RWANDA I

Drinking Ibumba = Matriarchs


By Jheri St. James

The Republic of Rwanda is a small landlocked country about half the size of Scotland, near the center of the Equator, in the Great Lakes region of east central Africa. Rwanda borders Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Home to approximately 10.1 million people, Rwanda supports the densest population in continental Africa, most of whom engage in subsistence agriculture. A green country of fertile and hilly terrain, the small republic bears the title “Land of a Thousand Hills.” In 2008, Rwanda became the first country in history to elect a national legislature in which a majority of members were women, after a long, long history of warfare—tribal, European, Catholic, with neighbor Burundi, civil and Congo.

After its military victory in July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front organized a coalition government and the parties who had instigated and implemented genocide were banned, with most of their leaders either arrested or exiled. In 2000, Paul Kagame became president of Rwanda and in 2003 a new constitution was adopted by referendum. Reconciliation and unity among all Rwandans is being emphasized with right of return to Rwandans displaced between 1959 and 1994. By law, at least a third of the Parliament representation must be female, as it is believed that women will not allow the mass killings of the past to be repeated.

These are photos of the Royal Palace in Nyanza (top), now a museum, site of our first soil collection, and (bottom) the current parliamentary building.

Amani Athar, Information Assistant at the American Embassy in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali, was the collector of our first sample of Rwandan soil.

He writes: “The soil contained in this cup is called ‘Ibumba’. This soil can be found in different parts of the country, but always in wetlands. This soil was collected in Nyanza, the District of Nyabisindu, Southern Province. Nyanza is the traditional seat of Rwanda’s monarchy and there is still an impressive royal palace there. Nyanza site will also become a museum for pre-colonial history.

“This soil is used by pygmies in making pots and vases. It is also used to make bricks. Ibumba is also used in healing some diseases like skin diseases, stomach ache and in the past pregnant women used to drink it in a glass of water, saying that the water that contained this soil cleans the unborn baby.”

The pygmy is considered one of the oldest races on earth. Another tribe, the Intore, once the elite of the traditional Tutsi army, were trained as military and in high jump and dance. They were known for their remarkable technique allowing them to jump more than seven feet. The Intore became famous worldwide in 1958 when the World Expo was held in Brussels. Today Intore dancers are part of the rich Rwandan folklore.

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President Paul Kagame’s aunt was formerly Rwanda’s Queen Rosalie. Queen Rosalie was the wife of King Mutara Rudahigwa who died in 1959, just before the revolution that overthrew aristocratic Tutsi rule. In 1931 Mwami Musinga was deposed by the Belgians and replaced, not by his heredity successor and according to the Rwandan custom of abiru, but by colonial administrative selection, with support from the church rather than the chiefs and their aristocracy. A core motivation behind the colonists’ decision was the slow rate of conversion to Catholicism among Tutsis, which was occurring under Musinga. The new king, Mutara Rudahigwa, was much more pro-conversion and it was during his reign that the majority of Rwandans became Catholics.

At 80 years old, Rosalie lived a quiet life as a devout Catholic sharing her home with her bedridden mother and several women and girls who cared for them both. Because she avoided any involvement in politics and behaved with dignity, even the most anti-Tutsi politicians had left her largely undisturbed throughout the 30 years of Hutu rule. When the killing began, she trusted that Prefect Habyalimana would look out for her. As his power waned, she began to receive threatening telephone calls. She called on Burgomaster Habyalimnana for protection, but he replied that he could do nothing for her. Soldiers passed through the wooded enclosure that protected the house from the main street, entered the little house with its air of faded respectability, seized the former queen and six others and shot them behind the national museum. Two days later, they killed her mother. She was buried in the yard next to her house.


Queen Rosalie and King Mutara Rudahigwa

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The soil of Rwanda is a part of the template for soil the world over--agriculturally on its 1,000 hills; peopled by the densest population in Africa, one of the first places in Africa to mandate women legislators in Parliament; as a medium for pots, vases, bricks, and even as medicine. The soil sample from Queen Rosalie’s burial site is fittingly part of the small sample sent to Common Ground 191. We sincerely thank Amani Athar for his support. Two words for peace are "Ama Horo" and "La Paix."

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