The Power Of A Name
Every time someone asks me to share my last name, I tend to laugh because I expect the name to be butchered. Nyamoya, my birth name, the one given to me by my father in 1988. Boyi is my mother’s last name that I added in December 2012.
Nyamoya, the first to hold the name in my family was my paternal grandfather — Albin Nyamoya. It is known among my family and relatives that I am his lookalike, the difference being that I was born a girl.
Burundi is not known internationally for happy events of any sort; so us Burundians tend to be super protective of the things that we hold dear.
Names are a prime example.
When you look up my home country on Google, you have to be adventurous to think about planning a vacation in Bujumbura. The country is beautiful but some things are going amiss and there’s so much happening that the overwhelming majority of visitors are from the Burundian diaspora and neighbouring countries.
When you type Nyamoya on the search tool, you find several articles that include Albin, Prime (my father), François & Beatrice and Gertrude (my father’s siblings). To give you a bit of context, my grandfather was involved in Politics before and after colonial times; he was a Deputy, a Minister of Agriculture and a Prime Minister. While he never talked about politics with his baby granddaughter, I understood even as a young child that he had played a part in the history of the country. He was married to a descendant of one of the greatest Kings of Burundi — Mwezi Gisabo IV. This might not mean much to a non Burundian but it means a lot to be associated with Mwami Mwezi Gisabo.
The reason I am writing about the power of names is because of the constant rewriting of my country’s History either by some political ideologists or worse by outsiders. The last try was perpetuated by the Netflix Series ‘Black Earth Rising’ (2018).
I remember that the first time I heard about it was when a friend took a picture excitedly sharing that she had seen my name on Netflix. Being a Burundian, I was not expecting something positive so I asked about the synopsis. Well, let’s just say I was right.
I read the synopsis later and I could not manage to watch the whole trailer but let me share what got my attention: a fiction that depicts a woman’s journey to Rwanda. My understanding is that the writers pulled together all the horror stories that stem from real genocides that happened in Rwanda and Burundi but spoiler alert; the political and historical facts of these countries are so different. As an example, France and Belgium do speak the French language but they do not have the same history. Let me include French speaking Canadians.
It may be slacking at work from the writers and producers.
Seeing my name, Nyamoya, being associated with a Rwandan genocide perpetrator is like reading about Beate Klarsfeld collaborating with Nazi Germany.
So why write about it three years later?
I just finished watching an episode on Netflix about a genocidaire, one who heavily funded the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi and I realized that the same platform has two contradictory tales of the Rwandan Genocide in its catalogue. Yes, one is a fiction written by a British woman of Ghanaian descent who might have thought it interesting to bring the subject to the small screen. To my surprise, the beauty of the internet is that we find everything but with the means of a production company one can expect some quality and diligence in research.
In 2016, Ted Cruz, the then presidential candidate, compared himself to JFK. His grandson Jack Kennedy Schlossberg came to the rescue by writing an article in defence of his maternal grandfather’s legacy. (Link)
At the time, reading the correction seemed unnecessary because the US and the world had enough evidence to accept or to refute Ted Cruz’s comments.
As for me being the granddaughter with Nyamoya’s name being dragged in some political conversations; I wondered why it should not be me rectifying this horrendous mismatch . I am fed up with outsiders rewriting a story they barely know and trying to make a quick buck out of it.
Outside of Burundi, it is true that my name is not associated with much but for the few who look up my name (knowingly or not), I am not willing to be depicted as the granddaughter of a Heinrich Himmler-like figure.
Here is a reminder that when a director portrays a real person on the screen, this might bring actual consequences.(Link)