On Sunday, when Christians gather in churches and synagogues to pray to God, it is a hunting day in Rwandan tradition.
According to the Bible, by the seventh day, God rested from all his work of creation. While on the seventh day of the week, it’s when Rwandan god – Ryangombe went to hunt.
Before sunrise on Sunday, a cow horn trumpet is blown to summon all hunters to one place usually at the source of trumpet sound.
In a few minutes, the hunters gather with hunting dogs, spears, pangas and nets. They hold a short meeting and prayer seeking blessings from Ryangombe – the god of hunters.
KT Press got a tip off early November that in remote Rulindo district, a team of hunters were scheduled to go hunting.
After two weeks of trying to locate the hunters, our team managed to meet one of them at Masoro sector in Rulindo district not far away from the capital Kigali.
The agreement was to meet the following Sunday and go hunting together. However, they didn’t turn up; they may have suspected that our reporters were spying with intention to arrest them.
Another attempt was made to reach them and inform them it was about experiencing hunting and nothing else. Confidence was built and another hunting schedule was set for November 19th.
By 6:00AM, Uwitonze and Nizeyimana (other names withheld on request) were ready, armed with hunting tools and in company of five hunting dogs clad with traditional hunting bells.
The bells are wound around the dogs necks. In the bell shells the hunters also add herbs believed to spiritually protect the dogs.
“You have come at the right time. In the morning, we surprise the prey in their habitat. When they move out of their dens, we pursue them tirelessly until we catch them,” Uwitonze said.
He said, “In fact in the morning, our dogs are strong, we are strong to run kilometers in pursuit of our prey. Hunting cannot be done at noon under the scorching sun.”
After a short chat, the hunters trekked into the bush chanting slogans that also boosted the dogs morale. Baga baga – (slaughter it, slaughter it)…and the hunter dogs stormed the nearby Ruhondo eucalyptus forest with wild plants and thick shrubs.
As the hunters combed through the forest with dogs, up the hill they ran, and in the next thirty minutes looked exhausted, but it was too early.
“At this time everyone is positioned to spear, hit anything that comes out of the bush. Dogs understand our instruction, just wait and see,” Nizeyimana narrates.
The dogs were barking from the thick bush as hunters chanted ..shoo……shoo ( go for it, go for it) and suddenly a wild animal jumped out of the bush scared. The dogs pursued it in a race as hunters towed along. The prey is a fox.
The fox chase lasted for six hours passing through hills and valleys, falling. By this time, the hunters have fallen and got up several times with some sustaining injuries but they soldiered on.
As the dogs were zeroing in on the fox. The fox dived into an open hole in the ground.
The hunters arrived and began digging to widen the hole and enable dogs to enter and grab the fox. But as every dog tried to force into the hole, the fox would strike back leaving most of the dogs injured.
Dogs alternated in the hole while facing the fox, and whenever one was tired, it would come out of the hole for another one to continue.
After two hours, the dogs brought out the fox and finished it with a severe tooth bite on the neck.
“My dogs are warriors they never give up for the prey easily, today they must have a good dinner,” a happy Nizeyimana said vividly proud of their dogs.
“We are interested in the fox skin – it is on high demand by the witchdoctors. We sell it Rwf 7000 and leave the meat to our warrior dogs.”
In rare cases, also, the hunters said they can kill an African Civet known as Imondo whose skin they sell at Rwf 100,000.
“Today was not a very good one because we sometimes up kill rabbits which give us very tasty sauce. It is still fine because my dogs are having the best meal,” Uwitonze said.
Celebrating after Hunting
After catching the prey, hunters performed rituals while singing.
Normally, Claver Kamali 55, a resident of Rusine told KT Press, the rites also include presenting the prey to Ryagombe the god of hunters in Rwanda. According to Rwandan tradition, Ryangombe was killed by a buffalo while hunting.
The only remaining concern for the Rusine hunters is the human activity which has pushed out animals from their habitats.
“I was born here 35 years ago. We used to enjoy a very good hunting adventure but today we almost go home barehanded,” Uwizeyimana said.
According to the Rwanda Development Board hunting is illegal but interested hunters can do it if only they acquire permission from a relevant authority.
For Rusine hunters, theirs is not mainly targeting huge earning, but, “sustaining the hunting tradition.”