Just how different is Rukiga from Runyankore and why does the Kavunuuzi deny?

Originally posted on Facebook

To many people, the difference between the Bakiga and Banyankore is unreal. Putting aside the hoax that physical attributes can help to tell the difference between any ethnicities, the cultural especially linguistic difference between the Kiga and the Nyankore peoples is what many consider as inconsequential. The Nyankore and Kiga cultures generally have wide differences from each other, but it is undeniable that the Rukiga and Runyankore languages are closely related. This close relationship is what has been mistaken for similarity and has occasioned a subtle linguistic erosion of Rukiga as a distinct language. Some friends insist that Rukiga and Runyankore are mere dialects of the same language. Some say that the difference is in the accent, while insisting that Rukiga is the same as Runyankore.

I spent my childhood in Nyanja, Maziba, punctuated with visits over the holidays to Kyanamira, all areas located in the Ndorwa county of Kabale district, in the Kigezi region. At my rural primary school, Nyanja Primary School, we learnt how to read and write the Rukiga language alongside English but this stopped at Primary Three level, from where we drifted to learning in English only. But we freely spoke Rukiga all times of our school life at Nyanja. English was limited to the classroom activity.

When I joined Kigezi High School for my secondary, I met many people who spoke Rukiga like me and I remember vividly that the school had no policy forcing us to speak English while on the school premises like other schools I have heard of. Indeed, many of our colleagues from other places knew how to speak Rukiga by the time they left the school. It is then that I learnt for the first time of the existence of Runyankore as a distinct language and its differences from Rukiga, my native language. Runyankore speakers at Kigezi High School often found some words we used in Rukiga strange at first the same way we found some Runyankore words strange.

Kigezi High School

Kigezi High School

However different many words in these two languages are, speakers of either language can hear and understand each other, even with the strange words. But I (a Rukiga speaker) can also understand a Rutooro and Runyoro speaker without need for translation! Yet, it is not necessarily said that Rukiga and Rutooro or Runyoro are the same language, or is it?

From the translation of the Bible, to many other linguistic projects, Rukiga has been lumped together with Runyankore, always mistaking the two for one language. In all these texts, the distinctive Rukiga words and phraseologies are often omitted in favour of Runyankore distinctive words and phraseologies.


Inside the Runyankore Rukiga Bible

As I have argued elsewhere, language is not merely the collection of words, but a core facet of culture and identity. People whose conventional economic activity is cultivation have a language that reflects the reality of their daily activities, just as those whose economic activity rotates around cattle keeping will have a language unique to their way of life. To stretch this further, we can say that the cultivator has a language he uses to speak to their crops and the cattle keeper has a language he uses to speak to their cattle. These languages can not be the same. The ears of the crops differ from those of cattle.

Further, physical environment has an impact on language, the same way it impacts on culture. The hills, valleys, swamps and the mountains speak and are spoken to by those who live on, in and with them. Flat lands speak as well. But there is no way the highlands can speak the same language as the lowlands. Language is thus not just about words, syntaxes, grammar and other technical bits of linguistics. A people’s Language is inseparable from a people’s culture and way of life. Our languages are related because mankind irrespective of which theory you believe in (evolution, creation etc) is related by nature. But as we know, migrations, settlements and other reasons have made us develop unique heritages from each other, and with this, distinct languages have developed for individual identities.


Kabale land is heavily fragmented

The differences between the cultures and languages of the Banyankore and Bakiga are so many I can not start listing one by one. However, over time, especially after the advent of colonialism and the demarcation of a border between Rwanda and Uganda in effect separating the Bakiga from their closer relatives the Banyarwanda, the written forms of Runyankore-Rukiga have taken on a Runyankore character and lost any “Kiga-ness” in it hence there has been a systematic subjugation of one language by another. This subjugation however is limited to written forms as the oral versions remain as different as they can ever be.

In the days of acceptance of our diverse heritage as Ugandans, projects like the writing of the Kavunuuzi y’Orunyankore Rukiga omu Rungyereza (Dictionary of Runyankore Rukiga into English), a translator of sorts, it is expected that the project would recognize the uniqueness of each language. The dictionary written by Yoweri Museveni, Manuel J.K. Muranga, Alice Muhoozi, Aaron Mushengyezi and Gilbert Gumoshabe in 2009 and published by the Institute of Languages, Makerere University & UNESCO Nairobi Office and financially sponsored by UNESCO and the Japanese government, in my view fails miserably if it ever considered the uniqueness of Rukiga from Runyankore. Rather than preserve the Runyankore Rukiga languages as the stated objective of the project, it seems to enable Runyankore suppress Rukiga as a distinct language on its own. Below, I intend to briefly show the narrow extent to which Rukiga is depicted as a distinctive language from Runyankore in a translation dictionary.

Let me start from dances. Different cultures have different dances and know their dances by unique words. Language is inimitably part of the dance and the culture. You can not use Luganda words to dance the Kikiga dance and vice-versa! For the uninitiated, the traditional dances of the Kiga peoples are different from those of the Nyankore peoples. The Kiga traditional dances include ekizino, omwemuriko, kakitaari among others, while the Nyankore traditional dance is the Ekitaguriiro. Ekitaguriiro is a noun that comes from the verb okutaguriira. The Kavunuuzi says, “Okutaagurira” is the act of dancing unique to Banyankore and Bakiga of south western Uganda. But the Bakiga do not dance the Ekitaguriiro. It is a Kinyankore dance! This is a typical example of how the Kavunuuzi misrepresents the heritage of the Bakiga by lumping them together with the Banyankore and assigning what is uniquely Nyankore to both identities. In Rukiga, the word okutaguriira to mean dancing does not exist, because the Bakiga call their dance okuziina hence the different dances, Ekitaguriiro for Banyankore and Ekiziino for Bakiga! But the Kavunuuzi overlooks that!


Dancing ekizino, the kikiga dance

In the Kavunuuzi, the strictly Rukiga words (those that Banyankore do not use/know), are marked with a‘usage’ connotation showing that they are Kiga and the strictly Nyankore words (which Bakiga do not use) marked with a Nkore usage connotation. There are however many strictly Runyankore words which the Bakiga do not use but are not conotated in the dictionary as of Nkole usage. Very few, if any strictly Kiga words have escaped the Kiga usage connotation on the other hand. This can be interpreted/misinterpreted to mean that some strictly Runyankore words should universally apply to Rukiga, where as strictly Rukiga words should not apply to Runyankore. If this be true, then the Kavunuuzi’s intentions are not noble. By treating Rukiga as a minor language and projecting Runyankore as the superior language, the Kavunuuzi attempts to subdue Kiga heritage, which we know is on its own as rich, I won’t say richer. Let us look at some of the words themselves as projected by the Kavunuuzi;

Ahansi adv. the place beneath, or under. Usage: Kiga. Var: ahaasi. The Bakiga do not use the ahaasiword to mean ahansi, ahaasi is conventionally a Runyankore word but it is not followed by a Nkole usage connotation.

Amashaza n. peas: a leguminous plant of the genus Pisum with small white flowers and long green pods containing edible green seeds. Usage: Kiga. Var: obushaza, amasaza. Sing: eishaza. I am not sure that the Banyankore grow peas, so it is as well possible that they do not have a word for peas.

Ekibiga n. a condition of feeling hot. Usage: Kiga. See: EKYOYA. The Kiga do not use the word Ekyoya to mean Ekibiga as the Banyankore. But the Kavunuuzi does not state that Ekyoya is of Nkore usage, the same way is states that Ekibiga is for Kiga usage!

Ekicuucu n. shed: dark area on the ground, wall, floor, etc. due to cut off of direct rays of light. Usage:Kiga. See: EKIBUNDA. Pl: ebicuucu. So, the Kavunuuzi rightly notes that Ekicuucu is a strictly Kiga word, but do the authors want us to believe that Ekibunda applies across the board? It is a strictly Runyankore word that is not universal!

I can go on and on and mention more words as Nyenkyakare, Okucuusya, Okufuura, Okuhenyera, Okukaakaara, Okusonoora, Okutonoora, Ruzimure among others, but I hope the few words above explain the point well.

It would be unfair of me if I do not approve the “stated” objectives of the Kavunuuzi project! But that is all I can do, applaud the objective which to me is not met, if I look at the matter from my perspective as one interested in the preservation of the Kiga heritage just as others. By subjugating the Kiga language with Runyankore, the Kavunuuzi does more harm than probably intended! Maybe the whole lumping together of Runyankore and Rukiga under the Runyankore Rukiga tag is wrong!

Republished on Ugandans At Heart on January 26, 2014 

1 thought on “Just how different is Rukiga from Runyankore and why does the Kavunuuzi deny?

  1. Pingback: We want to preserve Rukiga – Rukiga: Prof. Manuel Muranga | Friday's Thoughts

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