Once you lose touch with culture, you lose your identity - Hassan wa Mazina, the nomad

Sixty seven – year – old Hassan waMazina aka ‘Mzee Masunzu’ dropped out of school at the age of 14 when he was only in primary six and has been moving from place to place since then.
Hassan wa Mazina aka ‘Mzee Masunzu’
Hassan wa Mazina aka ‘Mzee Masunzu’

Sixty seven – year – old Hassan waMazina aka ‘Mzee Masunzu’ dropped out of school at the age of 14 when he was only in primary six and has been moving from place to place since then. 

After engaging in a fist fight with a fellow student, a priest who was also his teacher drove the aspiring nomad to his village and handed him over to his mother. His father was absent at the time. 

With ample time to think about the way forward after getting expelled, he found himself in Butare where he came across a crowd of people heading somewhere.

“I had no clue where these people were headed and frankly I didn’t care. I just needed to take my mind off getting expelled from school. I later learned that the train I was about to board was headed to Tanzania. Apparently some Germans needed able people to help them with work but when we got there, tests were carried out, I was found incompetent and dropped shortly after,” he recounts.

“Before leaving Rwanda for Tanzania, I had a good life back at home and never had to worry about what I was going to eat or where I was going to sleep. Things changed in Tanzania, and for the first time, I was on my own.”

“I moved around East Africa, from job to job. By 15, I had moved around DRC, Tanzania, Burundi, Madagascar, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda,” recalls Mzee Masunzu.

In all the countries he travelled to, he was never identified as a Rwandan because of what he looked like, how he behaved and the zero difference in dress code. At one point, people thought Mzee Masunzu was from Somalia, which didn’t bother him much as he was determined to survive in any way possible. 

“I didn’t mind because I knew if I identified myself as a Rwanda my dream of travelling overseas would come to an abrupt end. My Somali brothers, uncles and friends gave some cash to sustain me in Somalia, and to top it all  they introduced me to two beautiful women who became my wives!

However, his marital joy was short-lived as he left the family to look for greener pastures.  “Sadly, I have no idea if those women are alive today and one of them was even pregnant with my child before I left, ” he regrets.

“After moving around I settled in Ethiopia where I had a retail and whole sale, export and import shop.  But I was still identified as a Somali. Things went well for sometime as I hustled my way through life. I ended up in Saudi Arabia and later found my way to the United Kingdom.”

“My dream of establishing myself in Europe was killed when I got deported from France. I eventually went back to Burundi where my parents were in exile.”

During all those year not once was he identified as Rwandan but in 1994, he came back home.

“In 2003, I decided to revisit my roots by changing the hair style I had for years to the Amasunzu style. I did so after consulting my mother and a 103 year old widow on the best hairstyle..

“Everyone in Africa has something in their culture that makes them unique. The problem is people have been influenced too much by the West and would rather go for hairstyles they see in movies and music videos.”

“Rwandans have decent yet fabulous traditional attire. Nowadays, young people wear clothes so skimpy; you’d think the maker of the outfit ran out of thread. It makes one wonder if these people are true Rwandans or just carrying Rwandan names.”

“In all the western countries I moved too, people rarely used combs. In Africa, people need chemical for their hair to make it like Bazungu’s (white people) hair. The white people I meet tend to like my hairstyle because they know Africans have uniqueness about them. The sad part is that some African’s think this is only for old people.”

“Amasunzu wasn’t the only hairstyle; there was also the Ingobeke, Impagarike, Intambike, Imbwirenga, Igisuguri to mention a few. Today no one questions my origin because of my unique Rwandan hairstyle.”

“We should treasure our culture because it  defines us,” concludes Mzee Masunzu.