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October, 2017 Who loses the first born throws away his or her gods. Bwisha (Democratic Republic of Congo -- DRC) Proverb

Ubuza imfura ata ibiheko. (Bwisha)
Mwenyi anapoteza mtoto wa kwanza hutupa miungu. (Swahili)
Qui perd son fils aîné jette ses dieux. (French)
Who loses the first born throws away his or her gods. (English)

Bwisha (Democratic Republic of Congo -- DRC) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Banyabwisha speak Bwisha (Kinyabwisha) dialect that developed as a result of inter-marriage and mingling between the indigenous Hunde, and other ethnic groups who occupy the Rutshuru Territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This region is in the North Kivu Province. The Banyabwisha occupy the area bordering on the eastern side with Uganda, further south with Rwanda, and the Nyiragongo Territory, whose capital city is Goma. The Masisi and Walikale Territories also border in the east. The larger part of the Virunga Mountains, Virunga National Park and Mount Mikeno are in this region.

The history of Banyabwisha can be divided into three periods. Before 1911, historians’ records show that Kajika the Bwisha, a Hunde territory, had a Rwandophone immigration. These immigrants were few and mingled with the indigenous Hunde. In 1911, there was the foundation of the Catholic mission in Rugari around which developed a Rwandophone community who accompanied the missionaries. From 1914-1919, this community swelled by massive arrival of refugees fleeing war and hunger. This mass of refugees consisted mostly of Hutu. Due to the size of the community and under pressure from the Catholic missionaries, between the 1930s and 1950s, Rwandans – both Hutu and Tutsi -- were “transplanted” into eastern DRC, around North Kivu, as part of the Belgian administration’s deliberate immigration that was meant to alleviate demographic pressure in Rwanda and to meet labor demand in DRC. Over 100,000 Kinyarwanda speakers were moved to Masisi. Violence surrounding the independence in both Rwanda and Burundi led to further migration, and particularly during the 1994 genocide period in Rwanda.

The first born in Banyabwisha families is supposed to perpetrate the culture and extend its values to the youngest, to insure the respect of the family and to do multiple works for the young ones. When you lose him or her you are driven to despair. The confidence that you had in your gods, in your charms and in your fetishes is no longer admired, and you throw them away. That’s why they use this proverb: Ubuza imfura ata ibiheko.


Biblical Parallels

When desperate, you need God because idols do not give anything for nothing. Idols always ask you for a sacrifice so that you may succeed in whatever you were asking for or intending to do or become. And you usually ask a preferred person whether your first born or your wife. You can’t sacrifice your wife of course. You have to sacrifice your son because with your wife you will get another son or daughter. A son that is sacrificed to these idols. When your need is not satisfied you throw these idols because they are helpless. The firstborn is not to be sacrificed; he is the joy of the family.

And it happened, in the baptizing of all the people, Yahshua also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened; and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the likeness of the form of a dove. And there was a voice out of Heaven, saying, “You are my son, the beloved, in whom I am pleased (Luke 3:21-22).

Arise, O YAHWEH! Save me, O my Elohim. For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone. You have broken the teeth of the wicked (Psalms 2:7)

And He said, “Now take your son, Isaac, your only one whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah. And there offer him for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will say to you” (Genesis 22:2). And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy, nor do anything to him. For now I know that you fear Elohim and you have not withheld your son, your only one from me. (Genesis 22:12)

“And they broke down the pillar of Baal, and broke down the house of Baal, and made it an outhouse to this day. And Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel” (2 Kings 10:27-28).


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

Traditionally Africans like to give birth to many children so that they may empower themselves with the works these children do either in the fields or in guarding livestock. In another way, children provide respect for African families. So a family without children is considered as a cursed family that has to live miserably in the community because no one can perpetrate the continuity of the family. Respect and obedience is one of the most important values of the people. Children are taught to never question parental authority. Women and girls do the house chores and look after children, although it is the duty of the community to take responsibility of all children. Children are important in this community; they demonstrate, maintain and extend their cultural values to the future generations. They create cohesion between generations and give an opportunity to grow together as one people, bonding in culture and giving hope. They rent farms and do subsistent agriculture, to provide food for the families. Children help the parents to cultivate and brew banana beer for consumption and sale. Household livestock is also managed by these children.

So when you have no children or you lose the first born who could help you in keeping the livestock and in cultivating and brewing your bananas, you become useless and disrespectful in the community. In this situation this DRC proverb is used. You throw away whatever had placed your confidence in. The faith you have in all the idols, fetish and charms (Africans believe in these) become degrading and you no longer think about them.

Devotha Cikuru Bishangi
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: +254718227541
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Photographs provided by:

Cephas Yao Agbemenu 
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: +254 723-307992
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