The Jewel of Butare

Half an hour is a very selfish way of delving into the entire rich and diverse history of not only a nation but a unique group of people.

Half an hour is a very selfish way of delving into the entire rich and diverse history of not only a nation but a unique group of people.

Yet this is exactly the time I had to dive into the long imposing brick and metal structure just before Butare town, which in itself looks a well conserved relic of history, which houses the national museum of Rwanda.

Any person would understand my curiosity that saw me rush staring into the first room in the middle of which a miniature Rwanda was well laid, carefully constructed to represent every marshland and hill, every serious geographical feature worth its salt that leaves one feeling like an angel, who has the much sought opportunity to watch over God’s country.

It was a joy for my colleagues and I to start pointing out different locations of towns, different peaks of mountains, all displayed in area of perhaps slightly over a meter square.

Form then on it was a dash through ancient cultures and traditions, the dances, the traditional clothing, from bark cloths, the sisal skirts, the making of beer, the thatching of houses, the tricks of hunting, and the gold of all in the art of wicker work.

For a country like Rwanda which, compared to many other countries would be so much more short of different grass species, the ancient art of wicker work was clearly as complex as a full subject in western science. From baskets to chairs, hammocks to roof ceilings, name it, and you will find it woven from some indigenous material.

The hides of animals facing gourds of good old beer,  the jewelry of the olden days adorning the black beautiful and spotless faces of Rwandese belles, hair held up straight, jet black and neat, standing out in the black and white pictures in a startling manner that would make a 21st century fashion photographer envious.

One of the most interesting features is perhaps the reconstructed house of Umwami, the traditional ruler, right in the middle of the museum. When you arrive you are asked to step out of your shoes and onto neatly woven mats, you tread into the world of the omwami.

If western architecture has taught us a thing or two about abstract designs or geometry, traditional Kinya-rwanda architecture has a spot for things distinctive in style, customized for the taste of the owner, and perhaps a humble expression of  nature as the over all protector of life.

The whole structure is made of natural materials, wood, grass, banana fibers name it. The poles standing right in front of the king’s and queens seat are numerous but very different, each of a different species, with a different local name that meant something, my voluntary guide chips in to say.

The king’s bed has two entrances, one at the side which would also serve as a seat, exclusively his, while a longer route at the foot, for his wife, and just in case you wanted to get ideas, the head of the king’s bed has a special location specifically for his evening drink.

It all sounds hilarious, the respect that our ancestors attached to ritual, to a man’s position in the home and the symbolic attachments that go with such positions; women of the home, children of the home.

Everybody clearly had a place to sit and a role to play. At the front of the house was a baraza for him to meet people, for those who have wronged to seek forgiveness and swing on the ole near the entrance.

According to tits official website, the museum is built on a plot more than 20 hectares (50 acres) in size. The buildings themselves occupy 2,500 square meters (9,000 sq. feet). The surrounding land has been made into gardens containing indigenous vegetation.

The plot is also the home of a traditional craft training center making the entire site an educational experience and a pleasure to visit. There is clearly plenty to marvel at.

This museum is a perfect example of African culture and tradition at its best; and is an invaluable lesson into the history of Rwanda and Africa in general.

A day would bade better, for one to take this interesting, mind-usurping journey into the thick of history, as I came to find out in my half an hour sojourn, and for sure, I will be back to admire the jewel of Butare at length.


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