Continued: The Oral Traditions of Rwanda (Part 4)

The history of these dynasties is the subject of the royal myths, but a brief introduction to the meaning and import of the Rwandan royal lists may not be out of order here. Ibimanuka, the “Descents” This dynasty was founded by Muntu, the son Kigwa, known “in heaven” as Sabizeze, the son of the King of Heaven, who fell to the earth and later, founded a new dynasty there.
Traditional drummers.
Traditional drummers.

The history of these dynasties is the subject of the royal myths, but a brief introduction to the meaning and import of the Rwandan royal lists may not be out of order here.

Ibimanuka, the “Descents”

This dynasty was founded by Muntu, the son Kigwa, known “in heaven” as Sabizeze, the son of the King of Heaven, who fell to the earth and later, founded a new dynasty there.

The name “Muntu means Human, and he is the First Father and First Ruler of the Humans, Abantu, Mankind.

It is therefore important to realise that this part of Rwanda Tradition does not concern that little country known as Rwanda - in Kinyarwanda, Urwanda - but the whole world and all of mankind.

Actually, it would be more exact to say that Urwanda means, or is used instead of, the whole world, or planet earth, for one of the keys to the symbolism of Rwanda’s oral literature is “Urwanda ni isi yose”: Urwanda is the whole world.

The second key follows from the first: “Muntu ni se w’Abantu bose” - Muntu is the Father of all Humans.

This may be obvious to us now, but it has not always been so, and many Rwandans, misled by theories about the origins of the various peoples of the African Great Lakes, still think that Muntu and his Sons, Abantu, are Tutsi people who came from the north-east of Africa.

This misconception stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of Rwandan symbols: when Tradition states that Muntu was the Father and King of Abantu, many fail to realise that Muntu is the equivalent of Adam in biblical tradition or Manu in Hindu tradition.

Muntu is therefore not an individual king of Rwanda, but “early mankind”, from whom we descend. This myth is also shared with Baganda who have Kintu as the fore father of all the baganda, if you trace in the History of many Africans, you will find the equivalence of Muntu in their respective languages which could suggest that indeed Muntu, kintu or Manu could be Adam cited in the bible as the fore father of all mankind.

The idea that Mankind was born of a “marriage” between princes from heaven, Ibimanuka, and a local, earth grown humanity, Abasangwabutaka (those found on the land, soil, and earth), is by no means rare, and many wisdom traditions explain the origin of man in similar terms.

Rwanda Tradition teaches that Mankind is the grandchild of God, in the same manner as in the genealogy of Jesus; the gospels have God as the father of Adam.

The name given by Rwanda Tradition to God, as the King of Heaven, is Nkuba, Thunder, and Shyerezo, the End - which was also the Beginning, and the Source of Mankind, Inkomooko.

He is the Father of Kigwa, who “fell down” and gave birth to Muntu, from whom all men were born. The place where Kigwa fell is “in the east”, in the Rwandan Eastern province at a place called Mubari (in the present day Akagera National Park near Lake Ihema); by the great rock Ikinani, under which he and his companions sheltered.

Later, they met and made friends with the locals, became their teachers and leaders, using as didactic material the fire they had brought from heaven - from the Lord Thunder’s smithy.

The Children of Heaven spent some time showing the Children of the Earth how to make fire and use it to effect various improvements in their lifestyle.

Some time later, the Children of Heaven got married - apparently taking their cue from the animals, as Kagame reports! Kigwa married his sister Nyampundu, and they had a lovely little girl, named Sukiranya, a name which means Outpouring: the image conveyed is that of a fluid pouring out from several containers simultaneously, a meeting of many streams. In this case, what is depicted is the pouring out of blessings from heaven.

When fully grown, Sukiranya would marry her uncle Mututsi, who had stubbornly refused all the available women, claiming that none of them was suitable for him (kubenga).

He remained a bachelor for a whole generation, until Sukiranya had grown up, and his brother suggested he marry her. Mututsi made some further difficulties, saying it was taboo to marry one’s niece, but a solution was found, whereby Mututsi “transformed himself” into a man of foreign blood.... He and fair Sukiranya’s sons became the ancestors of the three “matridynastic families”, as Kagame calls them: the Kings of Rwanda can marry anyone they wish, but their heir has to be the son of a woman from one of these four families.

Meanwhile, Kigwa and Nyampundu had had a second child, a son, and they named him Muntu, Man, Human: our Father and Lord, Founder of the First Dynasty. The list of his first dynasty successors, Ibimanuka, the “Descents”, includes the following names:

1. Nkuba Shyerezo
2. Kigwa
4. Kimanuka
5. Kijuru
6. Kobo
7. Merano
8. Randa
9. Gisa
10. Kizira
11. Kazi
12. Gihanga

The Kings of the Cord, Abami b’Umushumi

The First Dynasty gave birth to the Second, named the Kings of the Cord, Abami b’Umushumi. This name comes from the builder’s cord, used to trace the circle of the traditional round home: a cord is attached a pole planted at the intended centre of the plot of land on which the house is to be built; the cord is extended to the desired length and pulled around to mark the outer circle of the house. Later, it will again be used to trace the circumference of the front and back courtyards, which, with the house, form a three-ring chain.

It is said that Gihanga, the founder of this Second Dynasty, introduced this type of architecture, which forms three concentric circles - in a geometric figure not unlike the kind known as “vesica piscis”.

Apparently, the First Dynasty had lived in underground structures, at first, mainly in rock shelters, such as those found under the great rock Ikinani in Mubari, and in many other places in that region of Rwanda.

Later on, people began to build their own homes, but using materials from the mineral kingdom (Abasakazataka, a people said to have used roofing made of earth). Also, the homes and other structures came in all sizes and shapes, using an assortment of materials, but all from the mineral kingdom.

With the advent of Gihanga, architecture began to use exclusively vegetable materials, and the forms were limited to circles and spheres. Thus the importance of the builder’s cord, umushumi, which became the label of this Third Dynasty.

Gihanga was half-Ikimanuka (sing of Ibimanuka), a demi-god, in other words: his father Kazi was an ikimanuka, but his mother was one of the “Earth-Born”, Abasangwabutaka.

Her name was Nyirarukangaga, and she was a princess of the Abazigaaba, being the daughter of King Nyamigezi, son (= descendent) of Kabeja. This early king of the Earth-Born was among those who welcomed the Children of Thunder, became their friend, follower and client (umugaragu).

To be continued...

Seth K Buhigiro works at the Kigali International Airport.