Last week, I read a legend of a girl who used to reside in a calabash [Ikyansi] sometime back in Rwanda. They described her as a great girl (Umukobwa wumutima) who would escape from the calabash without the king’s awareness to go and help other girls to sweep, cook and do other chores.
According to the book, this girl wasn’t supposed to leave the calabash and strict measures were to be taken, but anyway her strong will would never let her think of the consequences.
Many primary school Kinyarwanda text books bear stories about girls and their roles in developing their home families.
This caught my attention, why girls and not boys yet in almost every society boys were the heroes in everything?
Have you wondered why there are more songs that run over the radio declaring the pride Rwanda had in her daughters?
Songs like Abakobwa biwacyu (our daughters) explains how Rwandan girls are beautiful and trustworthy.
Intore Masamba’s (a Rwandan artist) uses words like Inyamibwa (most beautiful thing) in his songs praising Rwandan girls.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Rwandese girls from history were only comparable to gold. A girl in Rwanda was held like a piece of fine glass that would break at anytime.
And when a girl child was born to a family, it brought great joy to the parents and the community.
“Right from childhood, daughters knew what they were worth, this molded them into intelligent and trustworthy women even when they wedded,” says Cynthia Kabeja, 63.
Referring to stories from her late grandmother, from the pre-colonial days when Rwandan girls still dressed up in cow skins and had a unique hair cut, they had an item and a percentage of favor compared to the boys.
Even when it came to giving names, girls’ names had deep meanings depending on how their parents considered them.
Their names would range from the joy the girls brought to their parents at birth to the role they would play in building the family.
“My name means sunset, when I grew up my father explained why that name and what was expected of me as a girl,” says Nadine Kiberinka.
She explains that when the sun shines at sunset, its rays are rather soothing than hot. Even the appearance of the sky is friendlier than earlier.
This is the time when cattle graze more freely and go home with much freedom since it’s warm not hot.
Kiberinka’s father expected her to be soothing, welcoming, hard working and a bright light that brought a smile to every member of the family.
Other names that were only meant for the Rwandan girl included Ikirezi (One who would take care of her siblings), Umutoni (giver), Umurerwa (disciplined) Umungeri (shepherd) and more others.
“Our daughters’ names were meant to challenge them to act like we expected them to,” says Serestine Habimana.
Rwandan girls were expected to ensure sanitation in their homes, feed their siblings and elder brothers, welcome visitors with a glass of milk and to increase on house wealth.
“As a child, I recall spending most of my evenings with the girls weaving baskets and mats. We could use the baskets to keep foodstuffs and the mats as seats,” says Kiberinka.
Girls would tirelessly sweep, decorate the sitting room, fetch firewood, cook, receive visitors and help in making home- made cheese.
There was never room for getting tired, they did all they could to respect the trust put in them.
When a girl was leaving for marriage, the parents were sad but they considered it a necessary step in making her a productive person.
And if a girl’s had a daughter as a first born, she would immediately send her to the parents to fill the gap in which she had been.
Though boys were inheritors, girls were special gifts from God, sealed in compassion, beauty and respect.