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Rwanda -- Religion

The majority of Rwandans, about 65%, are Roman Catholic, with another 9% Protestant. Only about 1% of the population is Muslim. About a fourth of Rwandans are adherents of indigenous beliefs. However, these numbers and divisions are not clear cut. Many Rwandans practice both their traditional religion and Christianity at the same time. At the core of traditional religion is a supreme being or spirit called Imana. This supreme being can only be addressed through intermediaries, and they can be Christian, the spirits of deceased family members known as abazima, or other illustrious ancestors. In this final category, Ryangombe and Nyabingi are two venerated ancestral deities that can intercede and ask for power and benevolence from Imana but do not posses them themselves. Ryangombe is venerated mostly in southern and western Rwanda. Nyabingi is a goddess venerated mostly in northern Rwanda.

Rwandan's believe that one's familial ancestors, the abazima, can protect and benefit living family members if they are honored and remembered through sacrifices. When they are not, and sacrifices are not performed, they can cause illness or other misfortunes. Diviners are called upon by family members to interpret the wishes of abazima and to recommend ways to appease angered ancestors.

Source: Taylor, C.C. 1995. Rwandans. In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life.

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