Until very recently, few people knew Carine Maniraguha as a gifted poetess and even fewer had heard the name.
But at a Spoken Word Rwanda event at the Impact Hub in Kiyovu, in January, she managed to leave a good impression of herself. That month’s event was headlined by American slam poet, rapper and actor Saul Stacey Williams.
Although Maniraguha’s poem, Ijwi ryawe mubyeyi was in Kinyarwanda, it got the American poet clapping and cheering her on all through. The only other performer that got a similar response from Williams was the musician Deo Munyakazi on his guitar.
A few days later, she returned to the same venue for another poetry slam, the Kigali Vibrates with Poetry. Here, she performed one of her most powerful poems titled Birabe ibyuha, in which she takes on the touchy subject of sugar daddies. The poem was selected as the best in the Kinyarwanda category, winning her an award in the form of a statue of Nyirarumaga.
Described as the mother of Rwandan poetry, Nyirarumaga was the foster Queen Mother of King Ruganzu II Ndoli (1510-1543). She is credited for her central role in institutionalising the use of poetry to perpetuate the history of the reigns of Rwandan monarchs.
Two months on, in March, Maniraguha shone her poetic brilliance again, this time at the Spoken Word Rwanda poetry slam that was held at the Cleopatra Lounge in Kimihurura. Again, she was the night’s clear favorite with her performance of Birabeibyuha.
She wrote the poem shortly after completing high school and has performed it at various poetry competitions.
“It’s a poem about sugar daddies, about those guys who act like they are stars and behave and think badly towards girls and lie to them. It’s about sugar daddies who want to use money to get girls,” she explains, adding:
“Birabe ibyuya is like a word to the girls to guard against these kinds of men. It’s like an alarm bell I’m sounding. I have a friend who was in love with a man who acts like these men I have described. I talk about sugar daddies because I know that it happens and I always see men who act like that.”
Maniraguha started writing poems while still a high school student at Ecole de Science de Nyamagabe and later Notre Dame de la Paix Cyanika.
“I really loved poetry. I saw students who did poetry and I immediately liked it. I liked how they talked and used words, so I started writing.”
Her poems tackle a range of issues and themes, from marriage, birthdays, genocide commemoration, to social commentary and common sense topics.
“From childhood I was always someone who would see things and react upon them, either by telling people stories, or by writing.”
Maniraguha studied Business and Information Technology at the University of Kigali, graduating in 2015. But to earn a living today, she works as a hairdresser at a friend’s hair salon in Kacyiru.
Like other local poets, she has come to terms with the fact that poetry does not pay the bills –well at least not yet.
“I don’t make a lot of money from poetry but I do it as my passion and career, not as a source of income because here in Rwanda poetry is not yet at that level. But sometimes it brings money when I perform at celebrations like birthdays and marriage but not too much.”
This year, she decided to spread her artistic wings by venturing into acting. She is one of the actors in Seburikoko, a local TV series and acts as the first born child of Kalinda, one of the main characters. Her segment will start airing this June.