The White Fathers’ Local Relationships
The Fathers preferred to settle all but the most serious disputes with minimal involvement by the German authorities. Most of their stations were too distant from German posts ta be able to count on prompt aid, but even at Mibirizi and Nyundo, where there were posts nearby, the Fathers hesitated to call on the officials. Indeed, on those occasions when the missionaries did summon government troops to attack an area, the Hutu realized clearly the part played by the Fathers in their punishment.
But there were other tensions as well between the two forms of control. Although the Germans had originally favored the establishment of missions as an inexpensive and efficient means of instituting European control over Rwanda, they had learned from the Mpumbika affair and similar cases that the Fathers could cause grave problems or exacerbate conflict. The Germans also suspected that the missionaries, who were mostly French-speaking if not of French nationality, would rather have Rwanda governed by a frankly Catholic power, Belgium or France. That the Rwandans sometimes called the Fathers Abafaranza, “French-speakers” or “Frenchmen,” and that the Fathers did not effectively discourage this practice stimulated this suspicion. The Fathers in turn resented the German distrust but never found the means to dispel it (Although the order was international, including some Germans and Luxembourgers serving in Rwanda, most White Fathers in Rwanda were indeed French (and sonne were from Alsace, where resentment of Germans ran especially deep). Cardinal Lavigerie’s religious base was in Nancy, in northeast France, not far from the Alsatian border).
The Fathers’ use of violence, whether independently or through government troops, naturally caused greater resentment among its victims than did their more pacific exercises of power. But by the sametoken, the use of violence taught the Hutu to fear and respect the Fathers more rapidly and dramatically. After many of the attacks, the victims appeared at the mission with gifts to “make their submission” to the Fathers. In some instances the gifts were meant only to guard against similar reprisals in the future, but in others the tribute was the first step toward a continuing association with the mission. As one Rwandan remembered it, the Fathers attacked to proselytize.
The results of each intervention or punishment varied according to the circumstances of the case and the wisdom of the Fathers involved. Sometimes a missionary could restore harmony to a lineage torn by conflict, or stop short a battle by intelligently manipulating the parties involved. But at other times, Fathers not wholly competent in the language or ignorant of the local customs or over-anxious about their own prestige could bring danger or injury to themselves and others. In one of the worst such cases, a disputing lineage that was certain of the Fathers’ support used the cover of a supposedly peaceful conference with its enemies in the mission yard to fall upon them, killing several while the Fathers stood by helplessly.
Rwandans quickly realized the utility of associating themselves with the Fathers in order to be able to call on their support against all who oppressed or threatened them. From the time a mission was founded, the Hutu of the area sought the protection of the Fathers against the representatives of the Court who ruled them. Many used attendance at the mission as an excuse to refuse all customary obligations to the notables. The Hutu tried this maneuver most often after the Fathers themselves had secured some relaxation of customary obligations for potential converts to facilitate their attendance at instruction. In other cases Hutu rejected all orders of their shebuja (their patrons in an ubuhake cattle contract), saying that they now had new patrons who would protect them from any reprisals by the old. When engaged in disputes with kin or neighbors, Hutu relied on the aid of the Fathers as well to ensure victory.
Since conflicts whether between superior and inferior or between peers often culminated in judicial cases, one of the contenders usually asked a missionary to hear the case. Although Rwandans recognized and respected judicial expertise, they knew that the settlement of cases depended more on the respective strength of the parties involved than on the technicalities of precedent or even the facts of the case. The man who secured a powerful protector to hear his case ordinarily won it. The Fathers, who were both powerful and easily manipulated because oftheir relative ignorance of language and law, made ideal judges for their adherents. Their popularity as judges grew until some Fathers were called upon to hear cases virtually every day. The Father Superior at Rwaza, for example, dealt with so many cases and found their complexity so great that he kept a register of decisions for future reference.
Like influential Rwandans who were ordinarily shebuja as well as notables, in addition to exercising authority in the vicinity of their stations the Fathers also dispensed wealth to their clients. Most Fathers regarded traditional ubuhake as an impediment to their work because, as one Father wrote, ‘A chief who has a cow has control over the man who has borrowed the cow”;the clients of notables most hostile to the missions would not lightly displease their shebuja by taking instruction. But some of the missionaries—perhaps recalling the dictum of the founder of their order, Cardinal Lavigerie, to “Be apostles, be nothing but that, or at least be nothing except to that end”—decided that they could become shebuja themselves. Using the cattle they had purchased or acquired through punitive raids, they secured bagaragu of their own to work for, instead of against, the spread of Christianity. The missionaries encountered serious problems, however, when they tried to use the cattle t control the behavior of their clients. When they recalled their cattle from clients who displeased them, as Rwandan shebuja did, they found that the dispossessed rejected their teaching as well as the missionaries themselves; having become Christian to obtain a cow, they saw no reason to continue accepting their shebuja’s religion once the relationship had been dissolved. After several years’ experience with this kind of religious ubuhake, one Father bemoaned the reliance on grants of cattle: “What harm these cattle have done to this poor mission!” adding later that “many. . . [had] received baptism almost solely to receive the profit of a cow.”
The Fathers also had land to distribute to their followers. The grants originally made by the Court to the missions had been vague in terms of the boundaries and the rights attached to them. Before 1903 the Fathers apparently held their land at the pleasure of the Court, probably sending some form of payment to Nyanza once or twice a year. After 1903 the Fathers urged that their tenure made permanent and unconditional. With German support they arranged over the next several years to purchase their holdings from the Court for cloth or currency. The propertyat Save was 200 hectares; at Kabgayi, 120; and at Zaza, between 100 and 125.
Such extensive holdings in the densely populated kingdom necessarily encompassed the arable land or pasture of some Rwandans. The Fathers sometimes permitted the original occupants to remain on the land without further arrangement, but more often they expropriated the property, paying them for the land itself and for any crops on it. In areas where the land had not yet come under the control of the Court or wealthy Tutsi, the Hutu resented the expropriation as much as they would have similar action by representatives of the Court. The Fathers invariably found the land exceeded their own needs, so they then granted the remainder to those who solicited it, often the very people whom they had dispossessed.This was the same way in which notables extended their control over the holdings of Hutu lineages. The Fathers also distributed plots to Hutu who had left their original holdings because of conflict with their kin or with their superiors, to strangers from other regions, even to Christians who came from outside Rwanda.” The Court apparently expected the missionaries to grant land to their followers as its notables did to their men: when Kanjogera dispossessed a Christian and the Fathers complained to Musinga, he answered that the Christian was their man; they could easily grant him a part of their own holdings. If the Fathers revoked their grants of land, the results often resembled the consequences of their recall of cattle. At Save one of the most devout Christians returned cross and rosary to the Fathers after they had taken back part of the land that they had granted to him.
As distributors of land, the Fathers were banyabutaka (notables in control of the land) as well as shebuja (patrons through cattle clientship) to the men on their property. Like banyabutaka, the missionaries collected payment in labor and crops for the use of the land.Originally unaware of the complexities of the Rwandan political system, the Fathers failed to recognize that a man had multiple obligations to several authorities. Instead, they assumed that as banyabutaka they had exclusive control over their men and tried to prevent batware who ruled the same men as members of their ngabo from giving them orders. In so doing they created endless disputes with notables jealous of their own authority. Sometimes one party or the other called in German officials to sort out their conflicting claims.Annoyed by the time lost and the bitterness engendered by these disputes, the Germans restricted the holdings acquired by the Fathers after 1908 to twenty or twenty-five hectares of sparsely populated land. The officials tried to require that the originalinhabitants leave the property immediately and permanently and that the Fathers no longer play the role of banyabutaka.In some cases the missionaries ignored these restrictions, usually while trying to arrange questions of authority privately with the local notables. The Hutu did their best to hinder such attempts at arrangement because they wanted to use the confusion over their obligations to escape traditional duties.These conflicts of authority damaged the interests both of local notables and of the Court itself. Since the batware had been granted the right to command by the Court, any incursions on their authority lessened its own suzerainty.
In addition to the customary forms of wealth, the Fathers offered other valuables to their clients. The missionaries combated the slave trade by stopping all caravans passing in their vicinity and freeing the captives. At first, they sheltered the victims only briefly before sending them back to their homes. But perhaps because they believed the victims would only be subject to recapture, perhaps because they did not want to lose the opportunity to proselytize, the Fathers at Zaza began keeping at the mission those whom they had freed. Since they lacked the resources personally to care for and educate those freed, the missionaries assigned them to converts who were supposed to give them this attention in return for assistance in their homes and fields. Some of the “guardians” exploited and abused the freed slaves, who may have suffered as much from this Christian form of bondage as they would have from other more usual forms of servitude. The system never encompassed more than several hundred freed slaves and lasted only a few years, but it did reinforce the image of the Fathers as generous distributors of wealth—and benefits—to their favorites.
The Fathers established rudimentary schools at all their missions to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as catechism. Since the Rwandans at first saw no reason to prize European skills, the Fathers used material incentives to spur attendance. Sometimes the children were paid outright; at other times they received a salary in return for some work that they did after school hours. Young Rwandans gradually came to realize that European education guaranteed long-term as well as immediate benefits, especially after the establishment of the German Residency in 1908 and the ensuing growth in the business community increased opportunities for employment. The most promising of the young scholars found all their needs met by the Fathers. Some were sent on to higher studies at a seminary, while others were provided with jobswith other Europeans. Those who remained in the employ of the mission were often given both land and wives by the Fathers.
Rwandans from all levels of society saw the missionaries as dispensers of much coveted trade goods. The ordinary people sought beads and cloth, while the notables wanted such novelties as umbrellas or dog collars. The exchange of produce or livestock for these items was always easier and sometimes possible only for those who stood well with the Fathers. At Zaza such good relations depended on mastery of religious knowledge: those who brought produce to exchange for cloth could carry out the trade only if they could also recite the Lord’s Prayer.
From their very arrival the Fathers were said to have a capacity that could determine the fates of their Rwandan neighbors: the power to control rainfall. Musinga and his notables often turned to the missionaries when drought threatened, especially when the efforts of traditional rainmakers had failed. In several instances when rain was critically needed, large numbers of Rwandans began to take religious instruction, either spontaneously or on the orders of their superiors. They brought gifts, too, to encourage the Fathers to arrange for the rains; after the rain had fallen they brought more tribute to show their gratitude. Although the missionaries usually tried to explain that they did not cause the rain but merely prayed for it, they did keep on accepting the gifts and enrolling the supplicants in their classes.
Rwandans were attracted by the power and wealth of the Fathers, not by their appearance or habits. One Rwandan recalled that when he first saw one of the Fathers striding across his hill in his long white robe, he was so horrified he wanted the earth to open and swallow him; when it did not, he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.Rwandans sometimes called the Fathers and other Europeans ibituku, “red things,” because of the unappealing color they assumed when exposed to the tropical sun. Most Rwandans, particularly the Tutsi and those most under their cultural influence, scorned eating as a vulgar bodily function not to be carried out or even discussed in polite society. The Fathers and the employees whom they brought from East Africa were plainly much concerned about what they put in their stomachs and had no compunctions about publicly satisfying their hunger. Among the foods that Rwandans found most disgusting were chicken and eggs; they kept chickens only to provide animals for divination. When the missionaries consumed these foods with such apparent relish, the Rwandans referred to them as hyenas or classified them as Twa, deemed inferior inevery way (and often taken to be forest dwellers outside of normal civilization); sometimes they were not counted as human beings at all. As fitting tribute to men who so forgot their dignity as to feast on such things, the Rwandans sometimes met European requisitions of food by giving them rotten eggsSince the Fathers had brought no cattle with them, some Rwandans assumed that they had not known this animal before their arrival in Rwanda. The donkeys and pigs that the missionaries had brought were seen as pathetic substitutes for the noble cow. As a sign of their disdain, when called up on to furnish the Fathers with cattle, Rwandans sometimes sent the most decrepit beast available, convinced that the Europeans would not know a good cow from a bad one. And indeed, in one case a Rwandan gave a “cow” to the Fathers, who graciously accepted it only to discover the next day that the “cow” was a bull.
If Hutu found reason to ridicule the Fathers, all the more did Tutsi notables look upon them with contempt. The Europeans’ assertion of racial and cultural superiority challenged the elite Tutsi’s own claim to occupy the pinnacle of ethnic and cultural development. One European traveler noted that one could easily distinguish Tutsi from Hutu: the Tutsi with their finer sensitivities were so much more offended by the odor of Europeans that they covered their noses and mouths when in the company of the foreigners.
At first most Rwandans scorned any of their fellows who associated with the Fathers. As the benefits of such association became increasingly clear, however, many grew more tolerant of those who sought protection or wealth from the missionaries, especially if this were done on a temporary basis for plainly defined ends. But they continued to call those who made a permanent commitment by converting to Christianity inyangarwanda, “haters or repudiators of Rwanda.” Elite Tutsi condemned the inyangarwanda most consistently and harshly, but even Hutu preferred not to associate with them. Especially in the early years the converts were treated like Twa—excluded from sharing drinking straws or pipes with others, and ridiculed whenever possible. Their kinsmen and former friends refused the food and lodging customarily offered to even casual acquaintances. Parents exposed to such ostracism because they had allowed their children to attend mission classes sometimes subsequently resorted to beating or tying up their children to keep there from the mission.
During their first two or three years in Rwanda, the Fathers relied on foreign employees, catechists from Buganda, and guards and laborers from other parts of East Africa. As they attracted greater numbers of Rwandan followers, the missionaries used them to replace the foreign Africans. Rwandans who became catechists naturally were converts, but others who had not completed or even begun religious instruction sometimes attended to the material aspects of mission life. The employees of the mission, known as barungu, were usually distinguished from other Rwandans by their dress. Too much men of the world to use traditional skins or bark cloth, they wore lengths of woven cloth or discarded European clothing that they had obtained from the missionaries. Some Rwandans particularly recalled the little hats the barungu wore, perhaps old fezzes gotten from the Fathers who originally wore there as part of their habit.
Christians in general, and particularly employees of the mission, from time to time used the power that derived from their association with the Fathers to intimidate their fellow Rwandans. Converts confiscated hoes from those who cultivated on Sundays, or beer intended for use in ceremonies of the Imandwa religion. Messengers, porters, and guards of caravans extorted gifts or simply plundered along their routes. Those who requisitioned supplies or laborers for the Fathers collected produce or livestock from Hutu or Tutsi who wished to be excused from meeting the demands. One ambitious man at Rwaza built up a fine herd of cattle within a year by using this method. When the gutora system of enforced religious instruction was operating, catechists could require or excuse attendance at class, and many grew wealthy from this prerogative. Playing on the Fathers’ known opposition to traditional divination or sacrifice, the catechists required gifts before allowing such ceremonies to be carried out in their vicinity. Some catechists forced notables to pay them well to avoid fabricated denunciations as enemies of religion.
A number of enterprising Rwandans with no real association with the mission also learned to profit from supposed ties with the Fathers. Some had worked briefly for Europeans or traveled outside Rwanda and so could impress potential victims with a few words of Swahili or another foreign tongue. Others relied on material signs, such as religious medals, tools, or even pieces of paper that they had managed to acquire. Since the Fathers frequently did send their barungu along to make requisitions or supervise labor in an area, Rwandans had difficulty distinguishing the real from the imposter. At Mibirizi the Fathers adopted the usage initiated by the Germans of sending a buffet along with an envoy when they wanted goods or laborers. At least one Rwandanprofited from this by arming himself with a “rifle” made of a hoe handleand a sack of “bullets” made from reeds; thus equipped, he lived well for some time.
Many of those victimized by real or supposed followers of the mission did not dare complain to the Fathers. Notables who themselves suffered or saw their people suffer exploitation ordinarily feared further problems if they complained, so they too kept silent. When the missionaries were informed of abuses committed by genuine adherents of the mission, they sometimes excused the exploiters with no more than a reprimand, especially if the offenders had managed to cover their crimes with a supposedly religious rationale. When the Fathers heard of illegitimate use of their authority by those with no tie to the mission, they invariably did their best to capture and punish the offender, but they learned of only a small portion of the incidents that actually tookplace.
After Kabare’s attempt to oppose more vigorously the spread of European power, the authority of the Fathers continued to grow as they requisitioned goods and laborers, used force to protect themselves and their followers, intervened in disputes and judged cases, and distributed wealth to their favorites. Exercise of power by their followers, real or supposed, magnified the impact of their own use of authority. By 1908 Musinga was writing to the Fathers wategetze neza, “you have commanded well,” using the traditional term to describe their use of power. Some notables even acknowledged the Fathers’ authority by giving them a portion of the tax they had collected for the Court. Hutu had become so accustomed to viewing the missionaries as rulers that when asked to name who commanded the hill of Mibirizi, one replied, “We have no rulers but the Fathers.” At other missions the Hutu offered to stop cultivating when one of the Fathers died because this was the usual practice when a notable died. Some of the Fathers accepted the role of ruler only with qualms, but others willingly and even eagerly assumed power. One Father complained querulously when faced with resistance to his orders, “These people of Gisaka respect no one, not God or parents or chiefs,” failing to indicate in which category he placed himself. Another denounced a disobedient man as igisome, “rebel,” traditionally applied to those who refused to recognize the authority of the mwami.
Monsignor Hirth, as well as the superiors in the order, tried to restrain the growth of the missionaries’ power because it hindered cooperation between the Fathers and the Court and notables. Letter after letter reprimanded the Fathers for their interference in secular affairs. One Father relaying Hirth’s instructions wrote:
Do not meddle in any aspect whatsoever of the affairs of the chiefs. We have no business interfering in judicial cases, questions of taxes or obligatory labor, movements or appointments of chiefs, decisions of the king or his important Batwale [batware]; this is not our mission and grace was not given to us for that. We must not seek to make ourselves feared, to command or to dominate; this is a dangerous error. . . . [That] can only excite the animosity and defiance of the chiefs.
The Fathers acknowledged in principle the wisdom of winning the notables rather than competing with them. They regularly preached and sporadically practiced the rule that the authority of the Court and its notables must be acknowledged. They sometimes went further and tried to win the friendship of the notables with gifts, such as grants of cattle or coveted pastureland. But these occasional attempts at cooperation foundered on the Fathers’ susceptibility to pleas by the Hutu for aid against the notables. The desire to protect a Christian or to attract potential converts, or the more general obligation to insure justice or to protect the prestige of the mission, led the Fathers into one dispute after another with the Court and notables. Once the Fathers had regularly exercised power, even abstention from involvement became a form of action: since the balance between contenders shifted so easily according to the attitudes of the powerful, refusal by the Fathers to intervene weakened the position of the man who had sought their help. Only at missions where Fathers had shunned secular questions from their very arrival in the area could they or their successors hope to keep their political role a small one. The Fathers at Kansi succeeded best in avoiding involvement, perhaps because their station was founded late enough-in 1910—for them to benefit from the experience of their confreres.
As the power of the Fathers became more firmly implanted each year, the Court and its notables acknowledged the seriousness and permanence of the threat posed by the missionaries. The challenge of the Fathers resounded even in the names given them by the Hutu, such as Mwami w’abahutu, “the Mwami of the Hutu” and Rukizaboro, “Savior of the Poor.” Instead of persisting in efforts to force them to leave Rwanda, the Court and notables turned to developing ways to use the power of the Fathers for their own ends.https://uk.amateka.net/the-white-fathers-local-relationships/https://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/catho_mission.jpghttps://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/catho_mission-150x150.jpgChurch and RevolutionMissionary historyThe Fathers preferred to settle all but the most serious disputes with minimal involvement by the German authorities. Most of their stations were too distant from German posts ta be able to count on prompt aid, but even at Mibirizi and Nyundo, where there were posts nearby, the Fathers...BarataBarata email@example.comAdministratorAMATEKA | HISTORY OF RWANDA