Hamitic myth that led to Genocide in Rwanda

A new book has shed more light on how a 19th century Hamitic myth, construed by colonialists and imposed on Rwandans, promoted hatred that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Marcel Kabanda. Courtesy
Marcel Kabanda. Courtesy

A new book has shed more light on how a 19th century Hamitic myth, construed by colonialists and imposed on Rwandans, promoted hatred that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Written in French by historians Marcel Kabanda (Rwandan) and Jean-Pierre Chrétien (French), the book is titled; “Rwanda, racisme et génocide : l’idéologie hamitique,” (Rwanda, racism and Genocide: the Hamitic Ideology).

The “Hamitic Hypothesis” derives from the Bible, where the story of Ham, the son of Noah, who upon finding his father naked and in a drunken stupor allegedly exposed him to his brothers Shem and Japheth.

Researchers say that the racial-based hypothesis was brought to Rwanda by Belgian missionaries who described Tutsis as a foreign race which came from somewhere beyond Rwanda; probably descendents of Europeans.

The “Hamitic” myth held that all civilised institutions in central Africa were the result of an invasion by Hamites, variously identified as ‘black Caucasians’ from Europe.

Based on the belief in that myth that every civilisation has to come from Europe, European colonialists somehow attributed the governing Tutsi aristocracy under the King of Rwanda to the European civilisation because their belief in racism did not allow them to see Rwandans as a people capable of organised living.

That myth together with a series of discriminatory policies under the colonial Belgian rule in Rwanda and the post-colonial regimes led to the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.

“It is essentially a weapon of massive destruction,” Marcel Kabanda said, shortly after launching the book at Ikirezi bookshop in Kigali on Friday.

“Racism is in itself an arm of massive destruction,” the historian had said earlier in the discussions about his book. 

“Now the challenge is how to dismantle that myth and move on with life as Rwandans”.

Dr Alice Urusaro Karekezi, of the University of Rwanda’s Centre for Conflict Management, said it was possible to do away with myths by looking at what fuels the perceived differences and address them. 

“It is our own efforts that will deconstruct that myth,” she said. 

Giving an example, she said the government-sponsored One Cow per Poor Family can help demystify the myth that only Tutsis own cows.

Raising cows is one of the major characteristics which colonialists based on in the 1930s while distributing identity cards to Rwandans with the mention of whether one was Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa.

One of the participants during the discussions wondered who would be in charge of deconstructing the “Hamitic Myth”, saying it was unclear whether it would be the role of the government or researchers.

Kabanda said it’s going to be everyone’s role to help deconstruct the myth.

And will deconstructing the myth require that someone does research to identify where Rwandans came from?

Dr Raphael Nkaka, a historian and lecturer at the University of Rwanda, said it would be useless. 

“It’s a pointless question even if people like to ask about it. It’s not the origin that gives vitality, what is important is the evolution,” he said.

Kabanda said that there is no trace of the migratory movements that led to people’s settlement in Rwanda and that no one can say where people living in Rwanda today came from.

The conversation was moderated by Dr. Rose Gasibirege who runs the former NUR Kigali Campus and local media owner and journalist Albert Rudatsimburwa.

Rudatsimburwa said that there is a serious need to transmit the message to Rwandans about things that have divided them.

Dr Claudine Uwera Kanyamanza, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of Rwanda said that Rwandans will need to craft a new and positive way of living despite what they went through.

“We have to decide what to make of the tragedy that engulfed Rwandans. We need to give a sense to our life,” she said.

Ikirezi bookshop said the book will be available on the local market at Rwf 22,000.


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