From time immemorial, Rwanda has been distinguished by skillful poets with rhythmic lyrical mastery and grace that was central in most entertainment and social scenes. In fact, the ancient kingdom of Rwanda had a substantial body of oral literature and the most acclaimed being ibisigo, a rich collection of royal poetry and Ibyivugo, self-praises and heroic poetry.
Rwandan history has it that Nyiraruganzu Nyirarumaga, the Queen Mother of King Ruganzu II Ndori, one of the greatest contributors to traditional knowledge, established a royal institution known as “Intebe y’Abasizi” (the Seat of Poets) whose role was to promote and preserve the art of ibisigo.
Poetry as a genre of literature is popularly defined as work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style, rhythm and wording. To date there are still distinguished traditional poets brilliantly tailoring cultural norms and values into poetry.
Alexis Murenzi, a cultural enthusiast and renown pastoral poet, says poetry is one of the vital means with which Rwandan values and stories can be narrated, upheld and conserved. He performs during weddings and other traditional events where he slickly sings and serenades the Inyambo traditional cows. Murenzi who has been involved in the craft for 5 years stresses a need for more traditional poets.
“We lost many of the skillful traditional poets in the Genocide. Pastoral poetry must not be allowed to die out because it has always been an essential component of our ancestry. The work I do in highlighting the Rwandan culture is not only gratifying but it is also slowly becoming my source of livelihood,” said the traditional artiste who is currently in Uganda for a cultural show.
The Spoken word has not been contained to cultural norms alone. World over, poetry is taking centre stage making grand entrance in pop culture not only being reflected in popular music videos but also on more formal platforms. Spoken word is gradually thriving in Kigali with the introduction of poetry expression platforms like Spoken Word Rwanda and Poetry slam.
Young Rwandan poets have embraced the art of rhythmical composition and are adding their voices to the world of literature and creative art.
Buce Ntwali, the recent champion of Transpoesis’s Poetry Slam says poetry is his voice and channel of expression. He adds that through it he gives a voice to his opinions, feelings and fears without restriction.
“Poetry is important to me because it has the power to liberate and to change. Through poetry I unburden my soul. In doing so, I know that there is someone with whom my writing resonates and can relate to it. So ultimately poetry does unite people in the concepts of humanity and unison in thoughts and emotions.” he said.
“I am inspired to write because of the events or cultures I see around me. The piece that helped me win the slam is called ‘La vie’ (Life) spoke of the vicissitudes of life and how as humans we take an active part in creating our own suffering or passively let it eat us up. The message was that we need to wake up and start captaining our own destinies and changing our world for the better.” he added.
The young poet adds that all those gifted with the art of weaving words into messages should by all means take a stand and tell the world their truth.
“Upcoming poets have to believe that their voice is worth being heard and what they have to say has the potential to change or impact someone else’s life. They should keep doing what they love and do it with passion.” he explained.
Also tailoring words and injecting meaning into sentences is Rwanda’s very own Natasha Muhoza, who has captivated audiences with the sincerity and intensity of her poetry. She says Poetry is the way she makes sense of life and observes the world around her.
“Poetry is the space where I’m allowed to question, address my confusion, excitement and to document and record my adventures. It’s my platform to artistically say anything about anything. Poetry to me my place of freedom.” she explains.
“Rwandan poetry scene is growing and thriving quite fast the way I see it. I think this is partly a sign of the healing of this nation’s soul and partly its gradual self-discovery. Art expresses what the heart of society feels and poetry is one of the oldest direct forms of art that societies connect with, and share their unique story and Rwanda has embraced it with arms wide open.” adds the young artiste.
Muhoza further highlights the importance of poetic expression to any society as it is all about healing and self-discovery simply by virtue of expression as characteristic of art in general.
“In society, there’ll obviously be people who love poetry as well as those who couldn’t care less but prefer something else instead. For those who care, poetry impacts who they are inside and is the perfect channel through which to communicate that and to invite others to do the same,” she said, adding that the way to empower poets to achieve this was to allow them the space to share and to acknowledge the power and value in their art.
“One may also take for granted the power of encouragement, but it goes a long way because poetry requires an immense amount of vulnerability and courage. The passion inside of you will bring itself out one way or another. The best thing is to embrace it, love your gift and be determined to use it the best way you can.
Fight the fear and seize the next opportunity to share, and always remember that inspiration comes from in the most unexpected people/places so take no experience for granted”.