I wanted to see the chimpanzees in Cyamudongo forest but my tourist permit couldn’t be processed in time due to connection hiccups. Technical hitches kept me out of the park but I didn’t leave the area without a story to tell friends I had left in the confinement of our local bar back in the city.
Cyamudongo is an isolated forest patch annexed to Nyungwe National Park. Several primates and bird species inhabit this small montane forest but the chimps seem to be its biggest drawcard.
I was unable to access the park but I had an opportunity to bond with members of the neighboring community. Until the early 1920s, present-day Nkungu Sector found in Rusizi District was part of the subkingdom of Bukunzi.
While in the area, I shared a drink with a seasoned veteran namely Frederick Gakwaya. Interacting with mzee Gakwaya gave me a broader understanding of the rise and fall of Bukunzi as a semi-autonomous monarchy. He is a former teacher and a retired grassroots level political leader.
I wanted to learn more about the life and fate of Queen Nyirandakunze but Gakwaya preferred to warm me up with the story of her less popular husband, King Ndagano Ruhagata.
During Ndagano’s reign, word on the street was that he could make it rain, literary. These rumors spread all over his territory and beyond. Even the supreme King Yuhi V Musinga, to whom Ndagano was reporting, used to send envoys seeking the latter’s intervention when droughts hit hard.
Many still believe that Ndagano could invoke rain through supernatural powers bestowed upon him but Gakwaya thinks Ndagano’s rise to fame as a rainmaker had something to do with his meteorological knowledge as opposed to any presumable phenomenon science cannot explain.
Bukunzi area had a thick rainforest cover. As a result, myths and legends associated with rain are common. Torrential downpours and other characteristic features of tropical forests are inevitably part of this community’s folklore.
Gakwaya’s take on the story of Ndagano the rainmaker reminded me of Christopher Columbus who used his prior knowledge of the 1504 lunar eclipse to extort supplies from indigenous Jamaicans. Having studied astronomical tables from Abraham Zacuto’s book, Columbus had information native Jamaicans didn’t have. He took advantage of his findings to create an impression that he had powers ordinary human beings don’t have.
According to several accounts of ancient world civilization, some Arabian kings believed King Solomon of Israel had the power to make monsoon winds push his ships towards their respective destinations. Solomon took advantage of their fallacious belief to instill fear into them. Similarly, if Gakwaya’s view holds water, most probably Ndagano used his weather forecast adeptness to his advantage.
Before I parted ways with Gakwaya, I listened to another episode of the story of Bukunzi featuring the controversial Queen Nyirandakunze. I will share it in a near future.
As we drove back to Karambo Peninsula through tea plantations, scattered settlements and the vibrant commercial streets of Kamembe, I contemplated different scenarios in history attesting to the claim that knowledge is power.