Thursday, 19 May 2016

Nyanza Mwami Palace

Today Senga and I took Paul on his first proper trip of Kigali, to Nyanza in the Southern Province. This is the site of the King's (mwami) Palace. Few people realise that Rwanda still has a king, but he's in exile in America. Rwanda is a republic and Kagame has reportedly said that the mwami can come back as an ordinary citizen, but not as a king. Opposition leaders are currently calling for the return of King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V. Uganda reinstated their kabaka in 1993 under a constitutional monarchy, but it's hard to see that working in Rwanda after so long. Today, the King's Palace affords a tour of how Rwanda's kings used to live. 

Me & Senga

Outside the main palace. Lots of interesting history. If someone was accused of a crime they could seek escape from punishment if they could run up (past all the king's guards) and touch the pole in the doorway. Otherwise, people weren't allowed beyond the white step unless called to approach, and they had to leave bowing as you couldn't turn your back on the king. 

All of the mats in the palace are see-through except these ones which separate the king's bed from prying eyes. Men would sit and talk in the central area and women had a screened section at the back where they were supposed to sing so they couldn't listen to the men.

Central Fire

King's Bed
Paul & Senga

Our Fabulous Guide, Jado
This is the entrance to the milk hut. Milk was very sacred and tended to by a virgin girl. If you were offered a pitcher of milk you had to drink sitting down and finish the lot.

This is the beer hut. Beer was also very sacred: banana beer, sorghum beer and honey beer. It was tended by the royal taster who was castrated so that he didn't get drunk and bother the milk virgin.

These are the royal cows who produce the milk. The royal cows are never eaten and are buried when they die. It is traditional for the cows to be sung to. Here's a little video of that.

We also got to taste fresh milk from the royal cows. This was my first time tasting fresh milk and I was surprised it was so warm and sweet. This is Senga tasting. He has a picture of me. I'll add it later. There is a traditional dance which we refer to as 'cow dancing' because the women raise their arms in the air to mimic the horns of the cows.

Then it was on to the modern palace. This was built by the last King of Rwanda, Mutara III who died in 1959. There were rumours that he was poisoned by his Belgian doctor, but it is also rumoured that he suffered a penicillin overdose after long-term treatment for the kind of problems you might expect from keeping a large harem. We are unlikely ever to know the truth. Queen Rosalie was murdered during the genocide and his son is the king in exile.

From the grounds you can see up to the National Art Gallery. This was a second palace built by Mutara III. He wanted one that resembled the houses he'd seen in Europe with an upstairs and downstairs, not a bungalow like his first palace. He died before he could move into it.

After lunch at a nearby hotel, we headed up to the art gallery for a look.

Looking Down to Original Palace

Whereas the Mwami Palace is an excellent day out, you can probably give the art gallery a miss. There wasn't much there, or any explanation of the displays. Had fun on the door - asked for one international, one resident and one national, got issued with tickets for two internationals and a student. Each ticket painstakingly written out by hand - didn't have the heart to correct the mistake. 

There are so many talented artists in Rwanda. They could really do with hiring one as curator and making use of all the outdoor space they have. Would be perfect for a sculpture trail or something. Add some photo exhibitions, multi-media stuff. Breathe some life into the place.

A lovely day though.

Some scenes from the drive home...

Nyabarongo River Marking Border of Kigali and Southern Province

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