The inspiration behind ‘Rwandan’ playing cards

About two weeks ago, photos of certain playing cards surfaced on the internet. These were not just the usual playing cards that we see and buy in the local shops. These were Rwandan customised cards with a new, yet familiar name, ‘Gakondo Playing Cards’.

They featured the country’s cultural symbols like the Agaseke (traditional baskets), Ingabo (traditional shield), Igisabo (milk gourd), Inanga (the traditional harp) as well as images of Rwanda’s kings and queens.

The photos went viral with several Rwandans immediately receptive of this new innovation,  and with messages and replies displaying pride, in what they could finally call their very own.

Many set out on a mission to find these cards that could be found at a few outlets in Kigali at a price Rwf18,000. A  debate on social media later ensued, with a section of Rwandans applauding the innovative art, and another expressing their dissatisfaction, blaming the innovators for making these cards too pricey, inaccessible and does not target the Rwandan.

Louxe @BillNyi tweeted: “Selling these packs for 18,000rwf really tells us who they are marketed for and guess what? It’s not the regular Rwandan…”

Brian @Brinen replied “What’s clear is that they weren’t produced in mass (pilot) and hope there will be another phase that’s way more affordable”

Rwakiyanja R.J.Paul @JeanRwakiyanja tweeted: “I think in this case they are just abusing the Art & Creativity concept. Why can’t they invest and produce as many as possible then push for the exclusivity to sell the cards in the country. But all should be at an affordable price. Can a muturage (local) down there afford 18k for the cards?”

The ‘Gakondo playing cards’ is a Rwandan brand created by Weadd a creative design agency.

Some of the features on the Gakondo playing cards. / Courtesy photos

The founder of the agency, Maxime Niyomwengeri  explained the story and innovation behind the cards.

“Last year, I was at a friend’s place and they had collected so many cards. I wondered if we had our own cards that we could identify with. One night I woke up and began sketching and together with my colleagues we developed the idea. Currently there is a wave calld cardistry, a culture of collecting cards worldwide, and I thought we could contribute to that by creating cards that showcase Rwandan culture,” he says.

He adds that as he researched about the history of cards, he developed love for them, and, fast forward November last year, they were done with the first phase and contacted manufacturers.

“We took a leap of faith and we were determined. The package arrived with two and half weeks.”

We were uncertain of what the Rwandan would hold for these cards . I just saw the need to have our own, a sense of belonging and the need to cater for tourists by exploring different ways of incorporating culture and games.”

The cover pack of the Gakondo playing cards that are increasingly becoming popular. 

He then took pictures and shared them with his friends. Immediately, they began calling and sharing, as a number of them showed interest and began purchasing.

At Question Coffee, where they were first sold the cards they were sold out at a terrific speed, a good sign that the innovation was welcomed by those that appreciate culture.

 Niyomwengeri explains that these cards were introduced to the market and priced that way in order to reflect the amount of effort that was put into creating, the cost of production, and shipping them, to ultimately create a brand that would continue to promote our culture  and bridge the gap between the youth and elderly and creating games for generations to come.

He asks me to feel them and pours water on both to prove his point.

The Gakondo playing cards grip nicely and have a premium feel. While regular paper playing cards tear, stain, bend and break easily, the Gakondo playing cards are extremely durable.

With the cards 100 per cent waterproof, he explains that something of high quality rarely comes at a low cost, as he shows me other similar  (quality) playing cards and their cost.

“My approach is artistic, with an aim to bring people together. These cards, for us, are an educational, touristic and cultural tool because we wanted the next generation to learn about our culture through games.

“We chose to produce quality because of the value we hold for culture. Imagine the pride of a nostalgic Rwandan in the diaspora taking these cards with them, or our children asking for the significance of the symbols featured on the cards, or a tourist carrying these cards with them wherever they go.”

The cards have a premium feel and are durable.

The Gakondo playing cards are the second product owned by the agency after ‘Inkotanyi’ T-shirts that have since been sold off. The creator explains that their durability will see them in the Rwandan games circles, as they also contribute to the revival of the culture of games.

“If we produce in mass we compromise quality. The Gakondo playing cards were a pilot project, we have alot more for the Rwandan market. But our dream is that every Rwandan will eventuallyown a piece of these cards.”

More to come

He is quick to add although the Gakondo playing cards is not the only product in the pipeline, there is more he has planned for Rwandans.

“We have more coming. The next products wil surprise the market, the same way this product did. Rwanda deserves quality products.”

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