We're sitting beside Lake Kivu at Gisenyi. It's a warm, balmy sunset. The lake is so close we can virtually paddle in it while we eat. We're just waiting for our sambasa (little lake fish, like whitebait) and chips to arrive. All's well with the world and we're enjoying ourselves. Bikini Tam Tam bar, June 5th.
On a hot and sunny morning you'd be forgiven for thinking this picture came from the Caribbean rather than from a African lake!
These two pictures were taken only a matter of yards away from the Congolese border and the town of Goma.
The thatched Palace of the Mwami (King) of Rwanda at Nyanza. Nothing prepares you for the sheer size and intricacy of this fabulous structure. Anyone thinking that pre C19 Rwandans were ignorant savages needs to spend a morning looking at the brilliant engineering and structural solutions this building displays, all using locally sourced, natural materials.
Catherine's first sight of the Palace.
The entrance to the old palace. The King would sit to the left; the queen mother next to him. The king's wife was nowhere near as important as the queen mother. The horeshoe shaped earth structures are to ensure that rainwater never comes into the hut (it would rot the matting used as flooring).
Room dividers are made of exquisite woven matting. No two have identical designs.
This gives you an idea of the sheer size of the main structure, seen from the inside. Every single part of this palace is organic, biodegradable, sustainable. It is cool in hot weather, warm in cold weather. It expands and contracts without cracking. It is earthquake-resistant. It can be disassembled and moved to a new location and, if you have enough manpower, rebuilt in a couple of days. The outside thatching would take longer, but only a matter of another two or three days. Some of the smarter Western NGOs are looking to see if they can pinch some of the materials and techniques to use in modern sustainable buildings in Rwanda.
The main interior audience room and entrance to the royal bedchamber.
The hearth in the main palace hut. This was never used for cooking, but a fire was kept going to give light, to warm people during cold nights, and to burn selected wood whose fumes worked as a mosquito deterrent. God forbid that the King should appear before his people scratching at mozzie bites!
The roof disk of the hut is an enormous single piece of weaving; the concentric circles represent the four parts of the traditional Rwandan cosmology (I know that the last two are the hills and valleys of the country, and the waters under the earth, but I've forgotten what the first two were!)
The King's bow and arrows hang just outside his bedchamber door (perhaps he might want to go hunting in the middle of the night?)
The entrance to the royal bedchamber. As a woman, for Catherine to climb over her husband to get into bed would bring him bad luck. Therefore even the queen was not allowed to use this door to get into bed; she had to go round behind a screen and use another entrance at the back of the hut.
The royal beer calabashes. Dried banana leaf stoppers for strong banana beer (for the men); green banana leaves for the weaker sorghum beer (for the women). The thing looking like a quiver holds bamboo drinking straws. These items are usually stored inside the beer hut, but when we visited it was having its grass floor replaced and so they had been placed outside.
The 1930s Palace, built by the Belgians as a present for the King or as a reward for his embracing Christianity.
The porch which runs along the entire front facade of the 1930s Palace.
The formal front gardens, seen from the light and airy porch. I like the feel of this building; whoever designed it knew the weather and lifestyles of the Rwandan people.
Looking from the rear of the 1932 Palace across to the 1950s building. For a royal palace the 1930s building is very modest in size.
Queen Catherine of Rwanda?
Typical Nyanza countryside close to the Palaces
Looking across from the Palace to the 1950s palace on the hill
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:59