Heritier Usenga has the facial look of a child but his brain is like for an adult.
By the age of 13, the boy from Gisenyi, was doing more than many children his age could do.
He recites lyrical song of herdsmen locally referred to as Amazina y’Inka.
He recites the popular ‘Amahamba’ (lyrical song) with mastery to amazement of his audience.
The 16-year old Senior Four student showcased his talent during the recent closure of Literacy week in Rubavu.
The boy who also plays drama and films, says his major preference remains Amazina y’Inka and traditional poetry in general. You can’t help but ask yourself where he learned it from.
Speaking to Saturday Times, Usenga said he started as a fan of Amazina y’Inka as a little boy attending wedding ceremonies with his parents.
He couldn’t do it. But out of curiosity he started reading books on traditional culture to know more about traditional poetry.
“I subscribed to Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle library, but I was not very fond of reading. One day, I realised there were many books written about Rwandan culture and I decided to start reading them as a way to improve my knowledge specifically about Amazina y’Inka (cows’ names), which was my hobby,” said Usenga.
He said he read many books on traditional Rwanda, with particular preference for those authored by Aloys Bigirumwami, which taught him about traditional marriage and poetry, including Amazina y’Inka.
It took him slightly over a year to master Amazina y’Inka, and started to recite the lyrics at marriage ceremonies since he was 13.
“I read a lot and begun to make my own poems, inspired by some adults who were doing it,” said Usenga.
When he had mastered reciting Amazina y’Inka, he mostly volunteered at wedding ceremonies in order to market himself.
Now, he charges Rwf20, 000 at weddings and uses this money to meet his personal needs.
However, his challenge is that some people still undermine him on basis of his age.
There are those who think that cultural knowledge go with age.
Even his peers tease him saying though he is young he has a mind of an adult.
He appeals to young people to love Rwandan culture and history as a way to preserve it.
“We were not there when all these things happened or were created, but still there are many ways we can use to learn about them. Books about Rwandan culture and history are there, they are available in libraries. There is also internet, you can’t lack sources unless you are not interested in it,” said Usenga.
Ma-Awiyaat Yombi a student at Gisenyi science school and story writer said she likes reading cultural and political books but it’s not the case for many of her peers.
“Most students say reading is time wasting and prefer movies over books. For me, reading is more important than films as I learn new things from it. It inspires me to write my own stories,” said Yombi.
Valerie Nzamwitakuze the director at Amahoro Anglican School in Rubavu said generally students don’t like reading but as educators they are putting more efforts to encourage them.
“We organise reading competitions and motivate those who show interest.”
She said educators and parents should first adopt a reading culture then children can emulate them.
In Rubavu where between 20,000 and 25,000 people are illiterate, Soma Umenye Programme has been set to help children especially in primary schools to read and improve their knowledge in different domains, according to Grace Uwampayizina, Rubavu Vice mayor in Charge of social affairs.
Besides, she said various centers including Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle help youth to develop different talents, including those related to culture such as dancing and poetry among others.
According to Paulin Kabayiza vice Director at Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle a Youth Centre with various activities including a library, parents should be the first to encourage their children to read and develop their talents.
“Parents should help their children to access libraries, or even newspapers, and make sure they read. It helps them to develop their talents and open their minds as it happened to Usenga who shaped his talents in this centre just because he has been able to access books he needed,” said Kabayiza.
He advises parents to respect children’s choices and support them by providing them all needed materials to become who they want to be.
At least 300 children in various levels freely use Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle library on daily basis, which is open from Monday to Saturday after school hours (3-6pm).
Albert Masozera, Director of Institute of National Museums of Rwanda says Usenga is a good example of how reading culture can help children to develop themselves and to be open-minded.
Masozera who granted Usenga a ticket to visit all national museums in Rwanda, said it’s a way of motivating him.
“Institute of National Museums of Rwanda is like another education hub, we have in eight museums what he doesn’t have yet and particularly in Rukali King Palace Museum where we exhibit Inyambo and Amazina y’Inka. We should link him with other Abatahira we have there, if possible he should take part as the youngest among them to show his talent to visitors.”
He said this will serve as an example to other children and teens to develop a reading culture especially in terms of knowing and preserving Rwandan culture.
Rwanda has over 120 public libraries and there is hope more facilities will be put up to help Rwandans have access to reading materials at school, at home and even at their respective communities, according to Isaac Munyakazi, the minister of State for Primary and Secondary education.