It was an early start and Viviane gave me a guided tour of the ethnographical museum in Butare which was built for Rwanda by the Belgians in 1989. This is the main museum infrastructure in the country and houses a large ethnographical collection in a modern building. The site is large and receives about 70,000 visitors a year, with large gardens and a training centre for traditional crafts. It is an impressive set up and well worth a visit to get an insight into village life and traditions which are fast dying out. What was missing is the link to how these traditions are now being translated into modern life in Rwanda and a temporary exhibition space or a partnership with other museums would be of enormous value.
I did not stay long as we had an event to attend back at Nyanza and after picking up the traditional dress I was to wear, kindly donated by Alphonse’s wife Clotilda, we headed back to the museum.
The site was a hive of activity with VIP guests arriving and I was introduced to the two Minister’s attending one for Culture and Tourism and the other for Agriculture. The start of the day was a tour through the huts which were now populated with demonstrators explaining traditional crafts. I enjoyed a guide to butter making explained by a wonderfully dignified 72 year old lady.
Drum making and using bark to make cloth eloquently demonstrated and explained by a lively 86 year old gentleman who was a member of the Twa tribe.
We then progressed to the grounds surrounded by hoards of local people. Alphonse had managed to hire the only large lorry mounted TV screen in the country so all could get a good view of the events. The show began with a demonstration of archery followed by traditional fencing.
It was then time for the cows! The herd of about 20 with calves in tow entered the garden all decorated for the ceremony and all quite lively. I must say I did have a very British health and safety moment as a few made a dash for the crowds, those are very big horns!
The herders seemed to know what they were doing and sang and played whistles to calm the animals as the cows were milked amid cheers from the crowd. The milk was then ceremoniously given to the Ministers via the local kids and the press got some great photos, still I was relieved when said cows were rounded up and taken back to their pastures without dramas involving impaled children or dignitaries.
It was then time for the big show and seated with Clotilda and Alphonse’s son Chris I could sit back and enjoy the dances. The cow theme continued as the girls mimicked the cow’s horns with their arms; this really was intangible cultural heritage in action!
The show went on well into the night ending with traditional African food for all including the local villagers. Alphonse made a fine speech that was well received and I enjoyed wearing traditional dress for the day.
That evening I was introduced to Guido the Director of the Tervuren Africa Museum , Belgium who was also there to support the museums. Later Jack Lohman arrived from the Museum of London with Anette Rein and her husband from Germany from the ICME Committee for Museums of Ethnography . Now there was a delegation of us to assist in advising the museum.