Of late, culture is on everyone’s lip. It feels like a revival, although that is not altogether accurate because it is not as if we know nothing about our culture or don’t care about it.
We do and are proud of it. Rather we take it for granted. Well, we have a culture, don’t we, and don’t all people have it?
What is happening is more like a rediscovery of its central and productive role in the life of the nation and a reminder that we ought to pay more attention.
The most recent big cultural event was Rwanda Day in San Francisco a little over a week ago. Rwanda Day was many things. It was a reunion where Rwandans and friends of Rwanda met and reconnected with each other and the motherland.
It was a cultural gala at which participants experienced and enjoyed various aspects of culture. It was a seminar during which people reflected on the values that make us a unique nation.
As happens on such occasions, President Paul Kagame was the chief presenter and expounded on the place of culture in the life of a nation. Culture is the spirit and soul of a people.
It gives them identity, character and self-worth, and drives their ambitions. Without it they are hollow and rudderless. It is the glue that holds people together. Without it they come unstuck, drift apart and get lost. It is the source of their resilience and the desire to change their condition and build better lives.
Now the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has picked it up from there and has embarked on a campaign to make culture productive. Last week, its tourism department organised a tour of historical and cultural sites in Rwanda, dubbed TemberuRwanda. The tour aims to encourage domestic tourism.
RDB’s drive can achieve several important things
The first is what they have set out to do: turn cultural sites into money-making places. Everyone does that. Some of the money earned can be channelled into the conservation and improvement of the sites. We have been rather bad at doing this, sometimes out of ignorance or negligence, or wilful neglect.
Secondly, it can help document and popularise our cultural heritage sites even among Rwandans. Most of these are well-known in our traditions through folklore and orally transmitted history, and scholarly publications.
It may sound strange, but to the majority of Rwandans, these sites may well be mythical places that exist only in some of our tales.
As some of us have complained many times, there is a disturbing invisibility of some sites of historical and cultural heritage. They do not seem to have been preserved for posterity.
There are hardly any monuments to mark key national events or to celebrate important personalities in the history of the country. There is no landmark architecture as evidence of our settled progression over the ages.
All these – places and people – must be identified and preserved as evidence of our evolution as a nation.
Where no physical reminder of the importance of a place remains through neglect or wilful action, something should be built to mark its relevance.
That is why RDB’s efforts must be lauded because they will give us physical evidence of our heritage and make it visible for many people. In some of these matters it is important to see in order to believe and cherish.
Thirdly, it may change the way we look at leisure. Rwanda has numerous places of exceptional beauty that are worth a visit. Many of these combine scenic splendour and cultural value.
Visiting them is not only good for the senses and an invaluable aesthetic experience, it also offers an opportunity to connect with the country in a spiritual sense.
That can be more relaxing and certainly healthier than spending every available free time at one’s favourite watering hole, downing beer and putting away huge chunks of nyama choma.
Besides, many of us do not really know our country. We don’t travel enough within the country. Even those who have the means to do so, only go because duty demands it. Maybe RDB will change that, make us know our country better and appreciate its many endowments.
RDB’s TemberuRwanda campaign and Rwanda Cultural Day in San Francisco are the latest in a long list in the rediscovery of the relevance of culture in national life.
They come after the revival of Umuganura, the feast of harvest and thanksgiving that brings people together to share in the bounty of their labour. It is one of those celebrations that promote the feeling of togetherness and belonging and is therefore an important symbol of nationhood.
We are not really rediscovering our culture but rather putting it where it should be – at the centre of rebuilding our country. It is no coincidence that this is happening at the time Rwanda is making important progress.Follow https://twitter.com/jrwagatare