Banyarwanda / Bafumbira Culture


The Banyarwanda / Bafumbira are found majorly in the Ankole Kigezi region and they have since spread to various parts of Uganda. These people have the same traditions with the Banyarwanda of Rwanda. The Bafumbira thrive in Kisoro at the south western tip of Uganda boarding the Virunga massif where the three volcanic peaks of Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabyinyo tower in Uganda. The Bufumbira region where the Bafumbira are currently thriving was part of Rwanda until the boundaries were adjusted in 1910. They have the mixture of the Batutsi, Bahutu and the Batwa.

Left to Right: A Mututsi, President Kagame, a Hutu and A Batwa Pygmie

The origins of the Batwa are not traced from anywhere else are believed to be the earliest of East Africa along with the Bambuti of Mount Rwenzori and the Kenya’s Ndorobo. Whereas the Bahutu belong to the Bantu group and are believed to have originated from Central African region around 1000 AD and are said to have entered Rwanda from the North East. The Batutsi origin is a bit mystical but they are generally believe to belonging to Hamitic group that originated from North East Africa.

Regarding Social set up, the Batwa were inferior people and their culture was little understood. The people could not tell a grave of a Mutwa nor were they known about where and when they conducted their marriage ceremonies. The y begged a lot from the Batutsi and the Bahutu which increased their inferiority outlook from the other side. The Batwa that thrived around Echuya forests were experts in using bows and arrows. They gathered food and hunted. They were also re-known for consuming a lot of mutton.

The Bahutu and Batutsi Cultures were a bit more related and like the good counts of the Bahuutu, the Batutsi did not eat chicken and sheep. The Batutsi women were also not supposed to consume gats meat.

Regarding Marriage, these three sub groups rarely inter-married each other. The marriage with the relatives among the Bahutu and the Batusti were prevented and it was abominable to the society and would cause misfortunes to the off springs. The boys among the Batutsi were required to marry even before when they were ready for it. The females / girls were under the close supervision of their mothers and relatives including their relatives. The concept of Virginity was highly valued and premarital pregnancies were heavily condemned. The girl would be thrown to the forest and left to the mercy of wild animals if she got pregnant.

In a formal traditional setting, the marriage of the children was arranged by the parents. There were other informal practices like Gatirura or Gafuta which was an acceptable forced marriage were the boy would carry the girl to his home by force and eventually she becomes his wife. The Bahuutu had what they called ukwijana where the girl would sneak and run to the boy’s home for marriage and this tended to occur when there were cases of premarital pregnancies. Both practices of Ukwijana and Gafuta were socially accepted but not worth significant recognition.

hutu people

The bride wealth would be paid and it appeared in form of cows and goats and if the girl was forced into marriage, high bride wealth would be charged and when the girl went to the girl’s, the amount of bride wealth would depend on how the girl went there. If she us the one who resolved to go there by herself, the bride wealth amount would be little but it the by wooed her then the amount would be high. The wedding arrangements would be done and the wedding day, the local sorghum and banana beer would be served. The celebrations for the wedding would be done at night and went on till dawn. The traditional dances would be performed on the wedding days, the women would be ululating while the men recited and sang historical events. They used to dance in pairs while men would also do some jumping and the entire group would be doing some clapping. The musical instruments that were played included harps and drums. The harp was played to the maximum buy the Batwa while the Bahuutu played Zither. The Batutsi girls would sing and dance in pairs of more than ten (10) people named Intore. The practice of Polygamy was traditionally acceptable and not only did it increase the family size but also elevated the man’s status on the society. Divorce would occur and would be caused by ill-treatment, gluttony, adultery, inability to provide sex among other unbearable circumstances.

Regarding the economy, the Batwa had a simple economy which depended on gathering and hunting. They had no great attachment to land as they never practiced crop cultivation. The Batwa would get beer and grains from the Bahutu and Batusti in exchange of wild animals’ trophies, skins, arrows and bows. Some of the Batwa would live by begging; they had simple huts just like the Bambtuti and used to put on simple skins to cover their private parts. They were perfect at basketry and pottery. About the Bahuutu and Batusti, owning a Mutwa was a sign of security and wealth.

The economy of the Batusti was centered on the cattle and they kept long horned cows locally known as Inyambo. They were much respected as they had large herds of cattle. The land belonged to the King and as such, people utilized it communally. Every person could utilize the land that is within the reach of his home.

hutu cattlei

The Bahuutu were cultivators and the main crops included peas, Sorghum and beans. And there were also good brewers and beer would be brewed from Sorghum and this local brew carried a lot of names including Umuramba, Nyirakabisi, Amarwa and Wutunda. If it was mixed up with honey, it would be referred to as Inturire and this was a local brew for the Chiefs and elders. It was abominable for women to booze in public. The elders used to smoke pipes that contained local tobacco. The Batwa would smoke Opium on top of Tobbacco.

The Batutsi and the Bahuutu had home steads and lived in round grass thatched huts smeared with white sand and unlike the Batwa, the responsibility of constructing houses were left to men. The single clans tended to live together and the families were extended.

Regarding sports, the Bafumbira preferred a lot of hunting and while hunting, the dogs were used with a bell that was tied around their necks, spears, hunting nets, bows, clubs and arrows. The Batusti preferred mweso board game and wrestling. Regarding the body adornment, the Bahuutu used small iron knives on their faces and was always considered as sign of treating headache. The Batutsi had one small mark on their faces while the Batwa went ahead to decorate their arms. The women had bangles and Necklaces.

Regarding the religion, the Batutsi and the Bahuutu believed in a supreme being called the Imana or Rurema and was believed to the creator of all things on earth and heaven and was believed to have mediums called Nyabingi or Lyangombe Biheko. The sacrifice would be offered to Nyabingi and Biheko and every family had a traditional shrine called Indaro and was considered a sacred place. The head of the family offered offer sorghum, beer and bread to the gods depending on the circumstances and when he passed on, the first son would take up the role.

Regarding the burial, the Batutsi and the Bahuutu would bury their dead and for any person above 18 years of age, four days of Mourning would be dedicated with no digging or any other manual labor. At the dawn of the fourth day, the special ceremony known as Guta igiti literally throwing off the ash was carried out by a skilled medicine man and the heir to the deceased was installed if necessary. In case the dead person was a bit old with daughters in law, the eldest son’s wife would dress the corpse and would be given one of the gardens of the deceased because of this task.

banyarwanda genocide memory

Regarding the house hold items the traditional utensils among the Banyarwanda included winnowing trays, baskets, grinding stones, pottery products wooden stools, knives, spears, mortars arrows and bows, calabashes and gourds. These were common among the Bahuutu homesteads. The Batutsi additionally added the inkongoro – the milk pots, thee ibisabo – the churning gourds among other cattle related items.

Regarding political arrangement, the Banyarwanda had a traditional Monarchy and the Royal lineage ruled over their fellow Batutsi, the Bahutu and the Batwa. The leadership was monarchical thus hereditary. The King was locally referred to as Umwami and was assisted by the land Chief locally known as Umunyabutaka and the grass or cattle Chief locally referred to as Umunyamukenke. The land Chief was helped upon by the sub chiefs Ibisonga and the Abakoresha. The King had an army comprising of all groups of the Batutsi, Bahutu and the Batwa.

Regarding the Judicial system, the Banyarwanda detested thieves and one would be beaten or speared to death once caught. The woman, who poisoned a person and is known, could be given poison too. Though male fighting was at times considered normal, the female fighting was heavily decried. The civil cases would be settled by elders and family heads. When the couple fought, the elders would intervene and if the man was found responsible, he would be fined a goat and a pot of beer to the woman’s family and then get back his wife but when the woman was found responsible, she would be disciplined verbally and no fine would be imposed.