Being brave is feminine

When the Belgian colonizers strengthened their political hold on Burundi by limiting the powers of its monarch, it was not the men who revolted… They preferred to remain silent and carry out the orders of the occupier. On the contrary, in 1934 it was a Hutu woman who started a popular uprising in Ndora, in the northwest of the country. Known by the pseudonym Inamujandi, but also by many other nicknames such as Ruhigi, Inamana and Rudahindahetwa, as we can read on a digitized document in the Belgian archives entrusted to us by Christine Deslaurier, this woman launched a spectacular and impressive uprising in September 1934.

Charismatic, glorified and even deified by the locals, but considered a “witch” by the colonizers, the nickname Inamujandi, whose real name is Ndarunogeye, led a revolt against the colonial authorities and their Burundian associates for several weeks. She ordered her supporters to set fire to the rugo (traditional residences of Burundi) of several Batare princes (a branch of the royal family) who led entities in the chiefdoms (tribes/areas with a leader) of Baranyanka, on the territory of Ngozi, Muhitira and Bacinoni, located in the chiefdom of Usumbura. According to the judicial documentation available in the Belgian archives, between September and November 1934, about 400 huts were burned by inciting mobs under her command or those of her close associates. The rebels are also said to have looted cattle from the princes and local residents who were victims of reprisals for their support of the former. During the arrest, more than 70 cows and about 100 small cattle were seized from a home on Rukore Hill. As a great strategist, she also ordered the destruction of the bridges on the road between Irabiro and Ndora in order to stop or at least slow down the movement of law enforcement officers of the Belgian government. Four of them were found damaged and unusable on 28 September 1934.

Finally arrested with some of her supporters and advisers and tried on November 5, 1934 in the court of Gitega, the capital of the colonial administration, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. From 1934 to 1946, she spent all the years of the Second World War behind bars. While the rest of the world was plunged into the abyss after the murderous delirium imposed on it by Hitler and the Nazis, Inamujandi instituted disciplinary punishments. In January 1935, when Hitler decided to rearm Germany in preparation for war, Ndaronogeye spent 10 days in prison for refusing to work and disobeying prison rules. A few years later, on February 9 1939, when the world was inexorably heading for war, Inamujandi slept in the dungeon again for two nights because she had smoked tobacco, and in February 1942 she returned there for another two nights because she was in possession of prohibited items during detention. By this time, Europe was occupied and despair brought down the old continent, where death lurked everywhere, but there were also voices of resistance, such as that of Nehru, who declared that India would never agree to reunite under German or Japanese sovereignty. Was Inamujandi very agitated and did she want to support the Belgians like Nehru despite everything in Burundi? In any case, some believe that the objects with which she was found were protections from spirits of death.

Twelve years after her conviction and several denials, Inamujandi was released on parole in January 1946, which is reflected in the records. She was released but under house arrest. In the letter of favorable opinion from the Resident of Urundi, the latter wrote: “For reasons of political expediency, I was of the opinion that this place [of supervised residence] should be in Busoni, Ntidendereza chiefdom, Muhinga territory, land of Batutsi opponents of the theories professed by Mujande”. A month later, the same resident Schmidt explained to the governor that “the Mujande woman is old and outdated and it will be absolutely impossible for her to support herself, either through cultivation or by any other means,” and he asked to have a budget line for her maintenance once she arrived in the chiefdom where she would be exiled. This was far from where she had led her rebellion, but was also led by a prince from the Batare line, also the son of Chief Baranyanka whom she had challenged. While waiting to find a solution to her livelihood at Busoni’s headquarters, the governor recommended that she be kept in prison for a while longer, and on February 13, 1946, Resident Schmidt sent an instruction to the prison warden requesting that “to continue.” to do so. “Give her shelter and food” in Kitega prison. So the house of detention seems to have been temporarily turned into a hotel for Inamujandi, which, we think, was burning with a desire for freedom!

Inamujandi was eventually exiled to Busoni. But despite her age, the fire of freedom did not let her go, it consumed her without ceasing. This is why the brave Ndaronogeye-Rudahindahetwa-Ruhigi-Inamana, after three years under surveillance, managed to defeat the authorities by escaping from the chiefdom of Mutare Ntidendereza and disappeared from the colonial radars forever. The archives are silent a priori, unless there is a future discovery, about what would follow in her life. We only know that the colonial authorities sought her in vain and we hope that in her new clandestine life she was able to experience the independence of Burundi, the one who had fought so hard for Burundi’s freedom and for all men.

On the other hand, 60 years after the Inamujandi uprising, another Burundian woman has turned up in Ruyigi, this time in the east of the country. By a singular act of bravery, as she is what matters now, Marguerite Barankitse fought a culture of death that had invaded an entire people and opposed Hutu and Tutsi in a terrible competition to destroy each other. “Maggy,” as we call her, gave us another beautiful lesson in female courage by facing the fear of war in 1993. This brave Tutsi woman, without any concession, defended many Hutu children who entrenched themselves with their parents in the land Diocese of Ruyigi, like a lioness in the midst of her cubs. Parents were unlucky in the face of young Tutsis who were intoxicated with hatred and revenge on poor, innocent Hutus. And the only courage of Ruyigi’s men was to watch from their window the face-to-face encounter between Maggy and a group of enraged young people who had only one desire, which was to destroy the children, just because they were Hutu. These young people screamed for revenge after Hutu villagers in the Ruyigi hills massacred their Tutsi neighbors following the news of the coup against the first democratically elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, and his assassination. Maggy ran into them and withdrew them, so a few children were saved. And this while pot-bellied men with thick buttocks hid in their house like dogs with their tails between their paws. Maggy later became the mother of thousands of war orphans to whom she returned the meaning and joy of life.

This humanitarian revolutionary who still resists a criminal society today was imitated. In the history of Burundi, in addition to Inamujandi that we have talked about, illustrious women have fought for freedom and a just society. Queen Ririkumutima is one of them. She is one of those women who cross our history in their role and resistance. Long before our illustrious heroines, this power woman kept traditional power intact with a tenacity that many stories describe as cunning. She was regent of the Kingdom of Burundi in the period following the death of her husband the mwami (king) Mwezi Gisabo, with the Germans occupying the country as interlocutors while King Mutaga Mbikije was not yet of age to rule. It was again from 1915 when he died while waiting for his successor, the young Mwambutsa, to rule the kingdom. Very protective of her sons, but ruthless to her adversaries or political enemies, the one who was the favorite wife of mwami Mwezi Gisabo made it difficult for the colonizers. The Queen, who went to bed early, at 8:00 p.m. and rose early, at 5:00 a.m., was on standby before dawn to attend public affairs. By an insidious method of subversion, she managed to delay the reforms desired by the colonizers, even if she could not completely prevent it. Thus, during numerous meetings with the Belgian occupying authorities, such as the governor, the vice-governor-general or the resident, she was able to listen for more than five hours without interrupting her interlocutor before finally asking a single question that led to the whole question and the discussion eventually had to start over. It was this silent force that protected the kingdom for a while, which the Burundian men and King Mwambutsa did not.

All over the world, we know that women’s courage sets people free. We know many of them from the revolutions that took place when men were numb with fear. The French Revolution, for example, kept the name of the courageous Charlotte Corday. When the mountain deputy Jean-Paul Marat, a vicious revolutionary, terrorized all of France, this young woman left her native Normandy to go to Paris and kill Marat, whom she held responsible for the failure of the revolution. After breaking into his house, she stabbed him on July 13, 1793. Arrested and proud of her gesture, she stated that the victim was responsible for the “wasteland of France and the civil war he had caused throughout the kingdom”. She was guillotined shortly thereafter. So he is not a man who managed to free France from a being that had become harmful to his country.

Whether they are Burundians, Congolese, French, Chinese or Japanese… Digital technology has popularized their bravery. They gave birth to the progress of the world when they gave birth to humanity.