Two. The Days Of The Askari- Catechist
The first great period of the Society of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa came to an end on 25 November 1892 with the death of Cardinal Charles Lavigerie. He had given the White Fathers a spiritual formation and missiological technique better adapted to Africa than that of any other Catholic missionary body. Founded in the disease and famine ridden city of Algiers in 1868, the Society numbered 172 rnembers in its first ten years; by the turn of the century forty-eight of them were dead. Its rules emphasised self-discipline, personal sanctification and communal life; its evangelisation was based on an intensive four-year period of preparation for baptisrn.
Since the Central African missions had arisen as an expansion of the Fathers’ work in Islamic North Africa, many features, like the patient in-depth coverage of one small area, and even dress, may be traced back to missionary practice in Tunis and Algiers. The strength of Islamic culture had impressed on the Society the need for adaptation.
The spirit that rnust prevail in everything is that we must draw as near as is prudently possible to the African way of life; that is to say in everything compatible with Christian and priestly life.
However, the compatability of indigenous culture was a subjective judgement left largely to the missionary in the field. The cultural gulf between North and Equatorial Africa, and the premise of degradation that increasingly motivated the evangelical fervour of Christians, influenced mission thinking and practice.
In the early days the Society had employed Jesuit novice masters, who were trained to produce, in Lord Grey’s words, ‘willing parts of an admirable machine set in motion . . . for the service of humanity and God’. They set the style of seminary education and, as Retreat masters, reinforced its impact on priestly life. The authoritarianism of the training gave a strong scaffolding against the shocks of alien
cultures, while Ignatian spirituality tempered the steel with the flames of helIfire. But the structure had disadvantages. Accurate information about conditions at the local level diminished with distance up the Society’s hierarchy; rules and regulations, detailed and numerous, were imposed uniformly from on high with redress only at infrequent meetings of the General Chapter.
The renewed study of patristics and early Church history in the nineteenth century suggested a number of parallels for those meditating on the christianisation of Africa. At a time when Liberal, anti-clerical Europe was pushing the Church relentlessly back into the cloister Constantine and Charlemagne had a nostalgic appeal. Was it not possible that the ground lost in Europe might be made good in Africa? It was hardly surprising that when Cardinal Lavigerie turned his thoughts to Central Africa he insistecl on the patient courting of chiefs.
Concentrating on the African court and tolerating negligible commitment by chiefs to Catholic ethical codes was the norm before colonial rule. But then the missionaries had little choice. The setbacks in Uganda failed to destroy the White Fathers’ predilection for centralised African kingdoms and the conversion of sub-imperialist groups like the Ganda. Cardinal Lavigerie had taught them not to expect instant success. These events did, however, suggest to some that, if necessary, African potentates were as well eliminated as wooed.
The interlacustrine kingdoms remained the White Fathers’ chosen targets, and, armed with the revived Thomism of the nineteenth century, they worked for the creation of Christian States in the centre of Africa, but their attempts were jeoparclised by the persistent expansion of the Protestant missions. For the mission clergies there was little difference, as far as the eternal salvation of souls was concerned, between Protestantism and Islam. The CatholiCs felt obliged to pour in personnel at the turn of the century not so much to evangelise one region in depth as to open up new areas, to stake their claim. After the humiliation of the loss of the Papal States a Catholic laity who had become émigrés de l’intérieur in Europe were offered the exciting prospect of sponsoring the aggressive advance of the Church in Africa, and were consoled by the firm belief that outside this Church there was no salvation. Although individual missionaries might concede that many Protestants were in ‘good faith’, they saw the expansion of Protestantism in Africa as the spread of the malignant disease of heresy. Much of the human aggression subrnerged or sublimated in an intense spiritual training was given vent in combat with opposing denominations.
The Catholic assault on the kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi was slow and painful; after the massacre of a group of White Fathers by a minor chief in 1881 if was only with the placing of a German military post at Bujumbura in 1896 that two priests dared open a Burundi station. They were forced to flee within two months. A second attempt was made that year, and at a station near Bujumbura the missionaries met their first Rwandans, slaves taken by Congolese rebels from the Dhanis column. Two permanent Burundi missions were begun early in 1898, taking the White Fathers up to the Rwandan border. With a large mission at Bukumbi in Tanganyika as a main supply base, it was now feasible to launch missionaries into Rwanda from the south-west.
Already the British CMS had reach south-west Uganda and German Protestants were threatening in western Tanganyika, so fear of being beaten to the Rwandan kingdom by their rivals was a strong spur to Catholic advance. In November 1897 Katoke mission was founded some fifty miles from the south-east tip of Rwanda. The missionaries used Jinja traders, middlemen in the Rwanda slave trade, to get up-to-date information about the country, and bought a number of Rwandan boys from them at twenty copper bracelets each. Both Belgians and Germans had set up military camps on Lake Kivu during 1897-98, and the Catholics had every fear that the Germans might send in Protestant nationals to support their territorial claims. ‘Il faudrait occuper sans retard le Rwanda,’ wrote Monsignor Hirth to his old friend Leon Livinhac, the Superior General of the White Fathers. ‘Tout le monde en dit merveille.’
Monsignor Jean-Joseph Hirth spoke excellent German with a pronounced Alsatian accent. Born in Alsace in 1854 but trained in French seminaries, he had been ordained a priest in 1878 and accompanied the first White Fathers’ expedition to Central Africa. A pioneer of the African missions who had lived through the martyrdom of the Uganda Christians, he was consecrated Vicar Apostolic of a vast region called `Nyanza Méridional’ in 1890, a territory stretching from Kilimanjaro to Rwanda and including the Kaiser’s imperial realm in East Africa. Afthough he had earned Lugard’s contempt in Uganda, he seemed an irleal choice for liaison officer between the German administrators and the White Fathers.
Experience dictated that the missionaries move slowly; presents were first sent to the Rwandan king and Queen Mother. Only a year later did a delegation of twenty come to Katoke b investigate the Fathers and inform them that any approach from the east would be frowned on; court traditions allegedly held that those from the east were invaders. A return visit from Ganda catechists therefore passed through Burundi but were stopped at Muyaga mission, where an uncomprehending Father Superior sent them packing.
Experience had moulded missionaries and their catechists alike; after the ‘Religious Wars’ in Uganda and the flight to Lake Victoria, Catholics moved in heavily armed groups. A caravan of Ganda catechists was not immediately identifiable as a team of peace-loving evangelists.” Father Alphonse Brard had left a trail of hurt feelings and deposed chiefs from Uganda to the Burundi border; his Ganda retainers had fought off attacks on Marienberg mission, on an island in Lake Victoria, and approached the task of evangelisation like crusaders. So when Monsignor Hirth set off to found the first Christian mission in Rwanda on 11 December 1899 it was like a small army on the move, a caravan of 150 porters protected by Sukuma guards and twelve Ganda auxiliaries, carrying the Fathers’ extraordinary mixture of seeds, liturgical paraphernalia, agricultural implements and books.
But experience had limits; only one of the Ganda knew any Kinyarwanda, and the missionaries were at a disadvantage when they arrived in the Rwandan capital of Nyanza in February 1900 acting through a court interpreter fluent only, in Swahili. Not that the nobles were any more certain of the new arrivals; forewarned by runners of the large caravan in the south-west — they had, of course, followed the southerly route — the nobles had debated tactics. Religious opinion wanted the newcomers isolated with other foreigners at Kivumu slave market. The major policy-maker, the Queen Mother’s brother, Kabare, suggested two provinces where the coures authority was particularly weak. All agreed that the missionaries should be limited to the Hutu. Dr Kandt, the able German administrator who was doing research at the time, wanted them, equally for political reasons, on Lake Kivu, and pressed a cheque for a hundred roupies on the Vicar Apostolic. Hirth was adamant; nothing short of a site in the heavily populated south near the Burundi supply stations.
Each side scored in the encounter. The missionaries were presented with the insulting gift of a hundred goals — only cows were a worthy gift — and they were duped by a Tutsi pretending to be the mwami. Monsignor Hirth got his southern station on Mara hill, though orders were sent that no food or water should be given to the Catholic party; the hill was a fief of a court rainmaker, so it was perhaps hoped that even rain might be withheld.
The caravan was given two escorts, a mwiru whom the Queen Mother wished to kill, and the province chief, Cyitatire, a brothet of Musinga, who was also on the Ega assassination list. Ega tactics were to compromise prominent nobles at court by association with the mission, then eliminate them by disgrace or death. Within weeks the mwiru was executed. But Cyitatire was not so easily ensnared; he allowed the Catholics to move on to Save hill, a gentle rolling upland with a population of over five thousand people and some sixty thousand within a five-kilometre radius, and set his Hutu to work building four huts to house the missionaries. It was the first intimation of the Fathers’ later role as powerful allies in court politics.
The first Catholic station of Save was within range of the German posts at Shangi on Lake Kivu and Bujumbura, the centre of an administrative Bezirk, and only twenty kilornetres from Nyanza, so Hirth had got his way. The mission was dedicated to the Sacred Heart and known as Markirck; the former name was a respectful reference to Pope Leo XIII’s dedication of the universe to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1898, while the latter, more parochial, was the name of a celebrated Marian shrine in Alsace. It had more in common with a Militärpost than a shrine: the Ganda, each with a rifle, occupied a perimeter of huts where they kept night guard, changing like sentries at fixed hours and firing into the air to frighten off intruders. ‘They were perfectly organised and on the slightest alarm each knew his place in the defence of the mission.’
When the general of this Catholic expeditionary force surveyed his conquest it was through the distorting prism of nineteenth century stereotypes.
Le pays est asservi par les Batusi ou Baima; le reste de la population, les Bahutu, est absolument esclave; ceux-ci au moins viendront à nous, si les premiers manquent . . Jamais, en dehors de l’Ouganda, je n’avais vu les missionaires si bien reçus par la population ; on dirait que ces pauvres soupiraient après notre venue.
The welcome came not from a slave class but from the impoverished and patronless, who sought in the Fathers the protection of powerful feudal lords. Hirth’s view of the mission as ‘saviours’ was not inappropriate provided it was translated into the Rwandan context. After one visitor to their camp had been cured of sores the missionaries were considered by the Save people as diviners, abapfumu ; their camp was inundated by sick peasants seeking medicine. The mwami himself was later to request them to make rain, possibly in consequence of a freak thunderstorrn that had broken while they were at Nyanza.
Early evangelisation was the work of Ganda catechists, some dedicated, others simply combat-hardened. Father Brard jogged along the narrow hill paths on his ass, accompanied by Tobi Kibati, a catechist who had worked with him for ten years, losing in the process all his family. He had refused to marry after his wife’s death and his celibacy was noted at Save; to remain a virgin became known as kutobia. Brard would talk of God in a mixture of Swahili and Jinja while Tobi explained the catechism in Kinyarwanda picked up from bought slaves. A complex and rich language, which took the missionaries two years to learn for simple conversation and preaching, but ten to fifteen years to speak elegantly in the style of the court, Kinyarwanda as spoken by Tobi was described deprecatingly as umunyu, salty.
Brard’s methods were simple but effective, a few handfuls of beads thrown on the ground to entice children into the inner enclosure of the mission, and soon the station was thronged. Father Jovite Matabaro was lured in by the beads as a child and stayed on to work for the promise of some cloth. Fear of contracting some impurity from the foreigners drove him home. The Ganda pursued him, and in a tearful scene chased him out of a corner of his father’s hut to the mission, where he entered the internal for catechists. By April 1900 fifty had been taken in for training. Many were called but few could be said to have chosen.
The mission buildings soon shot up. Labour was cheap – two spoonsful of salt for workers requisitioned by Cyitatire and for children bringing wood. With some hundred or so patients visiting daily, and scores of children flushed out of their banana groves by the Ganda, Save mission must have given the court an impression of unwonted success. Cyitatire kept away from Nyanza for fear of execution; rumours were rife that he was going to lead a revolt against the Ega. On the missionaries’ request two abatware came from court to certify that no sedition was afoot; they were treated with undisguised hostility by the local people.
The Fathers’ success in handling the devious manoeuvres of the court quickly convinced the Hutu that they were merely agents of the mwami after all. The welcome changed to hostility. Rumours spread that children taken in for instruction were destined ultimately for the mwami, who would hand them over to Nyina’rupfu, Mother Death. Tradition had it that Nyina’rupfu had trapped Mwami Rwabugiri in a cave during the Nkole campaign and released him only on the promise of many Rwandans’ lives as ransom. The children dreaded that those in the internat were the first contingent; seeing themselves as saviour heroes who would die for the realm, they waited patiently and fearfully for the day Terebura — Father Brard — would dispatch them to Nyanza. As the children of the journeymen and landless were handed over by the chiefs to the catechists the braying of Terebura’s ass became the signal for parents to hide their families. In reality the young catechumens lived in comparative luxury, with a good suppiy of meat and benefiting from the temporary protection of the mission.
To keep up the level of recruitment the Ganda were unleashed to beat the hills on their own. Their technique was to ‘select’ children who were given the lofty, but dubious, title intore, the chosen ones. Protest was useless. The Ganda requisitions soon enraged the Tutsi, who saw their ubuletwa being cornered by interlopers; it delighted the missionaries, for whom it was a big movement of conversions’. Not all the Ganda, though, were bullies; Abdon Sabakati, who had been through the thick of the Uganda fighting, was a gentle and friendly catechist who attracted crowds. Tobi Kibati went to court and sufficiently gained the mwami’s confidence for him to enquire about the Christian religion. He was killed on the way to found Nyundo mission by a Hutu who may have seen the Ganda as the vanguard of a Tutsi invasion.
Tobi’s death was indirectly a product of Ega strategy towards the missions. Musinga may have seen the White Fathers as potential allies against his mother’s lineage; he followed Kabare’s suggestion and allowed the White Fathers two new sites in areas contested by the court. The first was Zaza mission in Gisaka, where the local dynasty had remained the focus of resistance since Rwabugiri’s reconquest of the region. On 4 April 1901 Nyundo mission was founded in the equally troubled and unsettled clanlands of Bugoyi. The obstructive behaviour of the guides and Tobi’s murder suggested that neither of these stations had been granted with the wholehearted assent of the Ega.
Trouble for the Zaza missionaries was not long in coming; a rising broke out in March 1901 led by a certain Lukara who claimed descent from the Gisaka royal line.” His entourage included a group of eighty Ganda bandits-cum-traders who had drifted into eastern Rwanda in the wake of the missionaries. The Ganda who led this band had ‘acquired’ 100 rifles in Bukoba, and was helping Lukara open up Gisaka for Christianity and commerce. He even produced an old letter from a German officer to prove the authenticity of his
claim. But the Fathers, seriously compromised by the riff-raff posing as German or mission agents, were not impressed. With an ngabo on the way from Nyanza, they sent him packing; a year in Rwanda had taught a little wisdom.
The peasants nonetheless rallied to the cause of a restored Gisaka monarchy. Three years of poor rains and famine had decimated the region; the Tutsi, scattered thinly three or four to a hill, presided over abandoned banana plantations and starving Hutu. Court agents were deeply resented. Nyanza retained Gisaka at this point thanks to German punitive raids, with their rich bounty of stolen or confiscated cattle. The mission had also played its part, and Musinga thanked the Fathers for their refusal to treat with Lukara. The White Fathers’ initiation into the complexities of Rwanda’s regional politics had begun.
Their tactics a year later were fess assured. Mpumbika, chief of the Zaza area, descendant of the Gisaka kings and a mission protégé, acquiesced in the replacement of a sub-chief who had killed a catechumen. Musinga, outraged, deposed Mpumbika and complained to the Save missionaries of their colleague’s interference. Brard, as pioneer theocrat, reacted by forcing Mpumbika’s reinstatement, just at the moment the Zaza Superior was dutifully clearing Mpumbika’s cattle off the mission hill. Another error. The cattle, it transpired, were the mwami’s, given in ubuhake to Mpumbika, and had to be hastily returned to their pasture. Musinga now turned to manipulation of the Germans, and induced them to force Mpumbika to court, where twenty of lits followers were slaughtered. The effect on Zaza was immediate. ‘These poor people think -that all whites form a solid block and the order given by the military commander was, if not inspired by us, at least approved,’ wrote the Zaza Superior. The Germans followed up with a punitive raid on Gisaka, leaving thirty dead around the Mission. The missionaries had either to follow the German line and support the court or suffer the consequences.
Exactly the same rationale behind the court’s assent and characteristic problems beset the fourth and fifth stations, Mibirisi in the south-west and Rwaza in the northern province of Mulera, founded in November 1903. Although the fifty Sukuma armed guards that had been sent to Rwaza robbed the local Hutu of cattle and crops, they were under better control than the Ganda. Banyagisaka catechists were employed at Mibirisi, and the German commander at Shangi assisted with labour for building. But even without the exactions of the Ganda the missionaries confronted the basic difficulties of operating in regions distant from the court.
The northern province in which Rwaza was sited was nominally divided between three chiefs. Kayondo, an Ega notable, was umutware w’umuheto, chief of the bow, and in charge of levying ngabo. Local Hutu had fought for Musinga’s father, Rwabugiri; they remembered the battles and booty, and Kayondo was the best liked of the chiefs. Neither of the two landowners, abanyabutaka, both Nyiginya, dared reside to the north of the river that flowed by the mission hill; these dealt with clan heads almost in the manner of Indirect Rule. Each lineage was supposed to send an annual tribute of one calabash of honey, one hoe and a platter of beans to the mwami; in reality the king’s man appeared once every three to four years and counted himseIf lucky tu return safely to Nyanza. Tutsi commoners steered clear of the hills and lived as isolated pockets of settlers in the plain, dealing on equal terms with their Hutu neighbours. In near-by provinces there were still abahinza, Hutu priest-kings. Though the missionaries perhaps exaggerated the degree of anarchy to impress their readers in Europe, much of the north was controlled by bandits. To escape the turmoil and hardship many of the Sigi clan, for example, migrated north to Kigezi; since the 1840s forests had been growing back over once cultivated land.
Within weeks of pitching their tents half way up Rwaza hill the missionaries could see the difficulties ahead: ‘it will hardly be the Tutsi who will come to our assistance. They have no authority and nobody listens tu them.’ Their instructions from Monsignor Hirth on the Tutsi were ‘to speak highly of their authority and of the power of the king’, but, as the Father Superior remarked with some anxiety, ‘all you need is the chiefs to say one thing for the people to do the exact opposite’. The only escape from the conflict between commun sense and episcopal directives was to turn the Tutsi into what they were supposed to be, powerful chiefs. The king’s man was chased away from a watering spot by the river in March 1904; to show the flag a Father led the mission Sukuma into a major battle from which Kakwandi, the king’s man, emerged victorious. Within a week all the station’s workers had drifted away in disgust.
We were the friends of the Tutsi and wanted to bring them back into the country. Where had those dreams of the early days gone? All the chiefs chased out by the Europeans, only the Bahoutou masters and lords of the mountains and cattle… Disappointment !
Within the borders of Rwanda as defined by the Germans there was not a homogeneous State nor was there an ‘established order’ that the missionaries could easily support. Some missionaries might speak of ‘taxes‘ levied on the Rwaza people or faults on both sides as if there was a history of central government, but the conditions of anarchy went back to the nineteenth century, and diffuse clan authority existed before that. Others at Zaza were more blunt about ‘government’. ‘The king is represented in Gisaka by chiefs to whom he has givert full power to pressurise and pillage the local Batware.
Consequently there are compaints every day from the latter against their oppressors. Here regional identifies brought Hutu and Tutsi together in opposition to the foreign invader. To support Nyanza meant losing local clients; there was no way round it.
The Fathers’ first description of Rwanda had been ‘a perfect hierarchy in which one chief is subordinated to another under the all-powerful and supreme authority of the king’. Father Brard first admired the Tutsi for their ‘intelligent air, alert, curious yet discreet and well-mannered in their deportment’, and had despised the Hutu. But after a few months of frequent and frustrating dealings with the Tutsi the mystique wore off. In Brard it became almost a loathing of the chiefs and their Tutsi garagu; some were humiliated by being forced to carry bricks, and one was put under house arrest until he agreed to supply Save with logs for building purposes. «Ce n’était pas une petite joie pour les Bahutu de voir leurs chefs, toujours si fiers ennemis de la peine et de la contrainte porter des briques du matin au soir . . . Et puis cette protection que nous exerçons lorsqu’ils sont manifestement tourmentés est bien de nature à leur inspirer la confiance à notre égard. » For the other Uganda veteran, Father Paul Barthélémy, the Tutsi were ‘real Jews; they are rapacious fiatterers and above all hypocrites’. It was a far cry from Cardinal Lavigerie: ‘You will not neglect to make them realise that Christian doctrine is completely favourable to their authority, since it teaches that they are the true representatives of God in the temporal realm.’
The spiritual dynarnism that drove men out of the cosy parochial backwaters of rural France into the African bush easily became deformed by isolation and frustration into physical violence. Zeal for souls was quickly transforrned into theocratic tyranny not readily checked by colonial officers or religious superiors. After long years veterans like Brard and Barthélemy had grown impatient. Instead of God’s representatives they saw brutal and ignorant despots barring the door of Heaven to their subject populations. Unaccustomed to being treated like an inferior race of wild animals, they found it impossible to remain calm when the Tutsi treated them with the arrogance and contempt that informed ruling class behaviour, what one priest called ‘un dédain superbe, un mépris conscient’.”
The distinction between temporal and spiritual realms, much trumpeted in theory and much ignored in practice; was forgotten in Rwanda. After long years in Africa the missionaries accepted a definition of religious leadership that was profoundly African. Their behaviour and position, not unlike the Nyabingi prophetesses with their court and clients, became a threat to the Tutsi in central Rwanda and negated their political importance in the provinces. The chiefs around Save began preventing peasants from frequenting the mission as early as August 1901; ‘they fear our authority is increasing at the expense of theirs’, a Father explained.
Whatever the missiological implications of the Fathers’conduct, it seriously jeopardised the White Fathers’ position with the German administration. ‘Nos missionaires au Ruanda sont regardés comme voulant accaparer pour eux l’autorité dont le gouvernement est si jaloux,’ Hirth wrote back to Algiers. In one very grave incident Dr Kandt discovered that the Ganda had beaten a thief so severely that he had later died. Father Brard always worked, Hirth continued ruefully, with ‘a good number of Baganda; they are really more askari than catechist’. Father Barthélemy was, as the Germans pointed out, ‘of the Father Brard school’; Von Grawert wanted his deportation from Rwanda for personally avenging Tobi’s murder. The Vicar Apostolic might loyally defend his missionaries’ inexcusable behaviour to Bujumbura, but he was resolved to get rid of Brard and keep the new generation of missionaries out of his school.
After two years the mission stations at least appeared less like garrisons. Save’s day began at dawn with prayers for the Ganda and each man being allotted his task. Catechists were now changed from hill to hill to prevent their building up a personal following. But there was still the martial air; the punishment for fighting was a whole day’s work cultivating the mission gardens; penitents could be seen hoeing by firelight. Catechumen/catechists were under the same strict regime. One Hutu who disappeared for a long time was roundly denounced from the pulpit on bis return; the priests had assumed he was murdered by Musinga’s agents before he came back trailing goats, sheep and cattle. Religious expeditions were still profitable.
Attendances at Save school in October 1901 ranged from eighty to a hundred. Terebura drummed in the catechism, another priest taught reading and writing. If any pupil was unable to recite the set catechism passage off by heart the whole class was sent out hoeing. Timor Tereburae drove them to study in the evenings. The catechism itself was a strange hotch potch of Rundi, Swahili and bastard Kinyarwanda. ‘The Book which explains the teachings of Religion’ (Igitabu cyo gusobanura amagarnbo y’idini) had as its title, for example, Ekitabu kyo kufutula bigambo bye dini. In as much as the students could understand it they were presented with an account of the developing dialogue between God and man. ‘This format intrigued us’, wrote Father Jovite Matabaro, ‘and we followed with curiosity the procession of prophets, these men who had spoken with God.’ The idea, so similar to the claims of the-Nyabingi prophetesses, must have been consolingly familiar; by the middle of the catechism, though, they were to discover that this prophetic strand disappeared from Catholic Christianity. Only in the 1930s, with the arrival of the Church Missionary Society, would the promise of the early pages be realised.
The Fathers were fortunate to be teaching a doctrine of salvation in a society with a rich religious culture. Ideas of Heaven and Hell, or at least the divergent destinies of different classes of spirits, had developed in the Lyangombe cult, only ‘salvation’ was linked to initiation without consideration of moral conduct. The White Fathers’ long preparation for baptism and ban on catechumens attending mass certainly emphasised the ritual and numinous quality of the Christian transition rite, but the Ten Commandments and Christian behaviour were stressed as equally essential.
The period of postulancy for the first recruits was shortened, and they became catechumens as soon as they could read. New catechumens were given a medal of the blessed Virgin to signify their changed status and a piece of cloth as a prize. Terebura’s insistence on the correct repetition of the doctrine of the Trinity made progress slow, but, when others took over, the pupils rapidiy absorbed the principal Christian dogmas. However little their conversion corresponded to the Jesuit ideal of an intellectual assent to the truths of the Faith, not all cases could be dismissed as results of pressure and fear, or as epiphenomena of patronage. One of the first neophytes was Wencelas Nyirambinda, a devout Christian whose son became Abbé Laurent Sikubwabo and whose daughter, Mama Mechtilda, rose to be head of Byimana Girls’ School. The first converts later came to have considerable status in the Church and were known as ‘those who have eaten off the baskets’ after the makeshift tables in the Ganda camp; they had unusually close contact with the Fathers, who were making special efforts to get a first Christian generation trained. Abbé Jovite Matabaro was in this early group; in some cases lives were undeniably changed by contact with the mission. But many of these first Christians slipped away to the more powerful patronage of the German askari, where immediate rewards were greater.
At Save the numbers of those given the medal rose from 782 in 1900 to 1,836 in 1901 and 4,656 by the end of 1902. Missionary effort was rapidly transformed from intensive training of a select few to the diffuse administration of a huge catechumenate. On Holy Saturday, 12 April 1903, seventeen Hutu and nine Tutsi, mainly orphans and all but four boys, were solemnly baptised at the mission. They had survived three years in the internat. At Zaza there were eight hudred on the catechists’ books, with a nucleus of fifty in the internat; thirty of these were due for baptism at Christmas. Nyundo, with its requisition system, was beginning to fill its catechism classes. A Catholic catechist was allowed to teach the mwami and six other Tutsi at Nyanza. On the surface it seemed a hopeful young mission. The reality was far less encouraging, as Monsignor Hirth found when he made his first visit to the stations in 1903.
His stay at Save allowed him to observe at first hand what had becorne of the mission he had founded three years earlier. A weekend with Terebura was a daunting experience for the Vicar Apostolic. On Saturday the Ganda called in their groups of catechumens to the mission, each with its own kapitao. On Sunday while the Christians were all in church the catechumens were assembled in a large open shed surrounded by their Ganda directors.
There was always a tumultous scene, especially when the women came. They never learned the difference between the Christian religion and the cult of the ancestral spirits. When they were told to kneel they did so as you would for the Lyangombe ceremonies.
Clouting the women to keep them quiet, the Ganda taught the crowd their letters and the sign of the Cross. After the lesson, as the Christians were coming out of mass, Terebura would sweep in bearing the Good News. In the afternoon there was Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, games and dancing.
The Vicar Apostolic saw enough to be profoundly shocked. Father Brard, like an old wine, had lost what little sweetness he once had. He was forbidding local chiefs to take presents to court, and the Germas now refused even to call at the mission; violent incidents were common. The situation at other mission stations was little better. In an unusual show of wrath Hirth compiained bitterly to the Superior General in Algiers:
When we came to this country in 1900 it was agreed with the king that none of these villages should be taken over by the missionaries, but despite everything they have got their hands on 3,000 hectares of land on which about 8,000 people live; they exercise the authority of a king over this property, not only judging many cases but conscripting labour, ordering fatigues for construction materials, chasing out polygamists, removing amulets, dernolishing the little huts for sacrifices, replacing even a chief whom they have expelled, and imposing on the chiefs catechists from the armée roulante
The armée roulante was the Ganda again. In lune 1902 a veritable avalanche had descended on Zaza.
His immediate response was to send the missionaries a list of instructions for reforrn of the system. All the Ganda catechists were to be withdrawn from the hills and no Sunday mass meetings were permitted. Henceforth, the Banyarwanda were to proselytise amongst their neighbours, each catechumen bringing with him two postulants. At Zaza alone permission was given for the Ganda to continue working, provided they operated in regious distant from the mission; close by the station the Banyarwanda had to teach the Faith on their own. For Brard it amounted to ‘the least possible noise so as not to arouse the sensibilities of the King or the Tutsi.’ But the days of the Ganda askari catechist were over.
The concessions at Zaza were attributable to the presence of the ‘dove-like’ Superior, Father Pouget, who had redeemed earlier mistakes by a strict policy of non-interference in politics. He was perhaps typical of missionaries in Rwanda, outwardly complying with Monsignor Hirth’s instructions but inwardly still firmiy with the Hutu.
Ah, if only we were able to tell them that their conquerors [the Tutsi] were to be shown the door, or of least stopped from harming them, they would be more zealous [ for Christianity ]. Several come because of a secret desire for our protection and listen to us with interest. Alas, it takes a long time for them to understand that regnum meum non est ex hoc mundo.
But it was not the average missionary who was most noted by either the Germans or Rwandans. In the light of the flourishing theocracies around the five mission stations the Hutus’ incomprehension was scarcely culpable ignorance.
In these early years the hill communities did have great difficuity in understanding what the missionaries were about. Many believed that the catechumens’ medal was a type of Swahili amulet, burozi, with magical powers to harm. Parents beat their children when they found them wearing it, and when priests baptised dying babies they were liable to be accused of sorcery. The picture of the Sacret Heart of Jesus at Save soon gave rise to the idea that the Fathers ate the hearts of their catechumens, who were marked out for destruction by the medal. The disturbed political circumstances were conducive to the spread of fantastic stories involving the missionaries. They were said to have heralded Bwirakabiri, a solar eclipse; anyone who left home in the darkness would change into a ravenous beast and eat the occupants of his hut. Some imagined that the Save Fathers had a tunnel under their compound through which the catechumens would be taken to Europe.
It is difficult to gauge accurately from European records how widespread such beliefs were or, indeed, whether the Fathers were not misinterpreting their informants’remarks. Misunderstandings were common, owing to language difficulties; the view of the African peasant as a superstitions child was unquestioned and liable to lead to hasty conclusions. But it does sem certain that the world which grew up around each station provided a focus for myth-making and story-telling. Father Brard’s ass was credited with the ability of braying to disclose the presence of poisoners and sorcerers; others imagined that the Fathers used the animal to sniff out a suitable site for a mission. A missionary’s bicycle produced a similar crop of stories when he cycled to court.
Although a Nyabingi prophet had predicted the imminent arrival of whites in the 1890s, and the Germans had been travelling through the country for over six years, most people still seem to have found the White Fathers prodigious and alarming. This was largely due to the limited amount of information available to people on the hills; outside the network of court agents and spies, who served the nobility, communications were limited by the rugged, mountainous terrain. Apart from a visit to a major market, an annual trip to Nyanza with the royal ikoro or a trek to find food in time of famine, a peasant had little access to information beyond his own group of hills. When privileged Tutsi like the Ega Ruhinankiko thought that Jesus was the leader of the White Fathers and the mass an appeasement of the major White spirit, it may be imagined what Hutu made of their local mission station.
The rumours and strange beliefs that grew up had common themes and expressed both Rwandan fears about the whites and the tensions and anxieties of their own society. The missionaries mistakenly imagined that the stories emanated from the court, but they seem rather to have grown spontaneously out of the confrontation between mission stations and hill communities. Rwanda’s stratified society at this time was one of ceaseless internal conflict as lineages jockeyed for position around the rich Tutsi and their retainers. Hunger was never far from the door and was followed annually by the king’s ikoro collectors. The ravenous wild animals, transformations, sorcerers and poisoners to which the Fathers were related as saviours, prophets or abapfumu and witches, were in part the psychic detritus of a highly competitive society in which the reward for success was great wealth and for failure sudden death.
Through this kind of communal rumination on the nature of the missionaries Rwandans came slowly to assimilate their alien presence. They were given praise rames like valiant warriors in the ngabo; the Vicar Apostolic became Imputabigwi, he whose exploits follow each other rapidly; Father Zuembiehl, the first missionary in the south-west, entered the language inadvertently as umuzumbiri, meaning merely a European Father. It was above all the political dimension of their presence that the Hutu acknowledged and which the court found such a disturbing aspect of the five mission stations.
The religious pretensions of the Fathers were easier to accommodate and, in the Rwandan context, relatively modest. Despite the daily round of high liturgy of Nyanza the coures religious experts had no assured position in the State. A succession of rainmakers were executed during the drought period of 1903-04, and troublesome abiru were liable to be murdered. Some time before the White Fathers’arrival the mwami w’imandwa was deposed as a supporter of Rutalindwa. Kabare was famous for his remark that even if the new Ega leaders did not have Kalinga, the dynastic drum, they had the mwami and a drum could be made. His attitude to religion was instrumental, almost secular, and highly political, far from any slavish adherence to archaic court ritual. It was Musinga and the Queen Mother who cared about, and needed, the full religious scaffolding of their office to offset the memory of regicide. So there was no essentially religious opposition to the Fathers from an established priesthood, nor from the mwami, provided his ritual authority was not threatened.
The one advantage of the catechism’s use of Mungu, the Swahili version of the name of the Christian High God, was that it left the mwami secure as a transcendental source of authority for Rwanda; Mungu belonged to the foreigners, the wami belonged to Rwanda. When the court tested the religious expertise of the missionaries the experiment proved something of a flop. Court messengers asking the missionaries to make rain explained cautiously that the mwami would ‘ask Imana and we [the Fathers] should ask Mungu’; Father Brard replied with a little lesson on Lulemo, ‘Master of all he has created and therefore of the rain’, and declined.
There was a clash with the Lyangombe cult, but, lacking any central direction from Nyanza, the mediums were unable to put up any co-ordinated opposition. Furthermore, by the time the missionaries began recruiting from amongst the cult’s adepts it had tended to merge with the household veneration of lineage spirits. An inzu would have its own favourite mandwa who was called upon in times of grave distress; a man might ask an initiated son to represent the spirit in order to save his cattle. The Tutsi also consecrated young girls to Lyangombe in order to gain the mandwa’s favour in cases of serious illness; the girls were then unable to marry and wandered from kraal to kraal, living as concubines. This trivialisation of the cult to the level of intercessory lineage religion made it difficult for the missionaries to eradicate, lacking as they did any suitable substitute for household religion, but posed no threat to Christianity as a High God monotheism. In September 1902 something akin to a national festival of sacrifices took place among the Hutu in thanks for the sorghum harvest; the Fathers were amazed to see their catechumens trooping off to join in the offerings to the mandwa mediums. This was the only occasion when the cult appeared to be a force to be contended with; the context of the cult and its social functions seem to have been seriously affected by the decline of the ngabo in the colonial period.
Coming from Uganda, and having spent a decade in Karagwe, the White Fathers were accustomed to the Bacwezi cults from which the religion of Lyangombe and Kiranga had developed. But this made them far from tolerant; transposing their own dualism on to the religious system they found, they immediately assumed that Imana was a High God, and therefore ‘good’, so Lyangombe and Kiranga, it followed, were ‘bad’. The Burundi Fathers described the local cerernonies as a ‘Devil’s Sabbath’, while the Rwanda Fathers called the mandwa spirits ‘a whole host of demons that have kept them [the Banyarwanda] enslaved centuries’. If household lineage religion was idolatrous superstition the Lyangombe cult was worse, demonic possession. Catechists who attended cult ceremonies risked a beating at the hands of Father Brard, and uninitiated Christians who strayed too close to the sacrifices were chased away and sometimes assaulted. The Fathers’ attitude might have the authority of the Christian centuries but it missed the point; their fulminations about Shitani and ‘suppôts du Satan’ fell on deaf ears and the neophytes sought mandwa protection with good heart, sure in the knowledge the Lyangombe was the benign saviour of Rwanda.
The White Fathers were therefore fortunate in finding in Rwanda a court with an instrumental, sometimes cavalier, attitude to religion and a Hutu population which could find a place for Mungu, and a Saviour, in its religious culture. Their initial success in starting five stations had been the result of divisions at court, lack of control over certain provinces and sheer Ganda muscle; they were a political force operating in fortuitous political circumstances. These circumstances were not to last. The Ganda and strong-arm missionaries were unacceptable to religious and colonial authorities alike. The missionaries registered a change of mood at court early in 1904 which stemmed from the death of Musinga’s last two natural allies, important Nyiginya nobles killed in a clash with Kabare’s troops. All power now lay in the hands of the anti-Christian Ega, the Queen Mother and her brother. Mission protégés feared for their lives, and rumours abounded that Kabare was planning an attack on the mission stations; his rival Ruhinankiko was said to be on the execution list.
The missionaries’ only support came from their congregations, drawn from the lowest class in society. They had found initial Hutu response fickle, dependent on immediate advantage; in the north, they were to find it more fickle still. The White Fathers were entering a period of crisis when they would again be thankful for the presence of the Germans and their Schutztruppen.https://uk.amateka.net/two-the-days-of-the-askari-catechist/https://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/church5.pnghttps://uk.amateka.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/church5-150x150.pngChurch and RevolutionThe first great period of the Society of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa came to an end on 25 November 1892 with the death of Cardinal Charles Lavigerie. He had given the White Fathers a spiritual formation and missiological technique better adapted to Africa than that of...BarataBarata email@example.comAdministratorAMATEKA | HISTORY OF RWANDA