Rwanda is a country consisting of three major tribes; the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa or Batwa however the Tutsi and the Hutu outnumber the Batwa- forest dwellers. All these tribes speak the same local language –Kinyarwanda and share the same cultural heritage. The Batwa community might have a little distinction from the rest Rwandese because they pygmies and originally were forest inhabitants. Today, Kinyarwanda, French and English are Rwanda’s official languages. Below are the most common and practiced cultural aspects in Rwanda.
Music, dance and drama play a great role in the traditions of Rwandan people. Performances range from destinations of bravery and excellence, to humorous dance styles and lyrics, to artistry based in traditional agricultural roots. Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga-a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More festival dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members who collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.
Live dance performances can be seen at the Iby’ Iwacu cultural village in Musanze or at the National Museum of Rwanda. The finest display of Rwanda varied dynamic traditional music and dance styles are performed by the Itore Dance Trouples. Founded several countries ago, the Itore –literally, the chosen ones once performed exclusively for the Royal court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Huye. A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country. Rwandan pop stars are also developing a name for themselves in the country and in the region winning regional competitions and performing and recording throughout East Africa.
The Art and Craft Industry
The local Rwandese are blessed with artistic skills of making handcrafts like clay pots, woven papyrus mats and baskets, jewelry, art pictorials, wood carvings and many others. Rwanda today has many art and craft villages in both urban and remote areas where any tourist on Rwanda safari or tour can easily buy souvenirs or any preferred art pieces. The common craft villages include Ivuka art center, Rwanda Nziza, Caplaki craft village among others. All the crafts in Rwanda are produced country wide and each region is well known for its special and unique crafts. The south eastern part is for example famous for its Imigongo- a mixture of cow dung and various natural colored soils painted into decorative folds to make various shapes and designs.
Music Dance and Drama
Music dance and drama performances are common during festivals, social gatherings, marriage ceremonies and also for tourists on a Rwanda safari or tour. The Rwandese most timespasses on educative information in all their music performances. They have two major traditional dances that are; Intore dance which encourages hunters or fighters and Inkinimba dance usually performed by the farmers to celebrate their harvest.
The Inkinimba dance is also performed when telling stories about the Rwandese culture, history or when praising the fallen Rwandese heroes. During all these cultural performances, they play accompanied instruments like Amakondera- a Rwandese cow horn, Inanga, Ingoma- drums, Iningiri- locally made guitar and Umuduli. On a gorilla safari in volcanoes national park, music performances are made to entertain the present tourist as they take coffee in the morning waiting to go for gorilla treks.
Ibitoke – bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, beans, Isombe- mashed cassava leaves, posho (Ugali) are the major staple foods for local Rwandese. Those near water bodies like Lake Kivu get fish; mud fish and tilapia being the common fish species caught. Beef, goat meat and pork are also widely eaten as stew (source) or roasted especially in bars and other relaxing places.
Since many local Rwandese are prominent cattle keepers, they produce milk as well which is fermented to form Ikivuguto a common drink enjoyed by many local Rwandese. Ghee is another product got from milk after fermenting.
Most poems and stories are told during performances which include; Ibisigo- royal poems, Ibitekerezo- pleasant musical story telling and Ubucurabwenge often said during coronation ceremonies. All the poems are told in relation to Rwanda’s pre-colonial period, genocide period and the current state of the country. Today, there are many Rwandese writers including the famous Benjamin Sehene. While on a Rwanda safari or tour, you can pass by the various libraries in the country and read about the Rwanda’s history.
Rwandese female cultural dress is called Omushanana and it was traditionally made from animal skin and bark cloth. With the various developments the country has undergone through, the Omushanana today is made using various synthetic fiber materials like cotton, silk and many others. The Omushanana consists of a long skirt covering all the legs with a ribbon of the same material wrapped over one shoulder worn over a blouse. A traditional male clothe consist of a wrapper skirt and beads. Men wrap these skirts around their waist and wear the beads around their necks. In the modern Rwanda, all these are no longer daily garments, people now put them on during certain occasions like weddings, performing traditional dances or going to church.
All the above cultural practices can be enjoyed by any tourist on a Rwanda tour. The best thing to do is to liaise with your tour operator and specifically organize and go for a culture and heritage tour in the country. If not you can go for a gorilla safari and then visit the major outstanding cultural tourist centers.