Michael Kamuhangire, 86, who currently lives in Mirongwitanu, Simbwa Cell, Kabarore Sector, Gatsibo District in Eastern Province, says while he and others were still in exile before liberation in 1994, the thing that worsened their home-sickness for Rwanda was the cultural dance - Intore.
“Sometimes we would organise Intore dance amongst ourselves but it only made our hearts desperately long for our country more than ever before,” says Kamuhangire.
The word ‘Intore’ means warrior.
Intore is the dance that cannot miss at any celebration - from marriage ceremonies in villages of Rwanda’s countryside through the grandeur of national celebrations at Amahoro stadium to exuberant Rwandan celebrations in the Americas and Europe.
But what makes the dance more popular and identical of Rwandan style than any other dance styles in Rwanda? The answer can only be clear after rummaging through other dance styles in Rwanda and their rationale.
What was before what is?
According to Dr Jacques Nzabonimpa, the director of culture at Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC), there are a variety of dancing styles in Rwanda and all of them are older than the Intore style.
“Dancing was the exhibition of a variety of economic activities of societies and the happiness of the good yield from them,” he says.
He adds that, “the fishermen on islands and shores of L. Kivu would dance while showing their genius in swimming and fishing.”
Among farming communities, a style known as ‘Imparamba’ dominated. When the Imparamba come to stage, they come with their hoes to show their art of cultivation.
‘Igishakamba’ was for manifestation of cattle rearing. It was common among the past Ndorwa, Mubari, Buganza and Gisaka, all in Eastern Province, where they danced making a top-open oval shape with their hands above the head to symbolise the shape of horns of ‘Inyambo’ (long-horned cows).
However, the Intore dance does not exhibit any economic activity and needless to say, it is not identical of a single community of Rwanda but Rwanda in general. How did it come to be?
According to Mzee Gaston Nsanzabaganwa, 72, Rwanda’s historian and literature expert, “a political asylum-seeker group brought the famous Intore dance we love today”.
He says that in the early years of the reign of King Mutara II Rwogera (1830-1853), political rivalry broke out in the neighbouring southern Burundi Kingdom.
A Busoni royal figure called Muyange fled for his life from Burundi with his dancers called ‘Abayange’ and sought asylum in Rwanda.
Obviously, such a royal figure had to be given security at the king’s palace. One day, the Abayange were given chance to entertain King Rwogera at the palace and they exhibited a dance that was liked.
Abayange’s dance caught the interest of Rwanda’s royal army but somewhere somehow it was wanting; not satisfying the vacuum in Rwanda’s army for performing in poetry alone.
As a result, Rwandans entwined fighting tactics and songs into the dance, making an evolution of an army’s dance, the Intore dance, which emerged quite different from the one it came from.
From then onwards, the army that exhibited their heroism only through epic poetry in a ceremony known as “Kuvuga Amacumu”, literary translated as ‘talking about spears’, to which was added music and dance like in other societies of Rwanda did for exhibiting their economic activities.
More than army homecoming dance but Rwanda’s unifying factor
One of the main reasons the dance beat others in popularity was because it was formed by the army, which comprised soldiers from all the communities of Rwanda, i.e, cattle keepers, cultivators, iron smelters and potters.
Mzee Kamuhangire was a great Intore dancer in his early youth in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was privileged to lead Intore who entertained royal figures including King Mutara III Rudahigwa, who personally awarded him a cow.
“Every body movement and gesture of Intore dancers is symbolical and all the symbols are attached to fighting tactics and armoury which gives the dance privilege from all Rwandan societies”.
An infantry is represented by a mane of a lion which is the band of sisal worn in the head, while striker air force is represented in the style called “Agasiga” or ‘eagle’, where the dancer spreads the arms like the wings of an eagle and turns the head majestically like an eagle inspecting the ground.
From the unlikely source ― the grieved asylum seekers and probably political criminals from their land of Burundi, Rwandans got the clue of forming an exuberant dance that would turn out dominant of all the indignant styles ― the Intore dance.