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.