Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part IV

This email is a bit tedious – consisting primarily of names and geog. places discovered by Livingstone and Stanley.
Finally, Stanley and Livingstone reached the top (north shore) of the lake, crossing from the eastern shore to the N.W. corner and landing in the area of Mugihew, which is on the left side of the delta of the Rusizi River.  Here they stay a few days  in order to explore the lake and surrounding area and to answer the long-sought question:

Does the Rusizi flow IN or OUT?!

The importance, as explained in Part I of this blog, was considered of great importance: if the river flowed out, then it was thought to be part of the huge watershed that encompassed Lake Victoria and adjoining lakes, and thence a direct outlet to the White Nile, Sudan, and Egypt.

England’s future as the premiere power in central Africa, displacing both Arab and Swahili as well as other colonial entrepreneurs seeking central-east Africa as their own emporium, would, it was assumed, then be secured.

Even though it was finally discovered that the Rusizi was an inlet, not an outlet of the lake, Britain nevertheless did finally gain control of East-Central Africa, with the exception of Rwanda and Burundi:

The Great Lakes. Source> Wiki

A – Albert
Y – Kyoga
E – Edward
K – Kivu
V – Victoria
T – Tanganyika
M – Malawi

Colonial stamp for British Central Africa showing a couple of local folk with work tools and a coffee tree.

Notes to the map, below:

Today’s entry contains primarily information on local regions at the head (North) of the lake, and these I’ve either outlined in blue, or inserted in blue (because Stanley did not write all of the geographical place names on the map).

Their one camping-placeMugahewa, was apparently both a village and a locality – is inserted in blue (with an arrow pointing to its location) and is underlined in red.

The Rusizi River is outlined and circled in green/turquoise.

Our current location, just to the right of the Rusizi River Delta, is noted in pink, with an arrow.


Places mentioned in this blog. Source: Princeton U.

I apologize for the clumsiness of this map – it is greatly enlarged  from Henry Stanley‘s hand-drawn map of all of east Africa.  In finding a better map of the top of the lake, I will re-do this and the other maps in the series of entries.It is clear from the text that Stanley was not always sure how to designate the different localities or the people ruling them.  He and Livingstone were  talking to local persons through an interpreter, whose knowledge of the local language may not have included the subtleties of place/group terminology.

The terms he uses include: ‘village’, ‘subdistrict’, ‘district’, and ‘country’.  It appears each was overseen by a local notable – with all being encompassed by the ‘kingdom’ of Urundi (Burundi), which was governed by a king, or ‘Mwesi’.    The problems of translating these kinds of appellations from Kirundi to a western language are vexing.

A little monograph written several decades ago is devoted entirely to discussing ‘la notion d’icibare’ *  As pointed out by the author, icibare c’umwami has been translated in the literature as domaine royal, terres franches du roi, apanage royal, terres devolue au roi, fiefs, reserves royales… And, he shows how the meaning of the Kirundi term icibare changed dramatically over several generaltions.   In discussing local places and headmen, Nsanzi uses the geographical terms ‘domaine’, ‘colline [hill ‘enclose’ / and the titles of ‘roi’, ‘chef’, ‘sous-chef’.  A Kirundi-French glossery is given in the monograph, which is very helpful.

* Augustin Nsanzi, Un domaine royal au Burundi: MBUYE, env. 1850-1945.  Univ. du Burundi, 1980.

Based on later forms of indigenous (precolonial) government, it is likely that the geographical divisions discussed by Stanley, and later by Nsanzi, were lineage/clan-based, but I lack the necessary resources for checking on this.It is unfortunate that neither Stanley nor Livingstone recorded local terms for these geographic entities and their rulers, which were replaced by the colonialists with French terms.  Perhaps the names do exist, amongst their papers now in libraries, or amongst the records of the early missionaries in the area.  In any case, the monograph by Nsanzi is a good start on this problem.

What has surprised me, is that locals explained themselves as being part of the larger Burundi kingdom of Urundi, ruled from the interior of the country.  It is generally believed that in the mid-19th Century groups around the lake were, for the most part, autonomous, and not subject to the Mwesi – the king of Burundi.Burundi in the 18-19th Centuries”]

It is also possible that only the major trading centers at the head of the lake were under direct suzernity of the Mwesi, which – being  active trading centers – would make sense and would offer new insights regarding possible trading relations between the lake and the interior.  Major trading commodities of the time included elephant tusks, slaves, and palm oil – and possibly salt – most of which came from the Delta or from the west, or Congo-side of the lake. Slave-trading was never entered into by the kingdom of Urundi, but the oil, elephant tusks and salt would be valuable commodities inland.

Nsanzi (monograph discussed above) mentions notables in the interior importing igitumba – literally, ‘salty earth’, for their cattle.  Today, the small border town of Gatumba – located down the lake from us on the Congo border, retains this name of ‘salty soil’.  These soils are still excavated and sold by some people, and we find it unnecessary to provide extra salt and minerals to our goat herds because of their grazing in these salt/mineral-rich areas.


The country in which we now found ourselves, Mugihewa, is situated in the delta of the Rusizi River.  It is an extremely flat country, the highest part of which is not ten feet above the lake, with numerous depressions in it overgrown with the rankest of matete-grass and the tallest of papyrus, and pond-like hollows, filled with stagnant water, which emit malaria wholesale. 

Large herds of cattle are reared on the Imbo Plain; for where the ground is not covered with marshy plants it produces rich, sweet grass.  The sheep and goats, especially the former, are always in good condition; and though they are not to be compared with English or American sheep, they are the finest I have seen in Africa. 

Ankole cattle herds on the Imbo Plain going home.

One of our buck herds coming in from the Imbo Plain

Imbo cattle.goats etc.  Sheep are no longer reared in the Imbo in any great numbers, goats have taken their place.  I suspect that one reason for the health of grazing herds in this area is due to the high salt/mineral content of the soils – and thus the forage – as mentioned above.  Inland, Burundi is extremely salt-poor, and salt traditionally was made of plants and/or was imported.

Numerous villages are seen on this land because the intervening spaces are not occupied with the rank and luxuriant jungle common in other parts of Africa.

Now, there are no villages along the lake, but there are houses and other construction right along the shore.  Just inland, it is a vast, flat plain.  Our village, about a 5 min walk inland from the lake, is the only village in the area.

 Were it not for the Euphorbia kolquall of Abyssinia–which some chief has caused to be planted as a defence round the villages–one might see from one end of Mugihewa to the other.  The waters along the head of the lake, from the western to the eastern shores, swarm with crocodiles.  From the banks, I counted ten heads of crocodiles, and the Rusizi, we were told, was full of them.

The Lake as well as Rusizi Delta and River are filled with crocodiles and several persons / usually fishermen are taken by them every year.

Ruhinga*, who came to see us soon after we had taken up our quarters in his village, was a most amiable man, who always contrived to see something that excited his risibility; though older by five or six years perhaps–he said he was a hundred years old–than Mukamba**, he was not half so dignified, nor regarded with so much admiration by his people as his younger brother. 

 *    Ruhinga: headman of Mugahewa, village and country located just northwest of the Rusizi.

**  Mukamba: younger brother of Ruhinga and headman of the district and village of Mugere, located on the eastern shore of the   lake, which was visited by Stanley and Livingstone prior to their crossing of the lake.  The kinship of these two headmen, on different sides of the lake, suggests strong, lineage-based networks of rulership (clientship?) throughout the northern part of the lake.  His name is Swahili for ‘rope’.

Ruhinga had a better knowledge, however, of the country than Mukamba, and an admirable memory, and was able to impart his knowledge of the country intelligently.  After he had done the honours as chief to us–presented us with an ox and a sheep, milk and honey–we were not backward in endeavouring to elicit as much information as possible out of him.

The summary of the information derived from Ruhinga may be stated as follows:

Stanley and Livingstone at the north end of Lake Tanganyika discussing their findings. Source> Royal Geographic Society

The country bordering the head of the lake from Urundi proper [‘Burundi’],on the eastern shore, to Uvira on the western [now a small town by that name – see map], is divided into the following districts*:

* Not all of these districts are noted on the map..

Rusizi river and delta to the left, and our location where the arrow points.

Rusizi River and wetlands a few years ago.

The same area a few years later, I took pix from a little WFP plane

As seen in the above two photos, there are substantial changes over the years of this area of the Lake.

1st. Mugere, governed by Mukamba, through which issued into the lake the small rivers of Mugere and Mpanda.

 2nd. Mukanigi, governed by Warumashanya, which occupied the whole of the north-eastern head of the lake, through which issued into the lake the small rivers of Karindwa and Mugera wa Kanigi.

 3rd. On the eastern half of the district, at the head of the lake, was Usumbura [now Bujumbura], governed by Simveh, ally and friend of Warumashanya*, extending to the eastern bank of the Rusizi.

 * At that time, in war with his neighbour Mukamba.  This took place primarily as cattle raids, one against the other.

 4th. Commencing from the western bank of the Rusizi, to the extreme north-western head of the lake, was Mugihewa–Ruhinga’s country.

 5th. From (5.1)Uvira on the west, running north past Mugihewa, and overlapping it on the north side as far as the hills of Chamati,was (5.2)Ruwenga, also a country governed by Mukamba*. 

 * How it is that Mukamba, younger brother of Ruhinga and headman of Mukanigi on on the east bank of the lake, was also headman of Ruwnga, located on the northwest banks of the lake, is not explained and does not seem to make much sense.

 [6th] Beyond Ruwenga, from the hills of Chamati to the Ruanda River, was the country of Chamati. 

 [7th] West of Ruwenga, comprising all the mountains for two days’ journey in that direction, was Uashi* These are the smaller sub-divisions of what is commonly known as Ruwenga and Usige

Ruwenga [on the northwestern shores] comprises the countries of Ruwenga and Mugihewa; Usige [on the northeastern shores], the countries of Usumbura, Mukanigi, and Mugere.

But all these countries are only part and parcel of (8)Urundi (Burundi), which comprises all that country bordering the lake from Mshala River*, on the eastern shore, to (5.1)Uvira, on the western, [and] extending over ten days’ journey direct north from the head of the lake, and one month in a northeastern direction to (9)Murukuko, the capital of Mwezi, Sultan of all Urundi**. 

 *   Not on the map

** Urundi is only partly shown on the map.  According to the description given here, it encompassed all of the northern part of the lake and then extended upcountry, northeast, for a distance that is not given.

 Direct north of Urundi [Burundi] is Ruanda* [Rwanda]; also a very large country.

 * North of the map area.

 The Rusizi River–according to Ruhinga–rose near a lake called Kivo [Lake Kivu], which he said is as long as from Mugihawa to Mugere, and as broad as from Mugihewa to Warumashanya’s country, or, say eighteen miles in length by about eight in breadth. 

 The lake is surrounded by mountains on the western and northern sides: on the south-western side of one of these mountains issues the Rusizi–at first a small rapid stream; but as it proceeds towards the lake it receives the rivers Kagunissi, Kaburan, Mohira, Nyamagana, Nyakagunda, Ruviro, Rofubu, Kavimvira, Myove, Ruhuha, Mukindu, Sange, Rubirizi, Kiriba, and, lastly, the Ruanda River, which seems to be the largest of them all. 

 PIX Rusizi up north

Kivo Lake is so called from the country in which it is situated.  On one side is Mutumbi (probably the Utumbi of Speke and Baker), on the west is Ruanda; on the east is Urundi.  The name of the chief of Kivo is Kwansibura.

 After so many minute details about the River Rusizi, it only remained for us to see it. 

 Part V is Here:Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part V 


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Burundi, Colonialism, Crocodiles, East central Africa, European colonizers, Explorers & exploration, Gatumba, Hippopotimus, History-Recent, Imbo Plain, Lake Tanzanya, Livestock, Rusizi River ^ Wetlands, Stanley and Livingstone, Uvira, White Nile, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part IV

  1. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part II « Dianabuja's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Market town of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, and a Recipe for Garaden Egg Stew « Dianabuja's Blog

  3. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part VI « Dianabuja's Blog

  4. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River – Did It flow IN or OUT?!, Pt. I « Dianabuja's Blog

  5. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part III « Dianabuja's Blog

  6. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part V « Dianabuja's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s