Imprinting cultural values in modern Rwanda

Early this week, on May 21, the world celebrated culture’s impact in on society. World Culture Day as it is called,  was created in response to the growing recognition that a vibrant arts and cultural sector contributes directly to a healthy and stable society.
Rwandan National Ballet dancers performing at a past event. The New Times / File.
Rwandan National Ballet dancers performing at a past event. The New Times / File.

Early this week, on May 21, the world celebrated culture’s impact in on society. World Culture Day as it is called,  was created in response to the growing recognition that a vibrant arts and cultural sector contributes directly to a healthy and stable society.

Culture is best described as a certain behaviour that a given society is accustomed to. Every country has its own culture and way of passing on their heritage from one generation to another.

According to 90-year-old Mzee Ezra Impyisi, the world’s changing lifestyles are affecting the cultural heritage.

“Culture is supposed to be a behaviour that is passed on to children as time goes on. However, with this dynamic world, a lot of culture is being lost. Old culture had its bad and good side, just like today’s life has its advantages and disadvantages,” Pastor Mpyisi said.

“If we could take the initiative to try and bond culture with modern practices that improve our quality of life, then I think our culture would still be rich and maintained,” said Mzee Impyisi,  also a former Pastor.

Our cultural heritage is besieged by globalisation and modern communication. More youth are in touch with foreign and often pervasive lifestyles thanks to the media.

Mzee Myisi emphasised that it is worth to note that, “a society is identified by what it stands for and nothing can express it better than culture.”

The establishment of cultural centres, such as museums, across the country has helped to maintain old traditions. At these places, culture is displayed through objects, pictures, written history and music.

On May 18th 2012, the National Museum of Rwanda made a joint effort with Government, international agencies and several country embassies organised an art exhibition at Rwesero Art Museum where about 300 people attended. The purpose was to sensitise the public on Rwandan culture and promote ways of incorporating it in the life of its citizens.

Regular cultural exhibitions of this sort would interest even the youth who feel that ancient culture very boring.

Alphonse Bartson Umuliisa, the Director General of Rwandan Museums said partnerships across sectors maintain Rwanda’s traditions.

“We are the best promoters of our own culture,” he said during an interview with The New Times.

“The museums in Rwanda are trying to bring back the good old traditions we once had, such as the values associated with traditional cows (inyambo).

“We signed an agreement with the Rwanda Agriculture Board to take care of the traditional cows and aid us on how to handle them as well. We want to promote them and with good care, they can produce a lot of milk. Taking care of these cows has always been our culture and we should maintain it,” Umuliisa said.

Natasha Kirabo, a Rwandan student from University of Alberta in Canada, said she was disappointed by the fact that more youth have a high disregard for their ancient traditions.

“We are doing more of promoting other cultures than our own. When I first went to Canada for my studies, I noticed that almost all people from Africa tried their best to copy the Canadian culture. I quickly learned that those who respected their culture succeeded really fast,” Kirabo said.

“I felt proud whenever I watched the Rwandan girls on YouTube that danced the traditional Rwandan dance at Stuart Hall School in the USA. They promoted our culture at their own school yet it’s a challenge for others,” Kirabo explained.

Indeed, a lot is being done and said yet, a lot of difficulties are faced by parents who are dealing with children that are so obsessed by western cultural practices.

“Telling my children to  speak Kinyarwanda is like punishment. With all the TV shows and movies they watch, it’s very difficult to promote our culture even in our homes,” Mary Muhoza, a mother to three, said.

Muhoza advises parents to insist on instilling cultural values into their children while they are still young. Setting boundaries when it comes to the kinds of TV programmes and movies they watch, is one way of instilling cultural discipline while at home.

As much as culture is a vital core of society, it shouldn’t be followed blindly. Some historic facts indicate that stereotypes and myths were associated to twins and cursed were the girls who conceived before marriage—irrespective of the circumstances under which she got pregnant.

“Culture those days was harsh at times, for example, if a girl got pregnant before she was married she would either be killed or taken far away to live alone in the wilderness because she was identified as a curse. And in some communities they would kill twins saying they aren’t children,” said Davita Muzungu an 85-year-old woman from Mutara.

Thankfully, with modernisation, these practices were dissolved. However, some people still argue that some ancient customs maintained the co-existence of a morally refined Rwandan society.

In addition, Mzee Myisi says, “certain behaviour those days was really good. In case a child and parent had misunderstandings, the family would sit and agree on who is wrong and the offender would give a token of forgiveness to the offended.”

“A husband would never beat his wife, and parents were so involved in children’s affairs and guided them where they stumbled. This is unlike today,” Pastor Impyisi concluded.

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