In Ngoma District, once known as Gisaka, lives a grand old man. Gisaka was a powerful, independent state in southeastern Rwanda, which maintained its independence until the mid-nineteenth century.
The old man, Uwihanganye Daudi, was born 117 years ago in the village of Akaziba, Ngoma, where he stays up to today. In 1941 Daudi was picked up when he was 30, and forced to go and fight alongside the Germans in the Second World War.
RWEMBEHO STEPHEN travelled to Ngoma District to one of the remotest villages in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, where he met and chatted with the World War Two veteran.
Question: What did you do in the war?
Answer: I was trained and sent to fight
How were you affected during the war?
It was so demanding. First, I did not know why I was involved in the war. The language of instruction was not familiar to me and I had to rely on signs. You know, such a thing like poor communication in a war zone can lead you into trouble. If you lose track for a minute you will never survive.
Moreover, of course, war is not a joke. I expected to die any time and moreover in a foreign land. You see we were not fighting here in Rwanda but in some other countries.
Where did you fight?
I was taken to some white man’s land (could not remember properly)-in German.
How long did you stay with the Germans?
I worked with them for 9 years - that was from 1949 to 1950.
And after that?
I went to work for the Belgians in Katanga, the former Zaire, now referred to as the Democratic Republic of Congo. You see the whites were making a lot of money in the diamonds.
I never liked working in Katanga because of the nostalgia I had for my home. I had to come back to Rwanda. They were of course giving us some money after hard labour, but it was useless to me. I escaped from them after 6 years and returned to Rwanda.
How did you find Rwanda after so many years?
So many things were changing in politics and even in my own house, so I had to adapt to the new environment. My children had matured; I had to organise new marriages, etcetera.
How about you; how many wives did you have?
The one you see here besides me is the eleventh. You know our days are quite different from yours. Quite different, that is why your lives are full of uncertainties.
How do you marry one wife and then plan to produce three children?
It is incredible in the African society! Let me assure you of this: You cannot live up to my age when you marry a single wife. You will be stressed to death.
But every time you marry a new wife, you are renewed with new love and care. Never blame a woman who gets tired of you after staying in your house for years and years.
This is the problem I see in today’s marriages; you take things for granted, and lifelong love is just not for human beings. This is the truth in black and white, so take it or leave it.
How many wives did you marry?
How did you cope with such a number?
There is nothing that is difficult. Absolutely nothing! They produced children, I organised how to bring them up, and that is all. In any case, the bigger the size of the family, the stronger it gets. What I am saying applies not only in the past but also even today.
If you produce three children and two or all of them die, how do you remain?
Helpless! Children used to get sick in the past and die; today the same story is happening. In fact, it has worsened with the new diseases like HIV/Aids.
How many children do you have?
I had 82 children when I last counted. They could have increased or reduced as some were born and others died. I also remember vaguely that I have 320 grandchildren. You can see the number could have increased and I cannot keep records.
Apart from a fresh wife at intervals, what other secret do you hold for living to this grand old age?
One thing that I think has contributed to my long life is not drinking alcohol. I only had very few drinking years and abandoned the practice. Another thing is that I am more of a vegetarian. I only eat meat when it is very dry and roasted. This is contrary to what most of you eat - fried everything.
Do you take pride in your age?
No, no, no! I wish you had asked me this question earlier. It is very bad to live up to this age of mine - useless, hopeless and helpless, especially when you were once a hardworking person.
All my colleagues/ age mates died, and only I am left to disturb the world. Nevertheless, I think my days are numbered. I do not fear death, but dying - you know the unnecessary slow process that ultimately leads to death.
What advice would you give the young?
To unite and be able to defend their country whenever it is necessary. You know before some greedy people betrayed Gisaka, our grand fathers used to fight off its enemies any time they appeared.
It is this spirit of love for one’s motherland that shaped my character and made it possible for me to fight in the World War, though I was wrong; I thought that I was defending my country indirectly. This is the principle that should guide the future generation.
What do you love or hate in the world?
I love the world because it helped me produce many children and grandchildren to continue life after me. You may think that it is a small thing, but for sure, it means a lot.
But I also hate it because it takes away all your friends and leaves you alone with young people whom you do not share much in common; it’s boring in a way.