A cow is just a cow until you visit the King’s Palace Museum located in Rukari, Nyanza district, home to Inyambo- the traditional cows. Physically, these magnificent creatures are marked by their very long horns and dignified appearance; but their historical and cultural importance is even more impressive.
Under the traditional Rwanda monarchy, Inyambo were during important ceremonies in honour of the king. Because they were destined for a special mission in life, the cows’ breeding was special. The breeder in charge had to submit Inyambo to “amazi ahiye” a sort of salty beverage which ensured that the cows produced calves that looked alike.
A sample of these sacred and magnificent breed of cow is preserved for visitors to see and when they were a year old, they were sent to the king’s palace for training by a competent cow keeper. The cows were taught to listen to a trainer’s songs “amahamba” and “amazina y’inka” and to follow his movements. They would then enact this stately parade during royal ceremonies in which they were decorated with rich jewellery.
Today, the breeding and grooming of Inyambo is still carried out under the Rwanda Agriculture Board. Starting 2008, over 30 of them have been sent to the King’s Palace Museum in Nyanza district, where the lifestyle and leadership Rwanda’s ancient monarchy is exhibited. The cows are subjected to the same training as in the past, and can parade for any visitors for a fee of Rwf 100,000, while filming the spectacle costs close to 200 euros.
The Inyambo are an increasingly popular tourist attraction. Since 2010 when the breed was brought to the King’s Palace Museum, the palace has grown in popularity, emerging third most visited museum last financial year with 32,012 visitors. “What visitors like the most is their elegance and their long horns, which they compare to the ivory tusks of the elephant,” says John Kayihura, a local tourism consultant.
A visit to Inyambo is yet another important aspect of Rwanda’s rich cultural history that boasts of a vibrant country lifestyle, religion, and a sensitive relation with the environment.