PHOTOS: Rwanda’s hidden treasures

After the Rwanda Development Board launched a campaign to shore up the numbers of domestic tourists, Sunday Times’ Athan Tashobya looks at some of Rwanda’s hidden treasures that Rwandans can visit.
A shrine of  Virgin Mary at Kankazi's house. / Faustin Niyigena
A shrine of Virgin Mary at Kankazi's house. / Faustin Niyigena

After the Rwanda Development Board launched a campaign to shore up the numbers of domestic tourists, Sunday Times’ Athan Tashobya looks at some of Rwanda’s hidden treasures that Rwandans can visit.

The campaign dubbed ‘Tembera ​​​​U Rwanda’ will take place for a period of 3 months from October to December, 2016, and is characterized by bus trips for lucky trivia winners who would have a chance to travel free of charge to attraction sites around Rwanda.

RDB's Chief Tourism Officer Belise Kaliza leads journalists and tourists in a mountain hike last week. / Faustin Niyigena
Innocent Habimana explains why Pope John Paul II visited Rwanda in 1990. / Faustin Niyigena

It is aimed at motivating Rwandans to explore their own country and put the spotlight on domestic travel. The launch took place last week with a tour through the cultural heritage corridor with stop overs at different sites from Kigali to Huye District.


These include storytelling at Ijuru rya Kamonyi in Kamonyi District, Kankazi site, Urutare rwa Kamegeri in Ruhango District, historic tours of Nyagakecuru and Ibisi bya Huye.


Urutare rwa Kamegeri

Kamegeri Rock, locally known as “Urutare Rwa Kamegeri” is where Kamegeri was burnt after advising King Mibambwe Sekarongoro Gisanura to burn criminals on that rock. Kamegeri was then a Kingdom chief.

King Mibambwe, said to have been a sympathetic King, was angered by Kamegeri’s proposal to burn criminals alive and instead ordered his slaves to set the rock on fire and burn Kamegeri, signaling that “a King should not be asked to kill”.

The Rock of Kamegeri is one of the historical sites along the ‘Heritage Corridor' in Kamonyi District with significant myths about Rwanda’s history and culture. / Faustin Niyigena

Kamegeri was thrown on the red-hot rock until he burnt to ashes. This resulted into a common Kinyarwanda adage; “Kugaraguza agati”. Kamegeri rock is located in Ruhango district.

Ijuru rya Kamonyi

The seemingly strategic and raised hill was established as the camps of warriors where the vulnerable borders were protected from incursions by the royal troupes of King Mibambwe IV Rutarindwa, who reigned between 1895 and 1896. It is said that his predecessors and successors used the same place as military base.

From this hill, the army would easily monitors other parts of the country such as former Gisaka, Bugesera, Gikongoro and Burundi as the kingdom’s bid for expansion and security.

However, apart from having a beautiful scenery view of Bugesera Town, Ngororero district and Mount Kigali, this place is now surrounded by home for residents of the locality and nothing to show this rich history.

Kankazi Site

At this site you will see a few isolated wall bricks of what remained of the house of Queen Mother Nyiramavugo III Kankazi, the mother of King Mutara III Rudahigwa and Kigeli V Ndahindurwa.

The National Art Gallery at King Rudahigwa Palace in Nyanza. / Faustin Niyigena

Queen Kankazi was one of the three wives of King Yuhi Musinga V, who came to power in 1896 and collaborated with the German government to strengthen his own kingship until he was deposed by the Belgian administration in 1931.

King Musinga V’s wives included Queen Mukashema, Queen Nyirakabuga and the famous Queen Kankazi (also known as Radegonde Nyiramavugo Kankazi).

Queen Kankazi was known for humility, braveness and acts of social responsibility.

In fact, one of the few surviving walls around the queen’s home included a water collection center. She had pumped clean water to her home and she would allow residents surrounding her palace to come draw water for free, according to Beatrice Uwamariya, the Mayor of Muhanga district. Uwamariya was born in Shyogwe sector where the former Queen’s palace was.

Uwamariya has already presented a proposal to RDB, to redevelop the site into a Women museum, where people would learn about her story and what she did for the people of Rwanda.

“This place tells a story of one of the most important women leaders in the history of Rwanda. Queen Kankazi is a beckon of hope and courage to our young girls who aspire to become leaders.

“Queen Kankazi stood for equity and development of the people of this area. And so, we think this place should be developed into a museum to tell her story as well the story of other women who have done commendable things in the history of our country,” Uwamariya said.

Kwa Nyagakecuru

After one and half hours of hiking Mount Huye, historically known as “Ibisi bya Huye”, you will be ushered into the “middle of nowhere”—the isolated peak of this mountain is where the rebellious self-proclaimed Queen Nyagacecuru lived at the time of King Ruganzu II Ndoli’s reign in the 15th century.

The mysterious Queen Nyagakecuru’s house was surrounded and protected by huge snakes and the royal army was situated at the foothill, which made it hard for King Ruganzu to defeat her and bring her small kingdom to the broad part of the Rwanda Kingdom.

At this site, you will find anthills, which has deep openings that are believed to have sheltered those magical snakes that coiled round her house and protected Queen Nyagacecuru.

The supernatural powers possessed by Queen Nyagacecuru, the surrounding thorny bush of imitovu flowers, the mysterious snakes and the steepness to his house proved an impossible trail for King Ruganzu II army to defeat the rebellious Nyagacecuru.

Ruganzu II Ndoli forged a “friendship” instead, which later became a military tactic to defeat Queen Nyagacecuru.

The King offered goats as gifts to Nyagacecuru, which ate the thorny shrubs around her home and made it easy from Ruganzu II’s royal army known as “Ibisumizi” to have an easy access to Queen Nyagacecuru’s territory and defeated her.

Ruganzu II Ndoli, described by historians as “Great warrior”, was the son of King Ndahiro V Cyamatare and Nyirangabo-ya-Nyantaba. Ruganzu II is alleged to have performed miracles and his life and reign is said to have pervaded many legends in the history of Rwanda. Ruganzu II Ndori, is said to have been raised by his Aunt in the Kingdom of Karagwe

Meanwhile “Ibisi bya Huye” has an ever-full natural fountain and is believed to have been the water-well for Queen Nyagacecuru.

Ingoma Nshya entertain participants in Huye District. / Faustin Niyigena

Atop Mount Huye, you will find rare entertainment in the Rwandan culture; the all-female drumming troupe Ingoma Nshya atop Mount Huye. The impressively entertaining renowned troupe marked the climax of the tour of the Heritage Corridor.

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