African Catholic linguist and author.
Born in Kiyanja, Rwanda, Kagame was ordained a Catholic priest in 1941. Even as a student in Nyakibanda Regional Seminary (1938 - 1940), he spent all his free time studying and collecting poetic literature of the Tutsi; he also did some composing himself, and wrote for various African journals. In 1950 he was the first African to become a corresponding member of the Institut Royal Colonial Belge (later Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer). In 1952 his bishop sent him to the Gregorian University in Rome for doctoral studies in philosophy. His thesis, published in 1956, was La philosophie bantu-rwandaise de l’Etre. To a volume entitled Des prêtres noirs s’interrogent he contributed “La literature orale au Rwanda,” a comparison of Tutsi dynamic poetry with its equivalent in the Hebrew psalter. An expert in his mother tongue, he translated the Bible, the missal, and various liturgical texts into Kinyarwanda. Drawing mainly from oral sources, he wrote numerous historical works. Of these, the most important are Un abrégé de l’ethno-histoire du Rwanda (1972) and Un abrégé de l’histoire du Rwanda, de 1855 - 1972 (1975). He also wrote for his own people in the local language. Because of his political, social, and family background, he naturally became prominent in the independence movement of his country and so made enemies. He was professor at the National University of Rwanda, contributor to the “Histoire Générale de l’Afrique,” and visiting professor at the University of Lubumbashi. He was also a member of the Institut International des Civilisations Différentes, the Commission de Linguistique Africaine, and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. He died in Nairobi.
Karl Muller, SVD
F. Botinck, “In memoriam Alexis Kagame,” in Revue Africaine de Théologie 6 (1982): 113 - 115; M. Walraet, Les sciences au Rwanda. Bibliographie (1894 - 1965) (1966). See also obituaries in Mondes et cultures 42, no. 1 (1982): 228 - 230, and Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer 28, no. 1 (1981), 67 - 68 (by J. P. Harroy).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.