Mythology: The ‘flying basket’ of Gisaka

So far, it is only the media who have taken the initiative to investigate the story of the ‘flying basket’ of Gisaka. Publications have only been able to talk to elderly folks, most of who also say they found the story running at the time they were born.

So far, it is only the media who have taken the initiative to investigate the story of the ‘flying basket’ of Gisaka. Publications have only been able to talk to elderly folks, most of who also say they found the story running at the time they were born.

No expert from any field has attempted to investigate the authenticity of the ‘flying basket’ of Gisaka.


The reason lies in the intricacy of, first of all, finding out where to begin from as we shall see in the next few paragraphs.


The present three districts of Kirehe, Ngoma and a part of Kayonza in Eastern Province were about a century ago referred to as Gisaka.


In Rwanda’s history, Gisaka was a neighbouring primitive but stubborn chiefdom that resisted Rwanda’s unification system for many centuries until the mid 1800s.

Rwanda’s King Mutara II Rwogera sent waves of diplomatic conspiracy into Gisaka and collaborated with its princes, a move that forced it to falter and wane in the face of the later military invasions.

It is in this land where the present myth of a flying basket is said to have emanated. Some have it that people in Gisaka could fly in the basket.

Prof Nyagahene Antoine , a PhD holder in Rwanda’s history, says the myth of the flying basket can be very intricate to trace, not only because of the general weakness of oral literature that we depend on, but also because Gisaka itself was conquered by Rwanda, meaning that there is a likelihood that their history was distorted and told from the perspective of their conquerors.

“Historians would have nowhere to begin from but I myself laboured to find out from among sorcerers if a basket can fly and found that it can”.

Prof  Nyagahene says that in 1978, he appealed to sorcerers in his home area in Bugarama in Rusizi District to prove to him if a basket could really fly. He says that “one day, the sorcerers made the basket fly at night”.

“The bad thing”, he said, “There were many manipulations that made me remain sceptical. It was at night and they refused me from seeing while it was starting and again while it was landing. They claimed that it could blind my eyes. But well, I saw it in space with glowing things on it”.

He adds that however, the flying basket of Gisaka could be bigger than an event prepared by mere sorcerers but marginalised by their conquers (Rwanda) for some reasons.

The bowdlerised source of information

One of the largely trusted sources of historical facts in Rwanda is royal poetry.

In the 1930s, Rwanda’s great history writer, Fr Alex Kagame compiled thousands of oral poems as handed down for generations from the poetry revolution era of King Ruganzu II Ndoli. Unfortunately, the myth of the flying basket of Gisaka does not appear in any line neither its allusion.

Prof  Nyagahene argues this out as an intended tactic by Rwandan poets who used to arrange the tale of events of wars to be recited in royal celebrations of victory over foes called “Kuvuga amacumu” (to speak spears).

He says there is no way the flying basket of Gisaka could be put into poetry that was designated to praise victories of only Rwanda over others.

“Practically, royal poets couldn’t mention the flying basket of Gisaka since flying in the air could simply mean victory over the one who can’t fly in the air”.

However, Prof  Nyagahene says though he cannot fully disregard the sorcery the basket of Gisaka travelling in the air, there is doubt when it comes to the reason they were conquered by Rwanda.

If Gisaka had the power to make things travel in the air, King Rwogera could have devised similar means to annex them to Rwanda but instead he used diplomatic and military approaches.

A celestial body or an unidentified flying object?

Dr Jean Uwamahoro, an expert in space physics at the University of Rwanda’s College of Education, says that though many people may consider the story of the flying basket of Gasaka as magic or sorcery, it could have been a phenomenon in the skies which people who lived then interpreted as a flying basket.

“For as far as we can trace, people have been very curious to see and study happenings in space and when they see something, they explain it according to what they already know,” says Dr Uwamahoro.

He says that even skies can take an unusual form which can puzzle people, which could have been the case in olden days.

“But as it is today, people have claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects in space from historical paintings in various places on the earth to a number of pilots in various spaces of the earth today. It could be the same story here in Rwanda. Perhaps, people saw something unusual like a basket,” says Dr Uwamahoro.

He further says it could have been a meteorite in the space or something else other than a real basket.

There has never been any sighting of a moving object in the space of Rwanda in recent generations but geography has it that in southern Rwanda there is a sharp depression which is as a result of a meteorite hitting the ground long before the land was inhabited.

The same story is also told in Burera District in Northern Province.

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