Hurtful Wisdom

The novel Baho! by Roland Rugero, focuses on the life of Nyamuragi who is a mute that lives in the country of Burundi. Nyamuragi finds himself in a life threatening, mob trial situation when a young woman in the river misinterpret his acting out of needing to go to the bathroom as a sexual assault. Rugero continually uses Nyamuragi’s muteness and silence is a depiction of the suffering of Burundi as a whole. By not relying on the judicial system to determine whether or not Nyamuragi is guilty on the crime of rape, Burundi presents itself as disconnected from the modern world.

One of the ways that the characters seek to find significance in the world is by relying heavily on sayings and stories from the past to give their present meaning.  The old woman in the novel is a representation of African wisdom and African existentialism. Throughout the novel she gives out little snippets of wisdom such as, “ugutanga kuzana umugisha kuruta guhabwa, giving bestows greater blessings than receiving” (67). Quotes like these are pretty self explanatory, universal, and helpful for people to adhere to.

Old African Woman

Yet, some of these stories may be destructive even though they are mildly comforting to children. The story of Inabwiza and the prince is similar to Disney princess stories that we know and love in the United States. The story tells us what our norms and expectations are about men and women. If beautiful women sit and wait for their prince to come, he will. It gives the children hope that they will be able to move up socially and economically when they get married. As a result, women feel as if they cannot or do not have to take control of their own lives to find happiness.

Rugero writes, “Often, they would fall asleep before hearing the end of the story, lulled to sleep by her mellifluous voice. A scene from childhood; an act of wisdom. In any case they knew that the story would end well…” (68).



Many of us who have matured like the old woman realize how unrealistic and sometimes foolish these stories are. Nevertheless, we continue to perpetuate these gender roles as we recount stories such as the one about Inabwiza to younger generations. As a result, this keeps the women of Burundi and the United States in a subconscious state of oppression.


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