The richness of a country’s history and heritage are very important aspects that create an identity for people of any nation in the world. Rwanda has a rich history that dates back to the Kingdoms, colonial and post colonial times; which has for long not been explored to attract local and foreign tourism, bring in revenue and create awareness on the culture of the Rwandan people.
Unlike in some countries where historical sites and heritages have been central aspect of cultural tourism, Rwanda has not been privileged to do likewise due to many aspects.
Thus since 2007, the government of Rwanda decided to refocus on the importance of museums and heritage sites by establishing the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR) as a way of restoring these historical values and aspects, which the colonial rule struggled to destroy Rwanda so as to have an upper hand on the people of Rwanda.
According to Mr. Alphonse Umuliisa, the Director of INMR, the revival of the museums is intended to revive this rich past as a way of promoting tourism, a sense of identity, and create awareness of who Rwandans actually are, and to have fun.
The new strategy and agenda of the INMR shows that there are so far signs of progress to attain this goal. So far the number of museums in Rwanda has increased from one to six museums, and the heritages sites (which were literally forgotten) have been revived to over 80 sites (from 24 sites) across the country.
Umuliisa says that this setback is mainly attributed to the colonial rule which, for political purposes didn’t open these aspects to the people of Rwanda and thus a loss of identity. The other aspect is that cultural tourism was and especially museum were considered a western aspect meant for the colonialists and the local only hardly ever visited such sites, even though it was for free.
Today, Umuliisa believes that this trend is changing and the numbers of local and foreign tourists interested in knowing the history, having fun and exploring Rwanda’s past and heritage has increased (tripled from 22.000 in 2009 to 26.000 in 2011 and 40.000 in 2012) due to the emphasis on promoting cultural tourism and reviving some of the ‘lost’ heritages sites across the country.
Before 2007 there was only one museum in Rwanda- this was called the national museum of Rwanda- located in former Butare province (a then Colonial capital) which is now Huye district in the southern province of Rwanda. However, the number of museums has grown from one in 2007 to six museums in 2013.
These include- the Ethnographic museum in Huye, King’s Palace Museum-Rukari in Nyanza, National Art Gallery-Rwesero in Nyanza, Natural History Museum –Kandt House in Kigali, Presidential Palace-Kanombe in Kigali, and the Environmental Museum in Karongi.
Specialty of each museum today
Ethnographic museum (former National Museum of Rwanda)
The former national museum of Rwanda has been turned into the Ethnographic museum- Inaugurated on September 18th 1989 and located in Huye, Not until 2007, the National Museum of Rwanda (most well-known museum in Rwanda) was the only Museum in the country. This museum houses perhaps the finest ethnographic and archaeological collections in East Africa with more than 10,000 artefacts. Absorbing displays of traditional artefacts are illuminated by 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.
According to Alphonse Umuliisa, the Director of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR), this is intended to tell the social and cultural aspects of Rwanda. This is where you find the famous aspects of culture of cows which is told through the Inyamibwa cows.
Umuliisa, whose PHD thesis dissertation was on the history of Rwanda, cautions that this word (Inyamibwa) shouldn’t be translated at all to keep the original essence of the word. When I refused to translate this word in my dissertation, I lost a few marks for that. But the reality is that some words cannot be put in any other language. This is why there is a promotion project called
But literally the Inyamibwa are a symbol of Rwanda’s heritage and pride- these are long horned cows which are not used for meat or any other purpose but for the special events- like marriage gifts, wedding bride price; for the welcome of the king and other special occasions only.
Under the reign of King Yuhi V Musinga in 1899, Nyanza became the royal capital
of the country. The court became the home of the artistic and intellectual activities and was also a place for economic exchange. Today, a replica of the traditional Royal Palace sits at Rukari. The impressive, enormous domed structure is made entirely with traditional materials, has been painstakingly restored to its 19th century state and is now maintained as a museum.
National Arts Museum-Rwesero
Located across the valley from the Museum of Rwandan Ancient History and the
Nyanza Royal Palace, the Rwesero Arts Museum displays contemporary artwork which testifies to the originality of Rwandan creativity, while not overlooking either tradition or national history. The pieces show the originality of Rwandan creativity and its rich history.
The museum was originally built as a Palace for King Mutara III Rudahingwa but he passed away before occupying it.
The Museum of Rwandan Ancient History
This one was once the residence of King Mutara III Rudahingwa, this museum also sits at Rukari near to the Royal Palace. This Palace has been restored and offers a glimpse into Rwandan life as it once was. On the neighboring hill of Mwima, King Mutara III and his wife Queen Rosalie Gicanda are buried.
A traditional house, a thatched hut, was erected at the Ancient History Museum. It is an imitation of the King’s palace. In ancient times, thatched houses were typical for African homesteads.
The King’s palace differed from a regular homestead. His house had three separate poles on which the roof rests while houses for the common people had only one. There were no doors in the huts. But no one would enter without announcing their arrival.
When the Belgians colonial masters arrived in Rwanda, they changed the traditional lifestyle of the Kings. A modern palace was constructed for King Mutara III Rudahingwa which is now the museum that displays Rwandan history from the 15th Century.
Both the Museum of Rwandan Ancient History and the Rwesero Arts Museum are located 2km outside Nyanza town in the southern Province. It is very important to note that Nyanza district is considered a historical area since it still holds these heritages that actually speak to the people of Rwanda.
Another most prominent aspect of the Rwandan culture is the Cow and Milk- which are very powerful symbols of the culture of Rwandans.
“The cows were treasured by the people. There was a special selection of the ones that would be brought to the royal palace. People used to sing to them. The cows were decorated with beads before parading them before the King,” explains Ines Umulisa a tourist guide at Ancient History Museum.
The Museum of Natural History
This museum is located in Nyarugenge district, in heart of Kigali City. It is commonly known as ‘Kandt house’ – because it was a residence once occupied by German scientist, Dr. Richard Kandt. The house has been turned into the Museum of Natural History. A scientist by profession, Richard Kandt was the first German Imperial resident in Rwanda and this museum is homage to his work. The Germany government handover the site and its artifacts to the government of Rwanda, this January 2013
In the pipeline:
More museums are due to be officially launched in Rwanda. These include: Presidential Palace-Kanombe in Kigali, the Environmental Museum in Karongi and the Liberation.
On 17th December 2012, President Paul Kagame laid the foundation stone for the proposed Liberation Museum in Kaniga Cell, in Gicumbi District (previously called Mulindi- historic camp spot for the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) forces which were led by Late Fred Rwigema and President Paul Kagame respectively, during the liberation struggle that ousted the then government of late Juvenal Habyarimana- whose government is held responsible for killing close to one million Rwandans during the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
The Environmental Museum is due to be opened in former Kibuye Province (now Karongi district). According to the INMR director, the museum will be the first of its kind and it will share some of the historical fossils of reptiles from neighboring countries such as Burundi, so as to attract more regional tourism.
While the Presidential Palace-Kanombe in Kigali is attributed to the former presidents of rwanda. This site was formerly occupied as a residence for Juvenal Habyarimana and Pasteur Bizimungu. This is also one of the visited sites and it is to be revamped so as to attract more tourists who are interested in witnessing how these former presidents lived amidst poverty in the community.
Others projects include the King’s swearing spot in the Northern Province and the National Harvest Day, and the Irembo Ritahibwa Inyamibwa (literally meaning the Inyamibwa Cow ceremony) among others.
The Director of INMR says that though the museum project depends largely on the government funding with an annual budget of Rwf1.3billions, cultural tourism can regenerate money in africa and especially in Rwanda.
Today, museums are tourist attractions which are supposed to bring in revenue for the country. The charges for visiting the Ancient History Museums are Rwf200 for Rwandan students and Rwf500 for adults (this applies for neigboruing countries). Then resident foreigners pay Rwf3000 while non–residents pay Rwf6000 and foreign students pay Rwf1000.
Apparently, in Rwanda, you cannot talk about its history of Rwanda without talking about the genocide that was perpetrated against the Tutsi in various periods of 1959, 1960’s and the climax of it all in 1994.
This has become essential history for the people of Rwanda and by reflecting and keeping memory of what happened then, and its impact to people who were once united, has become part of Rwanda’s heritage (documented at Gisozi memorial site) of building unity and reconciliation in the post genocide era, which has also been central in the witness of rapid growth and development of a country once torn by divisions.