KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Agaseke: What does it really symbolise?

Whenever something is covered, it raises curiosity. Agaseke is one such example. This small pointed basket has for centuries been used at weddings. “Agaseke was a sign of love and peace,” says Zainaba Izabiriza, the general secretary at the Ibanga ryagasekye.

Whenever something is covered, it raises curiosity. Agaseke is one such example. This small pointed basket has for centuries been used at weddings. “Agaseke was a sign of love and peace,” says Zainaba Izabiriza, the general secretary at the Ibanga ryagasekye. She says Agaseke was used to carry foodstuff while going to visit or attend a wedding – a symbol of love between the visitor and host. Sources add that the neatly woven basket was also used to preserve food – for a maximum of 7 days - particularly sorghum bread (umutsima wa masaka).

Agaseke was also looked at as a symbol of secrecy. “When one mentions Agaseke, the first thing that clicks in my mind is secrecy,’’ says Flavian Mukantamuti, who makes baskets at  Igicumbi cyumutako w’urwanda. She explains that because the agaseke is covered, only the person meant to receive it actually gets to know the actual content therein.

But Peruth Mukankusi, 63, a former president of Ibanga ryagaseke, says agaseke was used for many more things beyond foodstuff. When a girl got married, according to Mukankusi, evidence about whether the girl was found to be virgin or not was hidden in agaseke. Mukankusi says a blood-soaked cloth would be kept in the basket and only her and her husband knew the real truth.

Mukankusi further explains that Agaseke symbolised a good family. When a girl got married, she would stay with her parents-in- law for a specific period of time before going to live with her husband. During her stay, she was required to make Agaseke which she would eventually give her mother-in-law as a gift. And if she failed to finish weaving the basket before that period, she would be labeled ‘lazy’. It would also be interpreted as a result of poor training by the girl’s parents. This explains why girls today carry Ubuseke on their wedding ceremonies.

With modernity, however, the role of Agaseke has been watered down. Today Agaseke  is widely viewed as a decoration tool and source of income. However, the government of Rwanda has used Agaseke in the Rwanda Court of Arms to symbolize the value of storing food. The changes notwithstanding, “Agaseke was and still is the heart of  the Rwandan culture’’ concludes Alphonsine Bankundire, a maker of Ubusekye at Twegukire Umurimo Agaseke.

 

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