After touring Karongi and Musanze on a bike, I rode to Gasabo District. The first place I visited in Gasabo is Bumbogo bwa Nkuzuzu. Also known as Bumbogo bw’i Ngara, this site is found in Bumbogo Sector in the outskirts of Kigali.
During his reign, King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri owned a home at Bumbogo. Huge sycamore trees, planted to support the king’s fence, still stand around the boundaries of his royal court. These trees are popularly known as imivumu (singular umuvumu).
Culturally, umuvumu means much more than simply a plant. Members of the king’s advisory council, clan elders and royal sorcerers passed important resolutions under its shade. Trials were also held under the canopy of its branches. Recently, Gacaca court trials were conducted under imivumu in different parts of the country. This was done in order to speed up the overwhelming number of genocide cases after the atrocities of 1994.
In pre-colonial Rwanda, a number of traditional rituals were conducted in shrine-like settings sheltered by imivumu. These rituals were administered to ward off bad luck and seek ancestral intervention in times of wars, famine and epidemics.
From umuvumu, construction materials, herbal remedies and clothing fabrics were processed. In addition, this tree provided logs used to build boats and a wide variety of tools, although in most cases, it was an abomination to cut it down.
Umuvumu is featured prominently in the Rwandan folklore. While touring Musanze a couple of years ago, I was told a story titled Umuvumu and Thirty Men. In 1977, thirty men cut down umuvumu tree and divided its trunk and branches into small pieces. Before the pieces were shared by the culprits, who intended to use them as firewood, they (the pieces) reintegrated and the whole tree was mysteriously reassembled. Umuvumu came back to life. At the end of this story, the thirty men dropped dead.
The district of Gasabo and the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR) are co-custodians of Bumbogo bwa Nkuzuzu. As the two institutions collaborate to conduct further research on the historical and cultural significance of the site, plans are underway to build a replica of King Rwabugiri’s house.
After finding love and tying the knot on this hill, the king gave Queen Kanjogera a house on a neighboring hill of Kabuye ka Jabana.