Maria Yohana Mukankuranga is a cashier of Kimisagara Youth Center and also the proud composer of the song ‘Intsinzi bana b’u Rwanda’ that is popularly played and sung during several victory celebrations.
‘Intsinzi bana b’u Rwanda’ was sung sensationally when the U17 Junior Wasps qualified for the U17 World Cup in Mexico and also during last year’s presidential victory.
The soft spoken Maria Yohana was born on December 5th, 1943 in the current Ngoma District (formerly Kibungo District) of the Eastern Province. The 68-year-old (still looks young) is the daughter of the late Faustin Gacinya and late Asterie Mukamugenza.
“I attended Ecole Primaire Zaza parish for five years since during our times we would sit for National Exams in Primary five. Although I spent my first year of Secondary education in Ecole Save in Butare, the current Huye District, I moved back to Zaza Ecole Menagere Post Primaire (EMPP) for the rest my Secondary education since it was considered a Teachers Training College of the time.
We used to study a little bit of French but most sections were conducted in Kinyarwanda,” Maria Yohana said.
When she completed her four-year teaching course, she started teaching at Ecole Primaire Rwamagana and later moved to Ecole Primaire Kibungo where she taught Kinyarwanda in the classes of P3 and P4.
“In 1961 when I had just gotten married to the late Deogratias Garuka, and our bouncing little boy Jean Marie (Wendo) was just eight days old, we were forced into exile due to the insurgencies of that time. We moved to Uganda’s Mbarara District and settled in Nshungerezi Refugee Camp,” Maria Yohana disclosed.
While in exile, her family earned a living from farming. Later in 1971 Maria Yohana attained a teaching job at Rwamurunga Primary School. She taught all subjects but was especially talented Kinyarwanda and Math and English. She did this until 1994.
While in exile the couple was blessed with two more children, Robert Semwaga and Angelique Garuka. Unfortunately Maria Yohana‘s two sons did not make it through the 1990-1994 liberation struggle.
“My daughter and husband died when we had returned here unlike my two sons who didn’t make through the liberation struggle,” she said.
Speaking about her inspiration to compose the popular song ‘Intsinzi bana b’u Rwanda’, Maria Yohana said she sang in praise of her motherland Rwanda.
“While celebrating the World Refugee day on June 20th, 1985, we sung to our children praises of our motherland Rwanda and that is how I composed ‘Icyanyereka iwacu’ literally meaning I wish I could have a glimpse of my motherland.
“The song had such lyrics Naganiriye na Sogokuru ambwira ibyiza n’ubwiza bw’u Rwanda, ni cyo cyanyemeje ko ngira iwacu,” she sung.
She said these songs are what inspired Rwandan children and when they grew up they had the desire to join the struggle to liberate their motherland since they were in exile. She started composing several songs such as; Turatashye Inkotanyi z’amarere, Mureke mbabwire inzozi narose and Urugamaba rurashushye.
“In 1992 with my daughter Angelique, we composed ‘Intsinzi bana b’u Rwanda’ because we had faith that one day, we would win the liberation struggle. This was the same struggle that deprived me of my two sons. I consoled myself, accepted my fate since they died for the right cause; it was an act of patriotism and that is why we are home now,” she said.
She said that her songs were greatly used during fundraising ceremonies for the struggle and eventually a traditional Rwandan troupe was formed known as the ‘Indahemuka’ that danced and recorded several songs while in Uganda. They sold the tapes to raise money during several fundraising ceremonies.
“Although I don’t have the tape with the collection of the songs, I think some people could have kept them. I still write small songs in my free time but they are always about my country since at my age and time I can’t write love songs (she laughs),” Maria Yohana said.
“I’m so touched and I can’t find the words to explain the joy I feel every time the song is played and people enthusiastically stand up to dance to it. It’s a song for every Rwandan who is at a time of celebration.”