In our last article of “Gihanga the founding Father,” that appeared in The Sunday Times of September 09th, pages 10 and 11, we followed up the life of Gihanga, his journey, wives and children.
There were also factors surrounding his last days, legacy and ownership of Rwanda.
We dig into these and compare Rwanda’s Gihanga to Uganda’s Rugaba of the Banyankole, Baganda’s Muwanga and Nyamuhanga for the Batoro.
Colonialism and its racist theories of divide and rule
In pre-history, people of the Great lakes region almost spoke the same language. Some scholars especially Sir Harry Johnson, mention that the language could have been the Runyamwezi.
However for Nyakatura, it could have been the Runyoro. We don’t know what that language was, but proper records show that they spoke a similar language with different dialects.
They shared a lot in common regarding cultural and historical tradition, social structure, ideology of leadership and religion.
Before the arrival of “Bidishyi” kings, which we shall discuss later, the people of the great lakes region were one in culture and history until the coming of Batembuzi and Bacwezi leadership. That is why in our past and future articles about the pre-history of Rwanda, we have references to other countries in the region.
For almost a century and above, Belgian colonialists created divisions and classes among Rwandans. They used the time-tested-weapon of divide and rule.
They favoured one class and neglected others whom they later said were mistreated.
One of the weapons they used to achieve their colonial-racist-ideology was the distortion of our history. Four main stories that they distorted and later had a destructive impact on Rwandan society included:
1. Kigwa and his companions (Tutsis) came from heaven and met people on earth or owners of the land (Hutus) in Rwanda and colonised them. (We have seen in our previous articles that Sabizeze, whom they referred to as Kigwa, never met a human being in Mazinga).
2. In Sandrart’s book “Cours de Droit Coutumier,” the writer gave another story that played a big role in brainwashing the people of Rwanda.
According to the story, God called a Hutu young man and asked him to take his stick and hit the ground. Being ignorant, the Hutu young man feared to obey God’s order but went to another Tutsi young man whom he told the story. So cunning as he was, the Tutsi went with his stick and hit the ground from which many cows came.
The Hutu claimed for the cows, but because the Tutsi was a cunning fellow, he refused to give the cows to the young Hutu. It is because of the cows and the milk that the Tutsi eventually dominated over the Hutu.
3. The third story is about Gihanga the founding father, who, according to colonial writers, had three sons; Gatwa, Gahutu and Gatutsi.
Given this distortion of Rwanda’s history, when Gihanga reached old age, he began to worry about his successor.
He decided to give a test to his three sons to determine who among them would take the throne. “My sons, death is near, I want you to do something in order to find out who will sit on my royal throne and rule over his brothers.”
In the evening, Gihanga started milking his cows and filled three bowls with milk. He summoned his sons and gave them the three bowls of milk saying: “If by tomorrow morning all your bowls are still full, I will divide my kingdom into three.
But if only one of you passes the test, he will be my successor and will rule over you.” After saying this, Gihanga went to sleep and his sons remained in the sitting room, each with his milk bowl.
Gatwa, the youngest son, was the first to pour his milk due to sleep. The second son, Gahutu, felt hungry in the middle of the night and took the milk. Only Gatutsi, the eldest son, was able to keep his milk bowl full until morning.
Gihanga thanked Gatutsi saying, “My son, since you have kept your milk bowl full, you will be my successor to the throne.” To the other two, he said, “Because you failed to keep your milk bowls full, you will be servants to your brother Gatutsi.”
This story has not only been used to divide Rwandans, but also Ugandans and Barundi. In Uganda, the names were changed to Kairu for Gatwa, Kahuma for Gahutu and Kakama for Gatutsi. Father Nyakatura wrote the same story in his book, “Abakama ba Bunyoro Kitara.”
In our last article we have saw that Gihanga’s children were Nyirarucyaba, Sabugabo, Gahima, Mugondo and Gashubi.
The other three sons of Gihanga; Gatwa, Gahutu and Gatutsi are just a distortion of the history in order to divide the so called twas, hutus and tutsis, made by the colonial-racist-ideology.
The Tutsi, Hutu and Twa had another meaning in ancient times. This will be explained later in a different issue.
Last days of Gihanga
Oral history has it that one day, Gahu, his a young cousin, fell in love with Gihanga’s daughter Nyirarucyaba.
They slept together at Gihanga’s residence and Nyirarucyaba conceived. When Gahu learnt of the pregnancy, he left Gihanga’s residence and opted for solitary life in the forest.
Gihanga didn’t notice it, so he went for hunting and came with a nice skin of an antelope. Nyamususa and Nyirampirangwe fought for the skin. On helping to end the fight, Nyirarucyaba killed her step mother Nyirampirangwe who was pregnant. However, the son was saved, and is known by name as Gashubi.
A different source mentions that Nyirampirangwe had an argument with Nyirarucyaba during which the latter revealed the secret that she was pregnant.
This might be another reason why Nyirarucyaba killed Nyirampirangwe for fear of revealing the secret to Gihanga. With all the parental fear, Nyirarucyaba left Buhanga and mounted a search for Gahu whom she met in the forest with many cows and leopards. Leopards were friends to Gahu until his descendants of (Abazigaba) took the leopard as their totem.
Gihanga became so sad about the incident and decided to dismiss Gahu who was his prophet. He called his wife and sons to arrange the burial of Nyirampirangwe. Nyirampirangwe was buried at Buhanga II, in Byumba, northern part of former Gatsibo district.
After the burial, Gihanga and his family left Buhanga II and moved to Nyamirembe, near former Gatsibo district in Byumba.
Father Alexis Kagame testifies that when Gihanga arrived in Nyamirembe, he became so ill, but recovered after a few days with the help of milk brought by his daughter.
Upon learning that the milk was from the cows belonging to Gahu, the husband of his daughter, Gihanga asked Nyirarucyaba to go back to the forest and convey the message to Gahu that he was forgiven, and therefore was free to return to his father’s house.
Gahu came back with his cows and accepted to give them to Gihanga. That is the first time when man started taking care of cows.
Gihanga told Gahu: “As you have given me your cows, your name will no longer be Gahu, but you will be called Kazigama, which means “the one who gave cows.”
Another important event that happened during Gihanga’s old age is the introduction of sorghum in Rwanda. Along the way from Buhanga I to Nyamirembe, Nyamususa’s servant named Nyirampingiye picked sorghum and took it with her. On arrival in Nyamirembe, she left it behind the house where it germinated and grew after a few months. The sorghum multiplied fast and Nyirampingiye took some to produce white juice that she shared with Nyamususa.
One servant of Nyirampirangwe also took the juice but unfortunately she died. When Gihanga learnt of the death due to sorghum, he wanted to kill Nyamususa’s servant but was saved by her mistress who said that sorghum doesn’t kill.
Gihanga ordered them to take more juice to confirm but still none died. Since then, sorghum started to be produced in Rwanda alongside milk.
Gihanga later died of illness at Nyamirembe.
Although he lived a short time in Nyamirembe, it is here that he left his testament and most of his great accomplishments are realised.
The testament was not to divide his kingdom for his sons as many scholars have said. One of the children who received special thanks was his daughter Nyirarucyaba who was given permission to have her descendants use the name.
Abacyaba are descendants of Rucyaba, son of Nyirarucyaba and Kazigaba. Some children of Kazigaba refused to be named after their mother and they are known today as abazigaba.
Below is what Gihanga proclaimed as his testament to the people he led.
God as the owner of Rwanda
Several scholars say that Gihanga left the region divided into many kingdoms which he gave to his sons. However, oral history holds that before his death, Gihanga called all his children and told them that his legacies are cows and “Ingoma (Gihanga Cyahanze inka n’Ingoma). Ingoma founded by Gihanga was a system of governance.
This system of governance was headed by a god, known as “Imana y’u Rwanda.” To take any decision in Rwanda’s governance, one had to consult the “Imana y’u Rwanda,” the Rurema (creator) who created everything. This god lived not on earth; he had no temple and had to be worshiped in spirit.
No Rwandan king would decide anything without asking the prophets (Umugesera and Umuzigaba) what the God’s will was on the issue.
Nyarushara as the King of Rwanda
Nyarushara that was brought by Sabizeze when he was leaving Buha bw’epfo was still in the hands of Gihanga. Gihanga gave it to his son Gahima saying: “This is the King of Rwanda. Every leader who will come after you will be Umugabe of Nyarushara.” Umugabe of Nyarushara is translated as “the General Chief of staff of Nyarushara.”
To understand how Nyarushara was given the power to govern Rwanda, one can read “Inzira yo kw’imika,” by André Kamanzi; it was a royal ceremony for enthroning the king (Umugabe).
It would take three days for people to see their king. The Mugesera chosen for that purpose would ask the people three times whether they wanted to see their king. If they responded yes for three days, Nyarushara would be presented to the people.
The person who brought Nyarushara would say: “This is your King.”
After that, people would wait to see their leader in serving Nyarushara. Every Rwandan was serving God, represented in Rwanda by Nyarushara.
Cows as a pillar of the Rwandan economy
Gihanga ordered his people to take cows as the most treasured of domestic animals, because milk saved him from death. Since then up to the introduction of colonial culture, each army division had a sister cow division.
The army division of Abashakamba had a sister cow division called Umuhozi; for the army division of Uruyange, we had the cow division named Ingeyo.
Imvejuru army division had Inkabuzima. Nyaruguru army division had the cow division Inkondera; Nyakare had Ibyiza cow division, Indara had Amarebe, Impamakwica had Ingaju z’i Giseke, Abarasa had Ingaju zisakara, while Intaganzwa army division went with Uruyenzi cow division.
In ancient Rwanda, only kings, heroes and cows had poets who composed praise-poems for them.
Gihanga founded “Ingoma”
The word Ingoma in Rwanda’s history has been ambiguous. Some translated it as Drum. It also means the period of a king’s reign. In Kinyarwanda we say “Ingoma ya Ruganzu.”
However, “Ingoma” left by Gihanga was neither a drum, nor a period of the king’s reign. It meant “A system of governance” left by Gihanga the founding Father of this nation.
Many years after Gihanga’s death, Rwanda’s drum took two other forms: drum-emblems (symbolizing the system of governance as Gihanga wanted it), and ceremonial drums.
These drums belonged to the king, alongside Nyarushara that was not under the king’s property.
Ceremonial drums were used during national festivities such as harvesting and announcing the king’s arrival; these drums had a great significance in dances (Intore dance). They were also announcing the king’s daily activities (Indamutsa), and passing across a very important message, or warning to the people (Impuruza). The latest drum-emblem was Kalinga.
The name “Gihanga” is beyond what is known today as Rwanda
In our last article, we promised to make a comparison between Rwanda’s Gihanga; the Banyankole’s Rugaba, the Baganda’s Muwanga and Nyamuhanga for the Batoro and Hangi.
We have seen that the Great lakes Region in pre-history shared a lot in common. It will not be surprising then, to find that Gihanga was at the same time Rugaba for Banyankole, Muwanga for Baganda and Nyamuhanga for Batoro.
The first European writers who compiled the list of Batembuzi kings listed the following names.
For Fisher and Bikunya; the English and African writers respectively, the first king of Batembuzi is Ruhanga, followed by Nkya, Kintu, Kairu, Kakuma, Kakama, Twale, Baba, Mukonko, Ngonzaki and Isaza.
For Bishop Gorju, the first king of Batembuzi is Ruhanga, followed by Hangi, Rugaba, Ira, Kazora, Nyamuhanga, Nkya, Baba, Mukonko, Ngonzaki and Isaza.
For Roscoe, the first king of Batembuzi is Ruhanga, Enkyaya, Enkya, Kakama, Twale, Ira, Ihangi, Kazora, Nyamuhanga, Nkya I, Nkya II, Baba, Kamuli, Nseka, Kudidi, Ntozi, Nyakahongerwa, Mukonko, Ngonzaki, Isaza and Mukama.
In his book “Abakama ba Bunyoro,” Nyakatura writes that the Banyoro’s Kintu is the same as the Banyankole’s Rubaga, the Baganda’s Muwanga and the Batoro’s Nyamuhanga.
The first writers of Uganda’s history presented the same person twice or three times in a chronology with deferent names.
The question whether it was in order to distort our history, will be answered when we write about the Batembuzi kings.
On the other side, we have Father Nyakatura who says that Kintu is the same as the Banyankole’s Rubaga, the Baganda’s Muwanga and the Batoro’s Nyamuhanga.
What is true with Father Nyakatura is that names of the Banyankole’s Rubaga, the Baganda’s Muwanga and the Batoro’s Nyamuhanga are given to one and the same person. He did not mention that Gihanga was also called by the same names.
Father Nyakatura said that Kintu is an ancestor of the Banyoro. It is of great interest to anyone who wants to learn the ancient history of our region and to compare many historians in order to know the truth.
There is something like a fight between Banyoro historians and Baganda historians over Kintu. Banyoro historians say that Kintu is their king. At the same time Baganda historians say Kintu is their king.
For Nyakatura, there is no problem since both Banyoro and Baganda agree that Kintu is the first person to arrive in Uganda.
Nyakatura says, “However, both Banyoro and Baganda agree on one fact, that Kintu was the first man to come to this world and that he preceded the Bacwezi.” Nyakatura only forgot that there were other people in Uganda before the arrival of Kintu.
Before writing about the kings of the Batembuzi, the Bidishyi and the Bacwezi, who preceded the existence of Rwanda, Buganda, Nyoro, Toro and Nkole Kingdoms; we will write about the exodus of Muntu (who is also Kintu for Baganda, Kenthieu in ancient Sudan and Kent in Egypt) from Mazinga to Uganda.
This exodus will help us understand the confusion that has been left by colonial writers and that is causing difficulties for today’s Baganda and Banyoro historians.
It would also be important for historians to write about this period to remember that the names of our countries as we know them today were not in existence. It is only historical facts that will determine knowledge of our ancient past.
In our next article, we shall look at the exodus of the Rwandan Muntu who is accordingly called by different names. Some people might be surprised to learn that the Rwandan Muntu is the same as the Kintu of Buganda, the ancient Sudan’s Kenthieu and the ancient Egyptian Kent.
The author is a Rwandan independent researcher, historian and writer.