Six. The crisis of the First World War
The Germans could not hope to hold back an Allied army of Belgians and British without the support of the Tutsi; that support was readily forthcoming. Musinga sent them two letters at the end of 1914 pledging his loyalty and troops; he had heard that the Belgians confiscated many cattle and was hoping to regain lost territory in Mfumbiro, where his half-brother Nyindo, with German support, was in revolt against the British.
Kiga dissidence too was directed against the British, as Nyabingi priestesses recruited followers and mobilised the Twa. A certain Bichubirenga, ‘The clouds pass by’- perhaps a reference to the transitory nature of European rule- appeared at Rwaza in December 1915. His emblem was a white sheep, and he was said to be the precursor of a new king who would appear when the Europeans were driven out. Less threatening to the Banyanduga than the Nyabingi priests, perhaps because his choice of symbols placed him in the Lyangombe tradition, he quickly gained Tutsi support. Unlike Ndungutse he won Nyindo’s friendship and tried to persuade the Germans at Ruhengeri to back him. The White Fathers were his main target; Christians at Rwaza were told not to go to the mission and were asked to send him their children to ‘vomit up the poison given them by the whites’. His followers believed that he had gone to the Germans’ camp to bewitch their guns, but later he was rumoured to be going to bewitch the Belgians. Bichubirenga’s tactics succeeded: Captain Wintgens gave him cows and a promise of support. In January 1916, with two thousand followers, he attacked a Belgian post and was only driven off with minor casualties. The whole affair underlined the White Fathers’ unpopularity among the independent Hutu clans as a result of Classe’s pro-Tutsi policies.
As an international missionary society the White Fathers, in theory, owed allegience to no single country. Father Classe appealed for charity and put the Fathers on their honour to be loyal to the German
administration. No ‘exterior sign’ of opposition to the Germans was to be expressed, under no circumstances were missionaries to voice their personal opinions in front of Rwandans. The Church was to freeze into an attitude of neutrality. An illusion, of course; only a few months earlier Father Lecoindre, one of Classe’s few confidants, had been complaining about the country’s ‘Germanic’ atmosphere; the war had come just as the missionaries were feeling the pressure of imperial ride and were regretting their former independence.
The war’s immediate effects on the mission were material. Money ran out at Bukoba and Mombassa, all supplies were cut off from September 1914, and the price of cloth rose steeply. There were five German brothers eligible for conscription, and in April 1915 French clergy were asked to move back towards Tanganyika; two months later, after ‘Italy’s betrayal’, two Italian White Fathers were arrested and sent to Tabora for internment. Lack of supplies and restrictions on the movements of priests had begun to disrupt the rnission’s work by the end of 1915; mission employees could not longer be paid. As the Allied counter-offensive gainecl ground the mission stations took on a strategic importance. While the Lutherans loyally turned their posts into supply depots, the Catholics negotiated for concessions before following the same course. The Italian priests were allowed to return, and all missionaries were permitted to continue with normal work.
Missionary activity had virtually ceased by the beginning of 1916. Save mission was ringed with huts, and the local Tutsi had mobilised the peasants for porterage to Rubengera. Belgian patrols intermittently visited Nyundo, and in February 1916 the staff were evacuated to make way for German troops. Mibirisi was turned into an ammunition dump, and the Fathers were sent to buy beans from the Hutu to provision Ruhengeri camp. The Rwaza schoolmaster was dismissed for lack of money, very few catechumens came to the mission, and since the Fathers could no longer pay the pupils the schools emptied. Many catechists continued working on half or no pay, but their numbers fell from 119 to eighty-two.
The Hutu bore the brunt of the missions’ poverty; those on the Rwaza property were no longer required to bring inzoga, banana beer, to the missionaries but had to provide labour two days a week for twelve weeks of the year. The Tutsi behaved as usual, using their new importance to force an extra day’s ubuletwa each week on the Nduga and Marangara Hutu, to increase crop dues, and introduce ubuletwa for the first time in the northern provinces. Throughout 1915 the Banyanduga tightened their hold over the regions they had colonised in the wake of the Ndungutse punitive raids. The Hutu also suffered from fresh German demands; hundreds were mobilised to provision the troops, and several chiefs began asking an additional tax of on one hoe on the harvests as compensation. Despite a second round of German tax collection in the dry season of 1915 the Hutu were still expected to do forced labour at Kisenyi and Kigali. Movements like that of Bichubirenga directed rising Hutu discontent against the Allied forces. The idea that the war was going to bring European rule to an end was widespread and caused panic in some regions.
As the Belgians, strengthened by British carriers and arms, began to prepare for their major offensive in February 1916 German relations with the White Fathers deteriorated. The priests did their best to avoid becoming embroiled in the conflict, even going to the point of hiding from patrols, but with the Germans heavily outnumbered it was inevitable that the Lutherans responded more readily to demands for supplies than the French White Fathers. Christian joy was easily interpreted as a smirk of Allied triumph.
After two major breakthroughs on the western front Wintgens began a retreat to Nyanza. The Fathers were now under considerable pressure to withdraw with the German columns; both French and German missionaries wrote to Classe asking him to insist that they remain at their stations. The last German communication with Monsignor Hirth gave permission, but suggested that the priests should appear in full missionary attire. Thus when Father Lecoindre came out to greet the Belgian troops advancing on Kigali the Catholics were in the happy position of being the only Christian missionaries and the only Europeans in Rwanda.
‘Liberation’ was a word that came easily to the missionaries ‘lips after the Belgians’ arrival. That June at Save’s Corpus Christi procession they watched ‘the dais officially escorted by Christian soldiers under arms and followed by European officers’. The Tutsi as the Kaiser’s infantry had been defeated and disgraced; Musinga wrote humbly to explain that the Germans had assured him the Kaiser would win and to ask the Belgians not to his country. The retreating Germans left the Catholic stations, some quite literally, in ruins, but the Fathers, who in Gisaka had been forced to stand back whilst the Tutsi pillaged the Hutu, were now in triumphant possession. From being the reluctant agents of Germano-Tutsi imperialism, they became again the principal actors in the colonial drama.
When the Belgian commanders came to consider problems beyond the immediate needs of their advancing columns they could turn to no one but the White Fathers for advice. Their experience in the Congo had little relevance to the problems of ruling a kingdom like Rwanda. Armed with only the vague notion of supporting the local chiefs, all but the most militantly atheist of administrators welcomed the priests’ services, and the priests, freed from the authority of the intransigent Kandt, who had forced them to take their place within the framework of Tutsi hegemony, once more became active Hutu sympathisers. Even Classe, when called upon to outline Rwanda’s political organisation, stressed regional variations, political complexity and the limitations of Tutsi sub-imperialism.
The Vicar General’s notes began, ‘le régime politique du Rwanda peut etre assez exactement assimilé au régime féodal du Moyen-age,’ but there followed a far from superficial analysis of Rwandan society. He mentioned how the Tutsi had recently tightened their grip on the country, the levying of arbitrary taxes in Nduga and Marangara, and the northward spread of ubuletwa. But Classe stil believed that without the Tutsi nobility, even though they were refractory to Christianity, and a strong monarchy, there would be anarchy. He solved the problern to his own satisfaction by distinguishing between a ‘good‘ pro-European faction at court consisting of the Nyiginya, and a ‘bad’ group of reactionary Ega traditionalists. He was, however, realist enough to admit that Nyiginya support amounted only to enlightened self-interest, and pointed out that the syphilitic old Nshozamihigo’s main concern was to protect his fiefs from the Ega. Similarly, while he spoke of the Tutsi’s contempt for the Europeans he wanted to differentiate between the ‘real‘ Tutsi and the rabble of petty land-owners who exploited Marangara. On Nshozamihigo’s death in December 1916 Classe wrote an unsolicited letter explaining the Nyiginya’s pro-European role, emphasising again the power of the Ega Queen Mother, Musinga’s weakness, and the questionable legitimacy of the court. It was altogether a remarkably poor reference for the Rwandan ruling class from the champion of Tutsi authority.
The mwami was not acting in a way to attract support; in September 1916 after two askari were killed near Save, Musinga contemptuously handed over five innocent men to bear the Belgians’ punishment and poisoned the only one who tried to protest. As the main body of the Belgian army moved south away from the capital rumours of revolt grew. Captain Stevens, left in Nyanza with no information save that fed him by Musinga, the Father Superior of Save, and Classe’s anti-Ega letters, arrested Rwidegembya, the Ega leader, and imprisoned him in Kisenyi. He later realised his mistake.
Musinga had been long dreaming of dividing up his wealth. Rwidegembya
was a victim of plots…hatched by Musinga and his satellite Kashamura
and a little, as well, of the prejudices of certain missionaries, who represented him as the custodian of the cultural practices and the diabolical arts of the Mtuzi race.
Musinga must have been surprised at the gullibility of the new Europeans, and went on to depose the Zaza army chief, who had made compromises with the missionaries, for a son of the Nyiginya Kanuma. The Ega counter-attack was swift. Rwidegembya’s son, Rwagataraka, let the Belgians know of contacts between the mwami and the Germans. Musinga’s secretary was suddenly given an important fief — to pay for his silence, it was assumed — but the Belgians did uncover a cache of forty rifles at court, and believed the stories of German messengers and secret letters despite lack of proof. By March 1917 the Belgians were listening to any wild rumour put about by their ambitious interpreters. Insecure, newly arrived, and lacking a clearly formulated policy, the Belgians repeated German mistakes in Burundi and reacted precipitously. ‘In short, since we have occupied his territory,’ wrote Captain Stevens, ‘Musinga has been simply laughing up his sleeve at us and scorning the orders we give him. He intends to play the leading part in the politics of his country and to relegate the European authorities to the background.’
On 25 March 1917 the new Commissaire Royal at Kigoma authorised Musinga’s arrest. In the most astonishing reversal of fortune Nyanza had ever known Musinga was bundled off to jail at gun point. The Tutsi nobilty were brushed aside. The Belgians judged cases at Zaza without reference to the chiefs, and the church filled again with Hutu who had perhaps got wind of the upheavals. Minor provincial chiefs avoided paying ikoro that year. But the decapitated Rwandan polity proved ungovernable, and Musinga, utterly humiliated, had to be released. The passage from conquest to administration had been telescoped to a single year, but the price in bitterness and chaos was very high.
The political havoc caused by the Belgian commanders was trivial compared with the ‘natural’ disasters that struck the peasantry throughout 1917. The north-eastern shores of Lake Kivu had been a key defence line, and the Germans had fought some skirmishes in Bugoyi; their retreating army pursued a scorched earth policy, cutting down banana groves which afforded cover and food to the enemy. Troops had lived off the land since October 1914, and in 1916, when they should have been planting, hundreds of peasants fled the battle zone. Finally the famine, Rumanura, came.
When the Fathers returned to a battered Nyundo mission, pillaged and overgrown by bush, the roadside was littered with corpses. A region that had once been the garden of Rwanda was now scrub in which wild animals and scrawny cattle roamed freely. The missionaries had to decide how to distribute their meagre supplies. They opted to feed only those fortunate peasants who had got seed into the ground and so could hope for a sorghum harvest in May 1917. Those who had escaped the European manhunt for porters by staying hidden, and who therefore had planted nothing in December 1916, were reluctantly abandoned to famine and death. Two hundred were fed daily at Nyundo; one priest sold everything he owned down to his chalice to buy food in Kisenyi.
With Bugoyi, the granary of Rwanda, depleted, other crop failures
compounded the misery. Severe infestations of pests destroyed the main potato and bean crop around Kabgayi, and 276 out of 650 Christians moved either south to Save, or to Kansi, in search of food. The aftermath of mulnutrition was epidemics of smallpox, cerebrospinal meningitis and dysentery. The missionaries vaccinated thousands, but many died before the end of July 1918. Among the Nyundo Christians, families with privileged access to mission supplies, the death toll rose from about three hundred in March 1917 to over two thousand in July 1918, 50 per cent of the parish’s neophytes. In the same period Murunda mission lost 20 per cent of its flock. The Fathers put the overall mortality of the Hutu in some parts of Mulera at 75 per cent; the massive mobilisation of the European war had literally decimated the population of Rwanda.
When Major Declerck arrived in Kigali to take up his position as first Belgian Resident in Rwanda in 1917 brigands preyed on travellers along all major tracks in the north, and rich famines had begun to buy domestic slaves in exchange for hoarded surplus food. His troops were without supplies or porters. The missionaries had alerted the Belgians to the severity of the famine when they returned to Nyundo, but no action had been taken for two months. It was only Declerck’s arrival at the end of May that brought action, a paltry five thousand francs to buy food for the starving.
Military considerations still dominated the administration. Kisenyi was the western sector’s headquarters, and Kigali the eastern. This meant that the Kigali administrator found himself sending troops to support Tutsi chiefs as far apart as Mulera and Bugesera, whilst the administrator at Kisenyi considered getting rid of the Tutsi and redistributing their land to the Hutu. As the Belgians misunderstood the political geography, change posts, and moved from one mistake to the next, the different northern factions took the opportunity to regain ground lost to them during German days.
The Rashi, led by one of Lukara’s sons, waived a vendetta with the Sigi clan and began attacking mission employees, alleging that the Fathers had been willing accomplices of Belgian and British pillaging of cattle. In November a Rwaza Christian was murdered. Unchecked by strong rale, the conflict with the Banyanduga grew more intense. The Father Superior of Rambura mission became the figurehead of a movement to chase out the Tutsi, a prophet malgré soi, while in Bugarura the Rwaza Christians put up so much resistance that the Banyanduga complained that it was impossible to govern. It was not for want of trying. ‘I saw in March of this year,’ wrote a Father at Rwaza, Batutsi ask for tax from the same Hutu. Several of Lwakadigi’s residences had heen pillaged by the Belgians, but he slunk out of hiding, returned to Nyundo and was soon in control again. The starving Bugoyi Hutu were in no position to resist, and his cattle trampled freely through their few banana graves and sweet-potato patches. The Bukamba and Muleta Hutu were better off because the Belgians had accepted the local clan heads as rightful chiefs, and so they could seek support against southern intrusion.
But such innovations created more resentment at Nyanza; in the Commissaire’s view ‘some territorial administrators faveur policies which would tend to divide the kinglom and emancipate the subject race; this cannot help re-establish the confidence of the king and the court’.
Major Declerck was highly thought of by the White Paillers, who esteemed mainly those who heeded their advice and council. He was willing to reunite the kingdom if the Tutsi agreed to reform and uniformity. The Belgians had been paying their porters four francs — about one roupie — for the journey to their fines, and the Tutsi were confiscating it as compensation for the time they had spent away. Declerck got the mwami to sign a decree condemning anyone taking legitimately earned money from a Hutu to up to thirty days imprisonment. He announced before the assembled nobles in Kigali that henceforth no peasant was to be prevented from attending a mission. Finally Hutu were to have five days out of seven free for their own work, and were asked to double their cultivated plots against future famine.
The Fathers, if not the originators, were to be the watchdogs of reform. ‘Since it is beyond doubt that the Batutsi will not obey the above decisions,’ Decierck told Monsignor Hirth, ‘and since it is indispensable to better the peasants’ present situation, I would be grateful if the Reverend Fathers would inform the authorities of any abuses that are committed. The courts, however, were controlled by the Tutsi, so the peasants had no real redress. The Fathers could broadcast the directives as instructed but could not enforce them without falling back into the morass of patron client relationships.
By August 1917 Declerek regretted having delivered himself and his assistants into the welcoming arms of the White Fathers, and issued a directive debarring missionaries from litigation. He had been inspired by another protracted legal battle which, like the Schumacher-Ruhigirakurinda affair, involved an aggrieved Hutu, an ambitious Tutsi, a priestly ‘champion of the poor’ and a frustrated administrator. For the north he prescribed a ban on blood feuds and the poison ordeal. Tutsi taking Hutu crops were to pay double their value in compensation and were not to allow their cattle toe graze in peasants’ gardens. Rewooding, ten eucalytpus plants per man, distributed through the missions, was to begin. The reforms were quite impossible to implement.
The Vicar General was still very good at colonial officials; he and Declerck exchanged sugary compliments. For five thousand francs of famine relief, after a year in which death by starvation and epidemic disease had not been allowed to deflect the Belgians from pursuing the Germans, Classe praised Belgian humanitarianism, and told Declerck that for the first time in seventeen years the country had a government which took the natives’ interests to heart. The Resident, perhaps thinking of the White Sisters working in Kigali and Goma military hospitals, referrecl in his reply to ‘la Grande et belle oeuvre civilizatrice que vous dirigez avec un dévouement et un désintéressement au dessus de tout éloge’.
But whilst Declerck and Classe played at clipping the Tutsi’s wings, telling themselves how much more sensible they were than the Germans, their dependence on Musinga and the court, and on the Banyanduga of the north, was rapidly becoming evident. By the end of 1917 the pressures that had influenced the Germans were being felt by the Belgians, and were pushing them towards support for the Tutsi. A missionary reported sadly that the Kisenyi magistrate had sounded like Kandt, who had once said, ‘The Batutsi would not trick me. What would be the point of it? I always decide in their favour, and they know it.’ Declerek had reached the same conclusion. ‘From one moment to the next,’ he wrote to Classe, ‘I expect to hear Kandt, that great friend of the Batutzi. That magistrate is out of his stable.’
Whilst the Belgians struggled to understand Tutsi politics the Fathers used their new relations with the administration to extend mission property in central Rwanda and open new out-stations; the Mibirisi Fathers obtained their first footholds in Busozo. Musinga, cowed by his imprisonment, sent Kabare’s son to Save school, where the insatiable Father Huntzinger presided; fourteen leading chiefs around Save had been given presents as an inducement to send their children to classes, and a girls’school was planned.
At Save and Kabgayi on Christmas Day 1917 the first leading Tutsi nobles were baptised. They had been allowed to take the medal without the usual sixteen months of postulancy. Amongst them were Semutwa, the son of Cyitatire, and so a Nyiginya prince, and the parents of Charles Naho, a noble controlling some six hundred Hutu. Naho’s brother, Chachana, had been on the brink of baptism in 1916 when the mwami sent him to Bukoba with forty porters for the Belgians. Only three men returned, but they said that Chachana, who knew the catechism perfectly, had died a Christian and had baptised all his companions.
The shock of Belgian rule and the missionaries’success among the Tutsi stimulated the court to further diplomatic activity. Already the mwami had made moves to increase his support in the provinces by handing the Gesera several hills that had belonged to the Tsobe Tutsi, a group badly weakened by the Ndungutse rising. Now the mwami encouraged certain Tutsi to educate their children, and the classes for chiefs’sons flourished, though there was still a ban on religious instruction at Nyanza school. The Queen Mother began making public appearances, and the king’s four children were paraded in European dress for the edification of visitors. Musinga himself even drank with Europeans on important occasions and offered them cigarettes. The Catholics were filled with naive delight; now that the Queen Mother, in their view the éminence grise and ‘lynchpin of all Native Administration’, was out in the open, they believed, ‘the most serious obstacle to our joint penetration has disappeared’.
Many Christians came forward to offer their services as secretaries and interpreters to the Belgians; Guten Willens went into Belgian service under the name of Guillaume in lune 1917. Barthélemy Semigabo from Save became a secretary, while Simeon Ndazilamiye and Aloys Kangusa were posted to the Akanyaru river to help supply caravans. The task of provisioning the extended Belgian lines was an opportunity for corruption, and even the ordinary mission catechists became more belligerent in competition with the Belgians’ agents; Paul Lungiragugu demanded eight cows from Cyitatire to keep his second son out of Save school; one catechist, Simeon Lutare, was renowned for his bold and fearless treatment of the Tutsi. The monarchy was badly shaken in the first year of Belgian rule and the value of clientship ties was enhanced; stations like Save were once more burgeoning theocracies.
Apart from their immense political power, the missionaries also threatened Musinga’s ritual authority; with his powers of life and death over his subjects gone and his ngabo defeated, he had little else left. Why, he wanted to know, could Father Huntzinger speak ill of his religion when Tutsi laughing at Christians’ medals were liable to imprisonment? I do not want their Mongu, why do they want mine? Missionaries like Huntzinger did not trouble to conceal their pleasure. Save Christians did not make the hazardous journey to Tanganyika; that was left to the Tutsi chiefs and their pagan Hutu. Huntzinger allegedly whispered to the mwami, ‘Now you see how big you are. . . I am the chief. The German days are over. You are not the big man you used to be.’ The German period became for Musinga a golden age when ‘everybody respected me’ and when the Fathers kept their word that ‘they had only come for Mongu… and would not meddle in my affairs’. Then even ‘the Fathers feared me’, and when the people became Christians they still ‘listened to me and saw in me their chief.’ But ‘The day the Belgians came the Fathers changed completely although they say that a man should not lie they tricked the whites of Bulamatari’.
But those Fathers who thought that Belgian rule had given them a mandate to behave like the Jesuits in Peru were mistaken. Already the Belgians were realising that they needed the Tutsi, and the mwami, after verbal attacks on the Fathers, struck at their followers. The first casualty was Guillaume, dismissed by the Belgians and replaced by a favourite of the Queen Mother. Several of the Christians working for the Belgians were imprisoned for refusing to return cattle they had extorted; Simeon Ndazilamiye was attacked by four askari when he tried to hold back part of an illicit herd. Nyirimbilima, on the verge of taking Instruction from the Rwaza Fathers, was dispossessed at the Queen Mother’s insistence, but the Belgians were unwilling to uphold this decision. Similarly, when one of the mwami’s appointees near Save tried to confiscate Christians’plots, the Belgian listened to Huntzinger and put in one of his men as sub-chief. It was at this point that he fatally overreached himself.
Paulo Lungiragugu, one of Huntzinger’s favourites, tried to extort cows from a Tutsi in return for exemption from porterage. When the Tutsi complained Huntzinger replied that if Paulo saved him from Bulamatari then Paulo must be paid, and promptly forced the sub-chief to accept a Christian on land containing a water source. The Christian occupant killed some of the Tutsi’s goats when they tried to drink, and the man finally made a public protest.
A letter from Major Declerck arrived at Save mission in April 1918, speaking of the intolerable situation created by Huntzinger, ‘a State within a State’, and summoning him to Nyanza, where Declerck tried to effect a reconciliation with the mwami. Huntzinger protested that Musinga had been set up as judge, prosecutor and jury. The king questioned the Christian witnesses in Kinyarwanda, then addressed himself to the Belgians’ interpreter in Swahili, who in turn translated into French for Declerck. The Belgians were outraged by what they heard. Father Huntzinger made a formal apology, but it was too late. Musinga loathed him, Declerek needed to disengage himself from the Catholics, and Classe had been awaiting an opportunity to get rid of him since 1913. A week later the last of the ‘Brard school’ was in Tanganyika.
The fall of Huntzinger marked the close of two years of Catholic power and royal weakness. By May 1918 the old balance between mwami, colonial administrators and missionaries was more or less restored. On 11 May Musinga received full military honours and a message from King Albert in return he sent a telegram of greetings to the Commissaire Royal which was splashed across the Belgian papers. Important chiefs around Save took their sons away from the mission school and sent them to Belgian classes at Nyanza in retaliation the Fathers withdrew their teacher from the capital. At Zaza old Kanuma, always sensitive to changes in the political wind, began confiscating Christians’ banana groves and denouncing them as rebels.
Classe once more sent circulars warning the Fathers against invoivement in local politics and criticising their tendency, ‘no less fatal, of posing as chiefs’. His views coincided with those of Lecoindre, who returned to the north, after war service in Europe, to find missionaries judging cases and catechists policing chiefs. ‘There are many catechumens amongst the Hutu,’ he wrote, ‘who are of a “Bolshevik” mentality, and there we have it: all the revolutionaries in the country enrolled in the Catholic Church.’ The ‘Bolshevik mentality’ was not confined to the Hutu. Discontent was rife among the priests, who resented their frequent transfers from station to station and were indignant when in February 1917 their’average budget per missionary was fixed at about 0.5 francs a day. Whilst they went shirtless and were plunged in darkness after dusk, the shop at Kabgayi held a stock of shirts for the seminarians and the seminary had a supply of paraffin and lamps. Classe complained to Algiers that he was being blarned for Hirth’s policies.
Classe was contending with the effects of the Belgians’ early vacillations, which had nearly handed the north back to the Hutu and had also returned much influence to the northern Fathers Superior. It was useless for Lecoindre to advise against ‘appointing superiors over the missionaries who are too democratic… Bolshevism and anarchy will be the result’ or to advocate concentration of missionary endeavour on the Tutsi ‘class’ ; such lessons, plainly drawn from the political and social turmoil in Europe, ignored the realities of northern Rwanda, which more than a Brard or a Huntzinger shaped the consciousness and practice of the northern missionaries. Father Oomen had been in the north only a short while when the new Kisenyi Resident came humbly to ask his advice. Oomen’s blushing reply demonstrated how quickly Nyundo turned a new arrival into an advocate of decentralised regionalism.
After having told him that I only permitted myself the liberty since this was his wish I attempted to demonstrate that to apply the system of Nduga to these provinces, so that the Mututsi become the absolute ruler of all the land and cattle, would destroy the country altogether. . . if the Mututsi can pillage at will it means they are dispossessing the mal owners, denying the past history of Rwanda which the government seems to recognise in Bushiru.
Oomen and others had become almost as rebellious as theirparishioners; he recorded his reply to the Resident in the station diary for the Vicar General or the Father Visitor to see. Until the Belgians imposed a uniform policy with the ferocity of the Germans, Classe could not prevent priests assuming the roles of absent Tutsi and Belgians.
In April 1917 the northern stations began organising Christian groups on the hills for mutual support during the famine. The Rwaza Fathers also introduced a tribunal to deal with court cases involving Christians and to prevent vendettas. Each hill was headed by a
Christian mukuru who led the group, inama; bakuru (pl.) introduced litigants to the tribunal held at the mission on Wednesdays. Although there was a panel of three Christian magistrates elected by the laity, and no outside representation, even pagan defendants came before the court. Anyone attempting to plead without his mukuru, or trying to contact a magistrate before the court sat, automatically had his case thrown out. The mission, of necessity, had substituted itself for the courts of the absent Tutsi and the hard-pressed Belgians. And since the manipulation of disputes between clans and familles was the principal means, other than force, by which the Tutsi wormed their way into positions of power, this tended to block the expansion of the Banyanduga into the Rwaza area.
The budding Rwaza theocracy met with few external checks. The Tutsi were feuding amongst themselves. Throughout 1918 Bushako’s son struggled with Lwakadigi’s for the control of Bugoyi; Nyirimbilima, Nshozamihigo’s son, under increasing pressure from Musinga and his mother, finally fled to British territory in November, and was replaced by one of the mwami’s men. The Hutu, weakened by famine and war, threw up several minor Nyabingi prophets.
In 1919 the Fathers had to be wooed; their stations were havens of law and order in the north, where the Banyanduga could not impose themselves without the help of the Belgians, and where on occasions the Belgians turned to the White Fathers for help. The difficulties with rebellions Hutu were so great the Banyanduga talked of abandoning Mulera’s good cattle land. The Commissaire Royal had given Monsignor Hirth carte blanche to found new stations provided he avoided Rwabugiri’s old residences; the Catholics went ahead and opened Rwamagana mission by Lake Mohasi in Buganza, where the nyambo, the celebrated royal herd, was grazed. Musinga could not fail to realise that his victory over Huntzinger was hollow; Kabgayi with its two seminaries now rivalled the court. The most frequented place in Marangara, the Belgians said. ‘It is the place where natives from all parts of the region meet… anyone looking for someone goes first to Kabgayi, where they draw their information.’ More insidiously the trickle of young Tutsi into the catechumenate continued.
Kabgayi might be a great centre, but it was in a poor state. During the famine the students had eaten mainly dried vegetables, and some were suffering from vitamin deficiency diseases like night blindness. The roof of the newly built minor seminary started to fall in, and the buildings were infested with ants; some felt that the Brothers’ hearts had not been in their work. Until the refectory was completed the seminarians ate their frugal meals, with meat only once a month, in the open air.”‘ Since there were no French books until after the war was over, and teaching had switched from German to French within a month of the Belgians’ arrival, most of the instruction in the minor seminary was oral. The theology students in the major seminary shared copies of Noldin and Tanquerey, their teachers’ textbooks from another century. They were supposed to reach the standards of their colleagues in Europe, but, as the two seminary teachers admitted, their approach was stale and antiquated, and there were simply not enough books.
Monsignor Hirth made the seminary succeed. After two years of probation of a mission Donat Leberaho and Balthazar Gafuku were ordained at Kabgayi in October 1919 and began teaching in the minor seminary. Four pupils who had left the minor seminary were training as Brothers, Bayozefiti, whilst at Rwaza there were nine postulants for the Benebikira being taught by the White Sisters. In June 1919 three more Hutu priests were ordained, Jovite Matabaro, Isidore Semigabo and Joseph Bugondo. The previous year Mama Maria Yohanna had taken her vows as a nun. The ordination of the five priests made a great impact on central Rwanda; it was a tangible and starding emancipation of the Hutu to the ranks of the nobility. Moreover it demonstrated to the Tutsi just how close a bond the missionaries were willing to form with the peasantry, and demanded from them with new urgency a positive response to the intruding religious system.
Musinga was embittered. He needed to counter the emancipated Hutu, and he saw that the new religion threatened his ritual position. The Tutsi must assimilate European learning to maintain their ground, but not from the ‘books that made them the men of the Fathers’. He wrote to the Commissaire, ‘Bulamatari builds schools everywhere. I hope he will build schools here. The Germans did nothing while the Sultans of Buganda and Bukoba got education.’ He was adamant that ‘I do not want the Fathers’ education for my children, they teach people to scorn the law of our fathers.’
When Van den Eede took over as Resident from Declerck on 6 May 1919 Classe lost and Musinga gained a useful ally. Belgium was struggling for her share of the colonial cake at the Paris peace conference and mandates commission of the League of Nations, and Van den Eede would brook no interference from French, Dutch or German missionaries. He was determined to have at least one showpiece in the chiefs’school at Nyanza, and was happy to please Musinga by sending pupils to the Belgian teacher there rather than to the Fathers at Kabgayi. Father Classe told the new Resident archly that he hoped ‘it will soon be possible to arrive at the necessary liberty of conscience that formerly existed before the war’. Van den Eede, with becoming Flemish bluntness, directed the Vicar General to send any complaints to the Belgian headquarters at Kigoma. Belgium was beginning to show her anti-clerical face.
The court’s opposition to the Fathers put the Nyiginya chiefs in an awkward position; the fate of Nyirimbilitna must have been uppermost in their minds. Sharangabo, a brother of the king, who had stayed away from court from 1906 to 1912 to avoid the purges, faced a number of difficult decisions when Rwamagana mission was opened up in the middle of his fiefs. Sharangabo sent three of his sons to the government school in Nyanza, while two others went to the Fathers’ school for chiefs’ sons at Rwamagana. When Classe angrily pointed out to the Belgians that one was over sixteen and had the right to go to Rwamagana mission, the school of his choice, Sharangabo simply removed another from the mission and sent him to Nyanza, thus maintaining the ratio three for the king two for the Fathers — perhaps not a bad indication of the wavering nobles’views and certainly a way of maintaining an interest in both camps.
When Musinga realised that important nobles were dividing their allegiance he began to concentrate power in his own hands. Classe detected a change after the 1919 ordinations. ‘Musinga is becoming more autocratic, and the people’s rights get less and less; the country has taken a real step backwards in the last few months.’ As Ntulo, Cyitatire, Kayondo and even Rwidegembya and Rwabusisi moved closer to the missionaries, Musinga began to deal directly with their sub-chiefs and garagu; at Kabgayi especially the situation grew very complex, as the Hutu no longer knew to whom they should refer. The sudden release of the adventurer Lwakadigi, who had been held at court since June 1918 on the mwami’s pleasure, and the appointment of his son over Bugoyi were signs of the times.
On 30 May1919 Rwanda was formally handed over to the Belgians. The administration had already been buffeted back on to the course charted by the Germans; Louis Franck, the Minister for the Colonies, decided on Indirect Rule because Rwanda’s political organisation was strongly constructed and with authority on a firm foundation’. The Belgians were to be the councillors and tutors at the elbow of the chiefs. The emphasis was on contimuity, keeping the system intact rather than instituting potentially disruptive reforms. Franck fell back upon the hallowed formulae of the colonial service. Only very gradual moves must be made to adapt Rwanda ‘aux besoins de la colonisation et au progrès économique du pays’ ; thus the introduction of European planters was not ruled out, despite a resolution to ‘respect indigenous institutions’.
In 1920 Franck visited Rwanda, and ‘did not hesitate to let us [the White Fathers] know that in his opinion the negroes need to be introduced to economic development alone’, which seems to have meant training in skills to fit the Hutu to perform their lowly duties in life. “There should be no question of affecting the very foundation of the political institutions on the pretext of equality; we find the Watuzis established…intelligent and capable; we will respect this situation, wrote Franck, who kept his socialism at home in Europe. Classe was disappointed — ‘He seems to us in no way a partisan of elementary education for the people, for the bulk of the population’ — though of course Classe had to admit that ‘We ourselves want this education to preserve the Faith and piety of our Christians’.
Most Fathers still saw literacy in an other-worldly context and would, like Franck, have seen the Brothers’ technical training as preparing Hutu workers to staff the Tutsi State, but the first year of Belgian rule and the Banyanduga’s oppression of the north had producecl an upsurge of genuine social concern. In 1912 Classe had written, ‘Our Christians need peace to develop; to avoid oppression we must make the chefs favourable to us’. By 1920 he was advocating substantial reform; ‘the situation of the people must be improved and they should be given real rights over private property’. Reversing roles in Rwanda, Franck became the conservative, responding favourably to Musinga’s pleas to continue the ancestral cult at court, whilst Classe and his confrères offered to spearhead a kind of bourgeois revolution against feudalism, without an indigenous bourgeoisie to back them.
The White Fathers were not offering to undermine feudalism without understanding what they were about, nor were they uniformly hostile to Rwandan social institutions; it was only in the area of marriage that they had shown themselves determined to impose quite new patterns of behaviour. Confronted with a virile if net virulent feudalism, based on a complex system of exchanges and relationships in which the unwary or the ignorant became hopelessly lost, they set about studying it. Fathers Arnoux, Hurel, Pagès and Schumacher prepared anthropological treatises with the speed of career academics, the rest wrote voluminously in station logs or prepared manuscripts for private circulation among the White Fathers. The result was often shrewd policies of adaptation.
For example, tactics towards the vendetta were informed by a full understanding of customary law. When a Christian was killed in fulfillment of vendetta obligations Classe advocated that the normal compensation of eight goats be paid to the offended umulyango. If a Christian performed the killing he was required in addition to do two weeks’ work at the station for ‘the moral damage incurred by the mission’. Provided the man went to confession and fully repented his act, he could then return to full Church life. When two Christian imilyango were involved, the Father Superior was advised to handle the compensation himself to avoid making public the identity of the killer. The Fathers would, however, try to marry off the widow themselves in order to prevent her passing to the deceased’s brother.
The Liberal and Socialist Deputies in the Belgian Chamber might come baying alter the missionary fox in the Rwandan hen roost, but they were no more able than the White Fathers to harmonise the idea of slow transformation with respect for African institutions. However often the mwami was wheeled out in his plumes, surrounded by his ntore, to support the Liberal fiction that imperial rule left native political institutions intact, the destruction of Musinga’s kingdom and its way of life was guaranteed the moment the idea of reform was born. The powers of self-deception of Belgian Deputies were admirably demonstrated when the whole of Gisaka was handed over to the British after a plebiscite in which over fifty nobles, several from Gisaka, had declared that they wished to be ruled by the Belgians.The mwami protested formally to the British, but secretly believed the White Fathers were responsible; he now attributed all his troubles to their evil machinations.
Although beset by critics, the mission remained disunited. Diseontent among the missionaries finally focused on two main issues. Classe’s authoritarianism and Hirth’s missiology. A council of priests had met at Kabgayi to decide which of the seminarians should be allowed to become sub-deacons; eleven out of twelve Fathers had voted against Abbé Jovite Matabaro on the grounds of his low intellectual achievements. They were simply overruled. Another seminarian, probably Isidore Semigabo, had spent six days paying court to the mwami for cows; the missionaries were scandalised when Monsignor Hirth pushed him through to the sub-diaconate. ‘The seminarians are spoilt,’ reported the Regional Superior. ‘Nothing is refused them.’ When several missionaries protested that they did not think it proper to ordain a man barely fourteen or fifteen years after he had been baptised, Monsignor Hirth not only brushed them aside but created the first all-African parish at Murunda, only loosely supervised from Nyundo.
Some missionaries’ sense of powerlessness in the face of high-handedness and obstinacy became allied with what amounted to a racial critique of such rapid development of an indigenous clergy; deep down they did not think Rwandans capable of it. Yet in front of them Murunda mission flourished; hundreds used to come to hear Abbé Donat Leberaho’s sermons, and his emphasis on penance so stirred his listeners that they flocked to the confessional. His way of speaking in flowing Kinyarwanda, circling round the main point of the sermon, and employing the rich proverbs of the country, naturally held the congregation more than the faltering phrases of new White Fathers. He became famous for his repeated use of the saying ‘Imana iruta ingabo’, God is greater than the ngabo. The European clergy could find nothing to reproach him with except his superior ability to adapt the Westernised Christianity of the seminaries to his parish. While sub-deacons, and therefore subordinate, the Rwandan clergy had been well received in the stations, but as priests they were more threatening and not always welcomed at the mission table. The Belgian administrators treated them to curt, offensive letters.
When the first complaints against Father Classe reached Maison Carrée in 1918 Monsignor Hirth protected his lieutenant by saying that these were in substance earlier criticisms made against himself. Father Gorju, the Vicar General for the southern half of the Kivu vicariate, despite Hirth’s persistent neglect of Burundi, loyally defended Classe and represented him as the scapegoat for Hirth’s incompetence. But even within the hierarchical world of the White Fathers Classe could not for ever escape the consequences of the division of authority between himself and Hirth and the vicariate’s drift into anarchy. ‘The cause of peace demands that Father Classe disappears from Kivu,’ Livinhac gravely told Hirth, and in May 1920 the Vicar General was recalled to Europe.
There followed a long silence on the part of Hirth which brought a panic-stricken letter from Livinhac reminding the bishop of his past triumphs and delicately enquiring whether had resigned? He had in July Monsignor Hirth wrote to the Prefect of the Propaganda, relinquishing his office on the grounds of failing health and eyesight. He lived on for many years and, for a partially blind man, conducted a surprisingly voluminous correspondence with his family.
The Regional Superior’s report on Rwanda was devastating, painting a picture of bush missionaries ‘completely discouraged, annihilated’, whilst Classe and Hirth avoided accepting responsibility by referring and deferring to each other. ‘The poor missionaries do not know which saint to invoke,’ though some of the less helpless had taken to tampering with correspondence, whilst Classe, before their angry gaze, continued to hobnob with Belgian administrators. Classe’s response to criticism was to try to force dissidents out of the country, choosing to ignore the fact that declining morale had driven some priests to give up work: ‘about ten… who would have been very good had they been given some support, are not doing a thing’. Yet it was unlikely that a priest such as Léon Classe, with his talent for dealing with government officials, and his strong belief in ecciesiastical authority, should fall permanently from grace as the result of a movement from below. It would have been a denial of religious order. By November 1920 the Superior General felt obliged to inform the Rwanda missionaries that Classe’s recall did not mean that he was in disgrace.
The Gisaka issue now loomed large in colonial politics, and it was not long before Classe was moving in the salons of Antwerp and Brussels, seeming, like all born rulers, the indispensable man. With a five-page brief on why it was necessary to return Gisaka to Belgian Rwanda his fortunes began to rise, and by April 1921 he was, at least in Livinhac’s eyes, exonerated of responsibility for the disintegration of Kivu vicariate. The Superior General wrote the Rwanda Fathers a stiff letter, summoning the full force of three hundred years of Church history to demand their respectful submission to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda’s famous 1659 directives on mission practice.
By September 1921 Classe was dining with the Minister for the Colonies in his capacity as an expert on Tutsi politics. Captain Philipps, the British Resident destined for Gisaka, had been invited to join the ‘Diner entièrement en maigre…assez symptomatique chez un libéral doctrinaire’, as Classe privately commented, in order to be persuaded to write Winston Churchill pressing for Gisaka’s return to the Belgians. Classe’s remarks on the Franck menu had been provoked by the Minister’s ‘frankly hostile’ attitude to Catholicism and his unwillingness to recommend as a kind of quid pro quo subsidies for Catholic schools in which forty pro-Belgian missionaries were educating eight thousand children.
Classe’s removal had brought little change to Rwanda. Monsignor Hirth continued to overrule the rector of the seminary’s decisions, and finally took over the job himself. It was plain that a new Vicar Apostolic ought to be appointed as soon as possible and that the vicariate must be divided in order to give the Burundi mission a chance to develop. For Rwanda there was only one serious candidate — Léon Classe.
The Superior Provincial of the White Fathers in Belgium fully supported Classe and wanted pressure put on the Vatican to ensure his success. Ryckmans, the riew Resident at Kigoma, also wanted Classe but felt it inadvisable to ‘write in such a way as the Holy See might detect government interference in the appointment’. Franck, less than enthusiastic on such issues, could not help but appreciate the value of a person such as Classe in situations of political delicacy; he therefore informed the Foreign Minister that he wished the Belgian ambassador at the Vatican to indicate- Belgian preferences when Livinhac presented the Terma in Rome. On 28 May 1922, two years after a missionary revolt had forced him out of the country, Classe was consecrated Vicar Apostolic to Rwanda, whilst a year later Burundi became a separate vicariate.
The First World War had brought to the surface the contlicts between the Mission as a religious organisation with a specific ideology and the varied secular orientations of the missionaries. The post-war crisis was not simply the product of differences of opinion about missiology; it exposed the missionaries in all their personal, social and national differences. It was the latter, exacerbated in the Rwandan context, that triggered the unusual confrontation between Vicar Apostolic, Rome and the bush missionaries. During the early days of Belgian rule the Hutu Church had continued to grow in strength as the Tutsi were disgraced. The power vacuum after the war allowed full play to the centrifugal tendencies within both Church and State; regional autonomy meant more power to the Fathers Superior. Father Classe remained far from certain of his commitment to the Tutsi. But during this time the Tutsi moved from a cautious process of assimilation to an outright courting of the missionaries, now a powerful force in the country. The result was the beginning of a split in the nobility and a heightening of the tension between mwami and nobles. The swing in Belgian policy to full support for the court, and the return of Father Classe, by concentrating missionary efforts again on the conversion of the ruling class, drove in the wedge further between pagan king and wavering nobles.https://uk.amateka.net/six-the-crisis-of-the-first-world-war/https://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Ostafrika.jpghttps://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Ostafrika-150x150.jpgChurch and RevolutionThe Germans could not hope to hold back an Allied army of Belgians and British without the support of the Tutsi; that support was readily forthcoming. Musinga sent them two letters at the end of 1914 pledging his loyalty and troops; he had heard that the Belgians confiscated many...BarataBarata firstname.lastname@example.orgAdministratorAMATEKA | HISTORY OF RWANDA