Welcome to Ryamurari, capital of Ndorwa

Ryamurari is one of prominent archaeological sites in the Great Lakes region. This feature remains famous in both archeology and oral traditions of the Rwandan culture. Ryamurari site is located in Bufunda Village, Bufunda Cell, Mukama Sector in Nyagatare District. The feature is located on top of the hill called Mukama which stretches on about 50 acres.

Ryamurari is one of prominent archaeological sites in the Great Lakes region. This feature remains famous in both archeology and oral traditions of the Rwandan culture. Ryamurari site is located in Bufunda Village, Bufunda Cell, Mukama Sector in Nyagatare District. The feature is located on top of the hill called Mukama which stretches on about 50 acres.

This site consists of three large earthwork structures and a stone cut reservoir. According to oral traditions, Ryamurari was the capital of Ndorwa Kingdom before it was annexed by Rwanda.

However after the site was investigated in the 1970s, dated layers indicated that it was first occupied in the middle of the 17th century and re-occupied around 1900 AD.

Historical data from the remains also reveals that much of the fossils found here which include cattle bones and dung suggest that the inhabitants of that site were cattle-keepers. Further evidence to support these findings indicates that a number of grinding stones were recorded at the site meaning that alongside animal husbandry, earlier occupants also practiced agricultural activities.

Its earthwork structures have apparently served as enclosures while the size and direction of the labor force necessary to accomplish such work, together with the presence of abundant cattle remains, indicate the sign of cattle-keeping elite who told other people what to do.

What is further striking about Ryamurari is its names which show a correlation between archeology, oral traditions and history. In fact, the hill on the top of which the site is located is called Mukama or Mu Bitabo bya Gahaya.

Within the East African region comprising of Burundi, Rwanda, Ndorwa and Nkore, the name of Mukama means God, King or chief. Therefore, calling a hill Mukama may indicate that it was inhabited by the king or chief.

However the second name Mu Bitabo bya Gahaya, igitabo is a Kinyarwanda name which means a clay curved shape that was constructed just at the entrance of a traditional hut. Therefore, Mu Bitabo bya Gahaya may imply a place that was inhabited by a great person called Gahaya. For the third name, Ryamurari commemorates the occupation of the site by a great person called Murari (Noten 1983:152).

 Several studies based on oral traditions associate the earthwork structures on the top of the hill with a swampy depression filled with salty water at its foot.

It is believed that this depression was a trough for the cattle of the king who has constructed those earthworks.

Therefore, the link between archaeological findings and oral traditions as explained above suggests that Ryamurari is a 17th century capital of the Ndorwa Kingdom; and, obviously, the kings named Murari or Gahaya should have lived there.

The writer is a cultural heritage analyst

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