He is known as Gateteviews, due to the fame that has come from his acclaimed blog, but the effervescent Thierry Kevin Gatete is also the host of the increasingly popular Monday Talks, a forum for exchanging ideas of interest to Rwandans and Africans.
True to form, Gatete has written an open letter to the Minister for Justice requesting to drop his Christian names. He told the Minister that he wants to adopt the names of his maternal and paternal grandparents, and also invited other Rwandans to do the same. And so, the artist, formally known as Thierry Kevin, asks that you henceforth refer to him as Gatete Ruhumuriza Nyiringabo.
Gatete says he feels like his Christian names are a toll that weighs him down. When I ran into him recently he told me that for all he knows, the guys he was named after, Thierry and Kevin, were murderers and here he was carrying with him the burden of their crimes. For that reason, he wants to be certain about the history of the people he’s named after and what better way to do that than to rename himself after the two people who bring pride and inspiration to him, people who inspire him to be the best human being he is capable of.
He then opened up the debate on Twitter and later held a discussion during Monday Talks. That it was a full-house probably suggests the level of interest and curiosity people attach to their names. On this day, Mr Ruhumuriza Nyiringabo stepped back, as if in relay in Rio, handed the baton to the equally lively Albert Rudatsimburwa.
Mr Rudatsimburwa started with a discussion about the cosmos. Which is where I shall return shortly in this discussion about human beings and what they decide to call themselves. For starters, human beings are psychological animals. Their sense of self which consists of the mind, body, and spirit, is conceived in psychological terms. Indeed, it is their psyche that decides what is real or not real; what should or should not be given weight; it’s how they conceive meaning for life: why are we here, what are we here to do, and who do we go about doing it?
Answers to these questions are what make up a people’s cosmology. In turn, how we interpret the cosmos nourishes or malnourishes the mind, body, and spirit. If it is well nourished, we become one with one another and we are also not in conflict with nature; we are in balance. As a result, a living human being is always, wittingly or unwittingly, feeding these three constituent elements of the human being – with soul food.
Which then begs the questions: What is your soul feeding on? Is it nourished or malnourished? Is it eating healthy or are you poisoning it with junk-food? If indulging on junk-food poisons the body, what happens to the mind and spirit? Are such toxins compartmentalised to reach the body without causing damage to the mind and spirit?
A double consciousness
Gatete Ruhumuriza Nyiringabo is awake to something profound. At the point that Thierry and Kevin enter his universe, they add another universe, a new window through which he is now able to interpret life, its meaning, and how he’s to relate to others and nature; he sees life through double lenses.
Is there any problem with that? Of course not. The more lenses the better. So what is the fuss, one may ask.
Here’s the critical point. That Gatete should add second lenses in and of itself is a good thing. It becomes problematic the moment he recognises that its subtext reflects aggression and suppression; he notices that intrusive moments in history imposed onto him a cosmos. These moments are the context while the symbols of aggression are the subtext.
He understands that for over 400 years the context has changed from the selling of his ancestors as property, to alien rule over the unsold ones, to a present that retains this subtext of aggression. Almost instinctively, he feels the need to defend himself, to stand up to the aggression, to resist. He is told that Ruhumuriza and Nyirangabo also put up a resistance of some form, against a cosmos that was imposed onto them; they inspire him.
He begins to see his Christian names as a badge of dishonour, seeing himself as someone who has taken sides, on the side of the aggressors against his ancestors; that he represents and perpetuates that subtext of aggression.
At issue, however, is the violence. For him, if the cosmological intercourse had been consented – not imposed and assumed under duress – there’d be no beef. In which case he would not protest; he’d celebrate his multiple heritages, diversity.
That’s Gatete’s beef. He’d want to see more Scots called Ruhumuriza or Nyiringabo. But because he can’t he senses there’s still aggression in his being called Thierry Kevin. He’s still under duress. He can’t breathe.
To be sure, changing a name is not enough. However, there’s no denying that it is a form of protest. If widely taken up, it might start a process of affirmation for the self and the self-other in what might amount to a process of societal detoxification.
Of course that would not be enough. That’s because one might acquire the most indigenous of names but retain the values and subtext of subservience and aggression that it replaced. Would you consider changing yours?