Rwanda celebrated the National Harvest Day, Umuganura, yesterday.
The main event was held in Nyanza District, Southern Province, but there were celebrations across the country.
In Nyanza, the national ballet Urukerereza performed different Rwandan traditional dances.
Each of the dances has a deep meaning.
Sophia Nzayisenga was another performer of the day, thrilling many with her traditional music instrument ‘Inanga’, while Orchestra Impala and students from Nyundo School of Music also performed.
The event was marked by traditional dances, poems, plays and warrior dances (Intore), fused with the classic music from Orchestra Impala and students of Nyundo School of Music.
A play by Urukerereza mesmerised the audience as a bunch of more than 50 dancers of the ballet entered the arena in five groups, representing the country’s four provinces and City of Kigali.
They brought along baskets containing different staple foods, each accompanied by two guards; one acting like the head of a family, while the other blessed the harvest.
The ballet then showcased different dance styles from different parts of traditional Rwanda.
After their performance, The New Times caught up with Philomène Murekeyiteto and Paulin Nabayo, two of the longest serving dancers and singers of the national ballet, who shared insights into the difference dances.
Murekeyiteto said that the ancient southern part of Rwanda had slow but graceful dance moves for women, culturally known as ‘Umushagiriro’, which is not so different from ‘Umushayayo’.
The dance is a tribute to Rwandan women who give birth to heroes and heroines, and the role of women in the Rwandan society.
The boy’s dance in southern Rwanda was known as ‘intwatwa’ (loosely translated to mean, ‘pretty energetic’), she said.
The most famous traditional song from the southern region is ‘Bagore Beza’ (Beautiful Ladies), largely in reference to the beautiful women that were presented to the king at his palace in ancient Rwanda.
The communities that lived in areas the City of Kigali is located today and its environs also shared similar dances with those in the south, she said.
“They also praised their women and their beauty,” Murekeyiteto said.
According to Nabayo, the northern part of ancient Rwanda is known for a powerful dance called ‘Ikinimba’. Some relate this to the common belief that people from this part of Rwanda are generally physically strong.
One of the most popular songs from the north is ‘Ganyobwe’, which natives perform in their local Igikiga dialect.
The dance was mainly performed during harvest ceremonies, she said.
The eastern part of Rwanda is traditionally known for cows.
Songs from this region normally have the dancers lift their hands straight up in the air, a sign of cow horns. One of the common dance styles from this region is ‘Igishakamba’, which was performed by both men and women, but women danced in a more graceful and gentle manner while men exerted a bit of energy according to Murekeyiteto.
In the western regions, traditional dance moves are not so different from the east. There dance here is known as ‘Ikinyemera’ and it praises cows mainly from the Bigogwe hills.
Another popular style is ‘guhamiriza’ from the Nkombo island in Lake Kivu – a region previously known as Kinyag in the present-day Rusizi District. This is quite energetic and fast paced, Murekeyiteto explains.
Traditional dances from this part are influences by Congolese style because of the proximity between the border communities, she adds.
Local dancers here, she says, mostly sing in ‘Amashi’, a local dialect. People from Nkombo Island also have a dance called ‘Gusama’, which is characterised by use of a small calabash while dancing.
Each of the dances speaks to the deep culture and history of these regions, she said.
It is worth nothing that Urukerereza, the national ballet, performs all of these dances.
“It’s our responsibility as the national ballet to protect all these rich traditions,” Murekeyiteto adds.