STUDY TOUR ON HERITAGE SITES IN EASTERN PROVINCE -RWANDA

In the implementation of an ongoing research project aiming at protecting and promoting heritage sites in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, from 2nd to 4th December 2014, Rwanda Museums research team carried out yet another in-depth study tour in Gatsibo and Nyagatare Districts. The main objective of the tour was to investigate four historical and cultural sites namely Utubindi twa Rubona, Urutare rwa Ngarama, Mimuri and Ryamurari. 

These sites lie within a beautiful countryside and traveling through it provides a fascinating insight into daily village life. As for the sites themselves, stories around them as told by local elders is an absolute highlight and a vivid reminder of our country's colorful past. These and many more to come; enhance collective memories that eventually shape realities of our imagined world. In other words, they are the only means that make a sense of our past with emotional expressions that binds us together.

 1-UTUBINDI TWA RUBONA

Situated in Tubindi Village, Rubona Cell, Kiziguro Sector, Gatsibo district, Utubindi twa Rubona as Mr. Karoli Karomba born 95 years ago narrates, were dug by Ruganzu, who at the time from his aunt Nyabunyana in Karagwe, entered in Rwanda after crossing Akagera River and sojourned at Rubona.

Since his very young age in fact, the Prince Ruganzu hunkered down (in Rwandan tradition kubunda) in Karagwe where his aunt, Nyabunyana was a queen. Meanwhile, his father, King Ndahiro Cyamatare was killed by his enemies, and Rwandans missed him a lot. As they endured difficulties and hankered for a monarch of his kind, Ndahiro’s loyal servants planned to enthrone his heir, Ndoli. Therefore, one of them, Kavuna, the son of Mushimiye, volunteered as a messenger until the mission was accomplished.

On his journey to Rwanda, Ruganzu and his men sojourned at Rubona. When they arrived there, they had no drink and were thirsty. Therefore, Ruganzu took his magic spear, poked it into ground and drilled, one after another, 12 pot-shaped pits which were instantly full of water. Today, those pot-shaped pits lie within the compound of Groupe Scolaire Rubona but do not store water any more. For Mr. Karoli Karomba and his neighbors, it is striking that they are never filled with rainwater despite being on an open ground.

Fig. 1 INMR Research Team interviewing Mr. Karoli Karomba about “Utubindi twa Rubona"

In oral traditions, King Ruganzu Ndoli is said to have held supernatural powers which are actually linked not only to how he dug those pot-like pits to get water to serve his army, but also how he used to disappear tactfully underneath the ground each time he had to escape.

With emotional sentiments, local residents such as Anastasia Mukarukaka, claim that Utubindi twa Rubona contain the history of Rwanda from the time of King Ruganzu and thus their maintenance should be considered as one way of preserving the Rwandan culture. Further still, though there is infrastructural development in this place such as schools, the site should be fenced and developed like any other cultural site which can be visited by both nationals and internationals for discovery of the great history of the country.

Fig. 2 One of Utubindi twa Rubona 

2-URUTARE RWA NGARAMA

In Ngarama Sector, Gatsibo District just about 20 km from a place called “Mu byapa bya Ngarama”, on Kigali-Nyagatare main road, lies yet another interesting cultural site “Urutare rwa Ngarama”. It is one and huge rock covering a surface of about 3 hectares on which there are features attributed to historical figures, mainly King Ruganzu Ndoli and Ngarama.Rwanda Museums research team caught up with 72 years old Kazare Faustin inhabiting nearby this site. What was more surprising but of interest, is his current ongoing research on the same site. According to him, there are three versions of oral traditions explaining the origin of the name “Urutare rwa Ngarama”. All these versions converge on the incidence occurring on that rock and from which it got the name.

The first is a story of a man who found shepherds sleeping on the rock while their herds were destroying the plantations nearby. So, he angrily blamed them on how they could sleep on the rock while their herds were ravaging plantations (Mugaramye ku rutare kandi inka zanyu zona imirima y’abandi). From then that rock was called Urutare rwa Ngarama.

In the second version, the appellation “Urutare rwa Ngarama” or “Urutare rwa Rwakomba” started at a time when Rwakomba (a servant of the kingdom of Ndorwa) hid the emblem drum named Murorwa from the Rwandan army led by the Prince Ndabarasa who wanted to confiscate it from Ndorwa after defeating it. In fact, under the reign of Cyilima II Rujugira,Rwandan troops attacked and defeated the kingdom of Ndorwa whose royal capital was Ryamurari (located on the top of Mukama hill). Traditionally, a sign of victory over a foreign territory was not only to defeat its army and rulers, but also to capture their royal insignia which, in the case of Ndorwa, was the emblem drum Murorwa. But a royalist called Rwakomba did not want to betray his country and thus refused to reveal to Rwandans the whereabouts of that drum. So he lived to his words until his demise as he was burnt on the top of the rock. Following such an incidence, that rock was called Urutare rwa Rwakomba or Urutare Rwa Ngarama. If one is to believe this version, however, it seems that oral traditions have only retained the second name to the detriment of the first and we cannot guess why.

In contrast with the first and second versions which seem to be only known by local people, the third version is more popular across the country. For this, the name Urutare rwa Ngarama is attributed to a mythical hero, Ngarama, a strong man who fought and killed a dangerous eagle called Saruhara hatched from Nkomokomo. According to Kazare, this version is more of reality than a myth because there are the footsteps of Ngarama while he stretched out his arrow to kill the bird. 

Fig.3 INMR staff interviewing Mr. Kazare Faustin about Urutare Rwa Ngarama

Fig. 4 The footprints found on the top of Urutare rwa Ngarama and  believed to be of Ruganzu II Ndoli

3- MIMURI HERITAGE SITE

In Rebero Village, Rugari Cell, Mimuri Sector, Nyagatare District lies a cluster of five houses (3 in circular and 2 in trapezoid forms) built with metal sheets by King Mutara III Rudahigwa during the late 1950's. According to Mr. Karasanyi Yusuf, the houses served as hunting camp to that monarch, and when he was not there, they were used by Rwandans and other visitors who traveled to and from Uganda. They would seek shelter at Mimuri whenever it would be late for them to proceed with their journey and/or avoid night attacks by wild animals in the park. As told by Yusuf Karasanyi, “after a long hunting spree, Rudahigwa would take some rest or sleep over at Mimuri before departing to Nyanza- the then royal capital. He could also meet people and share the meat hunted there”.

To complete these collected stories, it is well known that King Rudahigwa liked hunting, a hobby that saw him compete favorably with his friends including Europeans. He could always chip in whenever there was a dangerous animal that the rest had failed to hunt.

The architectural designs found at Mimuri have got great artistic value, and being the work of the king leaves the site more outstanding as it yields important information about the contemporary history of Rwanda. Actually, this site reflects early aspirations of Rudahigwa as far as development and modernity was concerned. This is seen through the materials he used, as well as the architectural design which includes the chimney for warming up people during the traditional evening gatherings.

Fig. 5 King Rudahigwa's hunting camp at Mimuri

 

4-Ryamurari

It is an archaeological site located in Bufunda Village, Bufunda Cell, Mukama Sector, Nyagatare District. Information resulting from previous archaeological investigations oral traditions corroborate that Ryamurari, also called Mu bitabo bya Gahaya or Mukama, is a seventeenth century capital of the Ndorwa Kingdom. Physically, the site is characterized by large earthwork enclosures as well as a stone cut reservoir. Apart from earthwork structures which are on the top of the hill (Mukama), on its foot there is a swampy depression with salty water and oral traditions link it to those earthworks. It is said that the depression was a trough for the cattle of the king who constructed those earthworks.

According to oral traditions, the kingdom of Ndorwa was annexed to Rwanda under the reign of Cyilima II Rujugira and its emblem drum was called Murorwa.

Fig. 6 One of the earthworks found at Ryamurari