By Thomas Kagera
Now, what do I start with, telling the 8th Kwita Izina (Gorilla naming) story? What do you start with when you have a strewn of beauty views and sceneries to drink in with elation, surrounded by pomp and spectacle? When the most gentle and genteel primates (or their shadows) swagger and roll unto the stage to be given names.
All this in the midst of some shrilling percussive traditional Kinyarwanda music decorated with graceful dances (at one time), energetic (at another), gliding and twirling, floating and flapping (at others) like little birds in a rehearsing pageantry. And then a veritable feast to crown it all.
Tell me, what do you start with?
It is better to start with where it all starts. On this 16th day June 2012, thousands of people from Rwanda and around the world gather at the lower flats of Kinigi, in Musanze District of the Northern Province to name 19 baby gorillas born in the last one year and one adult who joined one of the families and adopted thus.
After the daylight’s win of the duel with darkness and the misty grey pearly skies kissing the tops of the imposing mountains—Karisimbi, Muhabura and Sabyinyo, that are habitat to the pristine gorillas—thousands of nature enthusiasts stream to the Kinigi Kwita Izina open park to witness the 8th edition organized by the Rwanda Development Board-Tourism and Conservation.
There is an air of anticipation, and those with cameras hold them at the ready. A parade is about to begin. Fanfare here is about to burst the bubbles of ecstatic excitement. When the guest of Honour, the Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi arrives, the Rwanda Police band leads in playing of the National Anthem.
Before long, the Inganzo Ngari drummers get to the stage. The accompanying singers and dancers only glide by. And just like that, the party begins.
Swift swipe drumming, energetic dancing and jumping with men carrying mock shields and lion curls and women gyrations are suddenly stopped into a complete stillness of three seconds.
This is followed by a rhythmic slow clack-clackety-clack that summons dancers, men and women, to take turns tap-dancing, or ‘flat-footing’. The singers’ pitch lower, the flute, drum and clarions build the crescendo a notch higher. And then the speed of a fast-forward motion picture and sound returns. Bliss!
The MC, Ms Rica Rwigamba, (clad in emerald green suit) also RDB-Head Tourism and Conservation then informs the guests that Kwita Izina (literally “naming”) is a traditional Rwandan ceremony held when a child is born, welcoming him|her into the family and community. Neighbors, family and friends gather in a festive ceremony as the parents bring out the child and reveal the name they have chosen. She notes that; “Kwita Izina (of the gorillas) is celebrating wonderful pageantry and profound continuity of the gentle gorilla species, rich symbolism and concerted efforts in the world of conservation.”
It’s all about sustainable tourism
Held under the theme “Sustainable tourism for a green economy”, the weeklong 8th edition (which had cycling, community run, conservation exhibition, gorilla painting competition by children of age between 6-8 and launching of different projects sponsored by RDB) brings the number of gorillas named to 161 since the inception of the initiative in 2005. It is the third time naming a set of twins, a rare occurrence.
When the Northern Province governor, Aime Bosenibamwe is invited to address the celebrants, he is supportive of the Kwita Izina initiative. “Because of the initiative, residents are today organized into cooperatives that have helped them fight poverty and their livelihoods improved. Encroachment on the park has significantly reduced. Bamboo cutting and honey harvesting from within the park have been eliminated. Former poachers and the Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association (SACOLA) have now become donors,” reminisces the governor.
The RDB Chief Executive Officer Mr. John Gara also notes that Kwita Izina is a national initiative that should be embraced by all nature lovers of all times. “This 8th edition comes at a critical time when the degradation of the ecosystems has reached alarming levels in different parts of the world. It reminds us to conserve Rwanda’s resources for the future generation.”
Gara reveals that the year 2011 saw 910,000 tourists streaming to Rwanda, translating into $252 million from as low as $26 million in 2005 when Kwita Izina was first introduced. The joint collaboration with the neighbouring countries that share the mountain gorillas’ habitat, he says, has continued to flourish while the revenue sharing scheme with the communities surrounding the park has nurtured the spirit of ownership amongst all. “Community-based tourism will continue to be our vision to ensure that the citizenry fully benefit from the natural endowments.”
The naming and the names
Now, the naming starts. Namers, in Kwita Izina parlance, are chosen from a pantheon of ecologists that have demonstrated unwavering zeal in protecting the environment. The Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi is the first to give a name, Gikundiro, loosely translated as “the beautiful one”. “I called it Gikundiro because it was voted by Rwandans as a lovely and cutest baby gorilla,” says the Prime Minister.
Other namers, each dressed in traditional Kinyarwanda Mushana and Umwitero with a brand name, Kwita Izina, slither unto the stage to carry out the annual ritual that has come to grace Rwanda’s national calendar, wooing the region into the gala and beckoning the world to observe and participate. Dian Fossey would have been proud.
So the namers and names include; Augustine Basabose of International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) who gave a name to Kungahara (Prosperous ), Kamurase Deo of Dubai World named Itabaza (Flight), Richard Ruhimbana, Chairman East African Tourism Platform to Akarabo (Flower), Prof. Thome Wolfgangm Journalist, gave Umutungo (Fortune), Mrs. Mpembyemungu Winifrida (Musanze Mayor) named Ndizeye (I Hope), and Taisho Shima from Nippon Aye Aye Fund, Japan named Ihoho (Incomparable Beauty). Dr Rose Mukankomeje of REMA named Ishimwe (Gratitude), Evans Arabu of Google Africa named Icyeza (Beauty) and Habineza gave a name to Itorero.
Each name given is followed with a traditional ululation and exclamations of pure pleasure that cannot be suppressed.
Khundana Karanana, aged 7, is the youngest namer ever and named her baby Impamo (Truth). Fabrice Gatera named his, Amatwara (Strategy), Munyakazi Faustin gave a name to Kataza and Francois Bizimungu gave Turimbere (We are the Best), Bigirimana Antoinne, a tracker and wife, named twin gorillas Umudende (Award) and wife Uwamahoro Francine named Impeta (Ring for Love). Moise Habineza named Iwacu (Our home) and Teddy Ruyenzi of Rwanda Rwanda National Police named her baby Tuhirwe (We are Lucky), Agnes Nyiragasanzwe named Turere(Take care) and Prof. Geoffrey Lipman gave a name to Ijabo (Dignity)
Each of the namers is then given a certificate by the Prime Minister who, during his speech, says the Kwita Izina ceremony continues to exhibit Rwanda’s commitment towards conservation of gorillas.
“It is the government’s goal to balance the material needs of our people with safe-guarding our environment,” he says. He hails the international community for being part of the event, which, he says, is very important in promoting the most treasured animals of the wild.
Habumuremyi reminds the communities in the proximities of the Volcanoes National Park that gorillas generate huge sums of money annually, part of which is used to improve their livelihood. He welcomes the increasing participation of the private sector in promoting the tourism industry, advising, however, that transporters, tour and travel companies and hoteliers need to up their efforts in customer care if the ambitious targets of the tourism industry are to be realized.
The celebration is capped with a feast provided by RDB. The corporate entities that sponsored the celebration are; Serena Hotels, Bourbon Coffee, Bank of Kigali, Ecobank, the Gorilla Organisation, RwandAir, SONARWA and Kenya Airways. Virunga Hotel, REMA, Ishema Hotel, Palme Hotel, Sina Gerald, Karisoke, Park View Hotel, Country Inn, Bralirwa, National Agriculture Export Promotion Board, SULFO, Kenya Airways, Art of Conservation, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and SG also contributed to this festival.