This story takes place in the 18th century, in Bwishaza, a small kingdom in central Africa. It has been eight days since Nyamutezi’s wife has given birth to a daughter. All neighbours, accompanied by their children, have come to celebrate the happy event.
“My daughter, your name will be Ndabaga !” No sooner has Nyamutezi spoken these words than the sound of war drums echoes throughout the entire kingdom. All healthy men hurry to answer the call. Nyamutezi takes his bow from the hook, ties his quiver around his waist, grabs his spear and shield, and off he goes to war.
Years go by and the conflict still goes on. Nyamutezi watches his fellow warriors leave for home, one by one, relieved by their sons. “And what about me, who have no other offspring than a daughter?” the old warrior keeps asking himself.
During her puberty, Ndabaga decides to learn martial arts to be able to replace her father on the battlefield and give him a chance to spend his old days back home. "
“She felt she could do something even when no girl or woman was supposed to replace their father in ‘Itorero’,”
To get her way around the established practice, Ndabaga trained herself to perform tasks that were reserved for boys during her formative years, eventually becoming so good she would outperform boys in masculine tasks.
“She took herself through a series of physical training from jumping fences to shooting and fighting as boys did. She was so committed she would eventually replace her father so much she had to seek traditional services to press down her breasts so no one recognised her real gender when she finally went to the palace.”
When Ndabaga felt that she was ready to replace her father, she headed to the palace and, after identifying and informing him of her mission, she convinced him to leave her behind and return home to rest as he was growing frail.
When Ndabaga was ready and had managed to convince her father, she was presented to the King and everyone else at the palace and she immediately impressed in several tasks and assignments.”
Ndabaga, having grasped all the warrior skills, impressed the King so much he asked her to be a leader of her “peers”.
Some of the men, however, later started to doubt Ndabaga’s supposed gender since even as she was excelling in various tasks.
“Even as she was a typical Intore (specially trained to serve nation) and warrior, she had favor around her just like women or girls…everyone started asking questions,”
“There were some rumors that suggested she was probably not a boy …for instance, some boys and men started wondering why she never bathed with them and always dressed up in private.”
Soon, word reached the King that Ndabaga may not be a boy after all.
The king decided to find out if Ndabaga was indeed a man or not. He challenged her to wrestling sessions for several days but nobody defeated her.
But when the rumor persisted, the King, asked her straight out if she was a man or not.
Ultimately, she admitted she was a girl and explained that her actions were only aimed at ridding her family of shame.
The king was surprised and impressed at the same time, so much that he decided to marry Ndabaga.
Touched by Ndabaga’s actions, the King decided that everyone in Itorero at the palace is returned to their loved ones, coining a now-famous saying, “Ibintu byageze iwa Ndabaga’ (the situation has become so dire that women or girls are now posing as men to save the situation).