RWANDA’S MUSEUMS – INSIGHTS FROM THE DIRECTOR GENERAL
(Making a point with a passion – INMR Director General Alphonese B. Umuliisa)
‘Discover your museums, Cherish your heritage’ are the opening words on the INMR’s website, written by the Director General of the Institute of the National Museums of Rwanda Alphonese Umuliisa. He goes on to state:
‘Welcome to the National Institute of Rwanda Museums and heritage sites. I am delighted that you have chosen to visit our website and hope that you will find much to enjoy and reflect on whilst you browse through and have an opportunity of visiting our heritage sites as altogether we promote culture tourism.
The subject of our institute is about the unique culture of the Rwandan people, the land of a thousand hills and a million smiles, and a country that touches everyone in one way or another, whether you live in Rwanda or are just visiting. There are many stories for Rwandans, but you may find yours too.
The landscape that the Institute of Museums and heritage sites as a whole inhibits is continuously changing. It has been over 24 years since the first museum (Ethnographic museum in Huye), was introduced and over the past couple of years has seen some exciting changes. The new millennium has seen various developmental changes within the institute. To date the portfolio now consists of 5 museums and over 80 heritage sites across the whole country. The Institute of Rwanda Museums and Heritage sites are a big attraction which serves as a learning process set in a lively atmosphere. For example, National Harvest Day has been reintroduced; it is a day that highlights and showcases the traditions and customs of Rwanda pre 1925, always in appreciation of the country’s harvest’.
When meeting Alphonse during a recent repeat visit to Huye, formerly known as Butare, I had just come from the King’s Palace Museum in Nyanza, which now forms an integral part of the string of museums and monuments under the care of INMR. He was clearly passionate as he discussed my experience there and then explained his plans and how ‘visiting our museums must be fun, must be enjoyed’ while he highlighted upcoming special shows and commemorations.
Alphonse was in particular excited about the prospect of opening a new environmental museum in Karongi, previously known as Kibuye, where a building has already been constructed to become the sixth such facility under INMR, besides the existing main Ethnological Museum in Huye, the National Art Gallery, the King’s Palace Museum, The Presidential Palace and the Natural History Museum, aka Kandt House in Kigali. A seventh museum is planned to be opened at Parliament, named The Campaign Against Genocide Museum.
The history of Rwanda is amply recorded in the various museums and nearly 80 monuments and historical sites across the country, allowing visitors, local and international, to appreciate the rich cultural past of the kingdom, the troubled times of the first republic and the emergence like the Phoenix from the ashes of the New Rwanda of today. Together with Genocide Memorials, in Kigali and across the country, the museums of Rwanda play an important part of remembering, and where appropriate honouring the past, documenting the evils of past regimes and opening the window into the future of the country, in my humble opinion well manifested through contemporary art and culture exhibitions.
Towards that end has INMR launched outreach programmes to connect with secondary school children within Huye District, before rolling out a wider programme across the country. In the words of Alphonse it is aimed to bring Rwanda’s past closer to the next generation, who need to remember the lessons of times long gone while appreciating the diverse culture and history the country has enjoyed in pre-colonial days, during colonization and after independence. Much to see, learn and understand for foreign tourists, who come to Rwanda to explore the national parks, forests, lakes and hills, and yet no visit is complete without engaging more closely with Rwanda’s past and present. Here in particular are visits over the less trodden paths of interest, on offer through NDA Associates (www.newdawnassociates.com), which include day visits to the Millennium Village, the Nyamata Genocide Memorial, a reconciliation village where perpetrators, survivors and returnees live side by side in newfound peace.
The visit to the INMR in Huye was made possible through the efforts of the Ereka Group, in which NDA is partnering with Victoria International (www.victorial-international.com), Eagle Ride (www.eagle-ride.com), national airline RwandAir (www.rwandair.com), a number of hotels and other service providers to promote Rwanda to in particular the East African markets of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, but also, needless to say, to international markets overseas.