Today I am going to share with you the story of Umuko which is a traditional tree considered to be the protector of the family or household.
What is Umuko/umurinzi?
Umuko is know by the scientific name Erythrina abyssinica. This is a leguminous tree specie, native to East Africa.
I first learnt about Umuko around 2008, when my grandfather moved into our home. I grew up with the tree in my garden and honestly none of us including my parents ever attached any importance to this tree. Matter of fact one of my uncles was low key convinced he was allergic to it and always cut it and tried to trim it so it does not grow any bigger.
My grandfather was so mad at each and every one of us when he found out how this mythical tree was being treated in our household. And he appointed me to always water this tree and make sure it grows back. Here was my 12 years old self turned into the guardian of what I later learnt that it is our family’s protector tree.
why is this tree considered a protector?
The story goes back around 1510 during the reign of King Ruganzu II Ndoli. Ruganzu II is the most renowned king of Rwanda. He was a great warrior and was alleged to have performed miracles. The legend has it that the great King was once lost on his way back to Rwanda from a military expedition.he was helped to find his way by a hunter by the names of Ryangombe promising in exchange of the people of Rwanda would be united as followers of his mystery cult. Ryangombe was a great hunter. Once going to hunting he was warned by his mother not to go hunt because of bad omens that were revealed to her in a dream. He disregarded the warning and still went hunting where he was attacked by a buffalo. As the buffalo tossed him into the air, he begged every tree to receive him, most refused but the “Umuko” tree received him and he died in its branches. Before he expired, he sent a message to his mother that her premonition had come true. Ryangombe also promised her that they would meet again and he instituted hist mystery cult in which all Rwandans would take part.
Ryangombe played a big role in creating a unified Rwanda through his cult. Despite his death, his religion lived on after him. And membership to the cult was done in two phases. The first is Kwatura(to confess) during which the candidate goes through purification, symbolic death and salvation around the Umurinzi/Umuko tree.
I find it sad that with the introduction of Christianity most of these practices were demonized and lost. This story being a myth or true, I think it really contributed a lot to who pre- colonial Rwandans where and would also benefit us today.