At the end of last year, together with my housemate we moved from our small house in Kacyiru and rented a bigger and much more beautiful home in Kimironko. The new house is everything we have always dreamt of-it is spacious, has a great view, a large compound and garden. But like everything else, there is always a catch. In our case, the catch was the location. The house is in a great neighbourhood but it is far from everything; especially our friends.
Since we are a social lot; we realised that the best way to let everybody know where we had moved was to throw a housewarming party. Everybody who had been invited came and even those who just heard about it in passing showed up and by the end of the night, as hosts, we were very tired but also very happy. To this day, we still look back at that party with fond memories; after all; it was a huge success.
To some, a housewarming party is necessary, to others, it is an excuse for the younger generation to party. What most people actually don’t know is that the housewarming tradition goes back to the medieval times. Even in traditional Rwanda the culture of house warming was observed.
In Kinyarwanda, housewarming is referred to as Kwirukana imbeba which loosely means “chasing away rats” which tend to turn houses under construction into their homes.
Even in medieval times uninhabited houses were considered targets for vagrant spirits, and therefore used to require a certain level of cleansing before a house was safe to be occupied by young children and the housewarming ritual was one such ceremony.
While those invited during medieval times used to come with firewood, in modern times, some come with gifts to decorate the new house, but the main event is centered on lots of food, laughter, music and alcohol.
In most cities including Kigali, the guests who drink alcohol are usually expected to come with the drink of their choice while the host is expected to provide food but there are also times when the host provides everything.
But the debate on the relevancy of house warming parties varies depending on who you talk to. Michael Arinaitwe, a businessman, thinks that throwing a housewarming party is okay only if you are inviting friends and family to a house that you own. He calls it a waste of time and money if you are living in a rental.
Arinaitwe, who is now in his early 30s, admits that when he was much younger, he was also always on the “housewarming party” bandwagon.
“When I was in my early 20s, I used to throw these parties every time I moved to a new house but then I grew up and with maturity came responsibilities and ultimately, a shift in perspective. Why would you want to spend money on a party in a house where you are going to be charged monthly? House warming should be a way of celebrating. What’s there to celebrate in a house that is not yours? It makes no sense to me,” he says.
Martha Kazooba, a businesswoman, also believes that housewarming parties are for those who have something to show for their efforts.
“I personally think if you are renting, it’s not good. These people should instead be advised to open an account and start saving to buy or build their own house instead of throwing a housewarming party in a house that is not theirs,” she says.
She blames the norm on the younger generation who feel that they either think they still have time to build their own homes or those who feel that the dream is unattainable.
Taxation economist, Jackson Rugambwa, does not understand why ownership details matter when it comes to housewarming.
“There is no big deal about whether you own it or not.
The culture originates from the west where 85 per cent of the people rent houses for life. I myself can’t afford to throw a housewarming party because I am ever on the move because of the cost of living and unregulated rent policy in Rwanda. How do you have a housewarming party when your stuff is on a truck every month as you relocate to a cheaper place? How often are you going to throw a party if you are literally on the move all the time?” he wonders.
He however says that for those who can afford it, a housewarming party is important because it gives friends and family an opportunity to know where your new home is.
Fiona Mbabazi, a journalist, agrees and insists that whether rented or not, the house is yours even when you are paying rent.
“Housewarming parties are about feeling good about your new place. Saying that you shouldn’t celebrate because you don’t own it is strange. I think that as long as you are paying for it, it is “your house” because at the end of the day, it’s your money going into someone’s pocket after all,” she says.
Jane Uwimana, a radio presenter doesn’t see why people shouldn’t party.
“Why should a housewarming party be about owning a house or not? After all, not many people own houses in this world and I don’t think that it is a reason to stop partying. If you own a house and throw the party, fantastic, but should you hold back because you don’t own a house? Absolutely not,” she says.
The debate about whether a housewarming party is a waste of money or not can go on forever. When it comes to right or wrong, the argument varies from one person to another. One fact remains constant though, each celebration has its motivating factors. You may frown at someone for having a housewarming party in a rented house when in actual sense, they never dreamt of a day when they would even afford to pay rent. Someone may come with the argument that they prefer celebrating today and letting tomorrow take care of itself.
If everything is done in moderation, there is no reason why a few friends cannot come together and make merry.
Ultimately, what we all work for, what we all spend years trying to achieve is a little love, life and laughter.
Housewarming: How it’s done elsewhere in the world
•In French-speaking countries, a housewarming party is called a pendaison de crémaillère, literally “hanging of the chimney hook”. The expression comes from medieval times. When the construction of the house was finished, it was customary to invite all those who participated in its building to eat dinner as a vote of thanks. The food was prepared in a large pot, the temperature of which was controlled by a chimney hook, which could adjust the pot so it sat higher or lower over the fireplace. This hook was the last thing to be installed in the new house, marking the beginning of the thank you meal.
•In India, this ceremony is known as “Gruha Pravesh” literally meaning “Entering New House” (for the first time). In some places, they allow a cow (sacred animal among the Hindus) to be the first to enter the house, as the first part of the ceremony.
•In New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and other Commonwealth countries, a housewarming party may also be known as a flat-warming party, usually in a shared living situation involving flat-mates.
•The traditional Thai housewarming is a Buddhist ritual in which monks, family, friends, and food all play important roles.
•In the Southern United States, an old-fashioned type of party, known as a “Food Pounder”, is popular.
Traditionally, each guest would bring the new homeowners a pound of food such as cheese, cornmeal, flour, sugar, or any other staple food needed to stock the new home’s pantry. In modern times the tradition has been extended to canned goods and even fresh foods, but the hosts are still most likely to receive the basic foodstuffs needed to set up a kitchen.
YOUR VOICE: Are housewarming parties relevant?
Charlotte Gapere, cashier
For me I think it’s about having a good time with your friends in your home. If your neighbours don’t complicate life and complain about noise, I don’t see why you shouldn’t party; unless of course you haven’t paid rent.
Sylvia Uhirwa, Public Relations Coordinator, Kepler Rwanda
I would say that a housewarming party is necessary under two circumstances. First, if one is trying to socialise and stay connected to their network and also get to know the new neighbours. Two, if the budget allows. This is because people go out of their way to impress and show off. It should be about a gesture, not extravagance.
Anne Osendi, human resource expert
I have never had a housewarming party because it’s really expensive and a waste of money. If you tell me that you are having a dinner or lunch for your friends to see where you live, I understand but a party? No.
Joseph Bugabo, book editor
Why warm a house you are likely to be evicted from just because of that very housewarming? You are probably bound to have your rent hiked because you are showing the landlord that you can afford to feed many people. I would rather someone stays in a modest place as they save to buy or build theirs. There is nothing to celebrate; just a burden one has to take, paying rent. I however don’t mind attending the parties.