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Most people know Rwanda only as the site of a genocide in 1994, which has overshadowed the country’s relatively peaceful past before and after colonization by first Germany and then Belgium. Rwanda’s precolonial history fascinated many European researchers, explorers and colonial officers, mainly because they (falsely) deemed it untainted by external influences, relatively well organized and quite belligerent. Most sources about Rwanda’s precolonial history come from Belgian researchers, officers and administrators and from White Father missionaries. They were published in French and English and focused on the political establishment and its history. But there are also some less well known Polish and German testimonies about the everyday life of ordinary Rwandans, which allow deep (though not unbiased) insights into Rwandan family life, religious habits and customs, education, architecture and agriculture, trade, slavery, and gender relations.
In Every Day Life in Early Colonial Rwanda these testimonies are presented for the first time in English translation. They stem from Jan Czekanowski, a Polish researcher, nobleman and member of the Duke of Mecklemburg’s Central Africa expedition 1905–1907. Czekanowski’s research was later published in German, but he also left behind a diary (in Polish and German) with unpublished observations. Excerpts from the memoirs of protestant missionary Ernst Johanssen and several unpublished records from German and Belgian archives about everyday life accompany them. They enable the reader to get an idea about how Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, Hindu and Arab traders used to live at the advent of the twentieth century.