As we drive towards Musanze our car suddenly branches into a seemingly neglected path, and the ride continues for about three minutes until we encounter shrubbery and halt. It’s here that we meet the tour guide, Joseph Hategekimana, sitting in a relaxed manner on a tree trunk.
He quickly briefs us about the site we are about to visit before we start off at a good pace. It becomes more and more exhausting as we climb up a dark, stony walkway that endlessly snakes through creeping and crawling plants. The smell of decaying leaves and the soft chorus of the crickets and birds usher us on.
After about 30 minutes, our trek is halted. In front of us was a small ditch, surrounded by a flowery thicket and small lava stones. Our guide informed us that that was where the kings’ assistants, the Abiru, picked herbs that were to be added to spring water to make a ritual bath for the king during his coronation.
Then we walked down to a dark cave surrounded by huge boulders. This was where the king was wheeled in a royal carriage, Ingobyi, straight from his palace in Nyanza, for a fortune-bestowing bath with the herb and spring-water concoction. This was known as Kwihagira.
After, the king was thoroughly wiped and smeared with regal oil, he was then carried to the conference podium, made out of hard, excellently cut lava rocks, with stairs on the edge which was covered in greenish mold. This is where he received the instruments of power, blessings and protection from the gods. After that, he was officially hailed as ‘Umwami’ of Rwanda’. The ceremony was presided over by his advisory council, clan heads, elders and royal sorcerers.
According to the ancient beliefs, this ceremony not only ensured the immunity of his kingdom from external aggression but also made invasions of other territories by the Kingdom a success.
We were then guided to a mystifying sight. A three-in-one tree. It seems that different species of tree had become intertwined. The tree, known as ‘Inyabutatu ya Banyarwanda’, the guide explained and represented the unity and harmony of the three Rwandan ethnic groups who served one King loyally.
This sight was followed by a glimpse of rare traditional trees that have been standing for at least 300 years. There trees had names such as Igihondondo, Umusando and Ibigabiro .
The most outstanding one, however, was Umuvumu (The Curse). It is alleged that about thirty men cut it down in 1977. But before it was carried off in small fire wood bundles, the pieces turned into the original tree. The next morning each of the men in question met a subsequent death.
A walk downhill took up to a small spring containing dark and ice-cold water. This was where the King’s bathwater was collected. It is rumored that one morning in 1988, the local chief ordered that it be dredged. His men did as ordered. But before darkness fell the spring was over flowing again. The following day countless, huge snakes pitched camp at his (the local chief’s) residence for seven days and on the eighth day, the chief and the rest of his family perished as a result. The oddest thing about this spring is that it overflows in the dry season but almost dries up during the rainy season.
The expedition ended with our guide telling us that hundreds of people come to seek ‘blessings’ from the sacred spring. “Locals also fetch the water for domestic use,” Joseph Hategekimana informed us .
Entrance to this park is Frw2000 for nationals, and $40 for foreigners; its open from 8am to 6pm, all every day of the week.