Banyamulenge / Rwanda

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"Rya Joro" by Staffsergent Justin
Unforgettable Night: Music in memory
by Georgianne Nienaber

Before displacement during the Congo Wars, the Banyamulenge (baan yah moo LEN gee) were pastoralists living peacefully in the high plateaus of the South Kivu Province of eastern Congo. Historians can date their presence in the region to the sixteenth century. They are devout Christians. Before Congo gained independence in 1960, relations with neighbors were generally good, but on occasion conflicts would arise over land uses.

There were a series of wars and conflicts and forced displacements, but the most significant came after the 1994 Rwanda genocide when Hutu extremists murdered up to one million Tutsis in Rwanda, and the genocide spread over the border into Congo. The local Congolese population was incited by the genocidaires to murder the Congolese Tutsi population. Since then there have been regular massacres against the Congolese Tutsi, the most infamous being the Gatumba massacre of 2004, when 166 were murdered as they slept in theie tents in a refugee camp in Burundi that was supposedly under the protection of the United Nations. Over 1000 were displaced or injured.

The Kinyarwanda language is also known as “Ruanda” in Rwanda and “Fumbira” in Uganda. It is spoken in Burundi and in eastern Congo in the Kivu Provinces. It is the language of the Banyamulenge, where in pre-colonial times that part of Congo was known as Ruanda before colonialist powers arbitrarily drew a line on a map to claim their territories. This is the crux of the tragedy for the Banyamulenge people. They are Congolese, but speak Kinyarwanda and are Tutsi by lineage. They are persecuted for their language and physical appearance. Long-standing ethnic boundaries and pre-colonial kingdoms were destroyed during colonial rule.

"Rya Joro" means "Unforgettable Night" or "Bad Night." The video was created to remember what happened during the Gatumba massacre, but also makes mention of other massacres and displacements. All of the artists are Banyamulenge living in Kenya.

Music, dance and poetry are among the most important parts of the Kinyarwanda culture. Viewers of “Rya Joro” will notice that the stories of massacres of the Banyamulenge people are told in epic fashion. The themes of God and mercy and denial run through the narrative. Kinyarwanda lyrics traditionally celebrate stories of bravery, but in recent days have turned to tragedy.

God (Imana) is above everything, but is only invoked in poetry and song when all other possibilities, both earthly and spiritual, have failed to correct a wrong or save a situation. Only God can intervene in tragedy and wrong, hence the phrase “ahasigaye nah' Imana” (only God knows) is still used in poetry today. [Citation]

Common Rwandan words that are evident in lyrics are “Amakuru,” a greeting expression equivalent to “how are things;” Nimeza which is the reply to mean “fine;” “Yego” which means “yes;” “Oya” which means “no;” “Ndabizi” which means “I know;” “simbizi” which means 'I don't know'; and “Amazi;” which means “water.”


Commentary by Georgianne Nienaber. Georgianne has been covering events in Congo and its neighbors for quite a while now, and in the course of writing a recent article, she came upon this music, which she wanted to share with RootsWorld readers. Read her story in the Huffington Post.

She also likes to serenade the cows in Kinyarwanda.
This is tradition…singing to the royal cows.

“Rya Joro” (2014)
Performers: Staffsergeant and All Banyamulenge Artists in Kenya Writer: Staffsergeant Murangwa
Producer: Kivus Pro

See more videos on Imurenge's YouTube channel

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