Rwandan Architecture

Find out about traditional Rwandan architecture and learn about the materials used during construction.

KambereOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Introduction

Rwandan architecture was commonly a male dominated practice. It involved many steps and is associated with ceremonial rites aiming at insuring success and luck for the future occupants. The traditional house is a domed structure, but the modern architecture uses various designs.

Calabash rattle (5)Original Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Steps before building commences

Before construction begins, a traditional soothsayer would be consulted to ensure the site's safety. The construction materials would be gathered, the site levelled, and then, the construction of the house begins. The musical calabash as shown is used by the soothsayers.

White wagtail bird by Rwanda MuseumsRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

The bird that brings peace

During levelling work, the presence of a white wagtail (bird) is usually required for the project to continue. The bird represents peace which foreshadows a peaceful home.

CeilingRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Construction works

After laying out the site intended for construction and drawing a circular line showing the circumference of the house, traditionally the construction started with the ceiling that was mainly woven by men. It was then placed in the centre and lifted up to the ceiling height.

Support pillars of appropriate height and number were then placed under the woven ceiling to hold it in place. Over the ceiling, the workers bent flexible young trees that had been driven into the circular line which marked the circumference of the hut.

Decorative panels (1989) by National Museum of RwandaRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

The mentioned young flexible trees were destined to support the walls of the house. The weavers the plaited the inside wall starting at the ceiling and working down to the soil level.

KambereOriginal Source: Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Size and construction materials of the house

From the bottom up to the top, the house is covered with thatch made essentially with plants that have long stems such as miscanthus sp, hyparrhenia, eragrostis blepharogrglumis. The size of the house varies depending on its function and the social status of the owner.

The conviviality of Rwandans by Christiane RwagatareRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Community involvement

In traditional Rwanda, the construction of a house is a community affair. For building new homes, all men in the village were invited to contribute - roles include transporting and installing the dome of the roof. The community would also be invited for the inauguration ceremony

Kigali Convention Centre by Office of the Government SpokespersonRwanda Cultural Heritage Academy

Modern construction

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the traditional architecture methods gradually evolved. New construction materials, designs, techniques, large and tall structures were introduced. 

Today, luxurious houses are inspired by the traditional architecture.

Credits: Story

Content contributors: Andre Ntagwabira, Chantal Umuhoza, Tuyishime Yvette & Jerome Karangwa (Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy)
Content editing: Chantal Umuhoza 
Curatorial layout: Chantal Umuhoza

References: Tradition dwelling, Kanimba Misago Celestin & Lode Van Pee

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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