The need for cultural ‘fathers’

A question I have often pondered upon is the preservation of cultural and oral traditions among the youth in Rwanda. Post the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it was recorded that over 2 million orphans remained.

A question I have often pondered upon is the preservation of cultural and oral traditions among the youth in Rwanda. Post the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it was recorded that over 2 million orphans remained. It is said it ‘takes a village to raise a child’ and it could not be more true than today. What it takes to raise a child however includes the handing down of cultural traditions and oral heritage. Yet where are the ‘fathers’ to do such a thing for Rwandan orphans?

I have been disillusioned at times with the rapid and easy acceptance of Western styles of dress, habits and social changes occurring in Rwanda. Twice I’ve attended a wedding where the wearing of ‘Imishinana’ was considered ‘only for the old’, yet I as a Westerner, was wearing one to show cultural respect.

I’m in the UK at the moment and took the liberty of checking on some Rwandan students studying at the University of Birmingham. When I asked them what they thought about their culture and how would they stay true to it whilst living abroad, their responses were so mature and patriotic.

An observation from one student however impacted me more. Nsabimana observed in his secondary school, orphans would look here and look there in order to ‘catch’ the Rwandan culture. The only problem is the watered down version they believe in is a mix-match of all the influences impacting upon the true Rwandan culture. In the future, this is what will be handed down.

I was excited recently by a new initiative launched by the National Museums of Rwanda. A pilot programme was run at the National Museum in Huye in 2012 but this year, 2013 a month long experience of imparting culture and traditions was conducted at the President’s Palace museum in Kanombe. Hundreds of young people, mostly primary age, were hosted to traditional drawing, dance, drum, drama, herding, story-telling and much more.

Rwanda’s National Museums have become the cultural ‘fathers’ of our generations to come. Faustin Nikwigize, the Museum’s Outreach Officer, has initiated some very thoughtful programmes to keep our young generation hungry for Rwandan culture and what better way to spend the holidays. At the official launch, the Museum’s Director General Alphonse Umuliisa expressed his gratitude for the programme. In his address, he urged the youth to uphold traditions and be always willing to learn.

What also impressed me were the 15 or more Riviera High School students who took up an opportunity in volunteering their time to the Museum’s Programme. The students were instrumental in assisting with marketing, protocol and other aspects of the programme they were able to help develop.

Certainly the students gained more about Rwandan culture and traditions than what they gave in time. Volunteering can be a life changing experience as it opens the eyes of youth to the world at large, builds communication skills and commitment.

The Museum’s slogan, “Discover your Museums, cherish your heritage” is never more true in holding on to the values of the past whilst moving forward into the future. Museums play a much more important role in society than we give credit.

One only has to visit any town or city across the UK or Europe to discover how important preservation of culture, artefacts, history and traditions truly are to an identity; and to the economy of a nation through tourism. Citizens of Rwanda, do everything you can to help build our museums to ensure that no tourist passes through Rwanda without having visited at least one. 

The writer is the Deputy Principal of Riviera high School

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