New book sheds light on Nyiragitwa, a powerful woman in Rwandan history | thenewtimes

RWANDAN AUTHOR and tourism researcher, Jerome Irankunda together with oral historian, Dr Erin Jesse, have released a book called “Nyiragitwa: The Daughter of Sacyega” which highlights the story of a woman named Nyiragitwa who allegedly lived in 19th Century and offers proactive insights on what life for semi-elite Rwandan women might have been like during the period and their potential ability to become independently wealthy and exercise significant political power in their communities.

The book which is based on a story inherited by a Rwandan named Ndamyumugabe was published as a graphic novel after Irankunda and Dr. Jesse translated it from French to Kinyarwanda and English and worked with Christian Mugarura who illustrated it.

“We gave him feedback regarding making the images as culturally and historically appropriate as possible and providing the archival photographs and oral materials that were available to us,” narrates Irankunda.

According to him, in 1958, Ndamyumugabe recounted the story to a Belgian called Jan Vansina and an unnamed Rwandan research assistant and the recording was then carefully transcribed by their research assistant into Kinyarwanda and translated into French.

The written transcript was then unearthed by historian Sarah Watkins during archival research on Rwandan Queen Mothers in 2010, and was later shared with Dr. Jessee to facilitate her royal society of Edinburgh-funded research project on Rwanda intimacies in historical perspective, a project which was supported by Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy (RCHA).

Irankunda said that the whole process has altered Ndamyumugabe’s original words in various ways, but has preserved his original meaning as much as possible, adding that the story’s historical accuracy is limited by relative lack of photographs and other visual aids related to the time period in which Nyiragitwa allegedly lived – during the reign of 17th century king, Cyirima Rujugira.

He declared that Nyiragitwa is one of several Rwandans who have emerged from the oral traditions documented by Vansina from 1958 to 1960 – a time of violent transformation in Rwanda that immediately preceded the nation’s independence in 1962.

“We have chosen to amplify the story of Nyiragitwa not because we see her as an exceptional woman in Rwandan history but rather because she is an exemplary of many Rwandan women who exercised significant authority in their communities,” he said.

“Since she has been largely overlooked by historians who specialize in Rwandan history, we hope this graphic novel can serve as a starting point for writing about women back into the early history of Rwanda.”

Cover page of the book.

The lecturer at the University of Tourism and Business (UTB) also revealed that they have chosen to release the book in the form of a graphic novel because many people including himself no longer have much time to read heavy books and yet they are still interested in reading and learning more about Rwandan history.

“Nyiragitwa: Daughter of Sacyega” was worked on from 1958 up to 2021 when it was published by Mudacumura Publishing house as a graphic novel. Irankunda, however, started working on it in 2016.

His greatest achievement reflects gaining more writing skills and knowledge about Rwanda and cultural practices which he said shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Our country is rich and needs more people to sit and put together all our cultural practices and make great cultural tourism products out of them. The countries that receive more tourists in the world are the ones who developed and promoted their cultural tourism,” he said.

His include challenges insufficient time to write as well as limited funds and people who are in positions to promote writing culture and cultural heritage and yet do not understand the richness that resides in them.

He calls for leaders to invest more in writing and promoting Rwandan history and cultural heritage with a purpose of developing new and many cultural tourism products.

His plans include producing many graphic novels and their animations to help the community, especially the younger generation, to learn more about their culture in an easy way.

“Nyiragitwa: Daughter of Sacyega” is part of an ongoing comic book exhibition that was organized by Wallonie-Bruxelles International (WBI), a Belgian public agency and taking place at Imbuga City Walk. It can be found at Amazon and different bookshops across Rwanda in English, Kinyarwanda and French.


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