Cow for dowry: The Inyambo People of Rwanda

Cow for dowry: The Inyambo People of Rwanda

Inyambo: are part of Rwanda’s creation myths. For Rwandans, their forebears dwelt in heaven, and when they erred and were expelled to earth, the most important of the mercies Imana (God) allowed them to take with them, for their survival on their new home, was a cow.

To understand what culturally cows mean to Rwandans, you look at their relationship with Inyambo. The cows are brushed, pampered, decorated with beads, and serenaded with poetry. They are often given names, to which they respond when they are called.

Inyambo were rarely ever slaughtered for meat. On the rare occasions that they were, rituals determined who could, or couldn’t eat the slaughtered animal. No self-respecting household for instance, would eat the meat from their milch cow. If for some reason such a cow was slaughtered, they would call upon the neighbours to come and ‘rescue’ that household, by eating the meat, which the neighbours could, since they weren’t so intimately connected to the cow.”

Cow for dowry: The Inyambo People of Rwanda

And no respectable family would ever slaughter cows given as dowry. When cows given as dowry had calves, the pride’s family would give some of them to the newlyweds. Indongoranyo as they are known, would also never be eaten by the family.

The Inyambo Cows

The Inyambo are a special breed of cows with large horns across East Africa. The Inyambo are very important to the Rwandese culture and serve several purposes. They are referred to as Rwanda royal cows and are bred specially for royal engagements during ancient times.

Cow for dowry: The Inyambo People of Rwanda

The cows are given a special salt-like liquid called amazi ahiye to ensure they have calves of the same quality. In ancient times, the inyambo were trained to parade by their herdsmen in the traditional practices of amazina y’inka and amahamba. The cows were also decorated in royal expensive jewelry as you can see in the pictures below. These cows would traditionally live in the King’s palace and be milked.

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