April, formerly blessed in Rwanda, but now tarnished for ever,

Benoit Ndagijimana
Deputy Secretary General

In Rwandan culture, each month bears a meaning. Kinyarwanda language, like any other language, conveys the wisdom of its people. It is very rich in expressions, and more often than not, the signifier has nothing to do with the signified and vice-versa. Hence, as it is not obvious to probe into the depths of the contexts which account for the reason behind calling such a month this name and not that, I cannot pretend to know the accurate meaning of each month. However, some names have an easier interpretation than others in our common knowledge.

Thus, in Kinyarwanda, February is « Gashyantare ». During this month, the season used to be somewhat dry and people would burn bushes to refresh meadows and pastures for the cattle

April is « Mata ». It is usually a rainy month. In Kinyarwanda, « Mata » refers to milk. « Amata » means milk. The reason behind the origin of the name being that there was plenty of milk during this month. Indeed, bushes previously burned out had given new offspring and pastures were covered with green and fresh grass.


Likewise, June is called “Kamena” in Kinyarwanda. The meaning referring to the harshness and strength of the sun during this period. It alludes to the fact that the sun is so strong that it is likely to crush the walkers’ forehead.


The climate in August is somewhat opposite to the climate in April. This is possibly why this eighth month of the year is called “Kanama”, which suggests that due to the dry season, grasses and leaves dry out giving a way to an uncovered relief. It was a difficult season for farmers. Today, the situation is slightly different because Rwandans are getting used to the livestock in the cowshed.


The last example, but not the least, is December, that is “Ukuboza”, in Kinyarwanda. The month is rich in rain and harvest. Hence the name “Ukuboza” which infers the month which makes the crops rot. Put this aside, it was and still is, one of the best period of the year.


Coming back to the topic of this article, we will see to which extent April which used to bring happiness among Rwandans has become for them a painful month. Indeed, over centuries, the cow has played a very big role in social relations and keeps a paramount importance in Rwandan culture. This explains the sacral character of the fourth month, April (Mata) that refers directly to “the cow” (inka). Worthy of note, the cow was, among other things, given as a dowry. Even today, during wedding ceremonies, it happens that Rwandans living abroad give a dowry consisting in an envelope with a certain amount of money that they consider as a cow handed in to the bride’s family.


On April 6th, 1994, the terrorist attack against the Rwandan presidential plane that killed two Heads of State in office, Juvenal HABYARIMANA of Rwanda and Cyprien NTARYAMIRA of Burundi, their close associates among them Déogratias NSABIMANA, Chief of Staff, and three French crew members, served as a detonator element of Rwandan genocide and of unprecedented excessive, selective and systematic massacres that plunged the country in an everlasting mourning. In late April,1994, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi had already been killed in what turned out to be a genocide. Meanwhile, in different areas it had been conquering since its attack on October 1st, 1990, the RPF was still engaged in massacres of the population, targeting influential people and intellectuals among Hutus[1]. It is much in this way that there were extremely serious massacres of local populations in Kibungo (eastern Province) by Paul Kagame’s army in April 1994[2].

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