There is little knowledge about the life of cattle-keepers in Rwanda. This is more so with people living in urban areas. The New Time’s Reporter takes you deep into the life of herdsmen.
It was a warm sunny Saturday when I visited herdsmen in Rwabiharamba village of Karangazi in Nyagatare district. This eastern part/province of Rwanda is commonly known as ‘the land of milk’.
When I introduced myself to the herdsmen as a journalist, they were all flabbergasted and started asking me a number of questions. I never reacted to any but made sure that they welcomed me in their conversations.
The approach indeed worked but their reaction was not so much familiar to me. I could not for example copy with arm wrestling. This was my great undoing as they saw me as a coward, weak person and therefore not part of them. Nevertheless they kept me in conversation as we all watered the cows.
It is a very laborious work as you need to lift water using a small bucket and throw it to someone who again throws it to another person until it reaches the final man, who powers it in a water trough.
Water is got from very deep wells and carried by men to the surface. The herdsmen are used to this kind of work, as it is their daily experience. They therefore continued to answer my ever increasing ‘nagging’ questions.
And when I wanted to know how they spend their day for example, one of them had this to say:
‘After milking cows in the morning, I take them to graze and when it reaches noon, I send someone to clean the trogh and after a few minutes, (that’s in the afternoon), I stand and enjoy as cows drink water.
“Turiyakana ahasigaye tukaganira” (literally meaning that, we chart and wrestle in a friendly way), and it helps us not to keep in grudges. Unlike others from different backgrounds of life, we take life easy, which is a good thing in life”, one Byakatonda narrated.
A herdsman day is completed in three challenging phases; one is the morning where he will have to milk the cattle, which is a tiresome thing to do, taking cattle to graze and then in the afternoon, he takes the cattle to a water trough.
“After watering the cattle you go back to graze and when it reaches 7.00pm, you take the cattle back and after relaxing for one or two hours you milk them. You then make sure that all is prepared for tomorrow before you go for your supper and sleep”, said a herd’s man.
Though there is an evident dichotomy between women and men (especially in roles and attitudes), the herd’s men do not agree that there is a gender problem.
“I refute public claims that herdsmen (abashumba) always harass women. Many of us are married and we take girls as our sisters. Though I can’t fully suspend that there aresome people who do it, it would be absolutely wrong to generalize the claim.
Recently when I was in Kigali, my female friends told me how they fear passing near Ibuga (a large area where herdsmen relax after watering the cattle), fearing to be harmed.
All such things are now out-dated in this era of HIV/Aids. Christianity has touched all corners of the world and we only make fun these days.
I thanked the herdsmen and promised to go for more interesting experience. But for sure the area gives much of African culture in general and the Rwandan culture in particular.