A lesson about my ancestors, Kirundi, leadership, and a shining cross

Today I learnt that my great-grandfather (the father of my mother’s mother), Umuganwa (Prince) Ndamama – Mwene (Son of) Umuganwa Ntarugera, Mwene Umwami (King) Mwezi Gisabo – was the first Umurundi to ever learn how to read and write, under the German rule. He may not have been the first but he was definitely among the first.
I learnt that he was a very good student. To reward his achievement and his skill, he was awarded by the German priests who taught him (and baptised him “Gaspard”), a shining cross that he wore around the neck. He became famous nationwide and inspired a Burundian folk song, which mentions his prize.

Today I learnt that the word Umuganwa is derived from the verb Kugana (to go to) and meant “someone you go to” and “someone who gives direction”. He was a leader.
I learnt that the Umuganwa status was conditioned by responsibility over Ingabo (an army). You only became Umuganwa when given Ingabo to lead. You may have been of royal descent, but without Ingabo, you were just Umwana w’inda y’Ingoma (literally, a child of the Kingship), not Umuganwa.
This means that today, there are no real Abaganwa (plural of Umuganwa), but simply Abana b’Inda y’Ingoma.

Today I learnt that ancient Burundi, the society was subdivided into four general categories: Abaganwa, Abahutu, Abatutsi, Abahima and Abatwa (yes, Abahima and Abatutsi were two separate groups). Each group was divided into clans that had specific functions in the Kingdom.
I learnt that Abahutu helped run the Kingdom: they were the closest advisors to the King and servants at the court (serving at the court was an honour). I learnt that Abatutsi were actually herders, and I learnt that the reason why Abahima were not really present (they were some though) at the royal court was not because they had been banished, but because they had other important functions AWAY from the court. One of them was to be the herders of the Kingdom’s sacred bulls.

Today I learnt that in Kirundi one word could mean a lot of things. In ancient Burundi, the word Tutsi meant, at the same time, a social group (tied to specific functions at the court and in the Kingdom), it meant a herder, and it also meant somebody who had certain body features i.e. tall and slender. Meaning that there were many Abahutu (social group) Batutsi (who were tall and slender). I learnt that the word didn’t exactly have the same meaning across the border in Rwanda.
I also learnt that a person could be born Mututsi (linked to the social group), but could become Muhutu later in his life, as a result of switching functions.

Today I learnt that history in ancient Burundi was taboo. The past was Ibanga (a secret), and only specific people were allowed to talk about it. They were also allowed to modify and embellish it however they wished, to keep some things that were not meant to be known, hidden.

Today I learnt a lot of things, some that I’m afraid to distort if I tried to explain them, others that are too long to tell in one post. But I promise, all of them will be explained to you soon, by experts (including the one who taught me my lesson today) #WatchThisSpace 🙂

Today I learnt that there is a reason why Burundi’s history is so blurry – it was never meant to be told! It’s a tradition (that can be changed).
Today I learnt that our identities have been tarnished with misunderstandings.
Today I learnt that leadership is not a foreign concept in Burundian culture. In Kirundi we call it Ubuganwa!
And I learnt that… well; I probably inherited this writing bug from the old Gaspard with his shining cross! 🙂


9 thoughts on “A lesson about my ancestors, Kirundi, leadership, and a shining cross

  1. i am more interested in the story of ingoma ya karyenda et comment le blanc a proceDE pour dominE le peuple et son roi,

  2. aba he? what university yigishako? is it possibl that you share some stuff with me, ivyo wavuze ngo watinyekwandika ? 🙂

  3. Such an interesting history! Though I am Rwandan, I can obviously relate to this 100% because our culture is similar to some extent. I am most interested in the notion that our history was Ibanga, and not meant to be told, some aspects embellished, and others not told. This might explain a lot of the “holes” in our history. Definitely something I will be asking our Abasaza about.

  4. Today I learnt a lot … from your post Kris :). Keep up this wonderful work. We definitly need more … Eager to learn more,particularly about “Abahima” …

    PS : you wrote : A “Mututsi …could become Muhutu later”, I thought it was the other way round… At least that what I knew until today … UKWIHUTURA 🙂

  5. Wow this is such an interesting post. Thank you so much, I learned a great deal today.
    Can’t wait to read more from that professor.

  6. Thank you! When is soon? I really need to know more about this. Please give us an update on the professor’s work. Murakoze! 🙂

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