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Literally, ‘almighty’. God of the Banyarwanda people of Ruanda, an area unvisited by Europeans before 1894. This densely populated kingdom retained intact till very recent times its ancient mythology. For the Banyarwanda ‘the invisible world is a fearful reality’. One part is called ijuru and exists beyond the rock which is the sky we see. Beneath the soil is the other part, known as ikuzimu. The three-storeyed universe of the Banyarwanda appears to be slowly degenerating, getting old, and wearing out: it would entirely collapse without the support of Imana, the author and sustainer of the universal order.

Imana ‘alone knows all things’. He is Hategekimana, ‘the only ruler’; Hashakimana, ‘the one who plans’; Habyarimana, ‘the sole giver of children’; Ndagijimana, ‘the protector of possessions’; and Bigirimana, ‘owner of all things’. Conceived as a powerful person, Imana ‘has very long arms’ and is even found in ‘fearful places’, but his influence is thought always to be beneficial for human beings. He is remote, the distant source of all gifts. A legend, however, suggests a more active aspect of the god. Once a man borrowed beans from different people. When repayment of loans was demanded, he always managed to wriggle out of the debt. But Death, one of his creditors, insisted on repayment, and would have seized the man had not Imana intervened to save him. It would seem that the god did not so much condone the man's behaviour as respond to the invocation of his own sacred name.

Imana coexists with Death. At the beginning he hunted Death, a kind of wild animal. He ordered men to remain indoors so that his quarry should not find a hiding place. When an old woman went out to her banana grove, Death asked her protection, and was allowed to hide under her skirt. Imana, in order to punish her, decided then that Death should stay with men. A second myth of the loss of immortality blames woman too. There was a family consisting of husband, wife, and mother-in-law. The wife had a great dislike of the mother-in-law and felt it as a relief when the latter died and was buried. Three days after the funeral she visited the grave and found that it was full of cracks, as if the dead woman was about to emerge. Returning with a heavy pestle, she pounded down the earth and shouted, ‘Stay dead!’ On the two following days the same incident was repeated, but thereafter the wife discovered no cracks. The strength of the deceased was exhausted. Although this delighted the wife, her action ensured that for mankind the possibility of resuscitation was lost forever.

The Banyarwanda consider that the spirits of the dead, bazimu, are gloomy and unpleasant. While bazimu sometimes come back to this world, returning to the places they used to live, the majority stay in ikuzimu. The diviners, bapfumu, offer a certain defence against the dead; they interpret the will of Imana, thereby indicating the wisest course of action. On the other hand the sorcerers, barozi, are secretly in league with the bazimu. If found they are usually killed. The inhabitants of ijuru, the concealed land in the sky, are less frightening, and seem to be minor divinities.


Subjects: Religion.

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