Utubindi twa Rubona: Rwanda's hidden past

About four kilometres off the main Kayonza-Nyagatare road in Tubindi village of Gatsibo District is a cluster of holes drilled in form of pots, but without necks and rims.
People view one of those holes in Gatsibo District. (David Nkusi)
People view one of those holes in Gatsibo District. (David Nkusi)

About four kilometres off the main Kayonza-Nyagatare road in Tubindi village of Gatsibo District is a cluster of holes drilled in form of pots, but without necks and rims.

The pits are part of an ancient cultural site on hard granite rock where present day Rubona Primary school is located in Rubona cell, Kiziguro sector.


Despite being of different sizes, the form of those holes is the same: it is a pot-shaped form, thus the name, Utubindi (small pots in Kinyarwanda name). A direct English translation of the name would be “the Pots of Rubona.”


Oral legend has it that those pots were made by King Ruganzu II Ndoli while on his way back home from Karagwe in present day Tanzania.


It is said that when the king and his men arrived here, they were thirsty and could not trace any source of water and a skillful Ruganzu used his spear to excavate the hard rock that eventually filled up with water for all to drink.

Near those holes on the same rock are two features believed to be Ruganzu’s footprints and marks of bows and arrows.

Utubindi twa Rubona is just one of the several historical sites in the country that, if not preserved, risk disappearing to the detriment of the country’s history.

George Cloovey, a re-known American movie star, once said: “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes down to the ground, and somehow they will find their way back. But if you destroy their history, if you destroy their achievements then it is as if they never existed.”

Rwanda, the home to cradle of human kind heritage has a rich social and cultural history dating back to the world before human settlements.

Rwanda’s historic buildings and archaeological sites represent not only as storage of knowledge about our human past, but also score as a major asset for conservation and understanding of nature.

The rich and unique cultural history, with diverse corners, stretches far in the ancient times.

Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence to this from hunter gatherers in the late Stone Age to Iron Age settlers, producing dimpled pottery and iron tools.

Considering the uncertainties surrounding historical backups around the globe, there is need for Rwanda to establish its position by developing strategies that will ensure adequate protection of the country’s heritage.

Recently, Museums of Rwanda discovered more heritage sites than it has had since independence in 1962 — an indication that there is still a lot of history out there to be documented.


The pit was allegedly created by King Ruganzu II Ndoli. (David Nkusi)

The revival of traditions and folklore, as well as conservation of cultural heritage, will enable Rwandans to shape how they see themselves, reinforce notions of Rwandan identity and strengthen a feeling of pride in discovering our country’s history.

As custodians of culture, Museums of Rwanda are working around the clock to set up preservation, maintenance and sustainability measures to ensure that these sites continue communicating undiluted and undistorted information.

For the case of Utubindi twa Rubona, Museums of Rwanda embarked on mapping and fencing off the site.

Sign posts will be produced and erected at the site to guide visitors. At the same time collection of more information regarding the site is going on and will be packaged in form of booklets.

In order to develop the sites as a fully-fledged tourist site, several facilities like; admission desk, toilets, gardens and benches are being planned. This will be followed by recruitment and training of warden guides to handle visitors.

It is hoped that this will help make history come alive to the public and promote cultural heritage tourism.

Keeping history alive

Rwanda’s cultural healing in a post-conflict era bears more fruits than ever before. These living memorials, set as valuable references for this nations young generation to get a chance to see history, feel and touch culture, will enrich on our learning process and add value to educational system.

The restoration of historical sites meets a historical requirement of making history come alive. I happen to have visited some of these sites in the eastern part of the country and was, if not indeed, humbled by Rwanda’s past.

Heritage sites enhance collective memories that shape realities of the imagined world. They are the only means that make sense of our past with emotional expressions that bind us together.

Museums of Rwanda under the line ministry of culture and sports is responsible for carrying out the policy of preserving Rwandan cultural identity and maintain national heritage and ensure equitable access to its services in bid to promote cultural heritage tourism.

David Nkusi is a cultural heritage analyst.

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