The life and times of Ndeze are worthy of long reflection for more reasons than one. When they got him in the 1890s, his parents wouldn’t have imagined that their son would be anything beyond a bare-footed peasant. He would be tilling the land till the end of his days, they thought.
As it turned out, however, Ndeze disappointed his ‘undreaming’ parents beyond words! Of course, he himself had colonialists to thank for his unprecedented rise.
When the colonialists arrived in the northern part of Rwanda, Ndeze was already a teenager among the young boys who always ran to watch those curious-skinned creatures.
A nasty habit and it has been denounced by no less than our very President, but those days it was valued and was not limited to young kids.
Old men relished the idea of for long inducing a flow of local brew from fellow men who wanted to listen to stories of this new breed of men who looked like meat!
One such story was often recounted by Rutishisha thus: “Who among you can guess what happened when Rutishisha met Rutuku, the man who wears his skin inside out?” Rutishisha would pause for effect, so that everybody noticed that he always talked about himself in the third person. But, especially, that he could only answer his own question when handed a gourd of brew!
After a long draw at the straw, Rutishisha would swallow noisily before proceeding: “When Rutuku tendered his hand for a handshake, I said: ‘I, Rutishisha son of Rwoganyanja rwa Rwogabicu rwa Maguru ya Sarwaya, cannot shake those pieces of meat and soil my hands that have milked Bihogo!’
“Instead, I seized his headless spear, covering its mouth that spits fire, and pressed the point of my spear right at his heart and watched him tremble like a puppy and wet the sheets wrapped around him like a drunken woman! I told the retinue of his servants to take away that bundle of red-skin lest I change my mind and end its days.” ….
For information, a ‘headless spear that spits fire’ was a gun. It was headless because it had no sharp, pointed metallic top. It spat fire because there were sparks when it was shot. ….
Rutishisha was a hefty man of extraordinary strength, who had wrestled elephants to the ground, and no one could doubt his stories.
All listened in awe and wonder, and were inwardly happy that they had someone who could protect them from those dreaded ‘meat-skins’.
Ndeze, on the other hand, keenly followed the stories for different reasons. He wanted to learn the tricks of scaring these colonialists alright, but he also wanted to know how one could please and flatter their egos.
And in good time, he could communicate with them in ‘their’ language, Kiswahili, and he therefore had no problem securing a job as a cook. “Please a man’s palate,” he reasoned, “and you’ve got him eating out of your hands!”
Ndeze soon became an expert at different methods of cooking eggs, the favourite dish of the colonialists. Why they cherished African eggs, search me, but it’d seem that at the time none of them was aware of the problem of cholesterol! So they devoured Ndeze’s eggs with abandon and soon he was not only cook and interpreter but also administrator.
As the link between colonialist and native, Ndeze became a kind of liaison officer, passing over administrative orders even as he continued to work as a cook.
Meanwhile, the colonialists in Belgian Congo were forming local administrative units known as ‘chefferies’, based on the native ethnic groups of the areas, the better to run the large country.
When one ‘chefferie’ proved too tricky to manage, because it was inhabited by 4 diverse ethnic groups (Bahunde, Banande, Banyanga and Banyarwanda), the Congolese colonialists turned to their Rwandan counterparts for a strong native leader.
For the Rwandan colonialists, the natural choice was Ndeze. In turn, Ndeze explained that the natives could only be ruled by a king. Which, indeed, was borne out by the evidence on the ground: all ethnic groups were headed by a king.
That is how ‘Collectivité Chefferie de Bwisha’ was formed.
And that is how, in 1923, Ndeze was enthroned as Mwami Daniel Ndeze Rugabo II, king of the Banyabwisha!