Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Iron Mothers and Warrior Lovers: Intimacy, Power, and the State in the Nyiginya Kingdom, 1796-1913

  • Author(s): Watkins, Sarah Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Miescher, Stephan F
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the development of the role of the Queen Mother in the Nyiginya kingdom between 1796 and 1913. Using case studies of four Queen Mothers immediately preceding the onset of Belgian colonial rule, I examine how they manipulated changing social and political circumstances to increase their own power bases, transforming the nature of the monarchy itself. Through oral historical narratives, royal rituals, colonial accounts, and local and family histories I reveal a social order in flux, and a monarchical system increasingly dependent upon intimate kinship relationships. Within this context, I argue that the power of the King, relative to the Queen Mother and other intimates, waned when faced with the innovations of joint rulership. These innovations developed in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and culminated with the reign of Nyirayuhi V Kanjogera (r. 1895-1931), who has become the iconic image of the Tutsi monarchy for both supporters and detractors over the course of the post-colonial period. My research refocuses the historiography of the late Rwandan monarchy, which has previously centered on kings, warriors, and male ritual practitioners, to its women rulers as a way to illustrate the importance of clanship to the development of kinship. Further, I raise larger questions about the nature of monarchy and its sometimes perilous reliance upon a network of intimate relationships, and argue that this system is constructed in part out of what feminist scholars have labeled "intimate labors." My research advances the current discourse within Rwandan studies about the nature of social identity in the period immediately prior to and during the early decades of colonial rule. I evaluate the historical construction of social identity by illustrating the importance of regional and family identities, and how gender identity and rank complicate these ideas even further. I challenge the conventional periodization of African history, which has centered the experience of colonialism as the defining event for African societies. Instead, I propose an approach to colonial history that treats European conquest as one of many important social and political upheavals that involved negotiation, adaptation, and resistance on the part of African polities. Finally, I place precolonial African history within a global context, drawing comparisons with cultures in East Asia, Latin America, and Europe, in order to emphasize African history's vital contribution to world history.

Main Content
Current View