KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Tracing the birth of Rwanda's royal drums

Rwanda, like other countries in Africa and in Europe ruled by traditional monarchies had a variety of objects with ritual and historical value kept at the court of the king. These included among others; the squad, hammers, drums, spears and animal portraits to mention but a few.
Basarure (left) and Rwagagaza (right) drums at the museum in Huye. (David Nkusi)
Basarure (left) and Rwagagaza (right) drums at the museum in Huye. (David Nkusi)

Rwanda, like other countries in Africa and in Europe ruled by traditional monarchies had a variety of objects with ritual and historical value kept at the court of the king. These included among others; the squad, hammers, drums, spears and animal portraits to mention but a few.

In Rwanda, apart from the royal drum that symbolized both the power of the king and the supremacy of Rwanda over its annexed territories, there existed a list of objects that gave evidence of victories won in combat.

This week, I bring you yet another interesting bit of “know your history” - the drum - as Rwanda’s Royal treasure.

Bariba drum

Oral traditions trace Bariba drum to Ruganzu II Ndori who lived in the 16th century. It was established as a replacement of Rwoga drum that had been annexed by King Ntsibura I Nyebuga from Nyabungo who attacked and later killed king Ndahiro II Cyamatare of Rwanda. From that time onwards, a decision was made to make a replacement because for a while Rwanda had stayed without any royal treasure, something that was thought to be a curse.

Nyamigezi, a Muvubyi by clan from Busigi (south of Byumba), carefully looked for a tree that could be used to curve out beautiful royal drums. The tree was then spotted at a place called Cyungo in Byumba were Karinga, Bariba and Karihejuru drums were made from.

Karinga, the symbolic drum of the king of Rwanda, served three roles; it represented the kingdom as well as the monarch and dynasty of the kings (Abanyinginya).

This drum update is exhibited in Gallery six (6) at the Ethnographic museum in Huye/ Butare. But before it was at the museum, it was kept by the family of Abakende from Abiru clan who settled in Ruhengeri, Musanze district by now.

Basarure drum

Historically, Basarure drum was for the oldest Biru from Abatege family originating from Nyabutege during the reign of King Ndahiro II Cyamatare towards the end of 15th century until the beginning of 16th century. Nyabutege is said to have been born to Rubunga, a Mwiru during the reign of Abarenge dynasty in Rwanda, before the Nyiginya dynasty. Rubunga is said to have told Gihanga about Abarenge dynasty. The last person in lineage to Basarure drum is Bishahurimbwa, son of Sezibera who was Umwiru during Yuhi V Musinga. For more information about the Basarure drum, please visit the Ethnographic museum in Huye.

The writer is a cultural heritage analyst

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