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Why Rwandans love names with the word Imana (God) in them

Leave a comment / By: manifel / 22 February, 2021 09:25:09AM
Why Rwandans love names with the word Imana (God) in them

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Rwandans hold a fascinating naming culture where many names given to children always have the word “Imana”, (God in English), in them. 

Nsengimana, Harerimana, Nsabimana, Habonimana, Hatungimana among others are some of the names that you hear almost every day at your workplace, area of residence. 

But how did Rwandans start savouring this kind of naming culture? When did they start it, and why? 

We took the question to people more conversant with history and religion, and here is what we found out.

First, according to Reverend Antoine Rutayisire, a pastor at Remera Anglican church, and a knowledgeable person about Rwanda’s history, it is important to note that Rwanda, unlike many countries in Africa was monotheistic – even before Christianity or Islam was introduced in the country.

He says, from far back, Rwandans believed in one creator God, a doer of good things, who was above all things – and this in a way influenced the naming of children even in pre-Christianity times, and this became even stronger with the coming of Christianity.

“One thing that is distinctive about Rwanda is that it was a monotheistic society. Rwandans had one God. They never prayed to rivers or trees or animals,” he says.

“It is wrong to say that Ryangombe or Nyabingi (fetishes in ancient Rwanda) were gods. There was a proper distinction between those things and God. In fact, people used to pray to God, asking him to bless these fetishes. This means they knew there is only one God,” he adds.

Rutayisire points out that God was seen as the provider of children, cattle, marriage partners, blessings and every good thing. So, names like Hatangimana (Meaning: It is God who provides) or Himimana (Meaning: It is God who holds back) were in use even in ancient Rwanda.

In fact, he believes that God somehow revealed himself to the ancient Rwandan society – though they did not worship him like they do today.

Citing history, Rutayisire says that when the Anglican missionaries came to Rwanda, they realized that the God of the Bible they were preaching had similarities with the God that Rwandans prayed to: all-powerful, good, and creator of all things.

“They said (the Anglican missionaries): ‘we just have got to teach them how to respect God, because they already know Him,” he said.

With more and more teachings by the missionaries from different religions, the opening of churches and schools, Rwandans continued to have a clearer view of God, and the culture of giving Godly names to children was further spread.

Speaking to this newspaper, Edouard Bamporiki, the Minister of State for Youth and Culture also acknowledged the fact that Rwandans knew about God – even before Europeans showed up in the country. But he notes something, rather significant about the naming part.

“They knew Him as the one to call upon in trouble, but not as one who will take over their responsibilities and do everything for them,” he said.

“But when colonialism came in, the people were taught about God of miracles, one who does great works; and so, they ended up being lazy – since God will work for them.”

With this attitude, he reckons there was an increase in giving godly-names to children, as people seemed to assign responsibilities to God.

Jean-Nepo Nizeyimana, a 29-year-old citizen of Kigali, says godly names are given to children as a means of communication towards God – in regard to the situation that the parent is going through.

“For example, when you are going through a hard time, you may say to God: “Lord, it is you alone that I am trusting,” and that’s how you decide to name your child “Nizeyimana” (meaning: I trust in God),” he said.

However, he notes that this trend of naming may be slightly going down, because today, people love to opt for shorter names.

Pascal Ntaganda, another resident of Kigali says such names are important because they “are an expression of gratitude to God for what He has done.”


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