Do you know the origin of your district name?

Do you know the origin of your district name? If the answer is no, then you are missing out on the knowledge about the rich history of Rwanda.

Do you know the origin of your district name? If the answer is no, then you are missing out on the knowledge about the rich history of Rwanda.

According to historians Jean-Damascène Rwasamirera, 75, who taught history for 28 years, and 94-year-old Pastor Ezra Mpyisi, knowing history about the names of regions and history of the country in general helps people learn from what went wrong and maintain or emulate the right occurrences in their country’s past.


“In fact being in your country without knowing its history is a deficiency. We should know all our history,” Rwasamirera says.


Rwanda is made up of 30 districts created under the Organic Law Nº 29/2005 of 31/12/2005 determining the administrative entities of the Republic of Rwanda including provinces, City of Kigali and districts.


However, coming up with the names of the new districts was a process that considered several aspects.

Protais Musoni, the Chairperson of the Pan-African Movement Rwanda Chapter says the responsibility was given to the right people to decide the name for their respective districts. “This was in line with giving people their right to participation in leadership and avoid conflicts that would emerge owing to misunderstanding on a given name,” he noted.

In a three-part series Sunday Times will look at how districts in Rwanda got their names. In this first issue of the series, we look at 10 districts in no particular order.

Rwamagana District

Historian Jean-Damascène Rwasamirera told Sunday Times that from generation to generation, there are people who change the pronunciation of a given name because they do not know the meaning of such a name as conceived by the forefathers. 

Rwamagana District got its name because of its good grass which attracted cattle keepers. / File

“For instance Rwamagana, some people pronounce it as /rwaamagana/ yet in fact it is /rw’amagana/, meaning pasture or a place where cattle graze from.”

The district is said to have been named so because it had good grass which attracted many cattle keepers with many of them setting camp in the area.

Nyaruguru District

In 2012, Nyaruguru District had close to thirty thousand inhabitants.

Nyaruguru is famously known for Kibeho, the Holy Land that is said to have been the scene of revelation of the Holy Mary to three female students in the 1980s, at Mère du Verbe (Mother of the Word) School in Kibeho Sector. The area of her apparition was then renamed Kibeho Holy Land.

The faithful also believe that Kibeho has a well that is endowed with holy water.

Rwasamirera says the district got its name from ‘Inyaruguru’, which was an army troop in the kingdom era. 

Because of frequent attacks from Burundi, King Rwabugiri is said to have deployed his elite ‘troops’ called ‘Inyaruguru’ at the border between Rwanda and Burundi. He said the last commander of ‘Inyaruguru’ was Muhigirwa wa Rwabugiri, the son of King Rwabugiri.

Kayonza District

Historian Rwasamirera said Kayonza takes its name from ‘Umunyonza’ – a thorny shrub tree that produces edible fruit with blood-like colour juice. The fruit which becomes red before maturity and turns black as it ripens is called Inyonza, according to Rwasamirera who testifies that he also tasted the fruit.

He said the tree still exists and can be found in Akagera National Park and in some places in Kayonza District. “Kayonza was a hilly area which had many Iminyonza trees,’ he said.

Gasabo District

94-year-old Ezra Mpyisi says that the name Gasabo refers to the fact that the area had abundance of milk, which was kept and centrifuged in ‘Ibisabo’ (gourds for centrifuging milk to make butter).

A kid drinks milk from a gourd. The name Gasabo is derived from abundance of milk in the area which was drunk from gourds. / Nadege Imbabazi

It is also believed that “Rwanda rwa Gasabo” was a central territory in the past and as Rwanda conquered various neighbouring territories, the latter were annexed to that of Rwanda Rwagasabo.

Kamonyi District

Kamonyi’s soil was rich in ‘Imonyi’- small clay stones which were in the past used to clean Ibyansi - wooden milk containers at the royal court, according to 94-year-old Ananias Bizima. The district also had several minerals including coltan and cassiterite.

The district is also said to have a mountain called ‘Ijuru rya Kamonyi,’ where King Yuhi II Mazimpaka lived.

Kirehe District

Rwasamirera said that the district got its name because of the existence of many sycamore trees called ‘Imirehe’ (Umurehe in singular). The trees were said to be crucial in helping them get rid of ticks from their cows by rubbing them against fur. 

Huye District

It was considered the education hub of the country then with the first University (the then National University of Rwanda, currently University of Rwanda- Huye Campus) having been established there in 1963.

According to former Senator Antoine Mugesera, Huye District gets its name from Huye Mountain, the highest mountain in ‘Ibisi Byahuye’- the chain of mountains of Huye made up by the southern part of the Crete Congo-Nil.

Rusizi District

Rusizi District was named after Rusizi River, which runs through the district to DR Congo. Rusizi is one of the sources of electricity that is used in the Economic Community of the Great Lakes (CEPGL).

Rusizi District is also known for Bugarama Marshland which has over 1,500 hectares used to grow rice with an average yield of 7 tons per hectare per season.

Nyamagabe District

Philbert Mugisha, the mayor of Nyamagabe said the district was named after a mountain called Nyamagabe which is in the district’s Kamegeri Sector. 

He said the name was based on ‘kugaba’ - gifting someone a cow. He said the name also refers to friendly social interactions, love and sharing of resources.

Nyabihu District

The district’s name was informed by the area’s cold weather patterns which include thick clouds and mist, as well as frequent rain.

When you visit this area in the Western Province of Rwanda, especially if you are not a native, make sure you take warm clothing with you.

Gicumbi District

Jean-Baptise Bizimana, the president of Gicumbi District advisory council told Sunday Times that there is a mountain called Gicumbi where Inyange Industries get water for industrial use and that is the same mountain that this district in Northern Province was named after.

He noted that it is from that Mountain that Rwanyonga rwa Mugabwambere, a chief, lived. Rwanyonga was one of the heroes of Rwanda during the reign of King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri. 

Normally, he said, ‘Igicumbi’ is a place inside a house where one can sit and rest, but noted that the mountain where chiefs mainly those from Abatsobe lived, was called Igicumbi -meaning a respected place.

Look out for part 2 of this series next Sunday...

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