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Rwanda Nyanza Mwami (Kings) Palace

The Palace of the King

The Palace of King Mutara III Rudahigwa at Rukari
This palace is at Rukari. The construction works lasted three years ( 1930-1933 ). It was built for King Mutara III Rudahigwa and is situated at Rwesero in Nyanza District. It has now become one of the branches of the National Museum of Rwanda.

This palace is built at the top of a hill from which one has a wonderful view of the city of Nyanza. The building in itself is very big and has many rooms for different functions: a living room, a dining room, a storeroom to keep drinks and others. It faces another house that the king had just had built on another hill opposite, just before he died.

The Mwami of Rwanda: a brief history 

Nyanza is the capital of Rwanda's Southern Province, yet it's considered rural (which I find funny since there are 230,000 residents and several internet cafés). It is about an hour and a half from the national capital, Kigali.

The coolest thing about Nyanza is that for hundreds of years, it was home to the King of Rwanda and thus was the heart of the kingdom. I've now had the opportunity to visit the museum and palaces here in Nyanza, as well as the national museum in Butare.

Here you will find the story of the Palace.(Apologies for any inaccuracies). Most of the facts here were taken from Rwanda: The Bradt Travel Guide, Philip Briggs and Janice Booth, 2001.)

Because of its geographical location deep in central Africa, Rwanda was very isolated until as late as the 1890s. Unlike neighboring Tanzania and Kenya, here there is no evidence of visits from Arab or Asian merchants. In Rwanda there was very little foreign trade and no known monetary system. Also, notably, Rwanda is one of a few African countries never to have sold its people (or enemies) into slavery.

Written language is only a recent phenomenon in Rwanda, and thus most of its history is known only through oral tradition. It is generally accepted that the Kingdom of Rwanda was founded in the 10th-11th century. In the language Kinyarwanda, the king was called a mwami. As a rule, he was of Tutsi ethnicity and was considered the principal authority of the land. The well-being of the country was inseparable from the health of the mwami; if he fell ill, people worried that trouble was in store.

The royal palace was located in Nyanza. The original ancient palace has been destroyed, but a replica was reconstructed close to its original site. Now, when I hear the word palace, I typically think of towering ramparts and moats with drawbridges. In Rwanda it was a little different: namely a large compound of circular straw huts. The mwami's personal hut was by far the tallest, with a huge bed ("California king size" does not begin to describe it) made of animal skin stretched tightly across a wooden frame. Outside his hut was a sort of foyer for receiving his subjects, as the mwami served as supreme judge in all disputes. Many smaller huts housed all the mwami's retinue: cooks, hunters, guards, runners, hangmen, and palanquin bearers (to transport the mwami on his covered litter); those in charge of weapons, those in charge of wardrobe, and those in charge of furniture; historians, dancers, musicians, mimes, soothsayers, magicians, and artisans.

In contrast to most of Africa, Rwanda and Burundi were not given artificial borders by European colonizers. They had both been established kingdoms for centuries when, in the Berlin Conference of 1885, they were assigned (as "Ruanda-Urundi") to Germany as part of German East Africa. Interestingly, hitherto no white man had ever set foot there.

The first official European visit to Rwanda was by a German count in 1894. He visited Nyanza and met the mwami, Rwabugiri. The foreigner caused an uproar among the aristocrats when he dared to shake the mwami's hand. Surely disaster would follow, they reasoned! (Perhaps they were right — the beginning of the end, of life as they knew it…) It's worth noting that at this point the mwami had no idea that his kingdom had been "officially" under German sovereignty for the past nine years. The Germans in fact were rather surprised to find Rwanda so highly organized, with tight hierarchies and administrative divisions.

But Germany didn't stay in Rwanda very long. Belgians invaded in World War I, and a succeeding League of Nations mandate in 1919 officially transferred the territory to them. At this time the mwami was Musinga, but he resented colonization so much that Belgium eventually forced him to abdicate the throne in 1931. His more westernized son, Mutara III Charles Rudahigwa, became the new mwami. To match his new attitude, Mutara was given a new home, built by the Belgians. The traditional straw hut was abandoned in favor of a "modern palace," a Western mansion of polished marble floors. It still stands in Nyanza, although personally I found it far less appealing to walk through than the original home. While the mwami's hut was fragrant, dark, cozy, and peaceful, the Belgian palace is cold, uninviting, vast, and austere.
Mutara generally accepted the colonists and even paid a visit to Belgium himself. In the palace museum there is a particularly striking photo of the mwami, in his traditional robes and headdress, face-to-face with a giraffe in a zoo.

The Belgians later built another, more imposing palace for Mutara. It still sits high atop one of Nyanza's many hills, making it visible from a great distance. Unfortunately, Mutara passed away in 1959 just before it was finished, but today the palace houses a really splendid art museum (with an awe-inspiring panoramic view).The people of Rwanda started itching for independence in the 1950s, as did much of Africa. In 1961, Rwanda's elected local administrators assembled at a large public meeting with 25,000 supporters. Together, they declared Rwanda a republic, and the United Nations had little choice but to accept this self-determination. Independence was confirmed in 1962.

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