Many, especially in the youth, may’ve been taken by surprise when they heard President Paul Kagame confer Igihango upon some friends of Rwanda. Igihango? Either they’d never heard of it or, if they had, they thought it was an ancient primitive ritual consigned to the dustbin of a bygone era.
If only they knew that it has everything to do with this leadership and everybody on earth, today!
I happen to have intimate knowledge of, and an attachment to, this serious bond of kinship and for a reason. It must have been 1960, just after we’d been rendered stateless, when I, at individual level, got to undergo this bonding (kunywana) as it was practiced then.
However, if truth be told, at that tender age I didn’t engage in it out of my conscious will.
I was led into it. Crossing back from exile into Rwanda, my old man and an uncle clandestinely led me to the home of a prominent clan elder, where a few people awaited us.
After the usual welcoming niceties, a boy my age and I were sat on two stools, facing each other. Between us and on a ‘ring/pad’ (ingata) was placed a calabash with two straws. Then, with a razor blade that’d been sterilised on a fire, a man made a slight incision on my stomach and offered the other boy the blade to lick. He reversed the exercise, with the other side of the blade, while intoning a recitation, and made us repeat after him: “Sinzatatira iki gihango!”
And with that, we’d pledged never to betray our bond of blood-kinship as individuals and as families. Upon which, thunderous applause broke out and we were ‘rewarded’ with a pull at the straws to partake of the calabash’s mystic drink, thus sealing the bond.
Other details apart, from that time it meant that what belonged to my whole clan was my blood-brother’s clan’s for the taking, and vice versa. To the extent that his people risked their lives to come help us in any task and anything, as hapless refugees in a foreign land.
In fact, in 1978 when news filtered to my blood-brother that my parents were alone in Zaïre (now DR Congo) as we, their children, were either in school or in employment elsewhere, he found his way there and lived with them as their son, to help them with everything.
Today, we’ve been reunited in our country as one family, those who are still living and all offspring, in true respect of that indissoluble and lifetime covenant, Igihango.
All the above details which go to show you that when this leadership says it has entered into Igihango with the citizenry, it will never spare any energy, resource, anything, to ensure the comfort, wellbeing, everything, of every single individual on this land.
And that’s how come, this concerted and unrelenting search for total security, omnipresent order, comprehensive cleanliness, best possible shelter, health, education, energy, transport, say it.
The rituals that went with the bonding may have been done away with, but the solemnity of its meaning will never die. It’s been pledged and it’s lifelong.
So the leadership works both as if it were humble blood-brother/sister me or you and as family in a society that believes in, and lives according to, its norms and values; its tradition. The strict adherence to this gihango is here till the end of time.
Every citizen is the coveted concern of this leadership and examples of this are legion.
To quote but a few, remember the bus accidents in Uganda and in Tanzania and the earthquake in Cyangugu (present-day Nyamasheke/Rusizi)? Even as the government was stretched for resources, it still managed to airlift all the victims and place them in the comfort of the country’s best referral hospital, no expenses spared.
You don’t see that every day, around us in the region.
But as it takes two to tango, so does it, kunywana. So, Rwandans, to a man and a woman, have equally partaken of that mystic drink (now metaphorically, of course) and are sworn to that bonding with their leadership. Thus, there is never a hitch during elections and there is no other national engagement that attracts controversy.
That’s what translates into dictatorship to those uneducated in Rwandan ways!
That apart, Igihango seeks not only to expand and bond together the Rwandan family but also to extend this blood-kinship to families and countries both near and far.
It’s in recognition of this that we were witness to the first conferment ceremony of the Order of Outstanding Friendship – Igihango on individual friends, last Saturday, November 18.
Though this world is cursed with individuals with destructively enormous egos, including in our neighbourhood – definitely doomed to be self-destructive – may we live to see more abanywanyi (blood-kin-and-kith), individuals and countries, and fewer traitors to this call for bonding!
As for Rwanda, she is open-arms to embrace anybody on the face of this earth (e.g. visa on arrival for all), with or without a home of their own.
Humans being sold for $700 each or otherwise humiliated and the world averts its eyes?
We knew Rwanda could not be party to this moral bankruptcy!
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.