I guess I’ll never touch any topic that I hardly know anything about. This is because someone asked me to narrate more of the legends about Ruganzu in the mistaken belief that I knew something beyond the little that I said on that early 17th century monarch. Of course I don’t. I only pick bits from the stories that we used to listen to as children.
A pity, when you come to think of it, because our children today will never have that chance. With their attention consumed by stories from other cultures on the internet, they have neither the time nor the interest to listen to stories of their land. These legends and other stories risk being consigned to the undesired dustbin of history in the not-so-distant future.
Yet, considering that my correspondent is not Rwandan and that his thirtieth birthday is not yet within his finger-tip reach, the request I received teased my mind. What in this abused country’s history could be so interesting to this young gentleman? Whatever, it points to something to consider seriously.
That, despite the fact of their being near-incredible, these legends should be studied and marked for the interest of Rwandans and the wider, global public. I think our tourism agency wouldn’t be doing themselves any bad getting another curiosity to add to my cousins up in the misty bamboo woods – you guessed right! – the gorillas.
Yet again, it is interesting that even I saw evidence of Ruganzu’s legends for the first time in – not Rwanda but – Uganda. If you’ve read my outrageous reflections more than once, you’ll remember the place of my torment called Ngarama, where we used to work for food. Ngarama is on a hill above Nshungerezi Valley, in which our refugee camp nestled.
On a hard rock atop Ngarama hill are neatly inscribed footprints of a dog. Those footprints, as legend has it, were left there by one of Ruganzu’s dogs.
Wherever Ruganzu rested during his many expansion expeditions, he left a mark. Which makes them many marks, because Ruganzu led expeditions in practically the whole of central and eastern Africa. Remember that after his father’s death and the degeneration of Rwanda into factions, he expanded the country to a point where it covered wide swathes of north-eastern Tanzania, southern Uganda and eastern D.R. Congo. So, these signs are scattered in many places.
And they are there to-date because all of them were made on rocks that have survived through the ravages of climatic assault. Within Rwandan borders, today, they are more than outside and, therefore, the more reason to preserve some of them.
In one legend, for example, it is recounted that while returning from one of his expeditions from the north, he camped over in the residence of one of his chiefs in Gakenke (in today’s Gakenke District) for the night. The chief was happy and he organised a reception of kingly proportions for His Majesty and his nights, the fearsome Ibisumizi.
It is said that during the partying, the chief made it known that in the area there ‘lived’ a humongous rock that was restless at night and liked to ‘sleep on its feet’. Moreover, emphasised the chief, during its movements, the rock destroyed everything in its path. In effect, the chief was pleading with his guests not to venture abroad at night.
However, Ruganzu, being a man of singular courage, took that as a challenge instead. After all, he was a light sleeper and what better distraction from idle hours of no sleep than wrestling a foolish stone that thought it could face the most fearless warrior of the region!
When everybody was in slumber-land, he went out to lay strategies for the next day, unbothered about the rock. No sooner had he stepped out, however, than the stone started to rumble towards him. Ruganzu, unmoved, stood his ground and the rock noticed this and hesitated.
And when it hesitated, Ruganzu patted it on the ‘head’ and thanked it for being wise! He asked it to continue behaving itself and to protect his subjects, not to destroy them. The rock has not disobeyed him since.
Today, it is known as ‘Ibuye rya Bagege’ that was tamed by Ruganzu.
Not far from ‘Ibuye rya Bagege’ was another sign left by Ruganzu called ‘Ikirenge cya Ruganzu’. This was in Tare (in today’s Rulindo District). The sign this time was his footprint, evidence that it carried a more important message. The message being that it marked the spot where Ruganzu established the nucleus of Rwanda as a kingdom. That’s where he unveiled his symbol of authority, Kalinga.
Unfortunately, that rock bearing Ruganzu’s sign of the establishment of a new symbol of authority was removed when the Chinese were covering the Kigali-Ruhengeri road with tarmac.
Some people connect the removal of that sign with the death of eight of their compatriots during road-construction in Rwanda. A sorry twist to the story of the Ruganzu legends of Rwanda but no reason not to keep it as a memorial mark.
I can’t swear on the veracity of these legends but, true or false, they speak to a rich past that cries out for preservation.