rich lord, and at times an object-in-itself, to be paraded on the arrival of a chief at his provincial seat — though for the Hutu, dazzled as they were by prospects of cattle ownership, the cow was seen in a more utilitarian light as a source of income and indirectly protection. This pastoral ideology dominated Rwandan feudalism, justifying Tutsi rule, in which pasture ate into arable land and ‘cows ate men’.
Possession of cows was the first step on the social ladder that led into the cattle-owning, and therefore land-owning, class. A garagu’s humiliating duties, the night watch, bringing beer, accompanying his lord on journeys to court, and clearing his night soil, were compensated by ownership of cattle and freedom fromubuletwa. A socially acceptable outlet for feelings was a joking relationship with the shebuja in which mutual insults were exchanged, though this was extremely formalised and could have provided little relief.Around the Tutsi household the peasant was able to learn the sophisticated language and manners of the ruling class, and keep in touch with intrigues. And some of it rubbed off; a garagu was not quite as other ‘free’ Hutu. But the ladder was in reality narrow, and a shebuja was more likely to take one of his clients’ wives than accept his garagu’s sons as husbands for the Tutsikazi of the house. Enough did pass up if for a garagu to cherish the illusion that his humiliations were the first painful steps to ennoblement and riches. Confronted with the elaborate paraphernalia of court life, with its nuanced poetry and measured disdain, the peasant outside Tutsi patronage readily came to believe that, apart from being physically smaller and materially poorer, he was intellectually and morally inferior. Marx’s statement that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in each epoch the ruling ideas … the class which is ruling material power in society is, at the same time, its ruling spiritual power’ sums up the situation.
Although ruling class ideology and behavor accentuated the ethnic boundary between Hutu and Tutsi, the objective structure of society was more complex. There were perhaps about 50,000 adult male Tutsi in Rwanda by the end of the nineteenth century for a total of about 2,500 chieftancies and political offices in the State. Rwandan society was thus ruled by a minority of about 5 per cent of the Tutsi, men with herds counted in the tens of thousands and corresponding ownership of vast tracts of land. Far below them in wealth were rich Tutsi with from thirty to several hundred cows, then the majority of pastoralists with from ten to one animal. Many poor Tutsi had fewer cattle than rich Hutu who, themselves, were a minority above the level of the main body of the peasantry. At the bottom of the scale were an indeterminate number of journeymen, despised by all and little better than the Twa outcasts. Rich Hutu employed journeyman labour by providing a hoe in exchange for two days’ work out of five. The words of commendation –‘Make me rich!- were meaningful for the Hutu garagu, for a cow or two put him high in the Hutu social order.
The problem for all the Hutu was, of course, that the rise of the Rwandan State turned independent farmers into the serfs of Tutsi chiefs. Under such cicumstances religion might justly be called the opium Of the Hutu; while Hutu hero spirits in the mandwa pantheon ruled in concert with a classiess divine king the genitals of defeated abahinza adorned the Nyiginya dynastie drum, Kalinga, and the king’s men took the peasants’ land and labour.
In the north-east, though, where Tutsi colonisation had not been consolidated, religion was more an expression of local dissidence. The Nyabingi spirit dominated the religious life of the region. Nyabingi was probably a late eighteenth century ‘queen‘ of Ndorwa; when the kingdom was destroyed by repeated invasions a cuit to her spirit grew up, controlled by mediums who broadcast her alleged wishes. Cattle traders from Gisaka made contact with the mediums and heard about their spirit, known as Mugore, the Lady; on their return from Uzinza they too claimed to be possessed by the powerful mandwa spirit. This innovation gained them the opposition of the local Lyangombe cult officials, since the new mediums railied opposition against Tutsi rule and had a considerable following among the peasantry. When they began collecting tribute to the detriment of the mwami’s ikoro an expedition was mounted against them.
By manipulating the traditional symbols of kingship and claiming supernatural powers the Nyabingi priestesses remained a potential focus of opposition to the Rwandan mwami throughout the nineteenth century. Later observers described them as ‘une autorité révolutionnaire, un État dans l’État; elle abuse de la haine née du “muhutu” pour tout pouvoir établi et fait tourner cette haine à son profit’. Their main centre remained Mpororo and the northern marches of the Rvvandan State, where Tutsi control was sporadic. Rutajira Kijuna, for example, c. 1870, was accorded the royal greeting ‘kasinje’ and given the praise names ‘Rutatangira omu Muhanda’. She who is Unstoppable, and ‘Akiza abantu’ : Saviour of the People. Social organisation aped that of the Rwandan State; mediums maintained a number of ‘temples‘ residences – and had clients, bagirwa, who shared the leading priestess’s spiritual power. Like abahinza they gave audiences from behind a partition and, it was said, could perform miraculous cures. Unlike the mandwa mediums of the Lyangombe cult, who served the established order at court, Nyabingi shamans moved freely over the hills, offering a genuine contestation of the Rwandan system, cutting across ethnic and lineage lines.
It was during the long and militarity spectacular reign of Mwami Rwabugiri that the contours of the Rwanda seen by the first Europeans were formed. In a series of over sixteen major campaigns, far from all successful and lasting from 1860 to 1895, Rwabugiri raided as far north as Nkole, into south Kivu and onto the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu, and into northern Burundi, while keeping hold of Gisaka and the east. This incessant military activity produced a supply of cattle and pastures new to keep royal favourites well rewarded and threatening nobles fully occupied. After the Ega had proviclecl four successive Queen Mothers in a row, Rwabugiri inherited a backlog of inter- and intra-lineage tensions; these he kept in check by terror and selective assassination in the leading families of the realm. By taking over the hereditary principalities of murdered chiefs, and multiplying the number of royal residences, Rwabugiri’s reign took on the character of an absolute monarchy.
The need to provision his ngabo and newly formed residences, the demand for new troops and allies in his struggle with the nobles, dictated a policy of co-operation with Hutu authorities. A Tutsi arnbassador to the kingdom of Busozo, able to demand the annual tribute of honey, never set foot in the region. Bukunzi sent a boy and a girl known as the mwami’s pillows, imisego y’umwami; the boy was killed and his blood used for ritual purposes white the girl was made a concubine. The first fruits from the little kingdom of Bumbogo were sent to Rwabugiri, who sent back a hoe. Beyond these ritual exchanges such little kingdoms were left in peace. Agents, ibisonga, were dispatched to the northern clanlands to reside and collect tribale but rarely dared to make more than occasional sorties into the countryside.
It would be broadly true to say that the mwami’s effective rule decreased with distance from the old nuclear kingdom of the sixteenth century, but a better description of the political map would be a temporal and spatial patchwork. While Rwabugiri and his troops were in a region, the successful collection of ikoro and the levying of carriers and supplies would have been assured; when he left his agents were liable to be chased out. Even at Save in the Rwandan heartland the mwami was not safe from attack.
Rwabugiri’s policy of breaking the great Tutsi families and relying on ennobled Hutu favourites and Twa spies earned him the image ‘bon pour le peuple, terrible pour les Batutsi’ the average life expectancy of Tutsi in political commands was about ten years. Like a northern Shaka, Rwabugiri forged the State of modern Rwanda through a mixture of military tenacity, shrewd politics and utter ruthlessness, though his control of long-distance trade may have contributed to his success.
European trade goods had first appeared in the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Rwabugiri did not underestimate their significance; ivory and skins were taken east through Gisaka to his agent, the chief of Mirenge province, Ruyange, who exchanged them for cloth and trade goods coming from Bukoba. An attempt by Chief Kabaka of Gihunya province to divert the trade led to his assassination. The mwami’s foreign goods included a gun and an umbrella; the bulk of incoming cloth was handed on to the nobles, who paid for it in cattle added to the royal herds.
Despite a meeting with the Arab slaver Rumaliza on the Ruzizi river, Rwabugiri spurned the possibilities of the slave trade. Although a slave market grew up at Kivumu for caravans from eastern Kivu, visiting Arabs risked being attacked or poisoned on the king’s orders. The Tutsi seem to have frowned on the slave trade; the selling of women and children flourished only in times of dire famine, and buying commercially was limited to ambitious Hutu. At its peak in famine years the trade probably did not amount to more than 1000-2000 Rwandans taken into Tanganyika territory.
The Hutu had a number of important markets for agricultural goods, produce and luxuries. At Kamembe, in the south-west, goats and cattle from Rwanda were exchanged for iron hoes manufactured by the Bunyabungo. Rwerere, at the foot of the volcanoes, was a major Centre for tobaçco and fibre bracelets, ubutega, while salt from distant Katwe came down to markets in Buberuka. These local markets were not under the mwami’s direct control, though specialist produce of a region, the important items of exchange, were demanded by the court in the annual ikoro; Rwerere and Nyundo markets, for example, were taxed by clan heads. Mwami Musinga set up a market at Gitwe c. 1896 but largely to control the importation of cloth from Bujumbura.
With the exception of royal residences, where large numbers of Hutu had to be in attendance, markets provided one of the few centres where Hutu from different hills could meet and exchange news. They were at the periphery of the Rwandan State; for the northern Hutu the other principal centres were the courts of the Nyabingi prophetesses. ‘Queen of Ndorwa’ became sufficiently powerful for Rwabugiri to engineer her death at the hands of the chief of Mfumbiro, and later to find it politic to deny responsibility for the deed.Tradition has it that her severed head upbraided the mwami, a nice allegory for cult figures who arose, hydra-like, at intervals in the north until the 1920. Stanley spoke of a priestess, Wanyavingi, in 1876 and called her ‘Empress of Rwanda’. Emin Pasha gave another interesting account of a medium in 1891:
The Queen of Mpororo…said to be a woman named Njavingi … has never been seen by anyone, not even her own subjects. All that they ever get to know of her is a voice heard from behind a curtain of bark-cloth. Such theatrical practices have gained her, throughout Karagwe, Nkole, etc, the reputation of a great sorceress.
The threat of these Nyabingi mediums was to be fully realised only in the colonial period.
Rwabugiri’s more immediate problems lay closer to home in the corporate power of the abiru, who controlled the succession. Some were sent to distant fiefs and others murdered until their power was broken. Finally their ritual prohibitions were simply ignored in the selection of the mwami’s successor, Rutalindwa. As Gravel wrote of politics in Gisaka, ‘sheer power . . determined the rules’ in Rwabugiri’s cavalier treatment of tradition. His wife’s brother, Kabare, was a similar ‘secular’ spirit, a military man with a pragmatic grasp of political expediency and naked force.
The mwami’s first encounter with Europeans is said to have taken place on Lake Edward during the Nkole campaign of 1892-93. He was impressed by their use of written messages, which, allegedly, was interpreted as a power to read people’s minds, and invited them to come to Rwanda to manufacture cloth. A skirmish with Von Gôtzen’s troops must have changed this first favourable impression. News of the devastating effect of the Europeans’ cannon, umuzinga, reached the king, who sent anxionsly to Karagwe to enquire of the Haya chiefs what policy to adopt towards the whites. News came back from this informed source that Europeans were invincible and should be greeted in a friendly fashion. Nonetheless the court was divided and cows sacrificed to decide whether the kingdom needed the death of a saviour king, umutabazi or an offensive war. Traditions maintain that a decision was reached that the whites should be greeted peaceably but the mwami shielded from their supernatural powers.
When Rutalindwa was nominated heir in 1889 his mother was already dead, and a substitute Queen Mother, Kanjogera, was appointed from amongst the Ega. This was not only contrary to precedent but unwise; Kanjogera had a son of her own and enjoyed the support of the powerful Ega statesmen, Kabare and Ruhinankiko. Within a year of Rwabugiri’s death in 1894 Rutalindwa was dethroned in an Ega coup and Musinga, Kanjogera’s son, appointed mwami. By flouting tradition Rwabugiri finally delivered his kingdom into Ega hands. The young Rutalindwa had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Belgians, and, humiliated, his abiru support depleted by assassination, the young king was easy prey for the well prepared Ega.
When the Germans marched into Rwanda in 1897 Musinga had barely been on the throne a few months. The court was offered protection from the Belgians, support for the king and a demonstration of German fire power. The offer of support was timely; followers of Rutalindwa had risen in revolt, and the Teke sub-clan in the north took the opportunity to drive out the Tutsi, sparking off waves of Hutu attacks on isolated Tutsi settlers. A leader for the movement arose called Bilegeya, claiming to be a son of Rwabugiri, but the northen revolt, fragmented and unco-ordinated, was quickly quelled by Musinga’s regiments.
The Ega consolidated theit position by killing Nyiginya nobles; the situation, nonetheless, was intrinsically unstable, with a Nyiginya mwami in an Ega court, a usurper brought to power after the suicide of the legitimate heir. Rwabugiri’s brilliant career as a warrior hero lay behind, and the mwami’s effective area of jurisdiction had already shrunk since his father’s glorious campaigns. Poised on Rwanda’s borders were Europeans whose military rnight was uncontested and whose supernatural powers might be a grave threat to the realm.
On the eve of missionary penetration Rwanda had thus undergone a serious political crisis and several decades of military campaigns. The centrifugal tendencies of the nobility had been checked and the rigid stratification of society cemented by the spread of ubuhake in central Rwanda. The mwamiship itself was a source of both stability and social mobility. ‘Le mwami contribue pour une bonne part à cette fusion des races at aux changements brusques de condition,’ wrote de Lacer. ‘La cour, dit-on, foisonne de parvenus.’ The situation in the north was, of course, different; the process of infeudation had not yet reached there, and even in central Rwanda many Hutu owned cattle in their own right. The term umuhinza came to mean ‘an opponent of the mwami’; many lineages retained their autonomy, history and veneration of their ancestral spirits, so the Hutu were far from being the ‘slave race’ depicted by the first Europeans. On the other hand the process of infeudation seems to have been gaining momentum in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the ‘ethnicity’ of Tutsi rule was not entirely in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps the last word on social structure should be left with Marc Bloch, whose comprehensive definition of European feudal society summarises conditions in central Rwanda at the beginning of Musinga’s reign.
A subject peasantry; widespread use of the service tenement (i.e. the fief)
instead of salary, which was out of the question; the supremacy of a class of specialised warriors; ties of obedience which bind man to man . . . fragmentation of authority — leading inevitably to disorder; and in the midst of all this, the survival of other forms of association, family and State.
But while the texture of society was feudal, Rwanda was also clearly
part of a uniquely African historical tradition, the interlacustrine kingdoms; the parallels with Nkole, Bunyoro and Buganda, and, of course, the differences in particular institutions, are equally worthy of note. What particularly characterized the Rwandan State was not the existence of autonomous clan lands (cf the butaka in Buganda), nor a kingship standing over and against a powerful nobility (cf the Nyoro Mukama), nor the course ability to assimilate foreign religious elements and manipulate history (cf the Nkole kingship and ruling class), but that institutions found in other interiacustrine kingdoms had, as it were, following their own internal dynamic and developing under the impress of conflicts within the entire territory controlled by Rwanda, achieved a greater degree of elaboration to the point of luxuriance. The Tutsi class had become almost a closed caste. The mwami, more than a Kabaka or Mukama, had surrounded the king-ship with a complex ritual aseity. The rich and mystifying ideology of divine kingship and the hierarchy of clientship ties had grown apace to produce a society of great internal complexity. The mwami, source of justice, promoter of the lowly, was the negation of the stratified society over which he ruled. While the kingship never achieved a monopoly of religions symbolism, the mwami became an occult presence in the realm, the projected father image of the Hutu. Reared in an authoritarian patrilocal society, Rwandans thought of the king not as a Nyiginya Tutsi struggling to stay in power but as a transcen-dental source of creativity, authority and unity. No one would have faulted Father Brard when he wrote in his first letter home in 1900; ‘C’est une grave insulte de dire que le roi et sa mère sont des batousi; ils sont rois (abamis).https://uk.amateka.net/one-one/https://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/revolutionchurch.jpghttps://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/revolutionchurch-150x150.jpgChurch and RevolutionThe first observers in Rwanda noted a division in society between the cattle-owning Tutsi, the farming Hutu, and the Twa, who either lived in the forests or worked as potters around homesteads. The three groups had distinctive physical characteristics, occupations, behavior and culture, and it was often assumed that...BarataBarata email@example.comAdministratorAMATEKA | HISTORY OF RWANDA