Rwandans reflect on cultural norms that face extinction

Rwandans recently celebrated “Umuganura”, a day on which the country celebrate agricultural harvest and other achievements registered in the past year.  

For about 1,800 years, this holiday has been part of Rwandan culture and continues to be.  But how can this and other cultures be preserved?


The culture of sharing


According to Dr. Jacques Nzabonimpa, the Director of Culture, Research, Protection and Promotion Unit at Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC), Rwandans are proud of their culture and continue trying to safeguard it.


He says that some of the past cultural values are slowly disappearing due to new developments and the fast pace at which the world is evolving.

For instance, Nzabonimpa says that hospitality was something precious as people welcomed any visitors anytime and all the time, unlike today where people have to seek appointments to visit friends and relatives.

He reminded that, in the past, sharing with neighbours the little one had was one of the norms that made the Rwandan society one, unlike today where society is obsessed with amassing material wealth for oneself.

The value of language

Nzabonimpa said that as one of the pillars of national unity, parents must introduce the Kinyarwanda language to children at an early age as they begin learning how to talk.

This, he explains, gives children an opportunity to grasp the language better and faster than learning it when they are adults.

“Our language is our pride, which is why we want to preserve it. We can write dictionaries in Kinyarwanda which can then be translated into English and these dictionaries can be accessed in the national library,” he says.

Nzabonimpa stresses that through working with Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, and other media houses, RALC has corrected Kinyarwanda words that were poorly used in the past but insisted that there is need for more sensitization in this area.

Early this year, RALC in collaboration with Rwanda Development Board started giving national leaders lessons in the Kinyarwanda language, because due to the country’s history, some of them were not conversant with the language.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, RALC has created materials both written and in audio in Kinyarwanda that are distributed in the 33 embassies across the world enable Rwandans in the diaspora to learn the language.

Claver Irakoze is the author of ‘That Child is Me’, a book detailing his experience during the Genocide against the Tutsi. He says that when it comes to extinction, language is the first valuable component of Rwanda’s culture that is fast fading away.

“Every situation or aspect of life has its proverb to explain it, and that was something that Rwandans had in common, but now it is less referred to in daily conversations. We need to revert to our culture, and value the national language, because it brings everyone together as one,” he says.

The sanctity of marriage

Agnes Gakumba is an 80-year-old resident of Gisozi Sector in Gasabo District. She explains that marriage was something that was taken more seriously than it is today.

Reflecting on the how it was done in the past, Gakumba says that today’s marriages are done hastily before both the bride and groom get to know each other well enough, and before they do enough research about each other’s families.

This, she says is one of the reasons why most marriages in modern Rwanda end in divorce.

“You had to do some research about the person that you are marrying. The parents of the bride and groom to be had to meet on many occasions to plan for their children’s union; which gave them a chance to know more about each other’s’ families. Today, they are involved at a very small level,” she said.

Importance of purity

Gakumba explains that virginity was viewed as purity and it was a gift a girl offered to her husband. The purpose of this was to discourage them from getting pregnant before marriage as this would be a source of permanent embarrassment to their families.

Girls who got pregnant at an early age were banished and thrown into wells, something that served as a lesson to other girls to preserve their purity for their husbands.

However, she states, in this generation, boys study together with girls, which is easy for them to meet and date easily.

“Some girls get pregnant before marriage and the men responsible for such pregnancies are forced to marry them, thus a root cause of increased divorces,” she said.

Antonia Kamikazi, a University student says that the internet and television world have devalued things like not engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage.

“Unfortunately, it is not something that our generation find important. Instead of being proud of you, your peers instead tease, bully and mock you. Some young people have engaged in sexual intercourse out of peer pressure,” she says.

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