You can call it Huye or Butare, but whatever name you call the town 135 kilometers south of Kigali that was formerly called Astrida after the late queen of Belgium has already cemented it place in Rwanda’s past and future.
Home to the famed National University of Rwanda, Butare carries the aura of a lady who ages with grace.
Its streets or boulevards are lined with huge trees which literally shade the slow silent motor and human traffic below alongside small cozy restaurants which appear inviting to the visitor who seeks solace in the silence and uniqueness of local menus.
New age and old age mesh gracefully, the old beautiful structures restores and new fangled architecture providing the backdrop.
The city of Butare has long been regarded as the intellectual capital of the country. Onto its alluring aura is the additional importance as a university town.
During the colonial years, it used to be the county’s seat of power before it was later passed for the more centrally located Kigali. Watching the easy manner of its people and the tacit demonstrations of the town’s importance, you would assume that the people still live in the yester years when it was still the seat of power, but not anymore.
To mention Butare without mentioning the imposing National Museum is to deny its rightful place in the nation’s cultural order.
The National Museum of Rwanda was built in the early 1990s is not only one of the finest if not the best museum in East Africa, but is a wonder of manmade preservation of past, both natural and manmade.
It a physical and visual documentation of the idea of Rwanda as a nation right from the past centuries up to today. Better put the museum is a journey though the past the present and future of Rwanda, the nation.
A fascinating selection of turn-of-the-century monochrome photographs, providing insight not only into pre-colonial lifestyles, but also into the subsequent development of Rwanda as a modern African state is a window into the past.
It presents 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.
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.
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.
In the museum, the idea of African culture and tradition is presented as an invaluable part of our individual belonging as humans and our collective identify as a people.