The Makwaza Hill: King Ruganzu’s “hideout”

GISAGARA-A small hill of a few hundred metres populated by eucalyptus, pine trees and herbages sits a few meters from the Rwanda-Burundi border in the rural Mukindo sector of Gisagara District. The hill falls on a swamp, a few metres from Akanyaru River, which serves as the natural border with Burundi.Welcome to amount Makwaza, a popular –and respected- site among the population in the surrounding villages.
Charles Yambabariye, a resident of Gisagara talks about Mukwaza hill. The New Times / Bucyensenge
Charles Yambabariye, a resident of Gisagara talks about Mukwaza hill. The New Times / Bucyensenge

GISAGARA-A small hill of a few hundred metres populated by eucalyptus, pine trees and herbages sits a few meters from the Rwanda-Burundi border in the rural Mukindo sector of Gisagara District. The hill falls on a swamp, a few metres from Akanyaru River, which serves as the natural border with Burundi.

Welcome to amount Makwaza, a popular –and respected- site among the population in the surrounding villages.

According to area residents, the Hill is said to have saved the life of King Ruganzu Ndoli, who is said to have ruled Rwanda in the 1600s.

On the top of Makwaza, an all-grass-thatched-old-house is erected. According to residents in the area, the hut was used for ‘royal rituals’ in the times of the monarchy.

After the monarchy was abolished, the Mountain became one of the best tourism destinations in the area, residents say.

When heading to the site from Huye District, small roadside signposts shows the way and the distance to cover until you reach to the mountain. Information about this hill which is quite important for the new comers is given by some elders around the hill.

According to Charles Yambabariye, 82, an old resident of Mukindo, it is reported that Makwaza became known during the reign of King Ruganzu Ndoli.

At the time, according to the old man, it is reported that King Ruganzu launched an attack to chief Nyaruzi rwa Haramanga who reportedly had categorically refused to recognise Ruganzu as the King.

“Nyaruzi was a simple but very rich farmer. He had so many men and women under his orders”, Yambabariye explains, citing his elders.

It is King Ruganzu himself, Yambabariye says, who killed Nyaruzi.

“Ruganzu launched an attack and overpowered Nyaruzi rwa Haramanga’s servants and killed him with a hoe”.

“After that, the servants ravaged and pursued King Ruganzu as they wanted to revenge the death of their boss. The King managed to escape hiding within the bushes at MT Makwaza until when his hunters left”, Yambabariye narrates.

“It is after that event that the King decided to make this place a respected place as it had saved his life. Since then, royal rituals have been taking place at this mountain”.

“Subsequently, huts were erected and the royal mood characterised the new life at Makwaza. Even Kings used to spend nights at the top hill”, the old man says.

“There were cows, traditionalists played music and young ladies danced, all in honour of the King”.

“It looked like another King’s palace”.

According to local residents in the area, the tradition remained until the monarchy was abolished in Rwanda in the late 1950s.

During the first and second republic, the area was turned into a tourism destination.

Some of the houses, which once served as drinking rooms, are still present at the hill.

“Tourists came from as far as Europe. We used to perform for them with traditional music instruments and they paid us”, he remembers.

“Tourists used to sleep in the grass thatched hut and seemingly, they enjoyed staying there. Many spent so many days here”.

Apart from residents’ accounts, it is hard to verify whether what is said about Makwaza is true story or just a myth.

But, an official from the Ministry of Culture told The Sunday Times that his ministry is carrying out a research on the history of the mountain.

Jean Francois Ndikumana, the official, said the ministry has dispatched a team of researchers in various parts of the country to collect information on various sites said to be portraying part of the history of the country.

One of the sites being studied is Makwaza, the official, who was part of the team who visited it, told The Sunday Times.

“Once the documentation of the various sites will be complete, we shall decide on which sites to promote”, he stated.

“The sites will be promoted using various tools, including the internet, so as to attract many tourists including those from overseas”.

He added: “The government is committed to promoting the culture and history-based tourism”.

Speaking of Makwaza, he said he collected an important amount of information on its history but added: “Nothing has been decided yet. We are still gathering information”.

He appealed for authorities in Gisagara District to keep safeguarding the hill “until a decision is reached”.

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