(a) The Mwami

The first King of Rwanda, Nkuba, lived in heaven with his wife Nyagasani, their two sons Kigwa and Tutsi and their daughter Nyampundu.

One day the three siblings fell rom heaven and settled on a hill in Rwanda. There Kigwa married his sister and their descendants are the Nyiginya clan, which have since constituted tt :ohe royal line. Mututsi married one of his nieces and their descendants are the members of the Bega clan, who by tradition most often provided the Queen Mother.

After an invocation God sent them a cow and a bull together with sheep, goats, hens and all the seeds needed for agricultural produce.

Moreover Cod taught them how to make fire and forge iron objects. This myth not only upheld the sovereignty of the kingship in Rwanda and gave it the support of divine approbation but also implied the king’s intimate connection with the country and the people as a symbol not only of the country’s security in relation to the outside world but also of the well-being and fertility of its inhabitants, cattle and agrarian produce.

This relationship was brought out in the word Mwami which in derived from the verb Kwama, being fertile. He was Rwanda personified and this mystical identification was further expressed in a large number of avoidances and rituals.

According to myth the first known king of the Nyiginya dynasty was Gihanga. His sons became the founders of the different royal lineages existing in Rwanda. Kanyadorwa, Kanyagisaka and Gafomo inherited Ndorwa, Gisaka and Bushubi respectively (Pagés 1933 p.204). Kanyarwanda was the father of Gatutsi, Gahutu and Gatwa (d’Hertefelt I96O p.126). The king therefore was neither Tutsi, Hutu nor Twa, he was Umwami (Kagame 1954 p.50). However he belonged to the Nyiginya clan and was the issue of a Nyiginya father and normally a Mwega mother, but at the moment of accession to the royal drum he changed his Tutsi name for a new name according to the following four fold cycle in which the first king of each cycle was alternatively Cyirima and Mutara. (d’Hertefelt and Coupes I964 p.51). Thus the sequence wass 1. Cyirima or Mutara ; 2. Kigeri; 3 Mibambwe ; 4.Yuhi.

The first and last Mwami of each cycle of four Kings were “peaceful” kings and were moreover obliged by tradition to execute special rituals relating to the well-being of the kingship and the country. The incorporation of the burial rituals into the accession ceremony underlines the relationship between the sacredness of the kingship and the continuation of the royal lineage. This is also emphasized in certain texts taken from the ceremony {.d’Hertefelt 1964 p.225 and 261;262). The heir to the royal drum was chosen by the king, generally one of his younger sons was selected. The name of the heir apparent was however kept secret even from the one who was chosen. It was revealed only after the king’s death by the three “Keepers of the Secret”, two of whom were abiru and one army chief {.d’Hertefelt, Coupez I964 P.5) to whom the Mwamihad confided his decision.

However the sons who were not chosen together with their mothers, did not always acquiesce in the decision of the Mwami and sometimes challenged the appointed successor to the drum. This happened in 1895 in the case of Rutalindwa. Although we cannot say that wars of succession were virtually institutionalised, as in Ankole, nevertheless from the accounts of the court historians we gather that they occurred frequently. Yansina, (1962 p.2) in his study of the history of.Rwanda, concludes that a war of successionoccurred about every other reign. In practice this would / have eliminated the likelihood of a revolt against the person of the Mwami during his reign and hence these violent competitions over the possession of the royal drum, the Kalinga , had a stabilising influence at the same time they constituted a testing ground for the loyalty of the king’s followers.

Although in theory the Mwami was an absolute monarch, whose supreme powers were divinely sanctioned, in actual practice his powers were limited, not only by customary limitations but also because he had to delegate his powers. This he did through office holders of the administrative and army structures, within the framework of the territorial divisions we have mentioned. The royal enclaves and especially the royal residences which were both dispersed throughout the country, constituted centres of control over the office holders of both structures. At the time of Rwabugire there were twenty one of these royal residences with a further three belonging to the Queen mother. Apart from his personal clients, the abanyibikingi, or holders of ibikingi land, the Mwami had at his personal disposal an extensive array of court personnel, court historians, judges, spys, bodyguards, dancers, executioners and palace retainers.

The most important members of the court were however the abiru. These were a group of men belonging to certain Tutsilineages who were charged with preserving the continuity of the tradition in its entirety. In contrast with all other offices, their status was ascribed.

Theabiru, together with the high and army chiefs, who nearly all lived at the court, formed a kind of council, called Inama, which the king could consult at his own discretion. One of the members of the council was appointed by the Mwami as “favourite counsellor” who fulfilled a function comparable to that of the Katikiro or prime minister to the Kabaka of Uganda.

In the magico-religious field the king kept at the court the keepers of the sacred drums and the ancestor shrines, the healers and the official diviners. The Mwami exercised his political and administrative power through delegation, using these channels at the same time to obtain from his people the taxes needed for the upkeep of his very extensive court. This meant that the king had at his disposal a large1 number of sought-after positions for distribution, especially as all these with the exception of the abiru, were non hereditary. In this way the system made it possible for the king to publicly demonstrate his absolutism. It also constituted a framework for political manoeuvring to obtain the favour of the king.In this way his supreme power was not only not dimished through delegation but further, since the whole system of delegated power and the multiplicity of offices found its apex in the king, it formed an instrument enhancing the actual exercise of his powers.

Without any obligation of further consultation, the Mwami decided on policies of war or peace and he appointed the army, provincial and district chiefs. He made new laws, which were publicly announced throughout the country (Bourgeois 1957 p.66), fixed the boundaries of provinces and districts, stablished new army units and appointed the court magicians. Furthermore he was not only the supreme commander of the armed forces, head of the civil administration and law maker, but he was also the chief justice. He constituted the final court of appeal. In this he was assisted by a series of judges, both Tutsi and Hutu who were appointed by the king.

Moreover he could overrule any court decision and condemn anyone without trial to capital punishment or on the other hand commute a verdict of capital, punishment by the courts into material compensation. In the latter case the compensation was kept by the Mwami except in the case of murder.

The fact of having obtained important status in no way constituted a protection against royal suspicion or vengeance. This point is brought out in the early missionary reports e.g. Save 1907:

« Il n’y a pas de grande famille qui n’ait plusieurs de ses membres tués par le roi. Rares sont ceux qui conservent jusqu’à la fin de leurs jours les bonnes graces du roi »and the reporter adds the commentary:

“Dans le Rwanda plus d1ailleurs1 la fortune est fragile ». Although kingship was sacred, the king himself was not aritual specialist as e.g. a rain maker. He stood over and above the official rain makers as a controller of their activities. This absolved the Mwami from possible blame.

The king would punish those ritual specialists whose efforts had not succeeded. The same report of 1907 states:

« Le roi fait tuer entre autres la chefesse de la colline de Imaza. Elle appartenait à la famille des Bashara qui ont l’apanage de faire la pluie. Maintenant que la pluie refuse de tomber, quelques uns le paient de leur têtes ».

Moreover although the nature of the kingship in Rwanda cannot be described as a divine kingship, the king had an important ritual role which was complementary to his political, military and judicial functions. The hierarchical stratification of the power structure in Rwanda has lent itself to neat functional analysis within the framework ofcross-cultural comparisons. However since Rwanda kingship had dual political and ritual functions, consideration limited only to the political aspect must result in inadequate analysis.

The explanation of the role of the Mwami in purely political terms must be 1imited to those areas where his political power was sufficiently established to allow for the operation of the delegated power structure, since it is through these channels that his politipal power operated.

However, it is my contention that the consideration of the ritual function of the king cannot be excluded from any adequate analysis of the nature of the kingship in Rwanda.

Inclusion of the ritual function of the king not only adds depth and perspective to the analysis of kingship as a political force in those areas where his political power was fully operative but it is also significant in relation to the analysis of the kingship as an important factor in social cohesion.

Moreover the ritual function of the Mwami as a unifying force in Rwanda extended beyond the area of Central Rwanda into those regions which, although politically not fully part of the administrative system, were protected by the Mwami from external threats and domination. Hence these areas as well as the centre were intimately concerned with the king’s well-being as a protector. This protection was held to be divinely ordained and was not only activated in effective military protection but also expressed in myth and ritual at the court. The same can be said of the king’s ritual function relating to the well-being and fertility of people, cattle and agricultural produce.

The extension of the king’s ritual power was thus wider than the territorial extent of his political power. The principle integrating force of the rituals performed by the king did not always consist of widespread participation of the population, although in many instances, as we will see, such participation did occur. The shared conviction that the king’s performances of the rituals protected the wholecountry against all sorts of calamities and demonstrated himto be a divine instrument for the distribution of supernatural benefits, was an important contributory factor in social cohesion. This was seen as a continuation of the divine plan expressed in the origins of the first kings, the founders of the dynasty and the country, to whom God had entrusted the well-being of its people, cattle and produce. Against this background I will now examine in more detail both the nature of the rites and the occasions on which they were performed, since they clearly expressed the nature of the kingship as a force of social cohesion not only in Central Rwanda but also in Rwanda as a whole. In I964 d’Hertefelt and H. Coupez published the Kinyarwanda text of the rituals of divine kingship with a french translation. It is this text which I use as the basis for my analysis. We can distinguish, following d’Hertefelt and Coupez, four kinds of ritual.

(1) Accessional rituals, (2) Rituals which were periodically performed, (3) Rituals relating in war and (4) Rituals to be performed on accession to the sacred drum.

The rituals prescribed by tradition and to be performed by the king on certain occasions were all related to fertility. The occasions were times of great calamity due to famine ordisease. The first two rites deal with controlling the effects of drought or excessive rain. The king went through sacrificial rites and invocations to his ancestors and sent one of the ritualists round the country with a pot containing remnants of the sacrifice in order to let the people know and see that the king had performed the rites to stop the drought or the excessive rains. The third ritual was performed if disease struck the bees. (Honey was an important ingredient in the making of first quality beer).

The ritual again consisted of invocations to the royal ancestors, “who brought the bees into the country” and sacrifices were made. Again messengers were sent round the country with potions used in the ritual with which the hives were sprinkled. The text makes special mention of sending messengers to Mugamba. This is of particular importance as Mugamba was one of the highly independent and autonomous districts in the mountain region in the North.

Although it was outside the direct control of central Rwanda, the people paid a regular tribute to the Mwami in honey.

The other two occasional rituals were performed to prosper hunting, a specifically Twa occupation, and to stop the ravages of rinderpest. In both rituals the text used in the invocation to the royal ancestors brings out how they had brought the skills of hunting and cattle breeding into the country. Sacrifices were made and ritualists were sent all over the country carrying pots containing concoctions used in the ritual which were used to sprinkle the cattle.

Apart from these five rituals which the King had to perform on certain specific occasions, he was required by tradition to perform four periodic rituals, two of which were to be enacted annually while the other two were reserved for the beginning and the end of the cycle offour kings.

The first ritual took place annually in May, just before the start of the long dry season, and towards the end of the invisible moon period just before the new moon appeared. Through the ritual the country is in fact associated with this cosmic renewal of life and death. During the ritual, which lasted for several days, sexual intercourse was taboo and the beating of the drums was forbidden. The end of the ritual coincided with the appearance of the new moon and this renewal of life was expressed in great festivities and much beer-drinking. This ritual took place at a time when there was no more agricultural work to be done on the fields and more time was available for festivities. Moreover at this particular season there was a marked difference in temperature between day and night while at the same time the stock of provisions was running low. It was therefore the season when epidemics and disease were most likely to occur.

Hence the king performed his ritual of protection against the background of the symbol of life and death (the moon) which coincided with a time of increased danger and the start of the dry season. In the text the king is portrayed as the as the symbol of continued fertility and well-being – a sign of hope. Once this ritual had been performed, there was national rejoicing during which the royal drums were beaten and echoed by drums throughout the country. It was at this time that those who were liable to pay taxation in beer had to bring it to the chief.

The other annual ritual was the rite of “the first fruit of sorghum”. It consisted of several parts. Firstly a Hutu ritualist received hoes from the king with which to cultivate the sorghum destined for the ritual. Later on some unripe sorghum was brought and the king performed a fertility ritual, calling upon his royal ancestors. When the sorghum was ripe, it was brought to the court and the king, together with the queen mother, the head of the Tutsilineage of the Tsoobe and the Hutu ritualists, preparedporridge from the newly harvested crop and ate it together.

The people had to abstain from eating the new harvest of sorghum until the first fruit ceremonies’ had taken place. Moreover taxation of sorghum was paid at this particular time of the year.

Although there are several notions relating to social relationships and occupational divisions present in the rite, the fundamental concept underlining the ritual is the identification of the king with the success of the agricultural activities of the people. On this basis the

ritual transcended several cleavages in Rwanda society, these cleavages were not concealed, they were expressed butin the context of interdependence. The fact that the king handed out hoes associated him specifically with Hutu agricultural occupations. Moreover, the text of the ritual “Quand le Roi était encore tutsi”d’Hertefelt p.81 vers 94) underlines the idea that the king is no longer purelytutsibut king of all the people. In the ritual, the king and the queen mother together with representatives of tutsi and Hutu, all co-operated and all ate together. Moreover the Tsoobe lineage mentioned inhabited an area in Rwanda outside the confines of Central Rwanda. They lived in Bumbogo, Kibari and Rukiga districts.

Another periodical rite was performed during the reign of every King called Yuhi, one of the peaceful kings, who was the last of the cycle of four. The ritual concerned the renewal of the perpetual flame which was kept burning as a sacred fire at the court. It was believed to have been started by the first king of Rwanda, Gihanga. It symbolized the perpetuity of the royal lineage and the well-being of the country was believed to be magically related to the continuation of the fire. During the ceremony the king forged a hoe in the sacred fire. This hoe was heralded an a symbol of unity. During the ceremony the king showed the hoe to the people asking “People! what is this?” They replied “The hoe of unity”, and the king said “The country is truly united under its king Yuhi”. The king then offered a sacrifice to his royal ancestors, who first received firefrom Imana and promised his people increase in population.

The last ritual in this category was performed at the beginning of the royal cycle by Cyirima or Mutara alternatively. Like Yuhi they were peaceful kings. The Yuhis were called Bami of the fire while the Cyirimas and Mutaras were called cattle Bami and had to perform the important ritual called “The watering of the cattle”. Maquet states that the kings named Cyirima, Yuhi and Mutara were called peaceful Bami, “They were not allowed to cross the river Nyabarongo, a river which runs in the centre of the country” (Maquet. 1961 p.125), and this symbolised the fact that they should not send their armies abroad. The Nyabarongo approximately divided the central from the northern, districts of Rwanda. “Abroad” in this context therefore included the peripheral areas. Maquet further remarks that “this rule very wisely allowed the country to recuperate and to assimilate new territories during a preceding war-like reign. The text of the ritual however does not support this conclusion. It not only entablishes the fact that there was a cycle of only four and not of five kings but also states that only Yuhi were prohibited from crossing the river Nyabarongo. Maquet’s interpretation of Yuhi’s position can readily be accepted ashe succeeded two war-like kings, but this  cannot apply to Mutara or Cyirima. The point made here may seem trivial at first sight but the interpretation of the ritual at the beginning of every royal cycle and the obligatory ritual crossing of the Nyabarongo is significant in relation to the nature of the kingship as a force of social cohesion,especially in the context of spatial divisions between central and peripheral areas. As we have said the kings of Rwanda followed a fourfold cycle beginning alternately with Mutara and Cyirima. In the ritual we find, corresponding to these alternating periods of the cycle, a ritual division corresponding to the spatial division of Rwanda made by the river Nyabarongo. as we have already mentioned the last king of the cycle, Yuhi, had to stay inside central Rwanda and this might well have been related to the factors indicated by Macquet.

The first king of a new cycle also had to stay within central Rwanda until the moment during his reign when he had to perform the ritual of the “watering of the cattle”. The appointed time for the ritual was decided by the abiru or traditionalists. On this occasion the king had to make a ritual crossing of the river and thereafter live until his death outside central Rwanda, since he was not permitted to return across the river. At his death a Kigeri succeeded him and was invested with the royal power at the place where his predecessor had died. Kigeri then ritually crossed the river into central Rwanda and took with him the mummified body of his predecessor. This mummified body was not buried but was kept in a special sanctuary near the royal palace throughout the reigns of Kigeri, Mibambwe and Yuhi. The successor to Yuhi again crossed the Nyabarongo during the ritual watering of the cattle and took with him the body of his fourth predecessor who was only then buried there and the cycle was renewed.

The fundamental idea expressed through this ritual and its associated movements is that every reigning king shared his authority with the initiator of each cycle. This king was, through special rites, identified with the good fortune of having cattle and was the protector of all cattle. For this reason every initiator of a new cycle was called a cattle king. The fact that every cycle started with a name different from the former one emphasised the beginning of a new cycle. Moreover through the ritual crossing of the Nyabarongo and the burial of the king outside central Rwanda each cycle renewed the mystical identification of the kingship with Rwanda as a whole. Moreover the cyclical element gave an opportunity of periodically expressing a rejuvenation of the kingship. It is of special importance that this rejuvenation in the reign of the first Mwami of the cycle coincided with the cattle ritual which involved the crossing of the river and was hence associated with the unity of Rwanda as a whole. At the time of the ritual, the skins of the royal drums were renewed. The people were also associated with this rejuvenation of the royal drums, the kingship and therefore of Rwanda, through the obligation to change and renew the skins of their own drums.

The rituals relating to war all express a fundamentally identical idea. The strength of the kingdom and its invincibility depended on the strength of the king. This idea was particularly well expressed in the ritual called “The king in hiding”.This ritual was performed when a king of Urundi died, except when he died in battle with the Rwanda. At that moment Rwanda was believed to be threatened by the spirit of the deceased king, the eternal enemy of Rwanda. In practical terms the king was most likely to be succeeded by a more youthful and vigorous king. To avert the threat of attack and to strengthen the king of Rwanda, the Mwami went through an elaborate sacrificial ritual and went into hiding for eight days during which sexual intercourse was forbidden.

He was held to be in intimate contact with his royal ancestors who gave him new strength. In him the country was revitalized and strengthened in opposition to any possible threat from the new and young king of Burundi.

The three rituals associated with royal succession demonstrated how the Mwami of Rwanda was superior to all other heads of administration and the head of the army. In the ritual he presents himself as a powerful master and anaggressive warrior, a man to be feared because he is the master of everybody and everything by virtue of being the rightful successor. From this analysis of the royal rituals several conclusions seem justified in relation to the ritual function of the king as a factor of social cohesion. The status quo of political power of the king is related to his position as rightful successor within the Nyiginya clan. The identification of his kinship with divine ordering is concomitant with the identification of the Mwami with the country as a whole. Following from this both the Mwami’s personal welfare and his actions are held to coincide with the well-being of the country as a whole and of all its members. The king and his ritual are necessary for protection against outside domination. Other aspects of the royal ritual emphasize the legitimacy of theMwami’s position in transcending ethnic cleavages. The king, although a Tutsi, is king of all Banyarwanda. He ceases to be a Tutsi and becomes Mwami, he is a successor to Kanyarwanda, the father of Gatutsi, Gahutu and Gatwa.

This is expressed in his dynastic name and in the actual performance of the rituals as well as the texts. The first fruits ritual and the ritual of the new moon specifically underline the point that he transcends ethnic cleavages.

The king is not only successor to the first Mwami who brought cattle, agricultural seeds, bees etc. into the country, but also the link between fertility and the royal ancestors. This is brought out in the rituals concerning drought, excessive rain, bees, cattle and first fruits. In all these rituals he is shown to transcend occupational cleavages. He is the king of the whole of Rwanda. The symbolism of the ritual of the watering of the cattle, the war rituals, the ritual of the bees, the first fruit rituals and the new moon ritual, all refer to the king as also transcendental to spatial cleavages in Rwanda as a whole. This unifying transcendental character of the kingship is not only ritually expressed and mythically upheld, it was also externalised and expressed by all Banyarwanda through joining the Mwami in certain avoidances e.g. the ritual of the new moon. Moreover the rituals performed at the court were further publicised by the ritualists who went to all parts of the country to sprinkle the cattle or the bee hives.

In other rituals the people were not only aware of the Mwami’s performances of the rituals relating to fertility but also took an active part by beating the drums, renewing the skins of the drums or eating from the new sorghum’ harvest. Another way of emphasizing the rituals was that certain taxes had to be paid in connection with them. The Mwami was unique, the centre of the universe and the direct link with God’s ordering of things. He was the symbol of all things good: Rwanda, cattle, agricultural produce, health and fertility.

He was Rwanda personified. “Son foyer couvre tout le pays”.His uniqueness was further expressed by the use of special words for every dayactivities of the Mwami such as walking and sleeping.

All these aspects of his ritual function are complementary to his political function as the absolute monarch, issue of the Nyiginya Tutsi clan and free to-favour whomsoever he wants to favour.The end of traditional Rwanda kingship did not come when in I961 Rwanda was declared a republic, but in 1931. In that year Yuhi Musinga, the last of thecycle of four kings, was deposedby Belgian Colonial rule and sent into exile. One of his sons, Charles Mutara, succeeded him. Yuhi Musinga, before he died, instructed his faithful followers to bury him in a secret place, because he feared that his son, Mutara, was not going to continue the ritual of the ” watering of the cattle”.

Maquet and d’Hertefelt (1959 P.14)> referring to the appointment of Charles Mutara III as successor to Yuhi Musinga, note that: “Ceux qui l’ont designé, c’est-à- dire les autorités administratives et religieuses européennes, ne l’ont choisi de la manière traditionelle”.

In the preceding years other economic, political and religious factors had already undermined the function of the traditional kingship in Rwanda. However 1931 brought the end of traditional kingship, not only because Mutara was not chosen in the traditional way but also because he was a Christian and as such no longer combined the political and ritual functions of the traditional kingship in his person. It was especially through its ritual function that the kingship was a strong force making for social cohesion in a country with many cleavages. When the king no longer fulfilled his ritual function one of the major principles of social cohesion was lost and with it occasions for a demonstration of the king’s identification with Rwanda and its’people.

The total effect however of this developmental process can only be assessed in relation to a complex of other processes. The two central points I want to make are firstly that the king’s complementary ritual function was a significant force for the unity of Rwanda as a whole and secondly that with the departure of Yuhi Musinga the traditional kingship came to an end and with it an important principle of social cohesion disappeared.

https://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/file14-1.jpeghttps://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/file14-1-150x150.jpegBarataHistory of kings(a) The Mwami The first King of Rwanda, Nkuba, lived in heaven with his wife Nyagasani, their two sons Kigwa and Tutsi and their daughter Nyampundu. One day the three siblings fell rom heaven and settled on a hill in Rwanda. There Kigwa married his sister and their descendants are the...AMATEKA