I was puzzled when, some time ago, I saw Kigali City officials urging residents to join them in celebrating 100 years of Kigali’s birth. We all know that the town has existed for millennia.
What was celebrated, therefore, was its takeover by colonialists, a stark oddity of imagination. And yet, we know the sumptuous past that parts of this family of cosy hills and valleys enjoyed.
Nyabogogo area, for instance, is not a bigger beehive of activity today than it was around the 14th century. Then, it was the proud host of amariba y’umwami (watering wells for the king’s cattle). Unfortunately, not a mark points to this fact.
Nor is there anything to show that Kibagabaga had a life before the Whiteman’s arrival. Yet, it was a reverent hill upon which only the hallowed echelon of the Rwandan monarchy trod as they paid homage to their sovereigns.
Many royal courts graced the Kibagabaga hill we see today.
Also, Mburabuturo hill sits scornfully watching over the roundabout bellow for a reason. It knows that it has not always been relegated to carrying School of Finance and Banking (SFB) on its shoulders. On the contrary, at one time it has ever answered to a grander calling.
That calling, however, did not include being turned into a punching bag when the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) forces were pounding the cowardly forces of Habyarimana.
Before dislodging them and pursuing them buguru-budakora-hasi (without-let-up), RPA had been forced to pump the hill with shells.
To this day, I chuckle when I recall that battle of Mburabuturo. You see, from my craven haven in Kenya, I used to be in constant contact with my brothers and sisters in the then Zaïre (D. R. Congo). We used to exchange news flashes about the war.
So, I remember one brother telephoning to sadly report that we were done for, as the war was seemingly going to be intractable.
The battle is raging, reported he in distress, “dans la forêt expansive de Mburabuturo” and it was not likely to end any time soon. I put the telephone down and literally laughed my head off!
I had a map of Kigali and knew very well that Mburabuturo overlooked the Kanogo junction of Avenue de Kiyovu and Boulevard de l’OUA before it became today’s roundabout. To my ‘Zairoīs brother’, however, it sounded as expansive a forest as the Ituri forest itself!
After laughing, I explained that it was a small hill covered in eucalyptus trees, and he also got a relieved round of romp. To those unfamiliar with the size of the Ituri forest of D. R. Congo, it is the size of Rwanda multiplied a few times!
But even before hosting those shells, Mburabuturo had been known for something else. Around 1700, the hill got a wealthy cattle-keeper known as Mushoranyambo as the new resident.
Mushoranyambo was exceedingly greedy and a notorious miser. While other wealthy men kept many herdsmen, he only kept one to look after his many herds of cattle. Wealth used to be counted in the number and size of herds.
Having found the neighbours of the hill unwelcoming from the beginning, since his disrepute had reached the residents before his person, Mushoranyambo christened the hill Mburabuturo. The name denotes an inhabitable area.
Anyway, to cut the story short, time came that Mushoranyambo died and, after a short while, even the herdsman followed suit. His widowed wife was only left with her one daughter; only two poor souls to look after those herds.
As luck would have it, in Rwampara, down Nyamirambo as you go to Butamwa (Ingabire Victoire Muhoza’s birthplace!), there lived an expert herdsman called Karungu.
When news of the distress of the two women reached him, Karungu applied for and secured the job of herdsman.
However, Karungu turned out to be an even greedier miser. So, even if their fortunes had risen, as Karungu was given ten cows to give them milk, one time when he saw his wife sharing his food, Karungu swore revenge.
And, as revenge, Karungu went to Kacyiru, near Kabatwa, and hooked another wife (gender rights were unheard of!) Unfortunately, after settling in her home, the new wife, Nyirakamagaza, also started sharing Karungu’s food.
To totally monopolise his meals, Karungu decreed that Nyirakamagaza cook ibirunge (food with cow ghee) and serve it cold. The trick was that while she went to stand in for him as was the habit, for Karungu to go gushokera (prepare the watering hole), he would sneak to the house first and eat the cooling food.
To find out where the food was going, Nyirakamagaza one time also sneaked to the house only to find the husband gobbling up the food. She was so mad that she grabbed Karungu and bit off his nose! Kurya karungu (eat Karungu!) was thus born as an expression in Kinyarwanda to denote anyone who is livid with anger.
Many scenes of such legends abound in Kigali – and the rest of Rwanda – and they need to be highlighted as tourist attractions.