Let us learn from the royal grave good: Cyirima II Rujugira and objects found in his tomb.


In ancient Rwanda, there were royal tombs where Kings; queens and queen mothers were laid to rest. Some Kings were buried in other places after passing away on spot during a battle. Cyirima II Rujugira a Rwandan famous king of battle known on a say “u Rwanda ruratera ntiruterwa” (No nation invades Rwanda, instead Rwanda defends itself and attacks nations.), who reigned from1675 to 1708 was buried at gaseke hill, rukoma Kamonyi district.  

Between 1968 and 1973, the Belgian archaeologist named Francis Van Noten excavated two graves belonging to Rwandan former kings (Cyirima II Rujugira and Kigeri IV Rwabugiri), and one belonging to the former queen-mother (Nyirayuhi V Kanjogera). Among these three graves, the most spectacular burial was that of Cyirima Rujugira found at Gaseke hill in Rukoma, now in Kamonyi district, Southern Province. According to oral traditions, the King Rujugira died around 1708, but due to a number of reasons his corpse which had been smoked, was only buried in 1931 or 1932. Archaeological dating however, suggest that the king’s death happened around 1635, many years earlier than the figures put forward by oral historians.

Traditionally the smoked body of a shepherd-king, with the dynastic name of Cyirima or Mutara, was kept and honored by a cult at this Gaseke hill. Rujugira was supposed to be transported and buried later with dignity in the royal cemetery of Rutare by the subsequent shepherd-king Mutara II Rwogera, his fourth successor. However, Rwogera was prevented from observing this rite, and the remains of Cyirima II were therefore kept in Gaseke until December 1931 or January 1932 when Yuhi V Musinga had them secretly buried in the Gaseke town center.

In Gaseke the smoked corpse of the king was kept in a compound with three huts inside: in the first one lived the ritual-guard Umwiru, and some ritual drums were kept in there. The second hut sheltered the body of Cyirima that was continuously smoked, together with some royal drums. In the third and smallest hut were kept the common drums.

 The objects belonging to Cyirima II Rujugira were conserved and buried with him. Thus, his body and 188 classes of items (most of them in a single item) were found in his tomb. The large number of the material found in the grave of Cyirima Rujugira was connected with ritual and magic. Among these objects are ceramic objects (drinking pots and pipes); metal material (traditional hammers, spears, bells, swords and knives, bracelets); animal bones, shells, wooden material, stone material and glass beads.



Did you know that you can visit, see and learn more about all these grave goods at the Ethnographic Museum in Huye? Yes, all these objects are exhibited in one of this museum galleries since 1988. Come and learn more about the Rwandan beliefs on life after death, or learn about the long distance trade in pre-colonial Rwanda as some of the items found in the grave were not produced locally but imported instead.

By Eudoxie Alice