An important part of Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction should be a new appreciation of its pre-colonial past, to provide this youngest of African nations with a sense of identity that extends beyond its recent unhappy history, embraces its rich cultural heritage and enhances national unity.
When the first Europeans arrived in Rwanda in 1894 they were amazed to find a highly organised self-contained nation state with a king and a ruling class, a unique language, music, poetry, an oral history stretching back at least 500 years, and an army with soldiers resembling ancient Egyptians. Not surprisingly some people identified it with King Solomon’s Mines. After a chequered colonial history and the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is now Africa’s most densely populated country and developing rapidly. Its rich cultural heritage, which includes many sites associated with its history and previous building traditions, is being threatened by rapid modernisation, much of it driven by the same outside interests that dominated Rwanda’s colonial history. While the many genocide memorialscommemorate a past that must never be repeated, more distant memories and traditions are being lost.
Our field study in 2005 (see article) identified an urgent need for conservation and research to ensure that Rwanda does not lose the benefits of sustainable traditional construction and the living heritage of craft skills and memories associated with it in the course of continuing modernization. Further research is urgently needed to record traditional buildings and historic sites to inform modern Rwandan architecture and raise awareness of the value of Rwanda’s cultural heritage and its potential for economic regeneration.
We remain keen to encourage research initiatives which ensure a properly informed appreciation of Rwanda’s heritage and conservation needs.