In the Eastern Province district of Nyagatare, Mimuri sector in Rebero village is a cluster of houses—three of them circular and the other two built in quadrilateral shape with two parallel sides.
The houses built with metal sheets, were constructed by King Mutara III Rudahigwa in the late 1940’s. History has it that the king, after a long hunting spree, often enjoyed some rest or would even sleepover at Mimuri before proceeding to Nyanza, the royal capital of those days.
The houses, now heritage site served not only as hunting camp to the monarch during the hunting season in the park, but also as a stopover by Rwandans who traveled to and from Uganda whenever the king was not around.
The travelers would seek shelter at Mimuri whenever they felt it was late for them to proceed with their journeys and to avoid night attacks by wild animals in the park. For that reason, the site adds a major factor and pattern to Rwanda’s history—even beyond the monarch who built them.
The architectural designs found at Mimuri have got great artistic value and being the work of the king, leaves the site more outstanding with satisfied site data that is likely to yield information important to prehistory or contemporary history of Rwanda.
In fact, the whole region of Umutara was a savanna wood land and hunting, was a major activity throughout the monarchical period. Therefore, as hunting was Rudahigwa’s hobby, he liked to go purposely to hunt there.
In addition, it was a tradition for Rwandan monarchs to go around their kingdom, meeting with chiefs and the populace. That is the reason why Rudahigwa had to construct the houses as his hunting camp and meeting place with the population and local chiefs.
Actually, this site reflects early aspirations of King Rudahigwa’s in as far as development and modernity was concerned as seen through the materials he used, as well as the architectural design which includes the chimney for warm people during the traditional evening gatherings around a bonfire.
When the King was not there, the camp served as shelter to Rwandans travelling to and from Uganda; and this shows the extent to which the monarch was close to his people. It also shed some light on the level of integration and interaction between Rwandans and other territories such as present day Uganda.
The site can enable the public to step back into the past and relive those moments. The physical environment still contains material records of human past—a reservoir of archaeological and historical knowledge. This will address ways to enhance remembrance and memorisation of the past.
History is the only means through which one can make sense of the past in the present; and memory is an emotional expression that should bind people together and be linked to a place.
Throughout recorded history, heritage has suffered damage and destruction in times of conflict. Managing and retrieving this past in a post- conflict society – Rwanda, is a wakeup call not only to the international community but to Rwandans themselves.
In our minds, the destruction of heritage, even though it has existed throughout the course of history, now indicates a shift in the relationship that societies have with the testimony of the cultural memories surrounding these heritage sites.
In recent years, cultural heritage has attracted increasing attention from both the scientific community and the general public. And one of the goals of preservation and research is to make the public understand this historical significance and raise awareness.
Currently, researches are being carried out by museums of Rwanda on how this heritage site and many more others can be protected to live a desired function.
Visiting them is an opportunity of reaching some of the farthest corners of Rwanda, contemplating its beauty, gaining new insights in its mythology, culture and history.
It is well established that archaeological sites and museums can act as mainsprings of tourist developments with economic benefits. Marketing of the past and heritage as an experience to be consumed has been at the forefront of economic trends in the tourism industry.
The trend towards the culture of consumption is strongly related to many tourism and leisure activities that can be accommodated around these sites.
This brings benefits to local communities for example; sense of pride, regeneration, economic, social and cultural capital—people’s ability to understand their cultural heritage.
Telling Rwanda’s history is never easy even though the country is small. Rwanda has a long, unique cultural heritage stretching from the ancient times of Nyiginya Dynasty under Gihanga, who is believed to be the mythical founder to archaeological evidences of hunter gatherers in the late stone age with iron age settlers producing dimpled pottery and iron tools.
The author is cultural heritage analyst.