Clans of Rwanda

Clans of Rwanda : Rwanda is one of the smallest but most economically developed nations on the African continent however this country has a strong history and the people of Rwanda are still living under the classification of clans. The clan setting was the main push factor of the 1994 Rwanda genocide that is recorded as one of the most gruesome genocides in the entire world. Rwandan clans were commonly referred to as “ubwoko” meaning Clan/ identity in the Kinyarwanda, the commonly spoken language across the country.

Rwanda has an estimated population of 12.6 million people living on an area of 26,338 kilometers and all these Rwandan people are classified into 20 different clans. Clans are basically different families but closely related usually identified by a similar interest in a specific thing or activity. People are also identified by their clans and there are several ways of identifying one’s clan or identifying oneself to be belonging to a certain clan.

There are 20 clans in Rwanda and these include the;

Abanyiginya, Abagesera, Abega, Ababanda, Abacyaba, Abasinga, Abashambo, Abahinda, Abazigaba, Abungura, Abashingwe, Abenengwe, Abasita, Abatsobe, Abakono, Abanyakarama, Abarihira, Abahondogo, Abashambo and the Abongera.

These clans are existent in Rwanda and the neighboring Burundi in the south and are commonly respected among the older generation. The elderly people on meeting a new person will call out in Kinyarwanda with a familiar greeting and the response given identifies the person on which clan he or she belongs to.

Besides the calling, the naming differs per clan and one’s name usually identifies them on introducing themselves. The clans are much further division from the ethnic groups of the country and these are only three that is the Umutwa, the Umuhutu and the Umututsi. The Umutwa are the real original Rwandan people who stayed in the areas of Ruhengeri and further up to Uganda in the Kisoro district. The Umuhutu and the Umututsi are bigger and more dominant in country.

During the colonial rule of Rwanda, the colonialists began to learn and edit a few of the Rwandan cultures for example the religion of the Rwandan people. The ancient Rwandans believed in their traditional gods but the colonialists introduced Christianity. The Rwandan people being under their rule adapted to the Christian way of living so as to be in unison with the colonialists who had failed to understand the Rwandan culture because of the language barrier.

Clans of Rwanda
Clans of Rwanda

All the 20 clans were later merged under three ethnic groups and these were the Umuhutu, the Umututsi and the Umutwa basing on the common language spoken and the shared cultures in the clans.

Totems of the clans in Rwanda.

Each of these clans has a totem and some of these totems are shared. A totem is one item or object or an animal that is associated with sacredness for a certain group of people. It is an emblem that is held in high regard and is usually an abomination to destroy.

A few examples of the totems of the clans in Rwanda are the crested crane, the frog, hyena, the leopard and most of these clans share totems. This is majorly because one of the clans sharing the totem maybe a group that broke off another to start an independent clan. Some breaks were voluntary while others were involuntary.

Some of these clans that share totems are the Abanyiginya, the Abatsobe and the Abasindi clans that have a common totem which is the crested crane, the Abega and the Abakono share the frog as a totem, the Abacyaba and the Ababanda share a hyena as their totem. The Abazigaba and the Abenengwe also share the leopard as their totem.

These clans are termed as social groups and those clans that split into two are known as moieties for example the Abega and Abakono, the Abacyaba and the Ababanda while the clans that are split into three are known as phyratry like Abanyiginya, the Abatsobe and the Abasindi.

The Abahinda clan has an individual totem which is the squirrel and this clan originated from Tanzania, Karagwe where the leading clan before they migrated into Rwanda. Their reason for migrating is unknown however this clan has a close relation to Abazirankende clan that is under the Abagesera clan. Abazirankende in Kinyarwanda refers to those that consider the squirrel a taboo.

The clan of the Abanyakarama is the only one whose totem is unknown and these are said to have been of the Burundi origin. The Abashingwe clan totem is also unknown.

Roles of the clans

There is so much culture in the kingdom attached to the clans of Rwanda and the social class one holds in society. For example people from the Abega and Abakono clans are the ones that provided queens for the King who always came from the Abanyiginya clan. The Abatsobe clan had the royal ritualists and were the keepers of all the royal secrets.

The other clans like the Abagesera, Abasinga and the Abazigaba were the common people who made up the land. They also did some rituals for the other clans. Every Rwandan you meet on your Rwanda safari has a clan and a story to tell about their clan. Visit Rwanda for a deeper insight on the clans of Rwanda.

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