The plan was to visit Cyamudongo forest. Unfortunately, my tourist permit couldn’t be processed in time due to connection hiccups. Although technical hitches kept me out of the protected area, I didn’t leave the neighboring community without a few stories to tell you.
Cyamudongo is an isolated forest patch annexed to Nyungwe National Park. Several primates and bird species inhabit this small montane forest, but the chimpanzees seem to be its biggest draw card.
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 an elder statesman, namely Frederick Gakwaya. Interacting with mzee Gakwaya gave me a broader understanding of the rise and fall of Bukunzi as a semi-autonomous monarchy.
I was interested in the story of Queen Nyirandakunze, but Gakwaya preferred to warm me up with an anecdote of her less popular husband, King Ndagano Ruhagata. During Ndagano’s reign, the word on the street was that he could make it rain, literary. The 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 during prolonged droughts.
Many still believe that Ndagano could invoke rain through supernatural powers. Gakwaya has a different take. He 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 view 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 the 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.
Columbus took advantage of his hosts’ ignorance to instill fear into them. As a result, they submitted to his demands. Similarly, if Gakwaya’s perspective holds water, 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 Kingdom featuring the controversial Queen Nyirandakunze. One of these days, the said episode will be published right here.