Why Hutu and Tutsi cannot get along-- a reading of UBWIRU, Rwandan oral poetry from the royal court
|Dr. Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure|
By watching reports on CNN and other television media or by reading various newspapers in the US, one would conclude that the conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi started in 1994 with the mass of killing of half a million Rwandans-some even forgot that the war started in 1990! My aim in this essay is to analyze the current Rwandan tragedy in the light of Ubwiru, a body of Rwandan oral poetry from the royal court. More specifically, the essay analyzes excerpts from three of the five War Rituals of Ubwiru. The purpose is to try to understand how the poetry of the royal rituals has contributed to the myth of Umwami, the Tutsi king, and Karinga, the dynastic drum. My contention is that this body of literature has fostered the image of Abahinza, early Hutu kings, as enemies. The poems depict the fear of the Tutsi kingdom that a new Hutu king might upsurge, just as the court rituals clearly adumbrate how the survival of the Nyiginya king and his kingdom depended on both the death of Abahinza and the subservience of the Hutu people-Burundi was also named as the quintessential enemy of the Rwandan kingdom. Furthermore, the poems show that by performing the war rituals, the Umwami and Abiru (or the court ritualists) ensured that the Hutu kings were killed and their small kingdoms conquered for ever. After all, the royal drums shone with mummified testicles of Hutu kings killed during military expeditions.
I argue, as well, that Rwandan oral poetry played a decisive role in fostering the cultural fictions and divine image of the Tutsi kings, as well as the conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi. As a matter of fact, it is these cultural fictions that led the Germans in 1896 and the Belgians in 1916 to side with the Tutsi myth according to which the Tutsi were born to rule, thus ignoring the majority of the population. In her recent article, "The Ideology of Genocide," published in the September issue of Issue, Alison DesForges argues that when the Europeans arrived in Rwanda, they brought their own racism of superiority and viewed Rwandan people by formulating "the 'hamitic hypothesis,' according to which 'white Africans' from the northeast had brought civilization to the rest of the benighted continent. Colonialists found the Tutsi of Rwanda the ideal Hamites: tall, elegant, narrow-featured." More importantly,
accustomed to viewing Tutsi and Hutu as homogeneous groups, they ascribed stereotypical intellectual and moral qualities to the people of each category. With little hesitation, they decided that theTutsi were more intelligent-and perhaps more devious-and so born
to rule, while the Hutu, dumb but good-natured, could never be other than productive, loyal subjects.
Unfortunately, the myths and cruelty against Hutu kings expressed in the poems of the court rituals were later on exploited by Hutu politicians. In effect, most Hutu still cull from history the process of cutting Hutu king's testicles and mummifying them, as well as the procession of the dynastic drums with Hutu mummified testicles. In La royautÈ sacrÈe de l'ancien Rwanda, a book that contains seventeen of the eighteen episodes of the royal rituals, Marcel d'Hertefelt and AndrÈ Coupez note that in 1946 when the Rwandan kingdom was being consecrated to Christ-King, Father Delmas counted 15 mummified testicles on each Karinga and Cyimumugizi (the Queen Mother's drum) and a dozen on each of the other royal drums like Kiragutse and Mpatsibihugu-both drums were captured from Hutu kings. Needless to say that this body of literature was exploited in April 1994 and might be still at the heart of what divides the Hutu and the Tutsi right now.
To understand the excerpts from the three paths of the war rituals, it is worth giving a general description of the book La royautÈ sacrÈe de l'ancien Rwanda (1964), edited by Marcel d'Hertefelt, then professor at National University of Rwanda, and AndrÈ Coupez, then professor at the Universities of Elizabethville and Bujumbura-the original text is in Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda, and the editors have provided a French translation; as no English translation exists as yet, I have translated the excerpts from Kinyarwanda to English. According to the anecdote in the preface, a manuscript containing the sacred text about the sacred royalty of ancient Rwanda was handed to Marcel d'Hertefelt on October 16, 1961, fifteen days after the referendum that abolished the Rwandan monarchy.
The royal rituals were part of secret traditions and performances that were transmitted within a limited group of high officials/poets at the royal court. In their introduction, the editors note:
Nous entendons par rituel royal l'ensemble des procÈdures
standardisÈes qui sont destinÈes Ö mettre en oeuvre les capacitÈs
"surnaturelles" qu'on attribue au souverain, a lui confÈrer ces
puissances lors de son avänement ou Ö les lui conserver au cours
de son rägne.
[Royal ritual is a set of standard procedures whose purpose is to
put to use the supernatural powers attributed to the king, to bestow
these powers to the latter during his enthronement, and to preserve
them during his reign.]
Moreover, the editors note that a long rigid text gave details of all the knowledge concerning the essentials of the court rites. The court ritual was composed of eighteen pieces of uneven length-only seventeen were published, while the eighteenth piece about the dynastic bulls could not be found . The subdivisions in the text are called Inzira in Kinyarwanda-Voie in French-or paths. These paths represent methods whereby the king and his court ritualists would for example bring honey to beehives when the bees were not productive or rain during a period of drought.
From ideological and political perspectives, the Ubwiru are very revealing, despite d'Hertefelt and Coupez's claims that the royal rituals do not display any ideology of the Tutsi king; that is, those concepts that make a Rwandan king a sacred king. Also, they contend that only through anthropological study can anyone understand the ideology of the sacred king. This is certainly a false reading and interpretation of the royal rituals, for any Rwandan or speaker (native or non-native) of Kinyarwanda is likely to see that the power of the king and his Karinga drum depended on the absence of Abahinza Hutu kings and on the victory over enemy countries, like Burundi and kingdoms still held by Abahinza. Interestingly enough, the Kinyarwanda term Umuhinza derives from the verb Guhinga-to cultivate-and meant Hutu kings of agriculture, but the term had come to mean "rebel" to the Tutsi kings.
Alexis Kagame, the late Rwandan philosopher, historian, poet, linguist, recognized the importance of Ubwiru-Kagame calls Ubwiru "CODE-CRMONIAL SOTRIQUE DE LA DYNASTIE" (esoteric ceremonial code of the dynasty) -when he cogently argued that this literary body was one of the main sources of the history of Rwanda. According to Kagame, Ubwiru is undeniably the most ancient literary genre of Rwanda and its primacy stemmed from the fact that the life of the honorary king, the one who knew the cycle or order of succession of Tutsi kings, depended on this esoteric code. Kagame argues, "L'importance de ce "code", au point de vue de leur conservation et de leur invariabilitÈ, rÈside dans le fait que la vie du "dÈpositaire" en dÈpendait. Lorsque le monarque convoquait ses fonctionnaires en vue de se faire dÈclamer le "Code", l'entretien se dÈroulait toujours devant des tÈmoins qualifiÈs" ( The importance of Ubwiru, from the point of view of how it was conserved and how it stayed the same, resided in the fact that the life of the honorary king depended on the Code. When the monarch summoned his ritualists to recite the Ubwiru, the session always took place in front of well qualified judges.) Indeed, forgetting the lines of a poem from a portion of Ubwiru was tantamount to betrayal and the ritualist was immediately executed, for it could expose the kingdom to calamities. To avoid this, each ritualist of Ubwiru recited daily the poem that had been given him .
My analysis of the three war rituals also shows that the ideology of the divinity and sacredness of the Tutsi king and Karinga did not lie solely in symbolism, for the magico-religious symbols, such as magic herbs or sacrifices of bulls, appear in the sacred text of Ubwiru to foster the royal ideology.
The excerpts I have chosen to analyze are taken from the tenth path "Inzira y'Inteko" The Path for War; the eleventh path "Inzira yo Kwambika Ingoma"-The Path for Decorating the Drum; and the twelfth path "Inzira yo Kwasira"-The Path for Decoration. In the Path for War, the Umwami king uses his magic powers to ensure a Rwandan military success, while the purpose of both the Path for Decorating the Drum and the Path for Decoration is to intensify the belligerent vigor for the king and Rwanda. To this effect, the ritualists would attach to the dynastic drums mummified testicles of the enemies, Hutu kings killed during military expeditions.
Inzira y'Inteko contains 247 verses whose intent is to designate a ritualist general and to gather together magic herbs to ensure victory. As soon as the Abiru ritualists have enthroned a ritualist general, the latter joins warriors in camps. In addition, more than half of the Path for War describes magical defense system at the royal court to ensure military victory. Following are the first four lines of the path:
1 Iyo ishyanga ryagomye
Uvugirwa n'ingoma akaramutswa
baraguriza mu mooko yoose.
[When a foreign country has rebelled
And has enthroned a Hutu king/rebel
For whom the drums beat and salute
They consult diviners from every clan]
This excerpt points to the time when an Umuhinza/Hutu king would refuse to submit to the authority of and to pay tribute to the Mwami/Tutsi king. Of course, not paying tribute to the Nyiginya king meant that the drums continued to beat for the Umuhinza. Consequently, the Nyiginya king had to wage war against him and capture his drum, because until the drum was captured the Mwami could not claim victory-Many of the Nyiginya dynastic drums had been captured from Hutu kings. The rest of the poem/path is about gathering magic herbs and making sacrifices. It is when everything has been concluded that the military expedition against the Umuhinza is launched.
If the military expedition is successful, then, the Inzira yo Kwambika Ingoma, 195 verses dedicated to the Path for Decorating the drum, is performed. Below are the first seventeen verses of the path:
1 Iy Ìngoma yamb·ra
Umuhinza aba y·apfuye
Umutwa wÛ kwaa M·henÈhene
5 Akamuca ibinyiita
Bagashyira mu gatonga
Umuvzi w amacmu
Akaaza kubÌvug ibw"mi
10 Ingoma zikÌigamburuza
Zikabumburira ko zikabiikiirira kÛ
ZigahÌsa murÌ gahunda
Umw"m ah·gararanye n mutsoobe kw iirÈmbo
15 K·a gatonga kaajy· guhÌta
Akareeba mu rugÛ ngw atakabÛna.
1 [When the drums puts on clothes
That is when the Hutu king rebel has died
A Twa who is the descendant of Mahenehene
Cuts his head
5 Cuts his testicles
And puts them in a small basket
The speaker of spears
Comes to announce it at the royal court
When he finishes the announcement
10 Drumbeats are heard
As wake up call and lullaby
The warriors come then from war
They sit in a circle
While the king stands up with an Umutsobe at the main entrance
15 When the basket is about to enter the compound
They tell the king
To look towards the interior of the compound in order not to see it.]
These lines show very clearly that when the royal drum is being decorated-putting the mummified genitals of Umuhinza on the drum-it is a signal that Umuhinza/rebel was killed. The following verses depict the magic process of mummification:
KagahÌta k·jya mu bacumbi
Umucumb akaazan umubuz·
20 N mukÛma n Ìcyunamyi
N muhuna n ruhez·
Akabikubita ijoro ryÛse
At amah"nga ahora yunamye
Umuhinza w·a yo yaapfuye
25 Amah"nga ahor ahnamye
Umuhinza w·a yo yaapfuye
Amah"nga ahor ahÈze
Umuhinza w·a yo yaapfuye
Bwacy· bakaazana cy·a cyuhagiro
30 Cyiz· cyuh·gir umw"mi
Bakamwuhagira b·vuga bati
V ibuzÌmu jy Ìbuntu
Ingoma y·a c ikw"mbare
Ubwo baatumiye imirimo y ÌbitÌ byiiz·
35 Umuny·kab·gari yazany umusumba
Yazanye n musugÌ
Yazanye n mkugw·mpÛro
Yazanye n muremeera
Yazanye n muram·
40 Yazanye n muganza.
[The basket passes by and goes to Abacumbi ritualists
An Umucumbi brings a plant called Umubuza
20 And umukoma and icyunamyi
And umuhuna and uruheza
He bangs on the testicles all night long
Saying: "May foreign countries be always crouching
Their Hutu King/rebel died!
25 May foreign countries be always in dullness
Their Hutu king/rebel died!
May foreign countries be always out of breath
Their Umuhinza/rebel died!"
The next morning they bring the good magic liquid
30 Worthy of sprinkling on the king
They sprinkle on the king saying:
"Come from the dead to human beings
May you decorate our Drum."
Meanwhile they have brought magic herbs.
35 Someone from Kabagari has brought an Umusumba
He has also brought an Umusugi
He has also brought an Umugwamporo
He has also brought an Umuremera
He has also brought an Umurama
40 He has also brought an Umuganza.]
It is worth noting that the role of Abacumbi ritualists was to bang on the testicles in order to rid them of their noxious power and ritual impurity. Following are the functions for each magical herb:
1. Umubuza: a plant that has preventive capabilities.
2. Umukoma: a plant used to bang on the testicles to be mummified.
3. Icyunamyi: a plant intended to make the enemy be always crouching.
4. Umuhuna: a plant used to make the enemy dull.
5. Uruheza is used to ensure that the spirit of the dead Umuhinza does not come back to haunt the king and the kingdom.
6. Umusugi is used to purify the king and the kingdom; Isugi refers to a virgin.
7. Umuremera is used to render the kingdom too powerful to be attacked; Kuremera means to be heavy.
8. Umurama has the power to ensure longevity to Kalinga or the kingdom and
9. Umuganza is used to ensure victory over enemy kingdoms. Kupanza means to overwhelm the enemy.
It is after these magic herbs have been mixed together into a magic potion that the genitals of the Hutu king are brought back. The ritualists sprinkle hot water on them saying:
60 Ng uru n urugembe
Amah"nga ahora m rugembe
Umuhinza w·a ho yaapfuye
N amah"nga yÛos ad·tur mw"mi w'Irwanda
Tuyahoza m rugembe
65 Umuhinza w·a ho yaapfuye
Bakaazana cy·a kiremu
CyÛ kwaa Ndungutse ya Nkuuna
Bagashyira heejuru y Ìnkooko
YÛ kwaa Nyamigezi
70 Bagashyira hÛ by·a bishwamo
Bakaazan umusugÌ bagashyira hÛ
Bat uyu n umusugÌ
Ingoma y'Irwanda irakwambara
Unw"m akab isugÌ
75 Ingoma zikab isugÌ.
60 [This is a baleful sword
May foreign countries be always in baleful sword
Their Umuhinza/rebel died
And those foreign countries that do not pay taxes to the king of Rwanda
May we always keep them in baleful sword
65 Their Umuhinza/rebel died!"
They bring that piece of cloth
From Ndungutse son of Nkuna
Which they put above the basket
70 On which they put the genitals.
They bring Umusugi plant and put it on them
Saying: "This is an Umusugi, a virgin
The drum of Rwanda puts you on
So that the king is virgin/pure
75 So that the drums are virgin/pure.]
When the mummification has been completed, the ritualists put the knot on the drum. It should be made clear that although most Rwandans have not read d'Hertefelt, they have heard about, by way of story telling, the gory images and atrocities that the early Nyiginya kings committed against Abahinza. I myself learned from my father (who used to work as a servant to a Tutsi chief) and my uncles how Tutsi kings used to castrate Hutu kings to decorate Karinga and other dynastic drums. Moreover, the gory imagery of the path for decorating the drum perhaps reminds us of the way people were hacked to death in April 1994.
The other path that shows that the existence of Nyiginya kings depended on the absence of Hutu kings and submission of their followers is "Inzira yo Kwasira"-The Path for Decoration, a version of the path for decorating the drum. The king had to perform the rites of this path whenever mummified genitals were to be put on the drum for the seventh or ninth time. In the religious myths of Imandwa spirits cult, the initiated always count until they reach number nine and say, "Nine that brings children and cows." Number seven, however, was seen as a bad omen. In either case, special rites had to be performed when military expeditions were concerned. The path for decoration suggests that when any drum was about to receive mummified genitals for the seventh or ninth time, the court ritualists and the king had to perform magico-religious rites to ensure the security of the kingdom.
One would now ask what this analysis of Ubwiru has to do with or tell us about the current Rwandan tragedy. It is clear that before the bloody Social Revolution of 1959, which sent tens of thousands of Tutsi into exile Uganda, Burundi, Zaire, and Kenya, the procession of Karinga and other dynastic drums with their mummified genitals (of Abahinza) was a sign of intimidation to the Hutu, insofar as it constantly reminded them of the fate of Abahinza Hutu kings, and anyone who would oppose the king could receive the same penalty. The arrival of the Europeans at the turn of the nineteenth century worsened the situation, as the Tutsi were told that they were born to rule and the Hutu were dull and born to be ruled. In her article, Alison DesForges cogently concludes that "people of both groups learned to think of the Tutsi as winners and the Hutu as losers in every great context of the Rwandan past."
Unfortunately after 1959, the images of mummified testicles and the metaphors of winners and losers came back to haunt the Tutsi, first those Tutsi who were closely associated with the king and then all the Tutsi. Talking about the 1994 Rwandan tragedy, Alison DesForges argues:
Extremists who were ready to use slaughter to hold on to political
power constructed an ideology of genocide from a faulty history that
had long been accepted by both Hutu and Tutsi. Like the identity cards
that had guaranteed privileges to the Tutsi during the colonial period
and then served to identify them as victims for the genocide, the
history that had once legitimated their rule was ultimately turned
against them to justify their massacre.
Alison's term "faulty history," however, deserves some nuance. It is clear that both the extermination of Abahinza and the text of Ubwiru do not constitute a faulty history. The poetry and rituals of Ubwiru, it seems, existed to corroborate what had happened to the Abahinza. What is perhaps "faulty history" is the myth of divinity that surrounded Karinga drum and the Tutsi king to such an extent that Karinga has come to symbolize the cruelty of the Tutsi against the Hutu. From this perspective, one of the strategies of the Hutu extremists during this tragedy was to remind people that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was coming with Karinga, the symbol of monarchy. Ironically, Major Lizinde, a Hutu who wrote La dÈcouverte de Kalinga ou la fin d'un mythe, a book in which he demonstrated the discovery of Karinga and other royal drums, joined the RPF some months before the tragedy.
From my analysis of the excerpts of the three paths, one could draw the conclusion that in order for the Hutu and the Tutsi to get along, there is a need for a new breed of politicians who must help people not to forget history, but who must instill in them a sense of history so that they avoid making the same mistakes. Personally, one of the mistakes that JuvÈnal Habyarimana, the former president of Rwanda, made was to squeeze the Tutsi-Hutu problem under the rug, while many Hutu around him-many of whom from Ruhengeri and Gisenyi prefectures-continued to display virulent attitudes towards the Tutsi. Had there been recognition of majority rule and minority rights, the Rwandan tragedy would not have probably occurred. Moreover, there needs to be a new breed of politicians and intellectuals, those who must not exploit the legacy of the Tutsi kings and colonial powers to divide the Tutsi and the Hutu, just as they should not exploit the current tragedy for personal gains. After all, the Hutu and the Tutsi live together at the countryside. Only after this can we talk about national healing and reconciliation in LE PAYS DES MILLE COLLINES-this is a touristic nickname for Rwanda. In the words of Ernest Renan, "the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things"