KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Nyanza ya Butare: Rwanda's cultural hub

photo

A replica of the royal palace. (David Nkusi)

How much do we know about Nyanza ya Butare? Well, its not too late. Come walk along with me the paths of Rwanda’s cultural hub - Nyanza - formerly referred to as Nyabisindu, a colonial name.

Rwanda’s heart and center of cultural enlightenment, Nyanza also once served as the kingdom’s capital around the 19th century with the royal monarch under Kigeli at Mwima next to mushirarungu hill.

King Musinga Yuhi V first lived in Kamonyi, then Gitwiko, Bweramvura, Mwima and finally Nyanza.

Nyanza ya Butare as many call it, was perceived as an influential centre in politics, culture, economics and tourism. And today still holds the country’s cultural heritage tourism envisaged through the two museums — King’s palace at Rukali and the national Art gallery at Rwesero.

Under the reign of king Musinga V Yuhi in 1889, Nyanza became the royal capital of the country. The court became the home of the artistic and intellectual activities and was also a place of economic exchange. Today, a replica of the traditional Royal palace sits at Rukari. The impressive, enormous structure is made entirely with traditional materials, has been painstakingly restored to its 19th century state and now maintained as a museum.

Once the residence of king Mutara III Rudahigwa (1932-59), the museum sits at Rukari, near to the replica of the  Royal palace. After his death, Queen Gicanda continued to occupy the Palace till 1964 when she was forced out. This palace was later restored and offers a glimpse into Rwandan life as it was in the precolonial days. The building was transformed into a museum in 2006, where we have an exhibition related to monarchical history and administration from the 15th to the 20th century in Rwanda.

In that exhibition, we find also some original equipment used by King Mutara III, Rudahigwa’s family as well as his everyday life during his reign. On the neighbouring hill of Mwima, rests the bodies of king Rudahigwa Mutara III and his wife Queen Rosalie Gicanda who was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Located across the valley with a panoramic view from the king’s palace museum is the National art gallery that displays contemporary artwork that testifies the originality of Rwandan creativity drawing inspiration from tradition as well as from modernity. It is through art and handcrafts that Rwanda can be assured of permanent creativity through visual arts (sculptures, photography, paintings, script editing, etc..).

The writer is a cultural heritage analyst