The Kingdom of Rwanda was established in 1081 CE. It expanded and consolidated in the 14th-17th centuries CE, and its rule ended in 1962, almost 900 years after founding.
In 600 CE, the present-day Rwanda area was mostly occupied by groups of hunters, gatherers and ironworkers, and between then and 1500 CE, groups of farmers and livestock-keepers arrived. Over time, the groups came to have a common language and religion, and many shared cultural practices. King Gihanga, highly talented in leadership, technology and religion, united neighboring clans and founded the Kingdom of Rwanda in 1081 CE. It is believed that the sacred fire of Gihanga, lit at the royal court during his reign, was kept burning across centuries, bridging the past, present and future, until it was extinguished in 1932 on the orders of Belgian colonialists.
Ruganzu I Bwimba, the King between 1312-1345 CE, was another strong leader who further expanded and strengthened the kingdom, as did Ruganzu II Ndori, the King during 1510-1543 CE. The King or “Mwami” governed through a system of chiefs, a sort of Cabinet of Ministers, whereby the land chief was in charge of land and agriculture, military chief ran the army and distributed land after conquest, cattle chief presided over cattle matters and disputes, among others. The Mwami also had a council of advisors known as Abiru, whose role was to advise the Mwami, to continuously gauge the performance and suitability of the Mwami as ruler, and to depose a Mwami who was deemed incapable. In this way, the Abiru protected the interests of citizens. The Queen Mother similarly advised the Mwami and was also involved in politics and governance.
For a while, the monarchy moved their capital between various locations, until ultimately settling in Nyanza, southwest of Kigali. The Mwami’s palace was a large, beautifully-crafted, beehive-shaped structure, and citizen houses were smaller versions of the palace. The iconic Kigali Convention Center is inspired by this traditional royal Rwandan architectural style.
By Rahim Mawji