Amazina Yacu… a.k.a. Nomenclature?!

Vividly remember this like it was yesterday, seated or rather resting on a bed in an apartment complex on the 3rd floor overlooking a clean street that led to UBahn 4 station in Vienna. It was approaching the end of our Study Abroad tour in Europe (Fall, 2013) as I got a time off to relax and reminisce thinking through what had been a delightful experience. I was t.h.a.n.k.f.u.l in every sense of the word! Something suddenly struck out tho, most of my travel experiences especially on border or airport check-in points, authorities had been quite unpalatable the least to say. I believe some of the Africans or perhaps Blacks have had similar or worse scenarios at border or airport check-in points in western countries than I’m about to elaborate henceforth.

Travelling in our group of 19 college students, and I being the only black and African student in the group always meant that at Airport check-ins, my passport and VISA had to be tripled checked with sensors while being evaluated by at least two security officials. In my opinion, this was all done just to make sure I was no illegal immigrant entering European territory or (on the bright side) perhaps most of these security officials had never heard about Rwanda and conceivably took this as an opportunity to ‘amazingly’ glance through this Rwanda-n passport with extra vigour and care. The first time this happened, we were all standing in a line of 19 at Heathrow Airport in London, I being the 6th in line, it so happened that all the American students who were ahead of me took approximately a minute or less each for checking their passports, kandi when it was my turn, it took between 4 – 7 mins perusing through my passport. Again, the rest of the American students behind me only took approximately a minute or less. Basically, my passport was some kinda bottleneck that somewhat slowed down (or actually increased) our total check-in time. This being the first time it happened, it never struck me at all, for all I thought this could have been anyone.

It wasn’t until it repeatedly happened at several airport check-ins in Vienna, Ostrava, and several occasions while using the euro trains in Paris, Frankfurt, Edinburgh etc. This struck me hard as I began realizing the perceptions of people (in this case in Europe) about Africans or Blacks in general; that they were some sorta illegal trespasser and therefore had to carefully be scrutinized never minding the fact that an American or white person could as well be an illegal trespasser. On the other side tho, perhaps most the Africans or Blacks they’ve encountered before have mostly been illegal trespassers and thus conclusively assuming that nearly most Blacks or Africans were some kinda illegal immigrant. the only recommendation for a person with the latter perception should be to watch this TED Talk “The Danger of a single sided story” – By Chimamanda.

For the most part, I had easily gotten accustomed to going by my first name ( English or religious name). It had always been easier especially for my American friends who always found it onerous to pronounce the last name. Just for anyone needing clarification on how naming is done in Africa; up until 1886 when the scramble and partition of Africa began; most of the Africans co-existed peacefully and all had both names (first and last) African; like Chinua Achebe (from Nigeria), Kahinda Otafiire(from Uganda), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (from Kenya) among many others. After the scramble, partition and invasion of Africa by the Europeans, missionaries and other religious invaders included, Africans had to be identified as either Catholic, Protestant or Muslim. This was accomplished by giving Africans a ‘religious name’, and this meant that people like Kahinda Otafiire turned into “Umar” Otafiire or “John” Otafiire depending on the religion they were induced into. With time, it became the norm for African parents to always give foreign names as it had become the common thing. Anyone born had to be given a foreign name or religious name so as to be identified as Christian or otherwise, neverminding the fact that no-where in the bible one has to have a religious name to ‘qualify’ as a Christian. Besides there were African names like Dufitimana that very well depict one as a believer in God. Only a few ‘rebellious’ parents who stood their grounds still named their children both names African. The Likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria), Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (Uganda), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), etc.

As all these thoughts and memories ran through the little mazzard, standing right next to the window still gazing through its glass on a chill evening day. it just then dawned on me that it had been a while since i had spoken to my dad, goodthing was the time difference between Vienna and Kampala was just an hour. Right then i made the call and while catching up about how the tour was going so far, I got to ask my dad few questions that had initially baffled my mind. I explained to him how I got to the conclusion that it’s better for Africans to have both names purely Africans because it clearly identifies who they are and also is a basic way of reclaiming our identity and preserving our culture. Awaiting his point of view, i inquired how and why they came to give us the names we had; ‘Robert’ Rugamba for example. At this point, he told a story that i knew nothing about. He said, “… when you were born, we named you Mihigo Rugamba. However, your mum wanted you to have a religious name as well, so we agreed to drop off Mihigo, hence naming you Robert Rugamba.” At this moment, I was both happy and sad, happy because my original names were all African, but sad that i nolonger used them not even on my kindergarten report cards.

During the European study abroad, I had already began going by the last name because it identified me more as an African and particularly a Rwanda-n. While still on the call, I kinda went hyper immediately telling my Dad how I strongly considered having my names changed back to the original Mihigo Rugamba. He, however, cautioned me on the legal ramifications and how long of a process it would be. By then I was still in Vienna travelling on VISAs and a passport with the old names. It was wise to not consider changing names right there and then. I took his advice and didn’t rush my idea of a name change.

Recently while reading a couple blogs, I stumbled on one that exactly had this same idea of strongly reclaiming African identity through names, title “Reclaiming our identities through names: from Inès to Amata” – by Amata. it was a great read. Also, just a few days letter while scrolling through my feed on twitter, read this tweet;

The only question left is how does one get in touch with these group of young pan-Africanists, and encourage them to keep that same direction right. good stuff! Knowing who Muhammed Ali was, very much considered the G.O.A.T >> Greatest Of All Time. Later after becoming a renowned boxer and moving around the world, especially during the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he found it in himself to know his roots. After a deep insightful search, he saw it wise and changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. to Muhammed Ali. It must have taken alot of knowledge, courage to understand and change (respectively) his names. I believe this is something most of us need to understand, that names have great value and indeed carry our identity, culture and heritage.

Being a Rwandan who spent most of my childhood in Uganda meant that I grew up in a culture very different from a Rwandan one. Everything from the kindergarten, high school education, and most memories were all in Uganda, at most times, Rwanda felt so distant and the only thing that I had left that could never change was my last name – Rugamba. it always reconnected and reminded me of my Rwandan heritage. Growing up I didn’t even speak Kinyarwanda, and as I continue to learn it, I believe its the name that kept me tied to my roots as a Rwanda-n, and continues to impel me into learning more about my cultural heritage. if it wasn’t for this name I would’ve easily lost my Rwandan heritage and soon origins too.
A quick throwback to the movie Roots where Kunta Kinte was forced to change and drop his original African names. The Masters knew very well that changing their names, besides making it easier for them to pronounce, also meant the slaves lost their heritage and culture thus had no sense of identity, which made it easy for them to be ruled. its very easy to manipulate someone who has no sense of identity, heritage or roots.

My plea is for Rwanda-ns (and Africans) to embrace our identity – have Agaciro, understand the value of History and the value attached to names, or naming a.k.a ‘nomenclature’. I hope this young group of pan-Africanists achieves the dream of having all new-born children with Names all Rwanda-n. One Step Towards an Africa reclaiming its True Identity.



History & Writing Salience Intertwined???

I recently got a great opportunity to participate in our school’s study abroad program. Our school, Oklahoma Christian University has this study abroad program for students interested in learning and expanding their worlds by taking a full semester off to study abroad in Europe, instead of doing the same classes on the school’s campus in Edmond Oklahoma. The program itself has some requirements or limitations that make some students unable to go for this amazing study experience. However, those who get the opportunity to participate in this program ultimately have a great and unforgettable experience.

One of the major or required classes for anyone to participate in this program is taking a Western Civilization class. In this course, you study and learn European history from almost the ‘beginning of time’ tackling history of the ancient romans and greeks, and how civilization and enlightenment all came into man’s life and way of thinking. The only and MOST important difference while taking this class is that you get to ACTUALLY visit the sites or places built in those very old centuries. The ability to see these places first hand while studying them as well, makes this entire experience abroad worthwhile. its worthy anything.
From seeing the Colosseum in Rome which is a Flavian amphitheater built by the Romans in 70AD, to the Edinburgh castle built by the Scottish in the early 12th century, and the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna built in the 17th century for the Habsburgs, among many other sites, one is left in absolute awe

As a matter of fact, visiting all these old sites most of which were built in centuries ago, was in every-way an awesome experience. Learning new things has always been a fascinating experience for many, and this was no exception. Day by day, site after site, i quickly released that i didn’t know a thing about History, especially that deep european history, never minding the fact that i majored in completely different field of study and was never a fun of history since high-school days. The more sites and museums we visited, the more i realized the deep hole/gap in my knowledge about the history of the world in general. This experience was redefining my view of what the word ‘history’ really meant. For so long i had taken the word history as a literal subject or course one had to take during their high-school/college semesters and it was now occurring to me that this word History had way more significance than i’ve ever thought. This eventually led to a sudden or abrupt lust for knowledge, and the zeal to know simply know more about history. I remember in my entire college time, research ‘wasn’t my thing’ i used to say. but this time round I was more than ready and excited to do more research about history itself and that of the world. how i landed on this great TED Talk entitled “History of the world in 18 minutes” by an Australian Professor named David Christian, have no idea. i learnt few things from the talk even though non of my deep answers i was searching for ever got completely answered.

I came to terms as i quickly realized learning history of the world wasn’t going to be an easy task, but rather it even made more sense to begin doing research about my country’s history in the first place, and may be later add Africa, Europe, Asia & the world in general. Honestly during that time studying abroad, i only knew Rwandan History to as far as 1950s, in fact late 50s. Interesting! Here i was learning lots about european history which in fact was GREAT, but again i didn’t know our own history well or deep enough , and that by itself brought a lot of good questions into my little and yet expanding brain. For example i imagined during the construction of the great Colosseum, what was really going on in Rwanda, or Africa in general during that same time. This was a real wake up call and since then has led to an adventure into first, Rwanda’s History that dates way back in the old centuries. Hoping to find great sources that will be useful in connecting all the dots for this seemingly giant puzzle thats almost impossible to solve.

But even before digging any deeper into this history, whats so important about “History” anyway? why ‘waste’ time trying to learn things of the past? As a matter fact i used to ask myself these questions even when i was young and having seen a few of the history documentaries and continued to wonder how people could find ‘things of the past’ or ‘history’ interesting. Before going for this study abroad, it never crossed my mind that i would find answers to all the above questions. Surprisingly i got way many more answers than anticipated. the zeal for history exponentially grew overnight. The ONLY reason for this exponential zeal was because i had seen the purpose or SIGNIFICANCE of history in most if not all the cities we had visited. I realized one of the most important marks that made these great cities and their people unique was only because of their history. Examples include the great Vienna City, London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Edinburgh… among others. All these cities have a lot of tourists around hundreds of millions every year who enjoy visiting and most importantly LEARNING about the history of these great nations.

The Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London all in London. The Colosseum, a Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, and the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. These three sites all have great historical significance in their respective countries. In fact most people or tourists visit London, Rome or Vienna for purposes of visiting such sites, and many more others. These historical sites define or make what these cities are, nothing else. As a matter fact, during the 2nd World War, Hitler attack on Britain and his victory was measured by how much he was able to destroy all those cities that had historical heritages. The point i’m driving to here, is that a great city, capital or nation is defined by its history and more importantly preserving that historical heritage – thats what makes a city GREAT and eventually a GREAT NATION. Ever wondered why America is a great nation, well, Americans always and will probably forever refer to their ‘founding fathers’ & the constitution drafted in the mid 1770’s. the celebrations for every 4th of July in america have everything to do with america being a great country and that ability to preserve her history is all that makes a difference.

I know for sure schools do teach Rwandan History, and many students pursue degrees in history at different institutions in Rwanda. But how much of our history still lives on with us? how do we value that cultural heritage or history that still lives on . I know most Rwandans in the diaspora (.. i included) define their history to as far as the first genocide in the late 1950s. We’ve kinda of believed (or at least for me) that all there is to our history is the genocide. Or to phrase this another way, most or some of us the current youth have defined our history to as far as we know the genocide. And not to get me wrong, i do believe that genocide is an important part of our history. In fact i strongly believe that we keep remembering what happened in 1994 so that it never EVER happens again.
But again, genocide is not all there is to our rich cultural history, is it? everyone knows or atleast believes that our ancestors had a way of living, they lived with certain norms and enjoying life in different ways. And that way of life that happened way before the genocide, way before the colonialists came, way before then is the life that truly gives significance to us as Rwandans. I strongly believe for our Rwanda to be a country unique and with ‘AGACIRO’ its very important that we get to know the our history because then our roots are firmly ground and therefore ‘amajyambere’, ‘agaciro’ and self reliance will almost be inevitable.

As you travel from the Kiyovu roundabout to Gishushu in Kigali, a building well erected but with lots of holes grabs your attention along the way. This building which was a heven for the RPF soldiers then protecting many Rwandans during the 1994 genocide, has a bunch of bullets holes that even up to now have been kept that way. this is the parliament building of Rwanda. And their everyday when the MPs and senators come for their sessions, always see these marks that vividly define a brief history of our country. The history embedded in those walls with bullet holes tells alot about our history, and i greatly admire that fact that the building has been left that way, acting as a vivid historical site and as well a parliament building for the different representatives. Thats one piece of history still living on with us, and it has all the significance there could ever be.

More places like these should be preserved for later generations, and more importantly for our children to learn about them and how important they are to our country’s Agaciro.

As one digs deeper into history, one quickly realizes that much as Europe, America, and Asia has most of its history preserved; Africa on the other hand has not alot of history preserved. Obvious question is why, why Africa doesn’t have most of its history preserved? having asked my self this question several times, i came to a one of possibly many conclusions; that one of the reasons Africa never got to preserve its history was mainly because few people could actually read and write. This made it difficult to preserve the history of centuries ago. Much as a few of the Africans told stories and myths that carried on history to the young generations. it was one way of keeping history alive, even though not as effective as the other ways of keeping & preserving history.

I believe one of the most important ways of keeping history has been through writing. A lot of african or Rwandan history missing today is more than probably because of the limited Rwandan/African writers who could have preserved this history through writings. Its not surprising to see that most of the African books that contain her history one come across have mostly been written by foreign authors. As in the foreign authors literally telling our history is good & kinda weird at the same time in my opinion. you would think it would be better if we had more Africans writing about their history than foreigners writing about our own history. Point is, we ought have more Africans writing and most importantly about their history, though not only limited to history, but also ought to have more writings in fiction, autobiographies, non-fiction, self-help and all other kinds of books
Having come to a conclusion that our own history wasn’t really preserved because most people never used to write a lot, and even when you closely look today, not that many africans have gotten into writing as in the west or europe in general. I had a chance visit some pretty big libraries and international booksellers but hardly found any books written by African Authors. Yes i did find quite a number of books about Africa in general yet most of these were authored by Foreigners. Not to disparage the great work of African authors like Chimamanda, Achebe or Ngugi Wa Thiong’o among many other great writers. We need more of these writers today than ever. Point is, the more writers we have, we get to write our own stories,we get to preserve own history that will be carried on for generations to come.And for one to be a great writer, one has to read ALOT, very enthusiastically. Most of the great authors are or have been the best readers out there.

We no longer can’t afford to let others tell our own history while we seat there and enjoy reading books & watch documentaries about our history written & filmed by foreigners. Not to get me wrong, these foreigners have done a great job in writing, preserving and telling our History, as a matter of fact most of the books about african history that ive been able to read have been written by foreign authors. But i think its about time we got more & more Africans to see the need for writing and its purpose in preserving history. I hope to one day see & read a great book about Native Indian history or life written/co-authored by an African writer. To imagine where Africans not only write about their history but also help telling or writing history for other places other than their homes. Also not only to write about history but also have ‘futuristic’ authors.

writing-history-is-important-original Continue reading “History & Writing Salience Intertwined???”

why a ‘Reading’ culture ??

i just got off reading an article in the NewTimes-Rwanda, a national newspaper best-seller in Rwanda and the author of this article happens to be a teacher who is writing & trying to inspire the culture of reading in schools mostly among his students. There is no doubt our schools (elementary, primary, secondary..etc) need to inspire more students to engage in more reading. Not necessary as an obligation or something done to make them get better grades at english or related subject material, but instead model or develop it as a lifestyle for them.

In every single aspect, without doubt i personally verify his plea and that need to inspire students to read more. But i would also to like a give a broader overview in my own opinion. The purpose of reading should be larger than school. This is mostly important for the instructors who intend to inspire their students to do more reading. For a student, it should be about learning new course material and maintaining a deeper curiosity on specific subject matter. This should be coupled with enough reason and purpose on why this subject matter is important and how impactful & useful it is to the community and humanity in general. With a clear reason on why a student is reading, there is absolutely no limit to what or how much he/she can read. This will create enough self-drive needed to drive deeper and read more with passion, fun and more importantly with a purpose. To such a student, reading wont be a task done for the sake of pleasing teachers or getting better grades, it will be more than that, which is what the reading culture should be like for anyone who reads.

With that in mind, and viewing this with a broader perspective, every single career path or kind of work has a lot of material or knowledge one can read to broaden their perspective. There is absolutely no problem with having more knowledge about a specific field of interest, its in fact very much involving and fun to learn more about subjects of interests, and not necessary your career interests, but also interests in life generally.

Why is it that some people read & enjoy it a lot more than others? 1. is it because they have found their passion and thus want to read more and enrich everything within them to understand and learn about that specific interest? or 2. is it rather those who don’t read a lot haven’t found a passion about their lives that compels them to go deeper and read more about it. Neither of the two responses answer the former question. Some still would argue different people have different hobbies, and therefore reading is a hobby for some while its not for others. Thats an excuse many give for not reading… “its not just my hobby.” Should reading even be considered as a hobby? Isn’t ‘working out’ sometimes considered as a hobby by some while others think its not their hobby and therefore no need to do it as much as others, yet we all know how physically important it is to human health and wellbeing. Thing is, its easy to identify physical deformation by simply looking at someone who doesn’t work out, yet if the same analogy were to be applied to the mind & reading, it would be quickly & easily visible how mentally deformed one’s mind is when they do less reading.

The culture of reading should very much be fully ingrained in everyone’s lifestyle. Just as living healthy or working out, eating everyday…etc, ‘reading’ should be added onto that list of things that one can or should not be able to live without.

When it comes reading, their definitely is a wide range of materials & books one can read. from fiction, non-fiction, academic journals, autobiographies, biographies, and many more. This many variety should help one find any category or genre of interest to kick-off an adventurous culture of reading that ultimately gives you the capability to lure inside the minds of brilliant authors. One of my favorite imaginary quotes (don’t remember exact book i read it from) suggests that… “for example reading ABBOT was the only way one could get a chance to interact with brilliant minds of 17th & 18th century scientists” through reading their material. That in itself is great thing, if you think about person living in the present and ‘mind-ly’ interacting with Albert Einstein through reading his material, its absolutely great.

There is a lot more to why a reading culture is very much necessary for anyone who can atleast read & write, but will keep it at that for now…

till next time… GO GET THAT BOOK, and START READING something!

reading culture